Monday, March 10, 2014

Bird Dogs of Tibet

Yes, I know there are a lot of examples of hybrid animals in Tibetan lore, like combinations of sea creatures and mammals, carp-headed otters and the like, not all of them nearly as cute as what you see above. Some of them like the makara, in Tibetan the chusin (ཆུ་སྲིན་), come from India, true enough. But I really didn’t intend to talk about them today; I’m looking in a different direction altogether. I just came back from what may be the most impressive bird sanctuary in the world, so you may understand I’m still under the spell. What I do want to talk about are dogs raised (and perhaps also hatched) in bird nests. To put it another way, the scene would have to look a lot more like this:

Something I read in an article by Antonio Terrone perked my interest when it came out not so long ago. It’s about one of the most famous Lamas in the Tibetan plateau in recent decades, the much-respected and now sadly departed Khenpo Jigpun་༼མཁན་པོ་འཇིགས་ཕུན་༽. Terrone quotes from Gyurme Dorje’s much-used travel guide, Tibet Handbook, at p. 611.  However, my edition of that book must be a different one, because I found it on page 620 in mine:
"Khenpo Jikpun is well-known for obtaining the ‘bird-dogs’ of Tibet, a tiny dog which is reputably* found in the nest of cliff-nesting birds, and has the power to detect poison in food! He presented one to the Dalai Lama on a recent visit to India. He has also travelled widely in Europe and North America."
(*I guess he means reputedly. I should email the author to be sure.)

I was surprised once again a few weeks ago when I came across another quote, this one by the 11th-century Turkologist Kashgari as translated by the modern Turkologist Robert Dankoff in an oldish article of his.  

“Perhaps,” says Dankoff, “the strangest lore in the Diwan concerns baraq, the shaggy dog (kalb ahlab)”: 
“The Turks claim that when the vulture grows old it lays two eggs and then hatches them. From one emerges this dog, called Baraq — it is the swiftest of running dogs and the most reliable in the hunt; from the other emerges a chick, the last of its chicks.”

Well, I wager you’ve already admitted that the ideas are similar. Yes of course, apart from the difference that while one has the ability to detect poison the other can run like the wind. Several Turkic groups were living in close proximity to Tibet for quite a long time, not to mention Kashgari himself. So I don’t know if there is enough chance of finding an answer to justify placing the question how and where the bird-dog exchanges may have come about. I’m afraid I know little more than what I’ve told you already. Still, I somehow regard it as impressive enough to warrant a short blog like this one you see hanging in front of your glazed-over eyeballs, wearily rolling backward in their sockets in utter disbelief at this late-night shaggy dog story. All I can say in my defense is that the dog might not be all that shaggy after all. Go on and stick that in your pipe and smoke it, esteemed professors.

§   §   §

You must surely be demanding to see sources of authority for these amazing claims. Here you go:

Robert Dankoff, “Kâsgarî on the Beliefs and Superstitions of the Turks,”  Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 95, no.1 (January 1975), pp. 68-80, at p. 79.*
(*There are quite a few other things in Dankoff’s article suggesting some remarkably deep Tibeto-Turkic relations. I’m sure you already know that the oldest Tibetan texts display knowledge of the Turks they know as དྲུ་གུ་ or གྲུ་གུ་. I hate to be the bearer of difficult truths, but this dru-gu can in real instances be collapsed into the single syllable drug (དྲུག་), and this unwary translators are bound to render as the number six.  And གྲུ་གུ་?  It can also mean a ball of string.  Well, before I get tooo deep into the labyrinth, I think I’ll save that Turkic connection talk for another time, one more convenient to me.)
Gyurme Dorje, Tibet Handbook with Bhutan, Passport Books (Lincolnwood 1996), at p. 620.

Antonio Terrone, “Visions, Arcane Claims and Hidden Treasures: Charisma and Authority in a Present-day Gter-ston,” contained in: P. Christiaan Klieger, ed., Tibet, Self & the Tibetan Diaspora: Voices of Difference, Brill (Leiden 2002), pp. 213-228, at p. 222.

§   §   §

PS: Googlebooks tells me there is something about a man nicknamed Shaggy Dog Shaman in Julian Baldick's book Animal and Shaman.  His somewhat more proper name was Baraq Baba. He was a Turkish Muslim and he lived in around the year 1300.
“We are told that Baraq Baba and his followers were beardless, but with long moustaches, and wore felt hats with two horns. Around their necks hung cows’ knuckle bones painted with henna, crooked sticks and little bells. They would beat drums and play other instruments...”
This is complete news to me, but he sure sounds like an entertaining guy to invite to your next party.

If you read Turkish better than I do, have a look at this Vikipedia entry. To believe the entry about him in Encyclopaedia Iranica* as I tend to do, Baraq Baba’s nickname means just the opposite of shaggy dog; it means hairless dog. To tell the truth, disregarding the hair problem for now, he resembles more than a little the young Götsangpa. Maybe it’s just the horned hat* and the showbiz attitude. Hmm... they lived at nearly the same time, didn’t they? 

(*I’m not sure you can get there, but give it a try here.)
(*For more on the horns see the blog on Birdhorns.)

PS:  There is further information of extraordinary interest in the comments section, a comment by "lovesong," so I think you ought to have a look right about now.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Tibetan Invention of the Cell Phone

Sure, I think I can recognize the likely sources of your hesitancy. You’re thinking to yourself, ‘What? Not another rave about ancient Tibetan technology and out-of-place artefacts!’ Well, yes, I guess it is, sort of. I know you’ve been bamboozled before, and that’s what makes it hard for you to trust other people with their strange ideas ever again. But I do plan to have a look into the sources of authority, and the authority of that authority, if I have time for it. Before that I want to quote from something you will have to agree is a most impressive testimony to Tibetan knowledge of the cell phone long before it became the quotidian headache it is today. The source is a very reputable one. In fact, it’s the Journal of the Bihar and Orissa Research Society, volume 26, part 2 published in the year 1940, in an article by Captain V. d'Auvergne, M.C., D.C.M., M.S.M., entitled “My Experiences in Tibet.”  Notice that date nearly 75 years ago when your grandparents were mere saplings. Now go ask them what kind of phones they were using way back then. I’m sure they’ll still remember if they remember anything at all.

Another thing you should notice is that right in the title, we already know that it isn’t just some official talking head or armchair observer... No, this person was there and personally experienced what he’s talking about. There, on pages 109 through 111, you may read, and I quote:
“While staying at the Moru-amo Lhaga, seated one afternoon in the Zug-kang with Pezu Lama, who on account of his great age went by the simple name of Goppoo (which means — old man), he suddenly stopped talking and held himself as if to listen—then from the breast of his tin-lo (robe) withdrew a small metal cylinder-shaped article about 8" in length by 2" in diameter, from one end of which he removed a cover, and held the open end to his ear for a moment, then reversed it and opened the other end, into which he spoke a sentence or two in a whispering voice, after which he closed the instrument and returned it to his robe. On seeing my astonishment and curiosity that I could not hide — he calmly informed me that he was talking to his young brother who was a lama away north in the Tzagan Ora Mountains, over 200 miles from Moru-amo. I felt so confused on hearing this, that the only remark I could manage to think of was to ask him what might be the age of his young brother?  ‘Oh!’ he replied in a slighting manner, ‘he is not 120 as yet.’ I thought it best not to ask any more questions, but during the months of my convalescence with the Dzurmo, I mentioned this matter. He smilingly informed me that it was a simple little convenience called the L'en sang-wa (or secret messenger) at one time extensively in use with the ancient Gyal-Dzom. The little instruments were made in pairs only, and by some process—en rapport—with each other in such a manner that certain very delicate vibratory action was set up by the voice on the fine tissues of the other. An instrument was no use without its particular pair. The chemical from which the tissues were prepared was of some kind of composite mineral, and vegetable extraction, the secret of which was jealously guarded by the ancient Gyal-Dzom, but it appears that the secret leaked out and seems to have filtered down the ages, but still carefully guarded by a few of the elect. I learned later that the tissues of the instruments deteriorated after a certain time, but could always be renewed by chemical treatment. Here again is interesting work for research.”

The Tibetan name the Captain gives for the secret messenger is l'en sang-wa. I guess that is likely to be Tibetan lan gsang-ba, and that it means something more like secret response.  

Did you ever hear of the Baghdad battery? The Dendera lightbulbs? Well, if you haven’t, you ought to look into it. I see that our trusty Captain also found lightbulbs in Tibet.
“Approaching one of the lights, I found that it was but a lump of common stone-crystal about 4" in diameter placed on a plate of some kind of metal, grey in colour, about half an inch thick and one foot in diameter, all of which was hung by bronze wire loops from an arm at right angles from a wooden upright. Over and around the plate ran an ornamental tracing in thin lines of gold hieroglyphics resembling the characters on the cave writings. Needless to say, I was keen to get an explanation...”
Keen is the word for you, too, if you are like me. In case you need this reassurance, everything does have a reasonable explanation. Whether you’ll be ready to accept it or not, I’m not so ready to say.
“The Che-sho willingly informed me that the sound of the gong penetrated the metal plate from which a vibrating force emanated, that had the effect of infusing to the crystal particles a bright luminous glow that gradually grew to a certain intensity in accordance with the volume of vibratory sound. If the gong was struck with a metal hammer, the glow would be so great that the human eye could not stand it without a head covering of thick cloth—and still neither the crystal or plate had a particle of heat.
“Che-sho said that he had no knowledge of what kind of metal the plate or the gong was made of, as they were received in his Monastery hundreds of years ago. He could not say from where or from whom; but personally, I have no doubt that it is another of the ancient Gyal-Dzom's scientific secrets.”
As if we hadn’t had our fill of amazing information, the Captain tells us about the dong-are Kong-mi, his Tibetan name for the Abominable Snowmen.  I’m guessing there is a small fault in the typography, and emend it to dong-dre Kong-mi; then it comes closer to meaning what he says it means, which is devil snowmen. Still, I’d prefer the translation bear snow men, assuming the true spelling to be dom-dred gangs-mi. That much seems reasonable. I also liked the vines that were made to grow so rapidly — ten feet in one day — they could be made to form bridges. That sounds very useful, so long as it’s not the dreaded kudzu vine. Forget about cell phones; I’d be overjoyed to learn that Tibetans never invented anything so harmful.

If you want to know when the first real walky-talky was invented, look here.  Interesting...

§  §  §

I don't know much about the author, except that he wrote two books (or would that be just one book?) that are still available from used book dealers:

Zindari A daughter of the Indian Frontier and other Thrilling Tales of the Indian Frontier by Captain V. D'Auvergne (1939).

Folk-Tales of the Indian Frontier  I’m not so sure if this title isn’t just one of the many reprints of the title just listed.

I guess I should have included sound-activated light switches among the subjects of today’s blog. Next time maybe I’ll go into the issue of when the first Tibetan man-lifting kites may have been invented. If you are like me — and I guess you are like me more or less — I know you won’t want to miss it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Good Grief! Gurdjieff in Tibet?

Did George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1866-1949) ever visit Tibet?  I recognize the problem that some of you may simply not know why you ought to care, and I empathize with you, but keep in mind that there are people out there who do care, people who may even care far too much. As a Tibetanist they may want to get answers from you. What are you going to tell them? That's not Gurdjieff here in the frontispiece, and neither is it Dorjiev, but the truth is, Dorjiev and Gurdjieff have been confused in the past. One author, otherwise quite a good one I think,* unhelpfully decided that while Gurdjieff in fact isn’t Dorjiev, it’s Dorjiev’s follower Norzunoff that is Gurdjieff.  In either case, if either identification were true, it would follow that Gurdjieff did in fact visit Tibet. (Well, since both Dorjiev and Norzunoff most definitely did.)
(*James Webb, The Harmonious Circle:  The Lives and Work of G. I. Gurdjieff, P. D. Ouspensky, and Their Followers, G. P. Putnam's Sons (New York 1980).)

Agwan Dorjiev (ངག་དབང་རྡོ་རྗེ་)

Ovshe Norzunoff
Le Tour de Monde (1904)


There is one person I know of who claimed to know for a fact that Gurdjieff was in Tibet, and that's the smoking man you see up there at the top of the blog.  His name was Achmed Abdullah.  How did Achmed know Gurdjieff had been to Tibet?  Because he (A.A.) had seen him (G.I.G.) there, in Lhasa.

Now surely Gurdjieff was from the general area of Caucasus-Georgia-Armenia-Turkey (his parentage was Greek and Armenian), and not from Buriatia, as is implied in the quote you will see just below. His surname anyway suggests that he or his family must have originated in Georgia. The name Dorjiev has a quite different origin, since as is the style even today among Mongolians, it is a slightly modified form of the frequent Tibetan name element Dorjé (རྡོ་རྗེ་).*
(*For a bit on the possessive suffix -ov/-off/-ev/-eff used to form Slavic surnames, try looking here. Like surnames everywhere, they may [among other possibilities] be based on place of origin.  Dorjiev's name was formed on the assumption that Dorjé was in some way his surname when of course it was not.  It’s an integral part of his given name.)

The following quote is taken from Rom Landau (1899-1974), God Is My Adventure (1935?), p. 188: 

‘I so often hear about his [Gurdjieff’s] experiences in Tibet,’ I replied: “but I am somewhat suspicious of those Tibetan tales. Every other messiah, from Mme. Blavatsky onwards, claims to have gathered knowledge in the mountains of Tibet. How do you know that Gurdjieff has actually ever been there?’

‘I happen to possess first-hand proofs. Some years ago there was a luncheon in New York, given, if I remember aright, for Gurdjieff. A number of distinguished men had been invited, among others the writer, Achmed Abdullah, who told me that he had never seen Gurdjieff before, but that he was very much looking forward to meeting this unusual Armenian. When Gurdjieff entered the room Achmed Abdullah turned to me and whispered: “I have met that man before. Do you know who he really is? Before the war he was in Lhassa as an agent of the Russian Secret Service. I was in Lhassa at the same time, and in a way we worked against each other.” So, you see, it is quite true that Gurdjieff had been at the very fountain of esoteric knowledge. Some people say he was in Lhassa as a Secret Service agent, in order to disguise the real purpose of his visit, which was to learn the supernatural methods of the Lamas. Other people maintain that his esoteric studies were only a pretext behind which he could hide his political activities. But who can tell?’

And the following letter is copied from the same book, p. 202: 

Captain Achmed Abdullah.
Fifth Avenue House,
Sunday. New York City.  


As to Gurdjieff, I have no way of proving that I am right except that I know I am right. When I knew him, thirty years ago, in Tibet, he was, besides being the young Dalai Lama’s chief tutor, the main Russian political agent for Tibet. A Russian Buriat by race and a Buddhist by religion, his learning was enormous, his influence in Lhassa very great, since he collected the tribute of the Baikal Tartars for the Dalai Lama’s exchequer, and he was given the high title of Tsannyis Khan-po. In Russia he was known as Hambro Akvan Dorzhieff; to the British Intelligence as Lama Dorjieff. When we invaded Tibet, he disappeared with the Dalai in the general direction of outer Mongolia. He spoke Russian, Tibetan, Tartar, Tadjik, Chinese, Greek, strongly accented French and rather fantastic English. As to his age well I would say ageless. A great man who, though he dabbled in Russian imperialistic politics, did so I have an idea more or less in the spirit of jest. I met Gurdjieff, almost thirty years later, at dinner in the house of a mutual friend, John O’Hara Cosgrave, former editor of the New York World, in New York. I was convinced that he was Lama Dorjieff. I told him so and he winked. We spoke in Tadjik. I am a fairly wise man. But I wish I knew the things which Gurdjieff has forgotten. 

Very faithfully,

I don’t have any definitive disproof of this often-made identification, but I sincerely doubt Gurdjieff ever made it to Lhasa. If you want to pursue this will-o’-the-wisp further, I'd recommend this essay by Paul Beekman Taylor entitled “Gurdjieff and Prince Ozay.” Here the identity problems get, if anything, even thicker.

It’s true that Achmed’s information about Dorjiev is sufficiently accurate and believable, based on what we can know from independent sources. What isn’t so believable is he had sufficient reason to equate him with Gurdjieff.  Achmed's accuracy makes me tend to believe that he might have actually been in Lhasa, seen Dorjiev there or at least heard a great deal about him, but his assertion of the single personhood of Gurdjieff-Dorjiev is, as he says, not something he can prove. And this equation our independent sources can disprove, especially now that a number of sources about Dorjiev's last years have been made known to the world at large.

It isn’t even all that clear to me that Gurdjieff unequivocally claimed that he had been in Lhasa or any other part of Tibet proper. What he did claim is that he received ultra-esoteric teachings (that formed the [or a] basis of his own teachings, including the well-known dances) at an almost entirely inaccessible location somewhere in the vicinity of the Pamirs from a group called the Sarmoung Brotherhood. They had yet another ‘sister’ monastery on the northern slopes of the Himalayas called Olman Monastery.  I'm not sure if he claimed to go to this Olman Monastery, but even then I am the opposite of clear when it comes to knowing where the “northern slopes of the Himalayas” might be.* I’ve seen some say Gurdjieff claimed he had a “Tibetan marriage” and his eldest son became the head of a lamaserie, although I’m not sure how to trace back the authorities for it, or if it’s all that interesting. Is it?

(*See p. 313 in William James Thompson, J.G. Bennett's Interpretation of the Teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff, a Study of Transmission in the Fourth Way, doctoral dissertation, University of Lancaster (1995).  The southern slopes of the Himalayas are much more easily located.  For all I know the northern slopes of the Himalayas could be all the way up beyond the Kunlun Mountains, somewhere near the palace of the Queen Mother of the West.)

Well, we do all have problems with identity. That much is true and undeniable.

§  §  §


Douglas Fairbanks in “The Thief of Bagdad, an Arabian Nights Fantasy,” 1924 movie, its screenplay by Nadir Khan, aka Achmed Abdullah, aka Alexander Nicholayevitch Romanoff, the man who knew how to identify people. Well, I’d say Achmed Abdullah (1881-1945) was a very interesting character in his own right. I think we should take what he said with liberal doses of salt. Name changers see everyone else as name changers, you think maybe? Hollywood people know all there is to know about projection.

In general, I very much admire the acting done on both screen and stage under the directorship of Peter Brook, so if even just for that, I’d much recommend seeing “Meetings with Remarkable Men.” Here you can find what looks like a complete version of the film. Or try here.  

And finally, if you are serious about wanting to know something about Dorjiev (1853-1938), I would seriously recommend this and/or the following book or the article by Andreyev. We know how Dorjiev spent the last decades of his life, and No, he did not spend them pretending to be Gurdjieff!

Jampa Samten and Nikolay Tsyrempilov, From Tibet Confidentially: Secret Correspondence of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama to Agvan Dorzjiev, 1911-1925, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (Dharamsala 2012).

Alexandre I. Andreyev, An Unknown Russian Memoir by Aagvan Dorjiev, Inner Asia, vol. 3 (2001), pp. 27-39.  This has a survey of now-available sources on the life of Dorjiev.  Several other works by the same author ought to be listed, if I had more energy, including the book cited in the appendix down below.

For some remarkable historic photographs of the Buddhist temple Dorjiev founded in St. Petersburg, look here. For a sketch of the temple's history, try here.

For the birthplace of Gurdjieff, look here, where it says  "Gurdjieff was born in the Armenian city of Alexandropol, which is now called Gyumri."  The birthdate would seem to be up in the air.

§  §  §

Appendix: The Death of Dorjiev

Source:  Alexandre Andreyev, Soviet Russia and Tibet: The Debacle of Secret Diplomacy, 1918-1930s, Brill (Leiden 2003), p. 361:
"In January 1937, Dorzhiev, accompanied by his attendant, Lama Dugar Jimbiev, left Leningrad for Buryatia. There he hoped to spend his last days in a solitary retreat as Buddhist monks do, in his house at the medical school of the Atsagat Datsang, near Verkneudinsk. However his hopes were not to be fulfilled. On 13 November the Buryat was arrested in his home and put into prison in Verkheudinsk. He was accused of high treason (spying for Japan), terrorist and subversive activities, preparation of armed rebellion, and several more anti-Soviet crimes. Two weeks later, shortly after his one and only interrogation, Dorzhiev was taken to a hospital ward. There, on January 29, 1938, he died."

Gurdjieff died during the morning of October 29, 1949, in France.  His last words?  "Bravo America."

Answer me this: How can two people who are one and the same person die such different deaths?