Friday, April 4, 2014

'Ol-mo-lung-ring & the Oxus River


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“in the Mdo-’dus, ’Ol-mo-lung-ring is located to the northwest of western Tibet (where Ti-tse/Ti-se is) and rather to the north of a mysterious country called Dmu (Persia, perhaps?). It is cut by both the Nine Dark Mountains (on which, more soon) and the rivers Pag-shu and Si-ti, which we might very well identify as the Oxus (Vakṣu) and Sitā …… Here we seem to be dealing with an area that stretches from the Badakhshan in northeastern Afghanistan, circling (to the right or the left of) the Pamirs, and touching on, but not actually including, the Tarim Basin (which seems to be well covered by the Li Bal Phrom of the scheme). Hence, compared to the picture from the Eighteen Great Countries”……

“The Panjshir River flows through the Panjshir Valley in northeastern Afghanistan, 150km from Kabul. It flows southward through the Hindu Kush and adjoins the Kabul River near Sarobi. At this junction, a dam was built in the 1950s to supply water from the Panjshir River to the Kabul River (ancient River Sita).”…….'Narrative of a Journey to the Source of the River Oxus', London: John Murray, 1841.

“…the Mdo-’dus says that ’Ol-mo-lung-ring is cut by the rivers Pakshu (Pag-shu: the Oxus river) and Si-ta “

The Kabul River (Persian/Urdu: دریای کابل‎; Pashto: کابل سیند‎, Sanskrit: कुभा ), the classical Cophes /ˈkoʊfiːz/, is a 700-kilometre (430 mi) long river that starts in the Sanglakh Range of the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan and ends in the Indus River near Attock, Pakistan. It is the main river in eastern Afghanistan and is separated from the watershed of the Helmand by the Unai Pass. The Kabul River passes through the cities of Kabul and Jalalabad in Afghanistan before flowing into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan some 25 kilometres (16 mi) north of the Durand Line border crossing at Torkham.

“ If we follow the scheme of the Eighteen Great Countries, and assume that ’Ol-mo-lung-ring is, as many later sources say, in some way identical with Stag-gzig, we see that Stag-gzig is to the west of Tibet, and is bordered by the smaller areas of Gilgit and Yavana (Bactria). This would point to an area stretching from present-day north Pakistan to Takhar (equivalent to Tibetan Tho-gar, which shouldn’t be confused with the Thod-dkar which borders China, although both names seem to come from a single ethnonym, and are in fact occasionally confused in Bon sources) in northeastern Afghanistan, and possibly including areas still further to the south.”

“’Ol-mo-lung-ring never really served as a place of pilgrimage, but besides that it was everything we could want from a place. No Bonpo of recent centuries has actually succeeded in travelling overland to ’Ol-mo-lung-ring, or if they have, they never returned to tell the tale. It was a paradise both on and beyond the earth, an exotic country, a place of religious origins, a visionary landscape, a Pure Land in which one might wish to gain rebirth. Although its explicit identification with Shambhala, more correctly Sambhala, appears only rather late in Bon literature …., there are a few general and specific features, even in the earlier texts, that would suggest their similarity. ’Ol-mo-lung-ring was and is all these things, but at the same time it was a place on the ground that we can indeed roughly locate, through text-based historical geography, in the area between Ladakh/Kashmir and the Oxus River. And it was and is a quite original holy place rooted in the sacred biography of Lord Shenrab, not just a copy of anyone else’s holy place, not a retracing of some lost Persian map, but a place interwoven with the sacred time of Bon’s founding moments.”

“ ’Ol-mo-lung-ring and the three Zhang-zhungs. ….. It says (p. 945) that Innermost Zhang-zhung is more than three months journey to the west of Mount Ti-se, close to Me-sag-gi Par-sig (?some part of Persia, evidently) and the area which includes Badakhshan (Bha-dag-shan) and Balkh (Bha-lag). ….. the author goes on to identify Innermost Zhang-zhung with the kingdom of Mi-lus-bsam-legs, and he makes this identification seemingly unaware that the Mother Tantra literature with which Mi-lus-bsam-legs is so closely associated always identifies his kingdom with Intermediate Zhang-zhung. Intermediate Zhang-zhung Dbra-ston identifies with Pretapuri, a town a few days walk west of Mt. Ti-se …… Later in the text (p. 961), he tells us how to get to Stag-gzig (=Ta-zig) country. Starting from Ladakh you travel a great distance, and in the northwest is Mo-ta-na, a part of Du-ru-ka. To the south of Mo-ta-na is Thod-dkar country, and outside of (or ‘beyond’) Thod-dkar is Ta-zig or Stag-gzig country…… He places Ga-dza-na (i.e., Ghazna) still further to the west, identifying it with O-rgyan. Another recent writer, Dpal-tshul (p. 34), identifies Innermost Zhang-zhung with Rtag-gzig, and Intermediate Zhang-zhung with O-rgyan……”…a work by one Dbra-ston Skal-bzang-bstan-pa’i-rgyal-mtshan (1897-1959) entitled ’Dzam-gling-gi Mtha’ Dbus-kyi Rnam-gzhag Nyer-mkho’i Snang-ba, cited in Norbu (1990) and Bsod-nams-don-grub (1992: 33)

“The Rgyal-rabs (p. 21) tells, without great conviction, a piece of a traditional story: When you look westward from the mountaintops of Kashmir, there is a dark rainbow. Travelling for a long distance in that direction there appears, at the outskirts of Sharp Teeth (Dbal-so) Glacier [Mountains], a pathway no larger than a bamboo tube. Since she was unable to go into it, the messenger woman returned after reaching the glacier [mountains].”

“…..for a Dunhuang source, in which the rivers in the east, south, west and north are the Bhan-ksha, Si-ta, ’Ga’-’ga’, and Si-to, and the animals are the bull, elephant, lion and horse. Note also an article on the subject of the four rivers, Pranavananda (1968). This first version of the Mdo-’dus is quite close to the version Macdonald (1962: 540, 547 n. 18) calls the more ‘usual description’: in which the rivers in the east, south, west and north are the Ga∫gā, Sindhu, Pakṣu, and Sîtā, with the corresponding animals being the elephant, bull, horse and lion (and this corresponds to the account in the thirteenth-century Tibetan commentary on the Abhidharmakośa by Mchims ’Jam-pa’i-dbyangs; compare also the rather different account of the fifth-century Buddhaghoṣa cited in Law 1968: 194-5). Here the only serious difference with the Mdo-’dus’s first version is the substitution of the lion for the peacock.”…Macdonald, Ariane, ‘Note sur la diffusion de la theorie des quatre fils du ciel au Tibet’, Journal Asiatique, vol. 250 (1962), pp. 531-548.

“…we may say that all the various sources we have brought forward point to a location for ’Ol-mo-lung-ring not precisely in Persia, but in the lands between northern Persia and the (changing) western borders of Tibet. There is, it is true, a tendency to identify this area with the area of Mount Ti-se within western Tibet, although the two areas are just as often carefully distinguished; some of the place names in both places correspond, or are made to correspond, thus accentuating the perplexity of our problem. One author has suggested that the geography of western Tibet was transferred out of Tibet to form an idealized (and inaccessible) land. It seems equally possible that some aspects of the geography of ’Ol-mo-lung-ring were transferred into western Tibet to form a more accessible substitute holy place. My temporary impression is that, no matter how idealized the picture of ’Ol-mo-lung-ring, it could very well encapsulate cultural memories of the area to the west of Tibet and on the fringes of Persia, a place where Buddhism was long known and practiced, perhaps helping us to explain, in some part, the phenomenon of Bon in Tibet as a result of Buddhist migrations from (as well as Tibetan conquests of) that area. We must emphasize, since there are many who would wish otherwise, that the Bon sources always place ’Ol-mo-lung-ring well outside the boundaries of Tibet (and well outside the area of western Tibet, or Zhang-zhung, which includes Mt. Ti-se).”

“ In the biography of the ancient sage Tshe-dbang-rig-’dzin, a gter-ma of Gsang-sngags-gling-pa (b. 1864) excavated in 1889, we find similar expressions, but one example will suffice (Bon Kanjur, 2nd edition, vol. 187, fol. 78): ’dzam gling sum cha bde ba can gyi zhing / sog kha bon gyi ’byung gnas ’ol mo gling / sham bha la yi gnas mchog chen po der , ‘In that place that is one-third of Jambu Island, the Field of Bde-ba-can, the shoulder-bone [shaped] originating place of Bon ’Ol-mo-gling, the great supreme holy place of Shambhala.’ These eighteenth- and nineteenth-century passages clearly equate ’Ol-mo-lung-ring with Stag-gzig, with Bde-ba-can and, unlike earlier sources, with Shambhala, but missing is any information about which people in which countries call the place by which name. This further element we find first in the approximately 1910 work by Shar-rdza Bkra-shis-rgyal-mtshan (or perhaps by one of his disciples; see Shar-rdza 1973: 551; the authorship of this work is discussed in Blondeau 1988): ’dzam gling gi mi rigs so sos mtshan re yod pa’i nang tshan / zhang zhung gi mi rnams kyis stag gzig khrom pa’i gling / rgya gar gyi mi rnams kyis byang sham bha la’i gnas mchog / bod kyi mi rnams kyis stag gzig gi yul ’ol mo lung ring zhes gsol, ‘Each nationality of Jambu Island has its own name for it, among them: The people of Zhang-zhung call it Stag-gzig Khrom-pa’i Gling. The Indian people call it northern Shambhala, the supreme place. Tibetans call it the land of Stag-gzig, ’Ol-mo-lung-ring.’ In the history by Shar-rdza, composed in the 1920’s, we find a very similar quote (Shar-rdza 1985: 16): zhing khams ’di la mtshan gyi rnam grangs yang rgya gar gyi mi rnams kyis sham bha la / zhang zhung gi mi rnams kyis stag gzig khrom gyi yul / bod kyi mi rnams kyis stag gzig gi yul ’ol mo lung ring / o rgyan gyi mi rnams kyis nub phyogs bde ba can gyi zhing zer ro // zhes sogs mdo dri med las bshad do. The significant thing about this latter passage is that it attributes the idea of the various names of ’Ol-mo-lung-ring to the Mdo Dri-med, better known to us as the Gzi-brjid, the most extensive account of the life of Lord Shenrab aurally transmitted to Blo-ldan-snying-po (b. 1360) in the late fourteenth century.”

Olmo Lungring, a Holy Place Here. and Beyond, contained in: Samten G. Karmay and Jeff Watt, eds., Bon, the Magic Word: The Indigenous Religion of Tibet, Rubin Museum (New York 2007), pp. 98-123

Toni Huber, Sacred Spaces and Powerful Places in Tibetan Culture: A Collection of Essays, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (Dharamsala 1999), pp. 258-301.

‘Ol-mo-lung-ring, the Original Holy Place” in Tibet Journal (Dharamsala), vol. 20, no. 1 (Spring 1995), pp. 48-82.

Kværne, Per, ‘Dualism in Tibetan Cosmogonic Myths and the Question of Iranian Influence’, in: C.I. Beckwith, ed., Silver on Lapis: Tibetan Literary Culture and History, Bloomington, The Tibet Society, 1987, pp. 163-174.


John Hopkins.....Northern New Mexico….June 2014


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