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How a Muslim Textual content Turned a Tibetan Bestseller

The Sources of Buddhist Traditions is a month-to-month column from three of the main digital assets for Buddhist analysis, texts, and translation: Buddhist Digital Useful resource Middle, The Treasury of Lives, and 84000: Translating the Phrases of the Buddha. Specializing in tales, texts, translation, and academics, the sequence will illuminate points of Buddhist apply, thought, and custom.

A 12 months earlier than the pandemic, my aunt Somo Yangzom and I had been on our option to one of many native Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Kathmandu when she turned to me and mentioned all her associates had been dying. In her eighties, she known as herself one of many final ones left. 

“‘They preserve coming and so they preserve going. All who come should go in the long run.’ That is Khache Phalu’s recommendation,” she instructed me, quoting Khache Phalu’s Recommendation on the Artwork of Residing, a beloved traditional Tibetan textual content.

Although she by no means realized to learn or write and didn’t go to highschool, my aunt, who got here from Tibet into exile in Nepal as a younger girl, nonetheless managed to commit a number of lengthy prayers and verses to reminiscence, together with many from Khache Phalu. With attribute humor and perception, she deploys verses from this textual content in any respect the suitable conversational bends, quoting it the way in which she quotes her lamas and academics. 

khache phalu's advice
Somo Yangzom taking a relaxation from her kora stroll round Boudha Stupa, Kathmandu | Photograph by Tenzin Dickie

Talking of an area Tibetan who was identified to be light-fingered, she has mentioned, “It’s the mother and father. They need to have taught him higher, stopped him when he first began stealing. Because it says in Khache Phalu:

“’Should you don’t self-discipline your youngster when he steals an egg,
Then he’ll go on to steal a hen, adopted by a horse!’”

Khache Phalu is her supply textual content, and its eponymous writer one in all my aunt’s academics. He’s a guru lighting the trail for her, dishing out the suitable recommendation in atypical moments of stress and misery, strife and disappointment, love and laughter. He was additionally a lay Kashmiri Tibetan Muslim service provider.

We’re used to the story of Tibet as an insular Buddhist society, however the existence and continued recognition of Khache Phalu tells a special story.

Muslim retailers from Kashmir doubtless first arrived in Tibet within the 14th century. The phrase “khache” referred to Kashmiris, however Tibetans got here to make use of it to establish Muslims from anyplace. Throughout the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama within the seventeenth century, they started to settle completely and to intermarry with native Tibetans. The Fifth Dalai Lama, underneath whose rule Tibet started to emerge as a significant political pressure in Interior Asia, gave the brand new Muslim minority not solely his assist and patronage, however even a land grant to construct a mosque and a cemetery. By 1950, there have been round three thousand Muslims in Lhasa, a large minority, and 4 mosques, two very near the Jokhang Temple, Lhasa’s holy Buddhist cathedral.

The Lhasa United soccer staff, comprised of Tibetans, Nepalese, and Ladakhi Muslims, photographed by British diplomat Frederick Spencer Chapman in 1936, Lhasa | Courtesy of The Tibet Album. “Lhasa United soccer staff” 05 Dec. 2006. Accession no. 1998.131.385. The Pitt Rivers Museum.

Writing about 1840s Lhasa, the French missionary Abbe Huc mentioned, “The everlasting inhabitants of Lhasa consists of Tibetans, Newaris [Nepalis], Khache [Muslims] and Chinese language.” Muslim communities weren’t simply in Lhasa, both. They lived in Shigatse, Gyantse, Tsethang, and elsewhere on the plateau.

Khache Phalu’s Recommendation, a piece of aphorisms in verse and a testomony to this Tibetan Kashmiri-Muslim neighborhood, appeared someday within the eighteenth century and have become universally beloved throughout Tibet. For the following 200 years, Khache Phalu’s Recommendation was a mainstay of Tibetan cultural schooling. Even when the ebook was not formally taught in monasteries, all Tibetans, educated or not, may quote from it. The ebook continues to be learn, memorized, and most significantly, broadly quoted, at the moment. Like verses from Shakespeare in English, strains from Khache Phalu have entered the frequent Tibetan repertoire of sayings.

How did a Kashmiri Muslim textual content turn into a Tibetan bestseller? The straightforward reply is that the recommendation in Khache Phalu related deeply with the Tibetan folks as a result of it commented immediately on their on a regular basis experiences. Everybody from realized monastics to self-taught businesswomen like my aunt felt that Khache Phalu had one thing to show them about reside their lives, conduct their relationships, and handle their tasks. Most significantly, it taught them in clear and colloquial language that individuals truly understood. 

Utilizing neither the excessive register of Sanskrit kavya poetry, with its ornate and figurative language, nor the specialised terminology of the Tibetan Buddhist canon, Khache Phalu’s recommendation, given within the language of the folks, sounded precisely like knowledge from an intimate elder:  

“Fairly than having tea and chang [barley wine]
with strings hooked up,
it’s higher to eat one’s personal grass
and drink one’s personal water.
Fairly than having meat from the hunter,
it’s higher to eat one’s personal fleas.
Consuming and sleeping 
solely, cows and donkeys do.
Is it good to do such issues, my son?”

— Translation by Dawa Norbu in Khache Phalu’s Recommendation on the Artwork of Residing.

One among a number of copies of the Khache Phalu textual content within the Buddhist Digital Useful resource Middle’s open-access on-line archive | BDRC

Khache Phalu belongs to the style of Tibetan knowledge literature that has its roots in Indian knowledge literature and considerations itself extra with worldly recommendation than with religious steering, utilizing literary conventions to attach with readers. Individuals embraced the ebook as a piece of literature, and accepted its Muslim options little doubt partly due to the writer’s literary talent. As noticed by historian David G. Atwill in his 2018 ebook Islamic Shangri-La, when Khache Phalu “emphasizes his monotheism or invokes Allah, the tone of the textual content fantastically makes use of Tibetan patterns and allusions to make no matter may presumably be perceived as ‘un-Tibetan’ into one thing undeniably Tibetan.” Certainly, Tibetan Muslims had been and nonetheless are well-known for his or her facility with the Tibetan language, particularly for utilizing the pure excessive honorific register of Lhasa locals. In 2014, at a public speak in Los Angeles, His Holiness the Dalai Lama praised Tibetan Muslims in Srinagar for his or her glorious, Lhasa-accented Tibetan, handed all the way down to them by their mother and father and grandparents. 

After all, Khache Phalu additionally closely supplemented the textual content with Buddhist references as properly. As an illustration, he reminds us:

“Provide prayers of homage with physique, speech, and thoughts.
Supplicate the valuable Three Jewels, the everlasting supply of assist.”

— Translation by Beth Newman in Thupten Jinpa’s edited quantity, The Tibetan E-book of On a regular basis Knowledge: A Thousand Years of Sage Recommendation.

Actually, his Buddhist references had been so apt that not solely had been there rumors that he was a Buddhist masquerading as a Muslim, however there was even a rumor that the Sixth Panchen Lama was the actual writer of this textual content. 

In any case, solely a handful of texts are as well-known and beloved among the many atypical Tibetan folks. And all of them, together with the Elegant Sayings of Sakya, the Treatise on Water, and the Treatise on Wooden, had been written by Tibetan Buddhist monks. 

But it surely’s the mercantile taste, with a splash of Machiavelli, that actually units this work aside from others of its sort. As an illustration, a Buddhist writer would by no means write the next strains:

“Mother and father ought to convey up their sons to accumulate wealth.
Hearken to an outdated man who has lived a few years,
for outdated males have skilled a lot pleasure and sorrow.
Whenever you attain the border with the iron fence,
an outdated man’s techniques are higher than the power of youth.
If you wish to conquer your current enemies straight away,
it’s best to attract them in as your folks for now and wait.”

— Translation by Beth Newman in Thupten Jinpa’s edited quantity, The Tibetan E-book of On a regular basis Knowledge: A Thousand Years of Sage Recommendation.

“Deliver up your sons to accumulate wealth” is the direct reverse of recommendation that might come from a Buddhist monk, who would recommend gathering advantage as a substitute of cash. However it’s recommendation that Tibetan mother and father would truly give their youngsters. It’s little marvel that folks, and aunts, truly quote the textual content so continuously. “An outdated man’s techniques are higher than the power of youth”—sure, certainly! However the final strains, with their worldly and intensely un-Buddhist counsel towards pretense, subterfuge, and betrayal, are those that basically give the writer away.

Take into account these strains:

“In summer season deal with your iron plow; in winter deal with your slate roof.
Maintain your crimson tongue it doesn’t matter what the season.
Gauge what number of secrets and techniques to inform your expensive associates;
associates within the morning typically turn into enemies by dusk.”

— Translation by Beth Newman in Thupten Jinpa’s edited quantity, The Tibetan E-book of On a regular basis Knowledge: A Thousand Years of Sage Recommendation.

Khache Phalu knew firsthand the calls for and obligations of maintaining a family, and far of his recommendation is explicitly helpful. However he didn’t simply advise on family chores and seasonal duties; he additionally understood atypical folks.

Some have instructed that Khache Phalu grew to become in style despite its Muslim origin—that it’s basically a Buddhist textual content, despite its Islamic undertones and overtones. Actually, Khache Phalu grew to become in style with Tibetans not despite its Muslim and mercantile origin however precisely due to it. Tibetans like it to this present day as a result of it was written not by a Tibetan Buddhist monk however a Tibetan Muslim service provider and lay householder who knew the mundane world intimately.

The monk might know extra about nirvana, however the service provider is aware of extra about samsara—he lives within the very coronary heart of it. The service provider should observe his fellow people; his livelihood depends upon how properly he is aware of his prospects and purchasers. As Professor Dawa Norbu, who produced the primary translation of Khache Phalu in English (printed by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, in 1987) identified, “As a service provider, Khache Phalu was strategically located in Tibetan society. As a naturalized Tibetan, he was a participant, however as a Muslim, he was an observer.”

Kache Phalu’s Recommendation on the Artwork of Residing, translated by Dawa Norbu and printed by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives | Photograph by Tenzin Dickie

Khache Phalu had each the observer’s distance and the participant’s expertise. He distilled each into his textual content. 

It’s value remembering, after we consider Tibet as a monolithic Buddhist society, that one in all its best-loved texts was written by a Muslim. And that the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of his day had myriad influences, because it nonetheless does at the moment. Muslim by faith, Tibetan Buddhist by tradition, and service provider by commerce, Khache Phalu grew to become an unlikely and but excellent kalyana mitra, the smart religious good friend guiding his viewers on the suitable path to a very good life. 

As my aunt is aware of, Khache Phalu has loads to show us:

“Solely a madman will change gold for brass,
Solely a idiot will mistake stone for turquoise.
Should you don’t perceive the distinction
Between this life and the following,
You’ll waste your mundane samsaric life.
After a 12 months or two and 100 extra,
Even your earthly physique will flip to mud.
The king on his golden throne
And the beggar on the street
Die the identical loss of life
By impermanence.”


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