Glimpses of Tibetan Divination: Past and Present is the first book of its kind, in that it contains articles by a group of eminent scholars who approach the subject matter by investigating it through various facets and salient historical figures.
Over the centuries, Tibetans developed many practices of prognostication and adapted many others from neighboring cultures and religions. In this way, Tibetan divination evolved into a vast field of ritual expertise that has been largely neglected in Tibetan Studies.
The Tibetan repertoire of divinatory techniques is rich and immensely varied. Accordingly, the specimen of practices discussed in this volume—many of which remain in use today—merely serve as examples that offer glimpses of divination in Tibet.
Contributors are Per Kværne, Brandon Dotson, Ai Nishida, Dan Martin, Petra Maurer, Charles Ramble, Donatella Rossi, Rolf Scheuermann, Alexander Smith, and Agata Bareja-Starzynska.
Based on a discussion of the concept of “prophet” in various cultures and historical periods, the term is applied to the situation in 8th-century CE Tibet, as retrospectively presented in the 12th or 13th century anonymous text Grags pa gling grags. This text is essentially a historical narrative describing the ascendancy of Buddhism under the Tibetan emperor Trisong Detsen (742–c. 800 CE) from the viewpoint of the Bön religion. According to this text, the emperor’s decision to favor Buddhism rather than the earlier religion of Bön was destined to have disastrous consequences for Tibet in the form of natural calamities, the disintegration of the Tibetan empire, social upheaval, and moral collapse. This process is described in great detail in the form of a prophecy uttered by the leader of the Bön priesthood, ending in his foretelling that in the future his emanation will return to Tibet and propagate teachings that are “neither Bön nor Buddhism” to specially chosen individuals. The chapter ends by attempting to understand this concept in the light of similar ideas in other cultures.
Padampa Sangyé (d. 1105 or 1117) is best known for his Mahāmudrā teachings, while divinations are at best a side note. Centering on this peripheral aspect, we look into the question of whether Padampa actually performed divinations, and which divinations those may have been. We also consider the authorship problem: Which types of divination texts have been ascribed to him? Working under the inspiration of Jan Assmann’s mnemohistory, we seek to divine whether or not these very likely falsely ascribed texts might still bear cultural significance worthy of consideration.
Within the vast array of mantic tools that characterize the discernment and interpretation of hidden circumstances, oneiromancy occupies a revered position and plays a specific role. According to the indications contained in textual sources, the dream state can be the vehicle for visions of pure fields, prophetic encounters, emblematic appearances of totemic animals and of messengers of powerful entities, to name just a few instances. The interrelation of divination in general, and oneiromancy in particular, with specifically identified liturgical and medical praxes, testifies to the value of the first and establishes the efficacy of the latter. The contribution, focused upon the gSal byed byang bu, a Bonpo text on oneiromancy from the Giuseppe Tucci Fund, will propose some hermeneutical reflections by taking into account the emic and etic implications of the divination discourse, so as to contextualize it in the broader ethno-sociological framework of the Tibetan cultural heritage.
Tibetan geomancy (sa dpyad) denotes a complex system of divination that has had the most profound influence on Tibetan culture. The designation sa dpyad or “examination of the land” generates the thought that the topography of an area is the only significant factor. However, sa dpyad includes various techniques a diviner applies to determine the right place for construction. These techniques are not only related to the place but also to time and timing. The diviner examines the place and assesses its characteristics, such as the shape of a mountain and the course of a river, as being suitable or unsuitable for construction. Furthermore, he calculates the zodiac signs, the elements, and other dimensions connected to time in order to decide the suitable timing: significant is the relation of the current year to the birth year of the future inhabitant. Some of these elements and dimensions are also put into relation with the place and they can be a decisive factor to choose the right construction site.
This paper overviews Old Tibetan dice divination texts retrieved from Dunhuang and other sites along the Silk Road in East Turkestan. Presenting a general list of twenty-three Old Tibetan dice divination texts and their basic information, I discuss their mutual relations by finding recurring structures and formulae in order to create a general typology of Old Tibetan dice divination omens. By means of the analysis of the stereotyped expressions of the dice divination texts, several points were brought to light. Firstly, they have distinctive formulae composed of four categories: (a) set of die-marks, (b) key terms, (c) commentary, and (d) result. Secondly, category (b) can be divided into two groups. One has (b-1) verse in six syllables and/or (b-2) title (A gyi mo la bab te), and the other one has (b-3) the name of divinity (B gyi zhal nas) and/or (b-4) either narrative or maxim. Depending on each group, respective instructions are shown in case of the inauspicious omen. Lastly, and it is most striking here, category (b) is always closely connected with the divination results, even though die-marks are consistently irrelevant to them. In other words, overlapping omens which include the same or similar constituents of category (b) and final evaluations rarely indexed by the same combination of die-marks. Through these analyses, I propose the process of producing dice divination texts. In contrast to Thomas’s statement—each text “is a collection of actual responsa, compiled by a professional from his own or other records”—I assume that it is accomplished not by a single professional but among a group of professionals. They prepare the drafts substantiating the divination results by prevalent verses, effective divinities, well-known narratives or maxims which must be crucial for envisaging the prognostics. At the final phase of producing the texts, the sets of die-marks are inserted within the appropriate blank space prepared beforehand. It may well explain both the disorder in the sequence of triads and the defective texts which have no description of die-marks.
Relative to the prevalence and diversity of divination practices in Tibetan cultures, the study of divination remains grossly underrepresented in Tibetological literature. Though there are a number of excellent publications on the subject, the majority of these have tended towards explorations of Imperial history and the origins of Tibetan divination traditions. There are, of course, several valuable ethnographic works in which divination has been discussed; however, a reflexive anthropology of divination has not taken root under the aegis of Tibetan Studies. This disciplinary lacuna remains pronounced and, in my opinion, has restricted the development of the broader interdisciplinary discourse on Tibetan ritual practices. With these issues in mind, this paper will discuss the structure of the prognostics offered in a form of lithomancy, or pebble-divination, common to the Bon religion of Tibet. The discussion will be drawn primarily from an eighteenth-century treatise written by Kun grol grags pa, as well as two later commentaries published in the nineteenth century. It will be shown that this particular form of divination uses a system of ‘trumps’ that significantly complicate the distillation of prognoses. In this respect, it can be argued that certain lithomantic techniques stand apart from other forms of Tibetan cleromancy, many of which use similar numeral systems, though lack a mediating structure of “major” and “minor” results. By way of conclusion, it will be argued that prophylactic rites—which feature in the majority of lithomantic prognoses—are integral to the perceived efficacy of pebble-divination practices. This argument will be based upon textual materials as well as fieldwork conducted in Himachal Pradesh, India between February and July 2013.
The present paper describes how Tibetan divination and prognostication were introduced to Mongolia on the example of Lamyn Gegeen Blo bzang bstan ’dzin rgyal mtshan (1639–1703), who was an eminent Mongolian dGe lugs pa scholar. He studied in Tibet in 1655–1661 under many important masters, including the First (or Fourth) Panchen Lama (1570–1662) and the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617–1682). In Mongolia he was a disciple of the First Khalkha Jetsundampa (1635–1723) and a teacher of the Khalkha Zaya Pandita Luvsanprinlei (Blo bzang ’phrin las, 1642–1715). Lamyn Gegeen was an influential master of Buddhism and especially an expert in Tibetan medicine and astrology. His life and works on astrology and divination are briefly presented here with the hope of shedding some light on this aspect of the process of “Tibeto-Mongolica,” understood as adaptation of Tibetan practices by the Mongols.
Divination reveals the visible component of an otherwise unseen configuration of forces that might affect our lives for better or for worse. However, in addition to divinatory techniques, there are signs all around us that do not need to be elicited by special methods, if only we knew how to recognize and interpret them. The behavior of wild animals at certain locations and at certain times of day is a particularly good way of discerning what (usually something unpleasant) is due to happen. Dreams, too, offer a range of sights, sounds and other sensations that portend what might befall us in this life and the next. This article presents a general overview of the associations between signs and meanings listed in a number of Buddhist and Bonpo ritual and oneiromantic texts. On the basis of these texts it undertakes a tentative investigation of the way in which signs seem to be understood: in addition to being indicators of what is to come (or what has been), they are sometimes represented as the actual causes. And while it is clear that measures can be taken to offset the effects of what the signs portend, there are suggestions that it is also possible to influence the signs themselves before they manifest.
Nearly two dozen excavated Tibetan manuscripts from Dunhuang, Turfan, and Mazār Tāgh bear witness to the prevalence of a specific tradition of dice divination in Tibet. Largely dating to the ninth century, these manuscripts constitute a crucial part of the material culture of dice divination; another important part is the dice that are characteristic of this tradition. Known in Sanskrit as pāśaka-s, they are rectangular four-sided dice, and they have been found at archeological sites ranging from Mohenjo-Daro to Khotan to Egypt. From the first studies of early Tibetan dice divination texts inaugurated by A.H. Francke, scholars have emphasized the comparative and cross-cultural analysis of this method of divination. Such comparisons initially drew on the Runic Turkic Irq Bitiq, the Sanskrit Pāśakakevalī and the Bower Manuscript, and in more recent times have explored possible connections with Islamic traditions preserved in books known in Arabic as Kitāb al-Fāl and in Persian as Fāl-namāh and with Chinese traditions preserved among the Dunhuang manuscripts. The present contribution approaches this method of dice divination not through the mutable elements of poetics, and ideas of fate, luck, and fortune, which are open to adaptation to the social, aesthetic, and religious norms of various divining communities. Rather, it approaches this method of divination through a series of numbers that constitutes its “bones,” or defining elements. These include the four faces of a die; the symbols on each face; the number of oracular responses in a divination book; the order in which these are arranged; and the numerical probability of receiving a good, bad, or mixed divination. In the process of examining these numbers and comparing them across traditions, the analysis clarifies the relationship between certain traditions and offers some tentative remarks about transmission.