Tibetan Buddhists and the Law

This workshop is organised by Dr. Berthe Jansen, post-doc at the Leiden Institute for Area Studies, in the context of her NWO-funded VENI project “The interaction between religion and the law in Tibet”, and sponsored by IIAS. 
Comprising six lectures, an exhibition, and drinks afterwards, the workshop on Friday 16 June is open to a wider audience, consisting of students of Asian Studies and Religious Studies, Tibetan Buddhists (both Western and Tibetan), legal specialists, and the general interested public.

If you would like to join us, please register by sending an email to events@leidenasiacentre.nl.  
Programme (summary)
09:00-09:30 Cofee and registration  
09:30 - 15:45 Lectures
15:45-17:00 Special exhibition of the Tibetan manuscripts in the Johan van Manen collection (Grotius Room, University Library).
17:00 Drinks at the nearby International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) 


The Monks’ Rule of Law during the Great Prayer Festival

Dr. Berthe Jansen

The Lhasa Great Prayer Festival (lha ldan smon lam chen mo) was first established by Tsongkhapa (Blo bzang grags pa) in 1409 to commemorate Buddha Śākyamuni’s triumph in Śrāvastī over the tirthika-s (adherents to non-Buddhist tenets) by means of displaying miracles. Although the prayers recited by the thousands of monks during the festival were intended by Tsongkhapa as a way to bring about merit for the sake of the expansion and preservation of the Buddha’s teachings and the sustenance of the Sangha, after the establishment of the Ganden Phodrang a more political dimension was added. Thus, from the late 17th onwards the festival became a ritual expression of the formula ‘religion and political affairs combined’ (chos srid zung ’brel).  

At the start of the festival the head-disciplinarian of Drepung monastery would be handed the key to the city. This person was known to boast that during the festival in the whole of Tibet, there were just one and a half people higher than him (The Dalai Lama and the Ganden Tripa). The monks then officially took over political control of the city and the national government during those three weeks. Justice was carried out, taxes and outstanding debts were collected, fines were imposed, and privileges were granted by the monks. That there was significant abuse of power is noted by various contemporary Tibetan works. In this presentation I will examine the way monks carried out their legal responsibilities, mostly during the 17th century and what kinds of checks and balances were in place. The most important source for this is the set of guidelines (bca’ yig) the Fifth Dalai Lama wrote especially to curb the abuse of monastic power during the festival. 

Buddhist Law and Morality in Medieval Tibet

Prof. Dr. Fernanda Pirie

The classic Tibetan view of law (khrims) is that it was originally based on the ten virtues of Buddhism (dge ba bcu). In a series of historical narratives, created between the tenth and seventeenth centuries, Tibetan writers described how the early emperors had created the royal 3 law (rgyal khrims) on the basis of texts brought from India. The royal law came to be paired with religious law (chos khrims), which were said to be like a golden yoke and a silken knot. 

In this presentation, I ask about the claim that the king’s laws were founded on Buddhist morality. In developing their narratives, Tibetans thought seriously about the relationship between law and religion and tried to create what we could call a theory of Buddhist law. However, this never developed much beyond the rather abstract idea that the laws were based on the ten virtues. What they might have consisted of was never spelled out in any detail, and to the extent that the writers elaborated at all, it was principally by setting out the principles of the mi chos (the sixteen norms of conduct). These took the form of general moral guidance, rather than rules for conduct, and concerned rather different ideas and principles. So why did the writers not develop the notion of Buddhist law into a more legalistic code of conduct? Can the reasons for this be traced to the intellectual roots of Buddhist ethics in Indian texts?

Buddhist Terms and Concepts Within the Terminology and Language of Tibetan Diploma and Official Letters of the Ganden Phodrang-era

Dr. Hanna Schneider

As is well known, Tibetan stately power during most part of its history was a division of power between the ecclesiastical and secular branches of its society. No wonder, therefore, that the concept “chos srid zung ’brel” (religious and secular power united) of the Ganden Phodrang state - is exactly reflected within the terminology and language of Tibetan diplomatic and official letter writer theory, as well as in daily correspondence and chancellary practice. My presentation seeks to communicate two main topics: First, how is the legitimation of Tibetan stately power constituted and supported by Buddhist terms and concepts stemming from its legal and administrative language, and secondly, how do Buddhist values and ethics mirror the ideal of the righteous sovereign as well as the strata of monastic and secular society, as it is in accordance with these Buddhist values and principles that politics gain the momentum and right to stately power. I will first discuss an introduction into the Buddhist terminology employed within the Tibetan letter writing genre, e.g., Kadrung Norgye Nangpa’s letter writer for official correspondence, also containing the formulaic parts dealing with the different sections of certain types of legal documents, e.g. the dpyad mtshams khra ma (deed of arrangement), and the treatment of outside powers such 4 as the kings and sovereigns of neighbouring countries (and how they fit into this frame), and secondly I will show how these theoretical concepts are reflected within the written language of legal documents and official letters of the era under investigation. In short: How do Buddhist values and concepts permeate the vocabulary of Tibetan law and administration, and vice versa?

The Debate on the New Ten Virtues from Serta Larung Gar

Kunsang Thokmay (Darig)

In the 7th Century, under the leadership of King Songtsen Gampo, ten religious virtues and sixteen norms of conduct (mi chos) had been implemented as the basic social rule throughout his territory. As a result, these rules gradually became the life moral principle of Tibetan people for many centuries to come. In recent years, Serta Larung Gar, a well-known Buddhist Institute has been campaigning for its  followers and other Tibetans to adopt the “New Ten Virtues” in their daily lives. While it is still debated where these ten virtues originated, the most significant figure in this recent ten virtues campaign is Khenpo Tshul khrims blo gros from Serta Larung Gar. Under the banner of love and compassion, monks have been rigorously promoting these New Ten Virtues in towns and villages. In some cases, adopting these new ten virtues makes it extremely hard for nomads to survive on animal husbandry. Tibetans and Tibetan scholars are broadly divided regarding this particular issue. The supporters proudly preach the merits of religion and compassion while others fear the survival of Tibetan nomads on Tibetan plateau. At the same time, the Chinese government has launched its official plan on nomadic reforms across Tibet, adding more tensions to the topic of the New Ten Virtues. In this talk I will use a large number of oral and literal sources in Tibetan, Chinese, and English.

The ‘Law’ for Translators

Dr. Peter Verhagen

The importance of translations and the exalted status of translators in traditional Tibetan culture is quite self-evident. Anyone who has ever delved into the cultural treasures of Tibet is well aware of the major role that translators have played in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. After a brief look at an emblem for the translator, and at a standardized depiction of the translator’s workshop in Tibetan pictorial art, I will briefly address the royal edicts setting rules for the translation practice which were promulgated in the late eighth and early ninth century C.E. The precepts given in these edicts have remained effective long after the collapse of the royal dynasty that stood behind them. They delineated the norms of translation, and constituted the ‘law’, so to speak, which translators had to abide by throughout the pre-modern period in Tibet.

Dharma, Language and Legal Language: Creating a Legal Lexicon in Bhutan

Dr. Richard W. Whitecross

Central to the operation of law is the language it uses. Often legal language reflects a longer history as its vocabulary develops reflecting a range of influences on the law. In Europe, Latin served as the primary source of legal vocabulary and in time the language of the nationstate. This ensured that for example Church law, the Canon Law, was a key primary source for law in several areas: notably consistorial matters (family and inheritance) and contract law. Equally, Arabic and the language of the Qu’ran was central to the emergence of a highly developed Islamic jurisprudence. What then of Classical Tibetan, chos skad, Dharma and the law? Based on preliminary and on-going research in Bhutan the relationship between Classical Tibetan and the development of a new legal lexicon is examined. What can we learn about the relationship between dharma texts, their contemporary readers and the challenges faced by a contemporary yet nascent legal system? How do the new terms relate to pre-existing local” legal” terms or to those found in the few extant law codes in Bhutan? How does this examination of Bhutanese legal language further our understanding of the relationship, if any, between law (the realm of the secular) and religion, dharma (chos). The paper seeks to raise this overlooked area of study as one for further collaborative work as we begin to look at the relationship between law and religion in the Tibetan Buddhist context.