The Buddha and the Gods of War pt. 2: The Earth-Subduing Chapel

(Continued from part 1)

The Earth Subduing Chapel (sa ‘dzin lha khang) is one of the foundational buildings of gNyan Thog monastery. It is also an important structure with respect to the foundation stories detailed in part one above: it is the structure which houses the Great Ming Stele 大明碑 is housed, it contains an image of dPal Chen sTob rGyas, and the frescoes there deal in large part with the moral idea of sacrificing the self for the Dharma. For these reason alone it’s worth going through these in full. It helps also that the Earth Subduing Chapel happens to be one of the most artistically stupendous little rooms I’ve ever stood in. I’ll go through it bit-by-bit below.

I should note at the start that this section rests almost entirely on the work of a Tibetan scholar who publishes under the Chinese name Bo Guo 伯果, and specifically very useful paper of his titled 青海年都乎寺毛兰吉哇拉康殿壁畫內容辨識 “Analysis of the Contents of the Frescoes of the sMon Lam sPyi Ba’i Lha Khang Chapel of gNyan Thog Monastery”. I have relied almost entirely on his identifications and account here, with notes for the exceptions.

Bo Guo quotes “A Short Gazetteer of gNyan Thog” 年都戶簡志 to give the following account of the creation of the chapel and the monastery. The gNyan Thog Monastery was founded in 1665 a “Siddhi House” (sgrub khang) at the foot of the rear hill. Later on in 1695 according to this account, dPal Chen sTobs rGyas, whose story we have read earlier, constructed a wall around it and a prayer hall (see also sNyan Grags, 54). In 1732 a reincarnated lama named Great Scholar dGe Dun rGya mTsho was invited to perform a prayer festival there, and in honor of this a “General Prayer Chapel” (smon lam spyi ba’i pha khang) was constructed. This structure is also called the “Great Scholar’s Chapel” (mkhan chen lha khang) or the “Earth Subduing Chapel” (sa ‘dzin lha khang). Bo Guo points out that an “Earth Subduing Chapel” should by rights have been the first chapel in the monastery, since the spirits of the earth must be pacified before construction can begin. Therefore he speculates that the original “Siddhi House” (sgrub khang) may in fact be the same as the “Earth Subduing Chapel”, or latter might have been built on the former’s foundations.

The chapel is a small one-room building in Chinese style. The central shrine is to Maitreya, On the two sides of this statue, on the flanking walls, and on the rear walls to either side of the door, there are panels covered in frescoes. Each of these has a large central image – on the front and side walls these are all of Śakyamuni, while on the two rear walls they are wrathful tantric deities. In the space surrounding the main figure there are smaller scenes, painted on a green or blue background, showing jātaka birth-stories, scenes from the life of Śakyamuni, paradises of various Buddhas, and the life of the Gelug founder Tsong Kha Ba. Originally the outside of the chapel was painted as well. This meant that there were a further eight or nine panels on the outer walls, but these are now faded almost illegibly. From the look of them they had a similar layout to the ones inside, and the complete set of the jātakas and other stories was probably completed there.

The set of jātakas given in the frescoes comes from an edition of thirty four such stories called the “Garland of Birth-Stories” (skt. Jātakamālā, tb. sKyes Rabs So bZhi). These have existed in English translation from the Sanskrit since J.S. Speyer’s translation in the late 19th century. There’s a version of that translation located here, and the creator of the Ancient Buddhist Texts websiteBhante Ānandajoti, very kindly gave permission to reproduce parts of it here.

For fun then and to show how this type of storytelling works, I’ve illustrated one of the jātaka stories in full here. This the 24th life in the collection, titled “The Story of the Great Ape”, and titled on the wall at gNyan Thog as sPre’u Chen Por sKyes Pa’i Rabs De Nyi Shu bZhi Pa’o.


24. The Story of the Great Ape (Anukampā)

The virtuous grieve not so much for their own pain as for the loss of happiness incurred by their injurers. This will be taught now.

There is a blessed region on one side of the Himavat. Its soil, pervaded with different, metallic ores, might be called its body perfumed with lovely and various ointments; and its magnificent woods and forests constituted its upper garment, as it were, con-sisting in a mantle of dark silk. The slopes and declivities of that landscape were adorned by their picturesque scenery, which harmonized the inequality of colours and shapes and combinations, so that they seemed to have been arranged purposely and with care.

In this recreation-ground of the Vidyādharas, moistened by the waters of many mountain-streams passing through it, abounding in deep holes, chasms, and precipices, resounding with the dull and shrill noise of humming bees and caressed by lovely winds fanning its various trees with their beautiful flowers, fruits, and stems, the Bodhisattva was once, it is said, an ape of great size who lived alone. But even in that state he had not lost his consciousness of the Dharma, he was grateful, noble-natured, and endowed with great patience; and Compassion, as if retained by attachment, would never leave him.

1. The earth with its forests, its great mountains and its oceans perished many hundred times at the end of the yuga, either by water or fire or wind, but the great compassion of the Bodhisattva never perishes.

Subsisting, then, like an ascetic, exclusively on the simple fare of leaves and fruits of the forest-trees, and showing pity in various circumstances and ways to such creatures as he met within the sphere of his power, the High-minded One lived in the said forest-region.

Now, one time a certain man wandering about in all directions in search of a stray cow, lost his way, and being utterly unable to find out the regions of the sky, roamed at random, and reached that place. There, being exhausted by hunger, thirst, heat, and toil, and suffering from the fire of sorrow which blazed within his heart, he sat down at the foot of a tree, as if pressed down by the exceeding weight of his sadness. Looking around, he saw a number of very tawny tinduka-fruits, which being ripe had fallen off.

After enjoying them, as the hunger which tortured him much made them seem very sweet to him, he felt a very strong desire to find out their origin; and looking sharply around on all sides, he discovered the tree from whence they came. This tree had its roots on the border of the sloping bank of a waterfall, and hung down its branches, loaded with very ripe fruits which gave them a tawny hue at their ends. Craving for those fruits, the man mounted to that slope, and climbing up the tinduka-tree, reached a branch with fruit overhanging the precipice. And his eagerness to get the fruit induced him to go along it to its very end.

great ape picking the fruits

2. Then on a sudden, that branch, hanging down, unable to bear its too heavy burden, broke off with a noise and fell down, as if hewn with a hatchet.

great ape falling branch

great ape falling

And with that branch he fell headlong in a large precipice surrounded on all sides by steep rock-walls, like a pit; but as he was protected by the leaves and plunged into deep water, he came off without breaking any of his bones. After getting out of the water, he went about on all sides, looking out for some way by which he might escape, but saw none. As he found no outlet and realised that he must starve there very soon, he despaired of his life, and tortured by the heart-piercing dart of heavy sorrow burst into tears that moistened his sad face. Overwhelmed by discouragement and painful thoughts, he lamented somewhat in this manner.

3. “Down I fell into this precipice in the midst of this forest remote from human approach. Who, how-ever carefully seeking, may discover me, except Death?

4. Who will rescue me out of this place, into which I was precipitated, like a wild beast caught in a pit-fall? No relations, no friends have I near, only swarms of mosquitoes drinking my blood.

5. Alas, the night within this pit conceals from me the aspect of the universe. I shall no more see the manifold loveliness of gardens, groves, arbours, and streams. No more the sky resplendent with its jewel ornament of wide-scattered stars. Thick darkness, like a night in the dark half of the month, surrounds me.”

Thus lamenting, that man passed there some days, feeding on the water and the tinduka-fruits which had come down together with himself.

Now, that great ape wandering through that part of the forest with the purpose of taking his food, came to that place, beckoned as it were by the wind-agitated branches of that tinduka-tree. Climbing on it and looking over the waterfall, he perceived that man lying there and in want of relief, and saw also his eyes and cheeks sunken, and his limbs emaciated, pale, and suffering from hunger. The wretched situation of the man roused the compassion of the great monkey, who setting aside the care for his meal, fixed his eyes intently on the man and in a human voice uttered this:

6. “Thou art in this precipice inaccessible to men. Well, tell me then, please, who thou art and by what cause thou hast come there.”

Then the man, casting up his eyes to the great ape, bowing his head and folding his hands as a supplicant, spoke:

7, 8. “I am a man, illustrious being. Having lost my way and roaming in the forest, I came into this distress, while seeking to get fruits from this tree.

Befallen by this heavy calamity, while away from my friends and kindred, I beseech thee, protector of troops of mon-keys, be also my protector.”

These words succeeded in stirring the boundless pity of the Great Being.

9. A person in distress, without friends or family to help him, imploring help with anxious looks and folded hands, would rouse compassion in the heart even of his enemies; to the compassionate he is a great attraction.

Then the Bodhisattva, pitying him, comforted him with kind words, such as he could hardly expect in that time.

10. “Be not afflicted, thinking thou hast lost thy strength by the fall into this precipice or that thou hast no relations to help thee. What those would do for thee, I will do it all. Do not fear.” 

And after these comforting words the Great Being provided the man with tindukas and other fruits. Then with the object of rescuing him, he went away to some other place, and exercised himself in climbing having on his back a stone of a man’s weight. Having learnt the measure of his strength and convinced himself that he was able to bring up the man out of the waterfall, he descended to the bottom of it, and moved by compassion, said these words to the man:

11. “Come, climb upon my back and cling fast to me, while I shall bring out both thee and the usefulness of my body.

12. For the pious pronounce this to be the use-fulness of the body, otherwise a worthless thing, that it may be employed by the wise as an instrument for benefiting our neighbour.”

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The other agreed, and after reverentially bowing to the ape, mounted on his back.

13. So with that man on his back, stooping under the pain of the exceeding heaviness of his burden, yet, owing to the intensity of his goodness, with unshaken firmness of mind, he succeeded in rescuing him, though with great difficulty.

great ape climbing the cliff

14. And having delivered him, he enjoyed the highest gladness, but was so exhausted, that he walked with an unstable and tottering step, and chose some cloud-black slab of stone to lie upon, that he might take his rest.

Pure-hearted as he was and being his benefactor, the Bodhisattva did not suspect danger from the part of that man, and trustingly said to him:

15, 16. “This part of the forest being easily accessible, is exposed to the free course of ferocious animals. Therefore, that nobody may kill me and his own future happiness by a sudden attack while I am taking my rest from fatigue, thou must carefully look out in all directions and keep guard over me and thyself. My body is utterly tired, and I want to sleep a little while.”

The man promised to do so. Assuming the frank language of honesty, he said: “Sleep, sir, as long as you like, and may your awaking be glad! I stay here, keeping guard over you.” But when the Great Being, in consequence of his fatigue, had fallen asleep, he conceived wicked thoughts within his mind.

17. “Roots to be obtained with hard effort or forest-fruits offered by chance are my livelihood here. How can my emaciated body sustain life by them? how much less, recover its strength?

18. And how shall I succeed in traversing this wilderness hard to pass, if I am infirm? Yet, in the body of this ape I should have food amply sufficient to get out of this troublesome wilderness.

19. Although he has done good to me, I may feed on him, I may, for he has been created such a being. I may, for here the rules given for times of distress 02 are applicable to be sure. For this reason I have to get my provisions from his body.

20. But l am only able to kill him while he is sleeping the profound and quiet sleep of trustfulness. For if he were to be attacked in open fight, even a lion would not be assured of victory.

Therefore, there is no time to lose now.”

Having thus made up his mind, that scoundrel, troubled in his thoughts by sinful lust which had destroyed within him his gratitude, his consciousness of the moral precepts, and even his tender innate feeling of com-passion, not minding his great weakness of body, and listening only to his extreme desire to perform that vile action, took a stone, and made it fall straight down on the head of the great ape.


21, 22. But, being sent by a hand trembling with weakness and hastily, because of his great cupidity, that stone, flung with the desire of sending the monkey to the complete sleep (of death), destroyed his sleep.

It did not strike him with its whole weight, so that it did not dash his head to pieces; it only bruised it with one of its edges, and fell down on the earth with a thundering noise.

23, 24. The Bodhisattva, whose head had been injured by the stone, jumped up hastily; and looking around him that he might discover his injurer, saw nobody else but that very man who stood before him in the attitude of shame, confounded, timid, perplexed, and dejected, betraying his confusion by the ashy-pale colour of his face, which had lost its brightness; sudden fright had dried up his throat, drops of sweat covered his body, and he did not venture to lift up his eyes.

As soon as the great ape realised that the man himself was the evildoer, without minding the pain of his wound any longer, he felt himself utterly moved. He did not become angry, nor was he subdued by the sinful feeling of wrath. He was rather affected with compassion for him who, disregarding his own happiness, had committed that exceedingly vile deed. Looking at him with eyes wet with tears, he lamented over the man, saying:

25, 26. “Friend, how hast thou, a man, been capable of doing an action like this? How couldst thou con-ceive it? how undertake it?

Thou, who wast bound to oppose with heroic valour any foe whosoever eager to hurt me would have assailed me!

27. If I felt something like pride, thinking I per-formed a deed hard to be done, thou hast cast away from me that idea of haughtiness, having done some-thing still more difficult to do.

28. After being brought back from the other world, from the mouth of Death, as it were, thou, scarcely saved from one precipice, hast fallen into another, in truth!

29. Fie upon ignorance, that vile and most cruel thing! for it is ignorance that throws the miserable creatures into distress, (deceiving them) with (false) hope of prosperity.

30, 31. Thou hast ruined thyself, kindled the fire of sorrow in me, obscured the splendour of thy repu-tation, obstructed thy former love of virtues, and destroyed thy trustworthiness, having become a mark for (the arrows of) reproach. What great profit, then, didst thou expect by acting in that manner?

32. The pain of this wound does not grieve me so much as this thought which makes my mind suffer, that it is on account of me that thou hast plunged into evil, but that I have not the power of wiping off that sin.

33, 34. Well then, go with me, keeping by my side, but mind to be always in my sight, for thou art much to be distrusted. I will conduct thee out of this forest, the abode of manifold dangers, again into the path which leads to the dwellings of men, lest roaming alone in this forest, emaciated and ignorant of the way, thou shouldst be assailed by somebody who, hurting thee, would make fruitless my labour spent in thy behalf.”

great ape leading out of the forest and remorse 02

So commiserating that man, the High-minded One conducted him to the border of the inhabited region, and having put him on his way, said again:

35. “Thou hast reached the habitations of men, friend; now thou mayst leave this forest-region with its fearful thickets and wildernesses. I bid thee a happy journey and wish that thou mayst endeavour to avoid evil actions. For the harvest of their evil results is an extremely painful time.”

So the great ape pitying the man, instructed him as if he were his disciple; after which he went back to his abode in the forest. But the man who had attempted that exceedingly vile and sinful deed, tor-tured by the blazing fire of remorse, was on a sudden struck with a dreadful attack of leprosy. His figure became changed, his skin was spotted with vesicles which, becoming ulcers and bursting, wetted his body with their matter, and made it putrid in a high degree.

great ape leper

To whatever country he came, he was an object of horror to men; so hideous was his distorted form; neither by his appearance did he resemble a human being nor by his changed voice, indicative of his pain. And people, thinking him to be the embodied Devil, drove him away, threatening him with uplifted clods and clubs and harsh words of menace.


One time, roaming about in some forest, he was seen by a certain king who was hunting there. On perceiving his most horrible appearance – for he looked like a Preta, the dirty remains of his garments having at last dropped off, so that he had hardly enough to cover his shame – that king, affected with curiosity mingled with fear, asked him thus:

36, 37. “Thy body is disfigured by leprosy, thy skin spotted with ulcers; thou art pale, emaciated, miser-able; thy hair is dirty with dust.

Who art thou? Art thou a Preta, or a goblin, or the embodied Devil, or a Pūtana? Or if one out of the number of sick-nesses, which art thou who displayest the assemblage of many diseases?”

Upon which the other, bowing to the prince, answered in a faltering tone: “I am a man, great king, not a spirit.” And being asked again by the king, how he had come into that state, he confessed to him his wicked deed, and added these words:

38. “This suffering here is only the blossom of the tree sown by that treacherous deed against my friend. O, surely, its fruit will be still more miserable than this.

39. Therefore, you ought to consider a treacherous deed against a friend as your foe. With kindhearted-ness you must look upon friends who are kindhearted towards you.

40. Those who adopt a hostile behaviour against their friends, come into such a wretched state already in this world. From hence you may infer what will be in the other world the fate of those who, sullied in their mind by covetousness and other vices, attempted the life of their friends.

41. He, on the other hand, whose mind is pervaded with kindness and affection for his friends, obtains a good reputation, is trusted by his friends and enjoys their benefits. He will possess gladness of mind and the virtue of humility, his enemies will consider him a man hard to offend, and finally he will gain residence in Heaven.

42. Thus knowing the power and the consequences of good and evil behaviour with respect to friends, O king, hold fast to the road followed by the virtuous. He who goes along on this will attain happiness.”

In this manner, then, the virtuous grieve not so much for their own pain as for the loss of happiness incurred by their injurers.

[So is to be said, when discoursing on the great-mindedness of the Tathāgata, and when treating of listening with attention to the preaching of the Law; likewise when dealing with the subjects of forbearance and faithfulness towards friends; also when demonstrating the sinfulness of evil deeds.]

Anna and I went around the interior of the room in the Earth-Subduing Chapel and photographed everything we could. The lights were broken and many of the images were located high up or behind statues, so a full record was impossible. Nevertheless, here are some of the best bits, going around the hall in a clockwise skor ra starting at the central statue of Maitreya:

sman ri lha khang center statue reduced


The Right Wall:

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Right Wall, Front Panel:

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The front panel on the right wall holds a large image of the dGe Lugs founder Tsong Kha Ba. The Bo Guo identifies the topic of the frescoes surrounding it as being scenes from that saint’s life (rJe ‘Khrungs Rabs). The lower part of the frescoes are not visible due to the statuary in front, I’m not sure of the exact sequence of the narrative within them. Nevertheless they contain lovely scenes of everyday Amdo life both sedentary and nomadic.

Below: A black yak-hair nomads’ tent (sbra nag), along with the livestock including yaks, sheep, and a mastiff.

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Below: Two scenes of white tents, in which lamas sit in state and are brought gifts by monks and lay people.

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Below: An exorcistic ‘cham ceremony, in which monks wielding various dharma instruments channel the evil forces into a gling kha effigy, which is then destroyed by the masked dancers. Either that or it’s one of the face-huggers from Alien that crash-landed in Rebgong in the early 1700s and had to be exorcised by the Rong Bo monks, unclear.

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Right Side Wall, Left Panel:

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As with the other side walls, this one has an image of Sakyamuni at its center. Below Sakyamuni is a smaller image of the Yellow Dzambhala (Dzambhala Ser Po). Two arhats flank the Dzambhala on either side. Around them are scenes from the Rosary of Lives.

Bo Guo lists the seven scenes visible in this panel as follows. I’ve given Speyer’s chapter titles, not direct translations from the Tibetan: 2. The Story of the King of the Śibis (Yul Shi Bi Ba’i rGyal Bor sKyes Pa’i Rabs), 3. The Story of the Small Portion of Gruel (Zan Dron Changs Pa Phul Bar Skyes Pa’i Rabs), 4. The Story of the Head of A Guild (Tshong dPon Du sKyes Pa’i Rabs), 5. The Story of Aviṣahya, the Head of a Guild (Tshong dPon Zil Gyis Mi gNon Pa’i Skyes Pa’i Rabs), 6. The Story of the Hare (Ri Bong Du Skyes Pa’i Rabs),  7. The Story of Agastya (Agastya’i Skyes Pa’i Rabs), 8. The Story of Maitrībala (Byang Chub Sems dPa’ Byams Pa’i Stobs Su sKyes Pa’i Rabs)

Below: Sakyamuni, the Yellow Dzambhala, and the two arhats.





Below: Zan Dron Changs gCig Byin Pa’i sKyes Pa’i Rabs Te gSum Pa’o, “Life Three, The Story of the Small Portion of Gruel”. In this story, a king and a queen recount to each other how alms giving of small bowls of gruel in their previous lives gained them merit to attain their present stations. Images of these offerings can be seen below.




I’m not sure if the below pictures represent part of the same story or not.




Right Side Wall, Right Panel:

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The central image is of Sakyamuni, with the Black Dzambhala (Dzambhala Nag Po) below. Bo Guo lists the identifiable Garland of Lives stories as follows: 9. The Story of Viśvantara (Thams Cad sGrol Du sKyes Pa’i Rabs), 10. The Story of the Sacrifice (mChod sByin Gyi sKyes Pa’i Rabs), 11. The Story of Śakra (brGya Byin Gyi sKyes Pa’i Rabs), 12. The Story of the Brāhman (Bram Zer sKyes Pa’i Rabs). We may also point out additionally that 13 The Story of Unmādayantī (Myos Byed Ma’i sKyes Pa’i Rabs) is also visible.

Below: The Story of Viśvantara (Thams Cad sGrol Gyi sKyes Pa’i Rabs Te dGu Pa’o, literally, “The Tenth Excellent Birth, That of the All-Giver”). In this story, the Buddha is born as a prince of the Śibis. Due to his addiction to charity, he is deceived into giving away his prize elephant to agents of a foreign land, and therefore the people of Śibi demand that he be exiled. He travels to a forest, where he progressively gives away his chariot to people along the road, his children to an avaricious Brahmin, and finally his wife to the god Śakra, who is testing him. Finally Śakra commands that all be returned to him and he be restored to his royal seat.

The Buddha-prince Viśvantara gives away his elephant to the foreign agents.

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Viśvantara in his forest cave with his children.

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The children are given away to the Brahmin.

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Finally the Buddha’s wife, children, and station are all returned to him.

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Below: The Story of the Sacrifice (mChod sByin Byed Kyi sKyes Pa’i Rabs Te bCu Pa’o). In this story, the Buddha is born as a king whose realm is afflicted by a great drought. His ministers council him to perform a human sacrifice to appease the gods. The Buddha is horrified by this but makes the appearance of assenting. He proclaims that all evil-doers in his realm will be sacrificed. Because of this the people of his realm entirely abjure from evil ways. The Buddha instead makes an offering of alms to the poor. The gods are greatly pleased by this and the drought abates.

Here the Buddha is seen consulting with his ministers.

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Below: The Story of Śakra (brGya Byin Gyi sKyes Pa’i Rabs Te bCu gCig Pa’o). In this story, the Buddha is born as Śakra, the King of the Gods. He engages in a great battle against a horde of demons. The demons have turned the battle against the gods and are driving them back towards Sumeru when Śakra sees in the path of his retreating chariot an eagles nest. Although certain that this delay will result in his capture, rather than kill the baby eagles Śakra orders his charioteer to veer to avoid the nest. The demon army is so impressed by this selfless act that they cease their pursuit.

The battle rages.

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The king and his charioteers stop for the eagles nest in the tree. The Tibetan illustrators seem confused as to how a chariot is supposed to work.

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The eagle’s nest.

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Below: The Story of the Brahmin (Bram Zer sKyes Pa’i Rab Te bCu gNyis Pa’o). In this story, the Buddha is a disciple of a particular Brahmin. Wishing to test his students, the Brahmin exhorts them to obtain wealth by stealing. The other students assent but the Buddha refuses, greatly pleasing his teacher.

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Below: The Story of Unmādayantī (Myos Byed Ma’i sKyes Pa’i Rabs Te bCu gSum Pa’o, literally, “The Thirteenth Excellent Birth, That of Her Who Makes [Men] Mad”). In this story, the Buddha is again a king. In his realm is born a girl of extraordinary beauty, who is named Unmādayantī “She Who Makes [Men] Mad”. The king’s ministers worry that should he wed this girl he would neglect his state duties due to lust, and so they lie to him and tell him that she possesses inauspicious marks. She is married to an officer named Abhipāraga. Later on, while processing through the streets of his capital, the king catches sight of Unmādayantī standing on a rooftop to watch. He is stricken by love. His loyal officer Abhipāraga offers her to him, but after a long dispute the king sees only dishonor for all involved, and refuses.

Unmādayantī looks down from the balcony with her radiant face, as the king gazes up from his chariot.

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Abhipāraga visits the Buddha-king to offer him his wife, but the king refuses.

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Right Side Wall, Rear Panel:

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Bo Guo identifies the central figure on this wall as a Goat-Riding Vow-Holder (Dam Can Ra bZhon). The scenes in the background of the upper part of the image tell the life story of the Buddha, while the lower part seems to be recounting some kind of complex scene of ritual dismemberment (perhaps gcod?) which I don’t understand. I wish I had taken more systematic photos of this than I did.

Below: The central figure of the Vow-Holder and the ritual figures which seem to be associated with it.





Below: Scenes from the Buddha’s life. Bo Guo enumerates these episodes according to their Chinese names: 兜率宮降生 “Descending to Birth from the Tuṣita Heaven”, 白象入胎  “A White Elephant Enters the Womb”, 樹下誕生 “Giving Birth Beneath a Tree” 七步生蓮 “Seven Steps Each Give Rise to a Lotus”, 迎接入宮 “Welcomed Into the Palace”, 龍王沐浴 “Nāga Kings Wash Him”, 婚配賽藝 “Marriage Matches Compete in Arts”, 出遊四門 “Exiting the Four Gates of the Palace”, 削髮出家 “Cutting His Hair and Leaving the Palace”. I’m not sure if these are the correct designations for all of these scenes or not.








Left Side Wall:


Left Side Wall, Rear Panel:

This wall contains images of the wrathful guardians of the Gelug pantheon, and in the upper parts there are a few more images from the life of the Buddha. According to Bo Guo, the central figure here Bhairava (‘jigs byed) with nine heads, thirty four arms, and sixteen feet.

Below: A Nāgarakṣa.

Below: The wrathful protector goddess of the Gelug church, dPal lDan lHa Mo.

Below: the Dharma King (chos rgyal), embracing his consort.

Below: a six-armed Mahākāla (mgon po phyag drug).

Above are located more scenes from the life of the Buddha. Bo Guo enumerates these as 順服大象 “Taming the Elephant”, 三十三天給母說法 “Thirty Three Devas Teach the Dharma to His Mother”, and 靈鷲山說法 “Teaching the Dharma on Vulture Peak”. I’m not sure if these are the correct designations for all of these scenes or not.


Right Side Wall, Left Panel:

The central image here is of Śakyamuni, with a smaller image of the Goddess of Increasing Wealth (Lha Mo Nor rGyun Ma). The Jātaka stories found here include: 24. The Story of the Great Ape (sPre’u Chen Por sKyes Pa’i Rabs), 25. The Story of the Śarabha (Ri Dwags Sha Ra Bhar sKyes Pa’i Rabs), 27. The Story of the Great Monkey (sPre’u’i rGyal Bor sKyes Pa’i Rabs), 28. The Story of Kṣāntivādin (bZod Pa sMra Bar Skyes Pa’i Rabs), 31. The Story of Sutasoma (Su Tā Sa’i Bu’i Skyes Pa’i Rabs), 32. The Story of Ayogṛha (lCags Kyi Khyim Na sKyes Pa’i Rabs), 33. The Story of the Buffalo (Ma Her sKyes Pa’i Rabs), and 34. The Story of the Woodpecker (Bya Shing rTa Mor sKyes Pa’i Rabs). We have already read the first story, that of the Great Ape, at the start of this post, so I won’t repeat it here. Some highlights from the other tales:

Below: 31. The Story of Sutasoma (Su Tā Sa’i Bu’i Skyes Pa’i Rabs). In this story, the Buddha is a prince named Sutasoma. One day he is sitting in his palace, preparing to receive teachings from a traveling Brahman, when his quarters are invaded by a man-eating monster named Kalmāṣapāda. Kalmāṣapāda is the son of a king named Sudāsa, who cohabited with a lioness. Afterwards the boy was raised as a prince but conceived a desire for human flesh. He was driven out by the townspeople but, to protect himself, earned the allegiance of a host of goblins by sacrificing the to them one hundred princes. To this end he has arrived to kidnap the Buddha. The Buddha allows himself to be taken by Kalmāṣapāda but, arriving at the monster’s lair, begins to grieve that he did not have time to receive teachings from the Brahman or reward him. He asks that Kalmāṣapāda release him, promising to return after he has received the teachings. Kalmāṣapāda does so spitefully, assuming that the Buddha will never return and by this demonstrate his hypocrisy. The Buddha returns to his palace, hears the teachings of the Brahman, rewards him with gold, and then against the urging of his friends and family returns to Kalmāṣapāda’s lair. Kalmāṣapāda is startled to see him return – they dispute there and finally the Buddha convinces Kalmāṣapāda to see the error in his ways, to give up marauding and eating human flesh, and to release the captured princes. Below, the Buddha receives the Brahman in his palace.

Below: Kalmāṣapāda carries the Buddha away to his lair.

Below: The Buddha and Kalmāṣapāda dispute in his lair of bones.

Below: The Buddha returns to reward the Brahman for his fine teachings.

Below: The Buddha rescues the other captive princes.

Below: I’m not certain if these images are part of the same story or not.

Below: 27. The Story of the Great Monkey (sPre’u’i rGyal Bor sKyes Pa’i Rabs). In this story the Buddha is the leader of a band of monkeys. They all consume the delicious fruit of a single tree which hangs over the water, but the Buddha instructs them never to allow a single fruit to fall in, or all will be lost to them. One day a small fruit is overlooked, and it drops into the water and is carried downriver to the land of a certain king. The king wishes to find the tree upon which grows such a delicious fruit, and he leads his army into the forest. When he discovers the tree he sees that it is filled with the band of monkeys. He orders his soldiers to nock their bows. The Buddha, thinking quickly, seizes a long branch of cane and places it between that tree and another, allowing his troop of monkeys to escape over it. In the process though the Buddha is trampled. Impressed by this feat of self-sacrifice, the King orders his men to lay out a cloth for the Buddha to land on when he falls. The Buddha dies there, but not before discoursing with the king on the self-sacrifice of kingship. Here we see the the scene of the monkey falling from the tree and being caught on a cloth.

33. The Story of the Buffalo (Ma Her sKyes Pa’i Rabs). In this story, the Buddha is born as a water buffalo. Though patient and kind by nature, he is continually persecuted by a malignant monkey. Finally in the forest one day the buffalo meets a yakśa, who inquires why he does not simply throw the monkey off his back and trample him. The Buddha replies that by forbearance he might teach and pity this evil monkey. The yakśa, impressed by the buffalo’s righteousness, throw the monkey off himself.

Below: the monkey is seen persecuting the buffalo:

Below: The yakśa and the buffalo converse and the yakśa throws the monkey down.


Right Side Wall, Right Panel:

The central image here is of Śakyamuni, with a smaller image of the White Shambhala (Shambhala dKar Po). According to Bo Guo, the visible Jātaka stories are: 4. The Story of the Head of A Guild (Tsong dPon Du Skyes Pa’i Rabs), 14. The Story of Supāraga (Legs Par Pha Rol Tu Phyin Par sKyes Pa’i Rabs), 15. The Story of the Fish (Nya Ru Skyes Pa’i Rabs), 16. The Story of the Quail’s Young (Bya Sreg Pa’i Phru Gur Skyes Pa’i Rabs), 17. The Story of the Jar (Bum Pa’i Skyes Pa’i Rabs), 20. The Story of the Treasurer (rGyal Rigs Phyug Por sKyes Pa’i Rabs), 19. The Story of the Lotus-Stalks (Padma’i rTsa Ba’i sKyes Pa’i Rabs), 22. The Story of the Holy Swans (Ngang Bar Skyes Pa’i Rabs), 29. The Story of the Inhabitant of the Brahmaloka (Tshangs Par Skyes Pa’i Rabs). Besides this, 21. The Story of Cuḍḍabodhi (gTsug Phud Byang Chub Kyi Skes Pa’i Rabs) is also visible.

Below: 4. The Story of the Head of A Guild (Tsong dPon Du Skyes Pa’i Rabs). In this story, the Buddha is a wealthy but righteous merchant. A mendicant monk arrives at his door. He wishes to feed the mendicant but Māra opens a hell between the Buddha and the doorway. The Buddha and Māra dispute and then the Buddha walks into the hell to reach the mendicant. Lotus flowers miraculously spring up and carry him over safely.

Below: These very attractive figures seem spatially to be part of this tale although I’m not sure how they fit in with the storyline.


Below: 4. The Story of Supāraga (Legs Par Pha Rol Tu Phyin Par sKyes Pa’i Rabs). The Buddha is a righteous steersman. A group of merchants engages him on their journey, but they are swept off course by a powerful wind. They sail over many strange seas, each of which the Buddha identifies, until finally they reach the Mare’s Mouth where the ocean pours over the edge of the world. Because he has never harmed a living being, the Buddha’s prayers are efficacious and the merchants are able to escape plunging off the world. On the return voyage they dredge a net over the bottom of each sea as they pass it and when they have returned they have a ship-load of jewels.

Below: 15. The Story of the Fish (Nya Ru Skyes Pa’i Rabs). The Buddha is born as a righteous fish. A drought causes the lake where he lives to dry up, causing suffering for all the water creatures. By the truth of his righteousness, the Buddha prays that rain will fall. It does. The painters have drawn a Chinese-style dragon to symbolize the granting of rain.

Below: 21. The Story of Cuḍḍabodhi (gTsug Phud Byang Chub Kyi Skes Pa’i Rabs). In this story, the Buddha shaves his head and leaves for a penance-forest, followed by his beautiful wife. There they live as ascetics until one day a king arrives hunting in the forest. Seeing the Buddha’s wife, he conceives a lust for her. He threatens to abduct her into his harem and challenges the Buddha to display his powers to prevent him. The Buddha calmly tells him that he is able to defeat even the greatest enemy. Disbelieving him, the king orders his soldiers to carry away the Buddha’s wife. He sees the Buddha still sitting calmly and scorns him as an imposture. The Buddha replies that the greatest enemies are obscuring emotions like anger, and he has defeated these totally. Impressed by this wisdom, the king releases the Buddha’s wife and receives teachings.

Below: 22. The Story of the Holy Swans (Ngang Bar Skyes Pa’i Rabs). In this story, the Buddha is the king of the swans, named Dhṛtarāṣṭra. His chief commander is named Sumukha. One day the king of Benares, Brahmadatta, hears of the righteous king of the birds and wishes to see him. To this end he constructs a beautiful lake near his palace and decrees that all birds will be made safe there. Although apprehensive, the Buddha and Sumukha decide to lead their flock for a short visit. Hearing that the flock of swans has arrived in his lake, the king sends a fowler to snare their king. The Buddha is caught in the snare and all the other swans fly away in fright, but his loyal commander, Sumukha, stays by his side in his moment of need. The fowler finds them there and wonders why the un-snared bird has not flown away. Sumukha addresses him in human language and explains to him that he does so out of loyalty, and asks if he may exchange his life for his king’s. The amazed fowler frees the Buddha and carries both swans on his shoulder-pole to see King Brahmadatta. The Buddha and Brahmadatta discourse on the Dharma and then the Buddha and Sumukha fly away back to their flock.

Below: Sumukha speaks with the fowler.


Left Wall, Front Panel:

The central image here in Śakyamuni. According to Bo Guo’s identification, to the left is the paradise of Amitabha and to the right is the paradise of Bhaiṣajyaguru. There is a calm mastery to this panel that makes it perhaps the most beautiful of all of them.

Below: On Amitabha’s side there are these very pretty images of what I think are the arhats.

Below: On the right side, the paradise of Bhaiṣyaguru.


The Roof Panels and Caisson:

Bo Guo provides a detailed analysis of these images, which I won’t bother with here because I don’t have an even marginally complete set of them. The side panels of the caisson directly below are the location of the painting of dPal Chen sTobs rGyas/Wang Rab brTAn mentioned above in Part 1.


(Continued in Part 3)

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