Tag Archives: Violence

The TibArmy Project participates to “The Many Faces of War”

by Jean-Christophe Benoist
CC BY 3.0

On November 17th and 18th, 2017, the TibArmy project participated in the 8th New Researchers’ conference organised by the British Commission for Military History, entitled “The Many Faces of War – Changing Perspectives on Armed Conflict”. The conference took place at the University of Cambridge, in St. John’s College, and saw the participation of over eighty panelists and 140 attendees. The panels explored a wide variety of subjects both thematically and chronologically, and comprised topics as varied as classical warfare, medieval and early modern military organization, training and performance-monitoring during the world wars, and insurgency, counterinsurgency and intelligence in modern and contemporary scenarios. The conference especially illustrated the vibrancy of the field of military studies, which is not merely restricted to analyses of battle formations, probes of strategic plans, and reviews of tactical decisions. On the contrary, it expands towards wider horizons that consider elements as varied as the reverberations of war and the military toward societies at large; the personal and professional experiences of soldiers as gathered through letters, diaries, muster rolls and the records of military colleges; the reciprocal reverberations of war and the military on the economy; propaganda and the media; and the role of women.

While the great majority of the papers presented focused on western history, several of the topics discussed were relatable to the military situation of Tibet during the period of the Ganden Phodrang. In particular, a paper by Ryan Crimmins (University of Oxford) illustrated sources on religious activities performed among the troops during the Thirty Years War. These comprise accounts written by the clergy accompanying troops, including personal diaries and correspondance; as well as pocket-size devotional tracts relating passages about biblical warfare and refutations of pacifism. The clergy accompanying the armies also performed liturgical and ministerial functions, which included the care of the sick and wounded, the performance of rites for the dead, and the giving of sermons before  the battle. These duties are not only comparable to the tasks that seem to have been performed by Tibetan lamas following the troops (see Federica Venturi in “To Protect and to Serve: The Military in Tibet During the Reign of the V Dalai Lama”, presented at the TibArmy Symposium in July 2017), but also open new lines of enquiry for the study of the Tibetan army. Other possible research fields exemplified by the conference are those that investigate the administrative documents produced by armies, such as muster rolls, performance tables, technical manuals, and inventories of arms and supplies. We know, for example, that some documents of this kind were created in the first half of the 20th c., during the time of the XIII Dalai Lama (see Venturi, 2014, “The Thirteenth Dalai Lama on Warfare, Weapons and the Right to Self-Defense”), but the existence of any such records for the preceding centuries is yet to be verified.

At the conference, Federica Venturi presented a paper entitled “The Tibet-Ladakh-Mughal War (1679-1683) as a Political Solution to the Question of Buddhist Spheres of Influence in the Himalayas”, which offered a general discussion of the main aspects of the war between Ladakh and the Ganden Phodrang, including its causes and evolvement, on the basis of the biography of the commanding general of the Ganden Phodrang, dGa’ ldan tshe dbang (found in the Mi dbang rtogs brjod), and of the notations mentioning this war in the V Dalai Lama’s  Du ku la’i gos bzang.

View the  full programme of the conference.

The Tibet-Ladakh-Mughal War (1679-1683) as a Political Solution to the Question of Buddhist Spheres of Influence in the Himalayas

Federica Venturi (CNRS, CRCAO), is participating to the New Research in Military History confenrece, in Cambridge (UK). The conference is organised by the BCMH1 on 18th-17th November, 2017 – full programme.

Her paper aims to investigate the war between Tibet and Ladakh which took place on the westernmost edge of the Himalayan plateau between 1679 and 1683. While Tibet and its spiritual and political head, the Dalai Lama, represent today utmost symbols of peace and  nonviolence, in the past the Dalai Lamas and their Buddhist governments did not refrain from using belligerent methods in order to achieve their political goals. A prime example is that of the V Dalai Lama (1617-1682), who first accepted the extension of his rule on territories which had been conquered and presented to him by western Mongol troops, and then continued, during his forty years of reign, to consolidate his regime by engaging in wars with various neighboring polities. One of these was the kingdom of Ladakh, ruled by a dynasty that patronized a Buddhist school rival to that of the Dalai Lama. The competition for the largesse of a limited number of donors to the different religious establishments led to tensions that eventually resulted in a four-year war, and in the intervention of the neighboring Mughal empire on the Ladakhi side.

This little studied war ultimately determined the border between Tibet and Ladakh, which remains unchanged to this day. By consulting Tibetan sources contemporary with this conflict, this paper will outline the causes and main events of this war as well as provide information on the tactics employed by the combined Tibetan and Mongol armies utilized by the Dalai Lama’s government. It will show that war was considered an appropriate response and legitimate method to solve political and economic disputes also in Tibet, a country theoretically governed according to nonviolent Buddhist principles.

  1. British Commission for Military History []

Buddhism, both the Means and the End of the Ganden Phodrang Army. A State-of-the Field Review on Buddhism vis-à-vis the Military in Tibet

To quote this article:

Travers, Alice and Venturi, Federica, 2017. “Buddhism, both the Means and the End of the Ganden Phodrang Army. A State-of-the Field Review on Buddhism vis-à-vis the Military in Tibet” in https://tibarmy.hypotheses.org.

Detail, tangkha on the life of Gesar (Zhang Changhong (ed.), Sichuan Museum 2012. From the Treasury of Tibetan Pictorial Art: Painted Scrolls of the Life of Gesar/ Gesaer tang ka yan jiu/ Ge sar rgyal po’i sgrung thang skor gyi zhib ’jug. Sichuan Museum, Sichuan University Museum and Musée Guimet, Paris: Ke yan gui hua yu yan fa chuang xin zhong xin bian zhu.  Beijing: Zhonghua shu ju.)

The history of Tibet is full of warfare, and the period of the Ganden Phodrang (dga’ ldan pho brang)  is no exception. The aim of the TibArmy project’s first conference in Paris, held on 11 July 2017, was to explore the multi-faceted relationship between Buddhism and military affairs during this period. As an explicitly Buddhist state,  the protection of Buddhism was the avowed and ultimate aim of all military action undertaken on behalf  of the Ganden Phodrang– whether by its own army, by ad hoc militias or imperial forces. Buddhist monks often played prominent roles in Tibetan military affairs during this period. Also Buddhist doctrine and especially ritual liturgies of protection and destruction were used to support military action, and in Tibetan sources such methods were often portrayed as determining factors in the outcomes of armed conflict.

This blog-post offers some background to the subject by presenting an overview of prior scholarship on the relationship between Buddhism and the military in Tibet, which is adapted from the introduction presented at the conference by Alice Travers and Federica Venturi, and will appear in due course, in an extended version, as part of the introduction of our forthcoming volume, along with the collected papers of the conference (see the list of papers).

Continue reading Buddhism, both the Means and the End of the Ganden Phodrang Army. A State-of-the Field Review on Buddhism vis-à-vis the Military in Tibet

How to Reconcile Buddhism and Violence? Examples from the Tibetan Army of the dGa’ ldan pho brang

Castle of Leh in Ladakh
Illustration found in Ladák, Physical, Statistical and Historical; with Notices of the Surrounding Countries, by Alexander Cunningham Published in London, 1854.

Federica Venturi (CNRS, CRCAO) participated in the inaugural conference of the Italian Association for Tibetan, Himalyan and Mongolian Studies – Associazione Italiana di Studi Tibetani, Himalayani e Mongoli (AISTHiM)- which took place in Procida, Italy (September 12-15th, 2017).

She presented the paper : How to Reconcile Budhism and Violence? Examples from the Tibetan Army of the dGa’ Idan pho brang.

The paper examined the question of how the Buddhist government of the dGa’ ldan pho brang justified the use of war on the occasions in which it deemed necessary to employ the Tibetan army. In particular, presented the ways in which certain important religious figures among the dGe lugs pa, such as the V Dalai Lama, rationalized the necessity to employ violent means. This paper also considered the figure of dGa’ ldan tshe dbang dpal bzang po (second half of the 17th century), an ex-lama from Tashilhumpo to whom the V Dalai Lama entrusted the general command of the Tibetan army during the war between Tibet and Ladakh (1679-1683).

The Association was created with the aim of promoting the study and knowledge of Tibetan and Himalayan civilizations in Italy, supporting research, publishing scientific studies, translations and works for the general public on Tibetan, Himalayan and Mongolian civilizations, and organizing conferences and collaborating with academic institutions.

Reflections on violence and the military in 17th and 18th century Tibet by Pr. Elliot Sperling

Thursday 8 December 2016, 16.30-18.30, Maison de l’Asie (Grand Salon) – Professor Elliot Sperling will give a talk on violence and the military in 17th and 18th century Tibet.

It has been long  acknowledged that state violence and military activity were a part of Tibetan history. Indeed, popular perceptions aside, the evidence for this has been easily available. In this talk some of it will be reviewed, to clarify both the idea that violence was justifiable and the fact that military organization was part of Tibetan politics and society – weaponry, soldiers, support units, etc. – all a part of functioning of authority in Tibet. The history of 17th and 18th century Tibet provides enough examples of the ways in which armed force war trained and deployed to allow us to make useful observations about the Tibetan military.

Pr. Elliot Sperling is a Numata Visiting Professor in South Asian, Buddhist, and Tibetan Studies at the University of Vienna. His writing and research has concentrated on Tibetan history, with a specific focus on Tibet’s historical and modern relations with China.