The conference “Military Culture in Tibet during the Ganden Phodrang Period (1642-1959): The Interaction between Tibetan and Other Asian Military Traditions” is the second conference organised in the context of the TibArmy project.
You can download the programme and the abstracts here.
The conference is open but registration is mandatory. You have until Wednesday 13th, June to register via our online platform. Seats are limited and will be attributed on a first come first serve basis.
In the period between the death of the Fifth Dalai Lama (1682) and the assumption of political power of the Thirteen Dalai Lama (1895) a number of military conflicts were fought in Tibetan territory. Some of these were internal, including a civil war and attempts to quell rebellious chieftains at the periphery of the plateau. Others, instead, were clashes with foreign powers that had attempted to encroach upon territories the dGa’ ldan pho brang considered in its political sphere.
This presentation aims to offer an overview of the military engagements that occurred in this period, and particularly to examine in which way religious hierarchs of the dGa’ ldan pho brang became involved with these military affairs. Several sources, including the lives (rnam mthar) and autobiographies (rang rnam) of religious hierarchs, as well as the life stories of laymen, such as the biography of Pho lha nas bSod nams stobs rgyal (1689-1747), and the autobiography of rDo ring bsTan ’dzin dpal ’byor (b. 1760), can be used to trace the role of some of the dGe lugs pa hierarchs with respect to the employment of armed forces. In addition, the multiple viewpoints shown in these sources also allow the investigation of more general questions concerning the army of the dGa’ ldan pho brang, such as when it originated, how it operated, and how it developed and was shaped by contemporary historical events.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
The Call for Papers for the first TibArmy international symposium – The Ganden Phrodang Army and Buddhist – is open. The conference will take place in Paris, on July 11th. The Call is open until March 30th, all information – themes and submission process – is available on the website created for the conference: www.tibarmysymp2017.sciencesconf.org.
The existence of a military apparatus within the ecclesiastical government of the dGa’ ldan pho brang, controlled by religious hierarchs, reveals a dichotomy between an administration in theory committed to Buddhist values but in practice often pressed by concerns of realpolitik. In fact, on several occasions in its three-hundred year history, the government of the Dalai Lamas and the dGe lugs pa hierarchy have had to contend with adverse situations that spurred them to utilize, support or otherwise involve the Tibetan army. While the XIII Dalai Lama (1876-1933) may be the ecclesiastical figure whose support for the army is universally recognized, other hierarchs who preceded him also found ways to reconcile their religious beliefs with the necessity to solve impelling practical questions. This talk aims at illustrating some of the historical situations that required the involvement in military matters of dGe lugs pa hierarchs, and the conceptual discourses employed by them to justify and promote the use of the army.