Category Archives: Tibetology

The Maharaja and the Monarch

A good friend of mine, San Cowan, has just published a brilliant article about a visit to the UK by The Nepalese Maharaja Chandra Shum Shere Rana in 1908. His research is first rate, and the article describes how the Maharaja forged close ties in the UK, especially the former Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. Curzon was Chancellor of Oxford at the time of the meeting, and The Bodleian was recipient of a substantial number of texts thanks to the intervention of the Maharaja. These are used to this day.


A full copy of Sam’s article can be found here.

SS Chandra Group

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Formula 1 and Tibetan Buddhism

While there has been a lot of chatter about Nico Rosberg edging Lewis Hamilton out of last weekend’s F1 Belgian Grand Prix, few eagle eyes will have noticed a small design on his race helmet. As the German driver clambered out of his car to face the podium, his team, and his critics, I noticed a small Tibetan Buddhist emblem on the front grille of his Mercedes-AMG Petronas helmet.

Nico Rosberg

Rosberg designed the helmet together with his girlfriend. He calls it his “Full Attack” design, and it is mainly comprised of black and turquoise, a colour strongly associated with Tibetan Buddhism. He describes the Tibetan motif as “something personal” but does not elaborate further. You can watch his full explanation here. It’s about as emotional as he gets!

The design is an endless knot (dpal be’u for all you closet Tibetologists out there) which is a closed, graphic ornament composed of right-angled, intertwined lines. It overlaps without a beginning, or an end, symbolising the Buddha’s endless wisdom and compassion. It indicates continuity as the underlying reality of existence.

The intertwining of lines represents how all phenomena are conjoined and yoked together as a closed cycle of cause and effect. Thus the whole composition is a pattern that is closed on in itself with no gaps, leading to a representational form of great simplicity and fully balanced harmony. See here for a full explanation.

Tibetans and Buddhists often copy the design on a gift or greeting card as this is understood to establish an auspicious connection between the giver and the recipient. At the same time, the recipient is goaded to righteous karma, and reminded that future positive effects have their roots in the causes of the present. This interconnectivity, and the social dues that go with it, were first properly analysed and commented on by the French sociologist Marcel Mauss in his 1925 essay Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l’échange dans les sociétés archaïques (An essay on the gift: the form and reason of exchange in archaic societies) and expanded upon in his seminal anthropological treatise ‘The Gift.’ It is a great, and short, introduction to the fascinating field of Anthropology.

One can only hope that Hamilton too has done his homework, and acknowledges that the knot represents a connection, a link between their fates and karmic destiny, but does not ‘connect’ with it further. I can assure him that the symbol will be the same when viewed in a rear view mirror.

endless knot

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Lying about the lion

This little gem has made the inside pages around the word this week as a Chinese zoo’s supposed “African lion” was exposed as a fraud. The dog that the zoo had used as a substitute started barking… raising eyebrows and suspicions that it might not actually be a lion.

The zoo in the People’s Park of Luohe, in the central province of Henan, replaced exotic exhibits with common species, according to the state-run Beijing Youth Daily.

It quoted a customer named Liu who wanted to show her son the different sounds animals made – but he pointed out that the animal in the cage labelled “African lion” was barking.

The beast was in fact a Tibetan mastiff – a large and long-haired breed of dog. lion dog

In a rad faced interview the the chief of the park’s animal department, Liu Suya, told the paper that while it does have a lion, it had been taken to a breeding facility and the dog — which belonged to an employee — had been temporarily housed in the zoo over safety concerns.

I think he might be lying, especially as the zoo was also found to have two coypu rodents in a snake’s cage, a white fox in a leopard’s den, and another dog in a wolf pen. Barking mad if you ask me.


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Tibetan and Uyghur activists targeted with Android malware

While this blog is in no way intended to be political, it dies reflect my thoughts and concerns… in light of my academic interests, and also following on from the last post about the invasion of privacy I thought I would bring this to you attention:

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab are reporting that Tibetan activists are being hit by a highly targeted form of Android malware that seeks to record their contacts, call logs, SMS messages, geolocation, and phone data.

The malware, dubbed Backdoor.AndroidOS.Chuli.a by the researchers, launches what appears to be a standard Android app that apparently contains a message from “Dolkun lsa, chairman of the executive committee of the Word [sic] Uyghur Congress.” However, the app also installs a bugging program that’s controlled by SMS.

When the correct control message comes in via SMS, the malware sends the information, encoded in Base 64, to a command and control (C&C) server running Windows Server 2003 and configured in Chinese. The commands to control the code contain Chinese characters, and the C&C servers are located in Los Angeles, but the commands travel via a domain registered to a Chinese firm.

“The current attack took advantage of the compromise of a high-profile Tibetan activist. It is perhaps the first in a new wave of targeted attacks aimed at Android users,” said the Kaspersky Lab research team. more can be found on The Register here.

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Pointless… to a degree.

Our clever friends across the pond have worked out that not all college degrees are created equal. According to a report by the Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) at Georgetown University, your choice of college major substantially affects your employment prospects and earnings. Who would have thought it!

Having spent the last ten years pottering about with Anthropology, Tibetology, and other dark arts, I was AMAZED to learn that my earning potential is limited when compared to those who plumped for Business School or engineering.

Quite the extent of the divide between anything that might be considered an -ology and the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) is however appalling. At least from my perspective… Topping the list at No. 1, anthropology and archeology represent the worst choice of college major in economic terms. Recent college graduates of the major, those ages 22 to 26, can expect an unemployment rate of 10.5%, well above the national average. When they do land a job, the median salary is just $28,000, compared to a mechanical engineer’s initial earnings of $58,000. Forbes, not well known for their appreciation of the finer points of Anglo-Tibetan relations, commented on the report here.  

Is a four-year college degree (remembering this is an American study) still worth it? Carnevale offers an emphatic “yes,” saying the earnings advantage of a bachelor’s degree over a 45-year career is $1.2 million on average. The advantage of an engineering bachelor’s is a whopping $3 million. However, he warns that if you want to pursue the arts and social sciences, you should either combine the study with a more practical major or go for a graduate degree…. great news if you have a DPhil in Tibetan. Then you are on track to earn a fortune… perhaps that will be the finding of next week’s report?… No? I doubt so too…

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Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s English Translator

This is an in-depth interview where Krista Tippett discusses life in a monastery, philosophy, linguistics, and strange experiences with the chief English translator for the Dalai Lama.

Geshe Thupten Jinpa, a Buddhist scholar and former monk, shares the intricacies of Tibetan Buddhism that can’t be conveyed in public teachings, and what happens when this ancient tradition meets modern science and modern lives. His very personable and personal thoughts are insightful, interesting, and wonderfully modest… It’s a long interview, and you have to ignore the technological fiddling at the start, but well worth listening to.

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Royal Asiatic Society. Lecture. 18 January. London.

I doubt many of you will be at a loose end in London tomorrow evening, but if by chance your date has stood you up, or your heating has packed up, you might find warmth and distraction at the Royal Asiatic Society. I will be offering hot air on the subject of looting in Tibet. RAS Student Lecture Weds 18th January.
The next student series event at the RAS will take place next Wednesday evening 18th January and we have a very interesting double bill of lectures lined up. You can read all about it on their blog here.
Timothy Myatt will speak on ‘Trinkets and Treasures: Looting during the British Mission to Tibet of 1904’. Tim’s interest in Tibetan history and culture was stirred after spending eight months teaching in the Tibetan Monastery of Dip-Tse-Chok-Ling in Dharamsala, India, close to the Tibetan Government in Exile. He is now a doctoral student of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies at Wolfson College, Oxford and the General Secretary of the Internal Seminar of Young Tibetologists and has edited and published numerous books and papers on Tibetan culture, history and Anglo-Tibetan relations.
Apparently I have given the following comment:

I will present new research examining looting during the 1904 Younghusband Mission to Tibet. I will outline the social and cultural milieu that prevailed at the time and note the role models for, and influences on, those who took part in the mission. I will outline the position of L. Austine Waddell, the ‘archeologist’ to the Mission, and the controversial methods he used to acquire both personal and official collections. The aftermath of the Mission will be studied, focusing on contemporary newspaper reports from London and Delhi concerning the looting. I will then show how selected items looted from Tibet are now presented in British museums and collections, before studying the mentality behind the collectors and their desire to construct archives of achievement and ‘Temples of Empire’ that rationalize a perspective of ‘the other’ and thereby, themselves.

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