Tibetan literature

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The term Tibetan literature is defined differently:

  • Definition according to language: Tibetan literature refers to the literature written in Tibetan as well as the literature passed down orally to the numerous Tibetan dialects. Tibetan-language literature is predominant in Tibet . It is also common in Mongolia , India , Nepal , Bhutan , Sikkim and in the Tibetan exile community of India. An important part of the Tibetan-language literature consists of translations of Buddhist literature from Indian languages ​​( Sanskrit ), but the vast majority of Tibetan texts are ritual texts, autochthonous commentaries, philosophical treatises, scientific treatises and, in particular, biographies and works of historiography . Tibetan-language literature also contains many myths , sagas , fairy tales , legends , poems , songs , opera libretti and proverbs .
  • Definition according to geographical region: literature from Tibet and other regions inhabited by Tibetans (see above).
  • Definition according to ethnicity : In another definition of Tibetan literature , texts written by Tibetans in other languages ​​- especially Chinese and English - are referred to as Tibetan literature.
  • Definition according to topic: In the People's Republic of China, texts with a special reference to Tibet - regardless of their origin - are also part of Tibetan literature.

Tibetan folk literature

Gesar epic

King Gesar (wall painting; anonymous)

The Tibetan folk literature ( Tib . : dmangs sgrung ) is characterized by a predominantly oral tradition until recently. The main crowd are fairy tales, sagas and sagas. The Gesar epic is important, the heroic songs of which were and are performed by so-called professional “bards” at popular festivals. The different versions are often, but not all, influenced by Buddhism. The Gesar epic is also considered the Tibetan national epic .

Uncle Tonpa

The stories of Uncle Tönpa (Tib .: a khu ston pa ) occupy a dominant position in everyday narratives . Although every adult and every child in Tibet knows these stories, the character is relatively unknown in the West - probably because of its sometimes crude content that does not fit into the usual Tibetan cliché. Many of these stories contain sexual content: Uncle Tönpa usually tries to sleep with women from all walks of life (king's daughter, neighbor, nuns) and has to circumvent social rules. His always cunning approach is in the foreground.

Crazy yogis

This is only distantly related to popular stories by so-called "crazy yogis", such as B. Drugpa Künleg (tib .: 'brug pa kun legs ) or the Buddhist master Milarepa (tib .: rje btsun mi la ras pa ), who are probably best known in Tibet , who often give people instructions through their often very unconventional behavior, with the aim of uncover their desires and other disturbances. Here, too, it is partly a question of sexual content, although the reader will not be delighted, but rather turn away. There are also longer fairy tales and shorter, mostly funny stories, the joke of which is sometimes not immediately clear to the European listener.

Epochs of Tibetan Literature

The exact boundaries between the individual epochs of Tibetan literature are still controversial, especially because the exact dating of texts is often difficult. The so-called terma literature , texts that are either physically or in visions rediscovered , for example, is mostly attributed to authors who lived before the time the text was written. However, the time at which the text was created and the linguistic form of the texts make it possible to assign them to classical literature, for example .

Ancient literature (up to 950)

The epoch of ancient literature includes all literature that was written around the end of the Tibetan royal era .

Development of the Tibetan script

With the increasing importance of Buddhism , the ruler Songtsen Gampo developed a Tibetan script based on an Indo-Iranian script by the minister Thonmi Sambhota in 632 . Although the origin of the script has not been proven, some authors have pointed out the great similarity with the Khotanese script in Central Asia , an area that at that time belonged to the Tibetan empire and also had a Tibetan population. On the basis of several arguments one can assume that the script was probably developed in Central Asia on the basis of a local dialect and was already fully developed in Central Tibet . The earliest written use in Central Asia was clearly administrative and historiographic. The fact that some Chinese texts were written with Tibetan script (and vice versa) is also extremely interesting for historical linguistics.

The Mahavyutpatti

An important work of the 9th century is the Mahāvyutpatti , a Sanskrit - Tibetan dictionary of Buddhist terminology, which was prepared under King Thri Relpacen (Tib .: khri ral pa can ).


In the oasis city of Dunhuang , a large library with u. a. Walled in Tibetan, Uighur and Chinese Buddhist texts to prevent them from being destroyed by Muslims. The Tibetan texts from the Dunhuang grottoes and from Hotan are considered to be the oldest surviving Tibetan books. The destruction of the Buddhist literature of Gandhara and India (cf. Nalanda ) can for the most part only be covered by the Tibetan translation literature. The old Tibetan-language literature is considered to be by far the most complete transmission of Buddhist traditions , which could also be preserved at the highest level in a religious splendid isolation until the middle of the 20th century .

Classical literature (11th century – 1950)

The epoch of classical literature comprises the majority of the Tibetan texts that were written during the so-called second distribution since the turn of the millennium.

The description and partial reinterpretation of the grammatical rules according to Thonmi Sambhota with the aim of making old texts understandable or writing them more correctly forms a not inconsiderable part of classical literature.

Text composition

Mongolian , Tibetan, Chinese and Manchurian script at one of the entrances to the Lama Temple in Beijing

Sakya Panditas (1182–1251) principles of Indo-Tibetan scholasticism (Tib .: mkhas pa 'jug pa'i sgo ) and the translation of Dandin's Mirror of Poetry ( Kavyadarsha ; Tib .: snyan ngag gi me long ) mark the introduction of normative rules the text composition, which should remain valid until 1950.

The sixth Dalai Lama Tshangyang Gyatsho is credited with numerous poems (Tib .: snyan ngag ), often with secular content and great poetry. He had returned his monastic vows and soon withdrew from government affairs.

Literature of Bon

See: Bon

Buddhist canonical literature

Kanjur and Tanjur in a monastery library

The introduction of script in central Tibet made it possible to translate Indian works into Tibetan on a large scale. In more than three centuries, from the second half of the 10th century onwards, numerous texts were translated from Sanskrit, which were then included in the canonical collections of works Kanjur and Tanjur (tib .: bka '' gyur ; "translation of words" and tib .: bstan ' gyur ; "translation of the teaching") were summarized. This central religious literature, the Buddhist canon , is written in a special type of classical written language, which is presumably by and large an artificial standard language strongly influenced by the original .

Terma literature

There is an innovation in Tibetan Buddhist literature within the terma literature (Tib. Gter ma ; literally "treasures"). Teachings from great masters like Padmasambhava survived the time of the annihilation of Buddhism under King Lang Darma (9th century) by being "hidden". They were later "rediscovered" by authors. The rediscovery takes place simply mentally, not physically, that is, the (meditatively experienced) author “sees” the hidden text and reproduces it. The most famous example is the falsely called Tibetan Book of the Dead " Bardo Thödröl " (tib .: bar do thos grol ; literally: "Liberation through hearing in the intermediate state"; literally: "intermediate state hearing liberation"). According to the Bardo Thödröl, the stream of consciousness of a person who has died experiences various experiences that can be described as colors, synaesthesias, or gods and demons, without any particular influence. There are various methods of guiding a deceased in this situation so that he or she may recognize these visions as illusions of the qualities of his or her own mind. The easiest is to guide the mind through reading (explaining). The deceased must have been a connoisseur of the symbolism of Bardo Thödröl.

Biographies and Religious Chants
Milarepa's statue in the Milarepa Gompa in Nepal

Some great masters wrote originally religious chants , which can be considered (very beautiful) literature. This begins with the vajra songs handed down by Milarepa and extends to texts such as Peltrül Rinpoches (tib .: dpal sprul rin po che ) "instruction useful in the beginning, in the middle and at the end". Biographies (Tib .: rnam thar ) of great masters are an important type of text, and they often contain his chants. The best-known biographies of Tibetan literature are those of Marpa and Milarepa from the 15th century by Tsang Nyon Heruka (1452–1507), which are printed and read to this day.


Tibetan literature has a number of historiographical genres:

  • Chöchung / Chöjung (tib .: chos' byung ):

The Tibetan chos' byung means something like history of teaching . The text genre gives a precise description of how Buddhist teaching or a particular teaching tradition has spread in a country or region.

  • Debther (tib .: deb ther ):

The Tibetan deb ther is borrowed from Mongolian and is usually rendered with annals . Only a few texts belong to this genre. Probably the best-known example, which Gendün Chöphel (Tib .: dge 'dun chos' phel ) and George Nicholas Roerich translated into English in 1949, are the Blue Annals of Gö Lotsawa Shönnu Pel (1392–1481); the Red Annals and the White Annals also belong to this genus.

  • Tentsi (Tib .: bstan rtsis ): 'Calculations of the beginning of the teaching'; Here the day of Buddha's birth is calculated based on the date of writing.
  • Logyü (Tib .: lo rgyus ): 'History', this is how predominantly modern historiographical texts are described.

Modern and Contemporary Tibetan Literature (from 1950)

In the People's Republic of China

Thousands of monasteries were destroyed in the Tibet region during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution . Many of the country's literary treasures were also destroyed by using books as fuel or building material, for example. Texts and books could only partially be rescued into exile or reissued through traditional memorization in exile.

Literary production from 1950–1980

The occupation of Tibet posed a great challenge for the CCP . After Tibet was forcibly integrated into the People's Republic of China , the communist ideology should be communicated to the Tibetans. Since the Tibetan language had no communist idiom, intensive work began on dictionaries and translations - mainly Mao Zedong's works and political directives - to familiarize the Tibetans with the communist vocabulary and concepts. Until the end of the Cultural Revolution, literary production was limited to communist texts.

Connection to the modern

After the end of the cultural revolution and with the reforms of the Deng era, a cultural reorientation began slowly in 1978: Countless lost texts were reissued in book form and modern written narrative literature in the western sense began to develop timidly. Tibetan writers Döndrub Gyel (Tib .: don grub rgyal ; 1953–1985) is considered to be the founder of the new Tibetan literature . Since then, several hundred authors have published Tibetan poems, stories, short stories and essays in well over 100 different literary magazines. The literature that has emerged since the 1980s is also known as New / Modern Literature (Tib .: rtsom rig gsar pa ). The earliest novella in the Tibetan language is that of Langdün Peljor Tshering (Tib .: glang mdun dpal 'byor tshe ring ), written during the Cultural Revolution and published as a book in Lhasa in 1985, Das Scheiteljuwel (Tib. " གཙུག་ གཡུ ། "). Other successful novels in the Tibetan language are Tshering Döndrubs ( tshe ring don grub ) ancestors (2000, " མེས་ པོ ། ") and Nebel (2001, " མུག་ པ ། "). Even if literary texts are subject to strict political censorship and ideological constraints, the “New Tibetan Literature” offers writers and their readers the opportunity to address the problems of contemporary Tibetan society and to renegotiate Tibetan identity.

This burgeoning literature is hardly noticed in the West. Translations by Tibetan authors exist into English and, more recently, into French. The first translations into German by authors who write Chinese appeared in the late 1990s with short stories by Trashi Dawa, Alai and Sebo. Alai's works have been known in the West since 2004 . Alai is from Sichuan , but like many other young Tibetan authors, he writes in Chinese because he has such a larger readership. Since most Tibetans are farmers and nomads, many of whom can neither read nor write, they can hardly publish in Tibetan. In the meantime, however, there are also early attempts by young Tibetans in Tibet , especially in Amdo , to write in English - something that has long been in use in Indian exile.

In exile

In the 1960s, many Tibetans fled into exile , mainly to India and Nepal. The first Tibetan refugee settlement in India was Lugsum Samdupling in Bylakuppe . A wide range of publications of Tibetan exile literature soon began , which was intended to preserve the rich Tibetan Buddhist literature and make it accessible again.

Exile literature in English

Not least in order to communicate the Tibetan fate to the world public, a not insignificant amount of biographies and autobiographies, first of important lamas , later also of former political prisoners and victims of torture, were written in English. Publishers were founded that publish almost exclusively books on the subject of Tibet . One example is Snow Lion Publications .

Well-known English-speaking Tibetan writers in exile include a. Bhuchter D. Sönam , Tshering Wangmo Dhompa , Jamyang Norbu and Tendzin Tsundü .

Exile literature in Tibetan language

Modern Tibetan exile literature in the Tibetan language has also developed with the arrival of well-educated intellectuals predominantly from Amdo since the late 1980s.

See also



  • Wú Wěi 吴伟, Gěng Yǔfāng 耿 予 方: Tibetan literature (Xīzàng wénxué 西藏 文学). China Intercontinental Press / Wǔzhōu chuánbō chūbǎnshè 五洲 传播 出版社, Beijing 2005, ISBN 7-5085-0746-0 .

Tibetan folk literature

  • Ringu Tulku : bod kyi gnah bohi shod sgrung. deb dang po. Tibetan folk Tales. Book one . Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA), Dharamsala
  • Roland Bielmeier, Silke Herrmann: Fairy tales, sagas and sagas from the roof of the world. Tibetan stories in German , Volume 3. Cattle ranchers' stories and stories from sKyid-grong and Ding-ri, collected and translated into German . Association for the History of High Asia Scientific Publishing House, Sankt Augustin 1982 (= contributions to Tibetan narrative research, 3)
  • Roland Bielmeier: The fairy tale of Prince Cobzang. A Tibetan story from Baltistan. Text, translation, grammar, and West Tibetan comparative glossary . Association for the History of High Asia Science Publishing House, Sankt Augustin 1985 (= contributions to Tibetan narrative research, 6)
  • Margret Causemann : Dialect and stories of the Nangchenpas . Association for the History of High Asia Scientific Publishing House, Sankt Augustin 1989 (= contributions to Tibetan narrative research, 11)
  • Norbu Chophel: Folk Tales of Tibet . Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA), Dharamsala 1989 170p.
  • Rinjing Dorje, Addison G. Smith: The maddened stories of Uncle Tompa, the bad rascal from Tibet . Sphinx, Basel 1983 112p.
  • Keith Dowman, Franz-Karl Ehrhard (translator): The holy fool - the dissolute life and the blasphemous chants of the tantric master Drukpa Künleg . OW Barth bei Scherz, 2005, ISBN 978-3-502-61159-2
  • Andreas Gruschke : Myths and legends of the Tibetans - Of warriors, monks, demons . Diederich's Yellow Series (DG124), Munich 1996.
  • Felix Haller: Dialect and stories from Shigatse . Association for the History of High Asia Wissenschaftsverlag, Bonn 2000 (= contributions to Tibetan narrative research 13)
  • Felix Haller: Dialect and stories about topics. Linguistic description of a nomad dialect from North Amdo . VGH Wissenschaftsverlag, Bonn 2004 (= contributions to Tibetan narrative research 14)
  • Silke Herrmann: Stories and dialect from Dingri . Association for the History of High Asia Scientific Publishing House, Sankt Augustin 1989 (= contributions to Tibetan narrative research, 9)
  • Silke Herrmann: The Tibetan version of the parrot book . Association for the History of High Asia Scientific Publishing House, Sankt Augustin 1983 (= contributions to Tibetan narrative research, 5)
  • Monika Kretschmar: Stories and dialect from southern Mustang . Association for the History of High Asia Science Publishing House, Sankt Augustin 1995 (= contributions to Tibetan narrative research, 12 / 1–4)
  • Monika Kretschmar: Stories and dialect of the Drokpas from southwest Tibet . Association for the History of High Asia Scientific Publishing House, Sankt Augustin 1986 (= contributions to Tibetan narrative research, 8)
  • Monika Kretschmar: Fairy tales and tales from Mustang . German retelling. Association for the History of High Asia Scientific Publishing House, Sankt Augustin 1985 (= contributions to Tibetan narrative research, 7)
  • Monika Kretschmar: Fairy tales, sagas and sagas from the roof of the world. Tibetan stories in German , Volume 2. Stories by West Tibetan cattle breeders, collected and translated into German. Association for the History of High Asia Science Publishing House, Sankt Augustin 1982 (= contributions to Tibetan narrative research, 2)
  • JK Phukhang, Peter Schwieger: Fairy tales, sagas and sagas from the roof of the world. Tibetan stories in German , Volume 4. Stories from A-mdo and Brag-g.yab, collected and translated into German . Association for the History of High Asia Scientific Publishing House, Sankt Augustin 1982 (= contributions to Tibetan narrative research, 3)
  • Dieter Schuh: Fairy tales, sagas and sagas from the roof of the world. Tibetan stories in German , Volume 1. Tales from Central and Eastern Tibet told in the language of Lhasa, collected and translated into German . Association for the History of High Asia Scientific Publishing House, Sankt Augustin 1982 (= contributions to Tibetan narrative research, 1)
  • Peter Schwieger: Tibetan stories from Brag-g.yab. Texts with translations, grammatical summary and glossary . Association for the History of High Asia Scientific Publishing House, Sankt Augustin 1989 (= contributions to Tibetan narrative research, 10)
  • Clifford Thurlow: Stories from Beyond the Clouds. An Anthology of Tibetan folk Tales . Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA), Dharamsala 1981

Epochs of Tibetan Literature

  • rgya ye bkra bho [Gyaye Trabho], Ed. (2002). bod kyi rtsom rig lo rgyus shall bzang mig sgron . Xining, mtsho sngon mi rigs dpe skrun khang / Qinghai minzu chubanshe 青海 民族 出版社.
  • dga 'ba pa sangs [Gawa Pasang] (1993). "rgya bod rtsom rig lo rgyus kyi dbye mtshams la gshib dpyad rags tsam byas pa." bod ljongs slob grwa chen mo'i rig deb (2 (2)): 6-14.
  • reb gong ba dge 'dun rab gsal [Rebkongpa Gedün Rabsal] (2003). bod kyi rtsom rig gi byung ba brjod pa rab gsal me long zhes bya ba [dt. « The mirror that illuminates Tibetan literature » ]. Lanzhou, kan su'u mi rigs dpe skrun khang / Gansu minzu chubanshe 甘肃 民族 出版社, ISBN 7-5421-0926-X .
  • lhag pa chos' phel [Lhagpa Chöpel / Laba Qunpei 拉巴 群 培] (2006). Bod kyi rtsom rig lo rgyus [Zangzu wenxue shi 藏族 文学 史, Eng . « History of Tibetan Literature » ]. Beijing, mi rigs dpe skrun khang / Minzu chubanshe 民族 出版社, 2 vols., ISBN 7-105-08011-6 .

Connection to the modern

  • Alai : Distant source . Zurich 2009, ISBN 3-293-00405-9
  • Alai: Red poppy seeds . Zurich 2004, ISBN 3-293-00327-3
  • Tsering Dhondup (2007): Three Contemporary Mongolian-Tibetan Writers. In: SJVenturino (ed.): Contemporary Tibetan Literary Studies. Suffering (brill).
  • Franz Xaver Erhard (2005): The Narrow Path - Tibetan Literature of the Present. The writer Döndrub Gyäl as a role model . In: The New China . Issue 4, pp. 19-21, 2005
  • Franz Xaver Erhard (2007): Magical Realism and Tibetan Literature. In: SJVenturino (ed.): Contemporary Tibetan Literary Studies. Suffering (brill).
  • Alice Green Fields (Hrsg.): Wing flap of the butterfly. Tibetans tell . Zurich 2009, ISBN 3-293-00406-7 (With texts by Alai, Jamyang Norbu, Tsering Öser, Tenzin Tsundue et al.)
  • Alice Green Fields: Tashi Dawa and the Newer Tibetan Literature . Zurich 1999, ISBN 3-89733-014-8
  • Tashi Dawa; Alai; Sebo / Alice Grünstelder (eds.): Soul knotted to the leather strap. Narrator from Tibet . Zurich 1997, ISBN 3-293-00238-2
  • C. Michelle Kleisath (ed.): Heavy Earth, Golden Sky: Tibetan Women Speak about Their Lives . Shem Women's Group USA 2008. ISBN 978-0-615-17305-4
  • Tsering Shakya (1996): Politicization and the Tibetan Language . In: Robert Barnett (ed.): Resistance and Reform in Tibet. Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass: 157-165.
  • Heather Stoddard (1996). Tibetan Publications and National Identity in Tibet. In: Robert Barnett (ed.): Resistance and Reform in Tibet. New Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass: 121-156.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. cf. Lara Maconi: Au-delà du débat linguistique: comment définir la littérature tibétaine d'expression chinoise? «Spécificités nationales» and «spécificités regionales». In: Revue d'Etudes Tibétaines 14: 117–155 (October 2008), Langues et Cultures de l'Aire Tibétaine, CNRS .
  2. Cf. the anthology of biographical stories edited by M. Kleisath in 2008.