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Memorial of the Sixth Panchen Lama in Tibetan, Chinese, and Manchu

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Period: 1779–1780, Qianlong reign (1736–1795), Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
Medium: black, vermillion, and gold ink on paper
Origin: Tibet
Dimensions: thickness: 0.3 cm; Tibetan text: length: 442 cm, width: 75 cm; Chinese text: height 7.3 cm; width: 19 cm

This document was written by the Sixth Panchen Lama Lobsang Palden Yeshe (1738–1780) as felicitations for the birthday of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736–1795). The Tibetan text is written in the 'bru tsha form (Chinese zhuza ti) and includes no title; the content, and comparisons with other records, show it to be an auspicious encomium (Chinese Jixiang zanci; Tibetan shis brjod). The document receives its title from that of the Chinese text: Memorial of the Sixth Panchen Lama (Chinese Banchan Eerdeni zoushu).

The document begins with the Sanskrit Ranjana script (Chinese lanzha ti) and Urdu script (Chinese Wuerdu ti) with a Tibetan transliteration of Sanskrit and Tibetan translation of a prayer for the peace and happiness of all living beings (Tibetan skye dgu rnams bde legs).

The body may be divided into three sections. The first section is a series of encomiums with successive words of praise for a series of divine beings, including Gautama Buddha (i.e., Shakyamuni), Manjushri, Tsongkhapa, tutelary deities (Chinese benzun), Usnisavijaya, Tara, disciples (Chinese shengwen), lone awakened ones (Chinese yuanjue), bodhisattvas, and skygoers (Chinese kongxing). The meter of the first encomium has a twenty-seven-syllable structure with four scripts—Ranjana, Urdu, Tibetan transliteration of Sanskrit, and Tibetan translation. The minute Tibetan inscription above the pair of fish and bottle is a description of the encomium’s rhythm. The second encomium has a twenty-three-syllable structure while the third has nineteen syllables. The fourth through sixth encomiums have nine-syllable structures.

The second section of the document is a prosaic presentation of an auspicious encomium for the Qianlong Emperor with praise for the emperor as the manifestation of the bodhisattva Manjushri and protector of living beings and as the upholder and developer of Buddhism, especially the Gelug school. The text also includes prayerful wishes for the imperial throne to continue for eons as numerous as the sand of the Ganges River.

The third section is a list of gifts presented by the Panchen Lama to the Qianlong Emperor in celebration of his birthday. The offerings included a ritual object known in Chinese as manzha, which represents the universe; thangka with representative images of the Buddha, Usnisavijaya, and other divine beings that the body relies upon; Prajnaparamita Sutras (Chinese Bore jing) and Kangyur (Chinese Ganzhuer), which the word relies upon; and a stupa, vajra, and dharma wheel, which represent that which the mind relies upon. The gift list also includes vases, prayer beads, and incense.

The Chinese text is a simple translation of the Tibetan. The first half is rendered as pentasyllabic poetry. The first Tibetan encomium is divided into three individual encomiums in the Chinese translation. The second Tibetan encomium is translated as two Chinese poems, and the fourth through sixth Tibetan encomiums are translated as two each. The following section of Tibetan prose and the gift list are also translated in a simple fashion. The Chinese translation is written with appropriate Chinese formulation as required by the imperial system of rites and etiquette. For example, the Chinese version reflects the position of the Sixth Panchen Erdeni as a minister-monk conducting a formal presentation of tribute whereas in the Tibetan text the Panchen Lama portrays himself humbly as “I, this little lama” (Tibetan bla ma chung ngu bdag).

The Manchu inscription corresponds with the title of the Chinese in presenting the document as a memorial submitted respectfully by the Panchen Lama (Manchu title: Bancen erdeni gingguleme danšuk tukiyeme wesimbure bithe).

Judging from The Biography of the Preceptor of State Changkya Rölpé Dorjé (Chinese Zhangjia guoshi Rebi Duoji zhuan) and The Biography of the Sixth Panchen Lama Palden Yeshe (Chinese Liushi Banchan Baidan Yixi zhuan), this Tibetan document may be confirmed as that presented by the Panchen Lama to the Qianlong Emperor on the seventh day of the eighth lunar month of the forty-fifth year (1780) of the Qianlong reign. The Chinese text was translated by the Preceptor of State Changkya Rölpé Dorjé (1717–1786).

The Biography of the Preceptor of State Changkya Rölpé Dorjé contains a brief record of the creation of the document. The account exuberantly describes the profundity of the Panchen Lama in praising the unimaginable literary and martial prowess of the bodhisattva Manjushri as manifested in the emperor, compares the prosaic section to the beauty of jewels, and notes that the Changkya Lama produced the translation (Tibetan version, page 583, lines 6-12).

The account in The Biography of the Sixth Panchen Lama Palden Yeshe is highly detailed (Tibetan version, page 980, line 12ff.) with descriptions of not only the process in which the gifts were presented, the wording of the oral felicitations, and the associated rituals but also includes certain phrases identical to those in the Tibetan text of this original document.

Chinese entry by Saerji and Luo Wenhua
Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying

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