The Temple of the Hat: pillars and treasures

The eastern pillar at the Temple of the HatThe Temple of the Hat (Zha’i lha khang) is a small temple about 50 miles northeast of Lhasa, founded by the monk minister Nyang Tingdzin Zangpo, a significant figure in Tibetan religious history. Nyang was one of the first Tibetans to be ordained as a monk after the completion of Samye temple. He acted as guardian to the young prince who later became King Senaleg (who ruled between 799 and 815).

Later religious history includes Nyang as one of the 25 disciples of Padmasambhava, and even more importantly, as the recipient (along with King Trisong Detsen) of the Seminal Heart (Nyingtig) teachings of Dzogchen from Vimalamitra. These teachings are said to have been concealed in the Temple of the Hat and rediscovered in the eleventh century.

The inscriptions of the pillars placed on each side of the entrance to the temple have no bearing on the Dzogchen tradition. They both record the words of Senaleg, expressing gratitude for the services offered by Nyang and promising recompense for those services:

Bandé Tingdzin, has been loyal from first to last, and from my childhood until I obtained the kingdom he took the place of a father and mother and acted with devotion to my welfare.

The two pillars are of different dates. The pillar to the west of the temple entrance is the earlier, probably dating to 804–5, while the pillar to the east of the entrance is dated to 812. At the end of the west pillar inscription it is stated that a detailed document of this edict was written and placed in the archives while a sealed copy was been placed in a special enclosure, perhaps in the temple or even within the pillar itself. The last part of the edict states the procedures for re-opening the enclosure (presumably if there was a need to check or update the edict), and for resealing and re-depositing the edict.

The seal socket in the eastern pillarNow, the depositing of edicts in special rooms and the procedures for opening and resealing them seem to prefigure the later hidden treasure (terma) tradition. The Dzogchen texts which were were said to have been hidden here at the Temple of the Hat by Nyang Tingdzin Zangpo are part of the collection known as the Vima Nyingtig, perhaps the earliest of the hidden treasures. According to an early history, The History of the Seminal Heart, these texts were rediscovered by a certain Denma Lhungyal in the late 10th or early 11th century. Apparently the treasure texts were hidden in three places in the temple: (i) inside its storeroom or treasury, (ii) in the gate house or vestibule, and (iii) in a hole inside one of the pillars.

As Ronald Davidson has pointed out, the old imperial and temple archives were undoubtedly opened up when monks returned to Central Tibet in the late 10th and 11th centuries. They probably found something in these old archives.

References

1. Davidson, Ronald. 2005. Tibetan Renaissance. New York: Columbia University Press. p.215.
2. Karmay, Samten 1988. The Great Perfection. Leiden: Brill. pp.210–211
3. Richardson, Hugh. 1985. A Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions. London: Royal Asiatic Society. pp.43–63

Tibetan sources
Snying thig gi lo rgyus [The History of the Seminal Heart], in Bi ma snying thig, part 3, 83a–83b. (Klong chen pa dri med ‘od zer. Snying thig ya bzhi. 11 vols. New Delhi: Trulku Tsewang, Jamyang and L. Tashi. 1970.)

Images:
1. Photograph of the two pillars at the Temple of the Hat, by Hugh Richardson.
2. Photograph of the seal socket in the east pillar, by Hugh Richardson.
These images are copyright of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. See their website: The Tibet Album.

2 thoughts on “The Temple of the Hat: pillars and treasures

  1. Very interesting post!

    I visited this monastery in early June of this year. I have put a short video up at youtube:

    Apparently there was a Lama from Amdo who was trying to restore this monastery, but the Chinese sent him packing. Figures. There are only 4 monks there presently, I was told, but I didn’t see any of them. The Nepali style painted statues was quite striking.

  2. Thanks for the link to the video. Very interesting! I’m sorry to see the pillars have been slapped with paint, which seems to be a common practice in recent years.

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