Sages and Apocryphal Canons: Confucius in Tibet by Deborah Sommer

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Sages and Apocryphal Canons:
Confucius in Tibet

Deborah Sommer 司马黛兰

AbstractBy at least late imperial times, if not much earlier, Confucius became known in Tibet as a wise king and master of divination, and he became a follower of the Bon (苯教) mythic figure Tonpa Shenrab(东巴辛绕). The relationship between Tonpa Shenrab and Confucius is depicted in a thangka that is now in the collections of the Musée Guimet in Paris. This essay examines the visual content of the Guimet thangka and explores Chinese textual sources that shed light on understandings of Confucius in Tibet.


In keeping with the theme of this conference, which focuses on canons and sages, this paper focuses on the most well-known of Chinese sages, Confucius (孔子). But it explores folk traditions about Confucius that are not well understood. Confucius's fame extended far from his home town of Qufu (曲阜), and it reached even as far as the Sichuan basin(四川盆地) and the Tibetan plateau (西藏高原). By at least the eighteenth century, if not much earlier, Confucius became known in the Tibetan plateau region as the wise king "Kon-tse" or "Kongtse." One of the Tibetan titles for Confucius is "Kong tse 'phrul gyi rgyal po." Sinologists will immediately recognize "Kong tse" as a transliteration of "Kongzi." "Phrul gyi rgyal po" is rendered by Lin Shen-yu as "king of magic" (Lin 2007); by Karmay, as "wise king" (Karmay 1975; see also Gurung forthcoming). This Tibetan Confucius was understood as a master of divination and ritual and became a follower of the mythic figure Tonpa Shenrab (东巴辛绕,又作东巴幸绕), who was one of the most important spiritual figures of the Bon teaching (苯教或苯波教). The relationship between Tonpa Shenrab and Confucius is depicted in a Qing dynasty 清代 thangka (唐卡或唐喀) that is now in the collections of the Musée Guimet (吉美国立亚洲艺术博物馆) in Paris 巴黎. This paper examines the visual content of the Guimet thangka and explores Chinese textual sources that shed light on understandings of Confucius in Tibet.

The Guimet thangka is virtually unknown to scholars in Asia, for it was purchased by a French expedition at the beginning of the twentieth century in what was then southwest China or eastern Tibet. It has remained in France ever since. For ease of reference, I hereafter cite this painting as Shenrab and Confucius (辛绕与孔子), although the thangka itself bears no such title or inscription.[1] Tentatively dated to the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, Shenrab and Confucius is one of a set of biographical narrative paintings in the Musée Guimet that illustrates twelve important events in the life of Tonpa Shenrab.[2] The thangka has been explored from the perspective of Tibetan-language sources by Per Kvaerne, who has compared its visual content with textual narratives of the life of Tonpa Shenrab (Kvaerne 1986, 1987, 2007). In this paper I focus instead on Chinese-language sources. How is the Confucius in the Bon painting similar to, and different from, the Confucius of the Analects? It turns out that the Bon Confucius bears little similarity to the Confucius of the Analects. He is instead related to several other textual and visual sources: Han (汉代) and early medieval apocryphal texts(谶纬书) Dunhuang(敦煌) tales about Confucius and the child-prodigy Xiang Tuo(项讬), and Ming-era illustrated narrative biographies of the life of Confucius (孔子圣迹图).

Origins of the painting Shenrab and Confucius 唐卡的来源. It is not known where the painting Shenrab and Confucius was originally created, but it was most likely created not far from the region where it was acquired. It was acquired in southwest China or the eastern Tibetan plateau by a French expedition led by Henri d'Ollone. General d'Ollone's team traveled through southwestern China, eastern Tibet, and Mongolia from 1906-1909 and returned to France with a large quantity of notes, photographs, documents, and objects. Kvaerne speculates that d'Ollone acquired the set of thangkas to which Shenrab and Confucius belongs in 1908 in the Songpan (松潘) region, when the general also obtained Bon statues from that area (Kvaerne 1987:62-63; d'Ollone, n.d., p. 283). D'Ollone's own published mission reports (d'Ollone 1908, 1911, and n.d.) note that the Bon tradition (which he calls Pon-bo) was very much alive in Songpan at the beginning of the twentieth century. He writes,

In the surroundings of the city there are monasteries of red and yellow lamas: the Pon-bo also--or Pönbo, to follow the local pronunciation--are very numerous. It is impossible for any one who is not a specialist in these matters to distinguish precisely how their divinities differ from those of Buddhism; we brought back statuettes appertaining to both the cults, and they are identical. [d'Ollone n.d.: 212; see also Kvaerne 1987:63]

Tallying the mission's total acquisitions at the end of his report, d'Ollone states that he collected many paintings, along with other objects. He gathered 225 inscriptions relating to historical events, in Chinese, Sancrit, Tibetan, Mongol, Manchu, Arabic, and Lolo . . . numerous weapons, utensils, examples of pottery, currency, paintings, &c. [d'Ollone n.d.: 310]

Along with other artifacts collected by the expedition, the painting Shenrab and Confucius eventually entered the collections of the Musée Guimet by the early 1920s (Auboyer 1949:247; Hackin 1923:116).

Regardless of where in eastern Tibet or southwestern China d'Ollone acquired the Bon thangkas, the inscriptions in multiple languages inventoried in the passage above testify to this border region's long history as a religious and cultural crossroads for Tibetans, Han, Manchus, Mongols, Muslims, nomads, Qiang (羌), and others. Northwest Sichuan, Songpan in particular, was the gateway between trade routes connecting the cultures of the Chengdu (成都) basin in the south and east and the cultures of the mountains and plains to the north in Gansu and to the west in Tibet. Toni Huber notes that Bon communities in the Songpan region were very influential in the trade between Chinese and Tibetan cultures (Huber 1998: 210). David Jackson and Karl Debreczeny have explored how Tibetan and Chinese artistic traditions were woven in Ming and Qing times (Jackson 2009, Debreczeny 2009). That the Bon divinity Tonpa Shenrab and the Chinese sage Confucius should encounter one another in this region sooner or later, then, was not at all unlikely.

The Guimet set of thangkas depicting Tonpa Shenrab's life is one of several known to still exist. Most were apparently originally created in sets of twelve, and they exhibit parallels with one version or another of the Bon written epic narratives of the life of Tonpa Shenrab: the eleventh century Dodu, the longer and somewhat later Zermig, and the yet longer Ziji, which dates to perhaps the fourteenth century.[3] Narrative scenes of Shenrab's life were also created as woodblock prints, and one such set was created in a region in eastern Tibet not far from d'Ollone's route: the Gyalrong region (Chinese Jinchuan 金川), a long north-south valley less than 200 kilometers west of Chengdu and southwest of Songpan. Samten Karmay dates these woodblock prints to between 1758 and 1773 (Karmay 2005:79).[4] The encounter between Shenrab and Confucius is depicted in one of the woodblock prints, and its overall composition is generally similar to that of the Guimet Shenrab and Confucius thangka, although some of its details are virtually identical.[5]

Scenes depicting Confucius in the Guimet thangka 唐卡中的孔子. The Guimet thangka depicting Confucius's activities in Tibet is a complex narrative image comprised of many different scenes drawn from different sources. Only the top half of this painting concerns Confucius, whereas the lower half is devoted other events in Tonpa Shenrab's life. According to Kvaerne, scenes in the thangka appear to parallel written accounts from the Ziji, the fourteenth-century Tibetan biography of Shenrab. Below I rely on Kvaerne's French summary of the Tibetan Ziji to interpret scenes in the thangka (Kvaerne 1986: 69-72).

Some scenes from Shenrab and Confucius show striking parallels with images in illustrated biographical narratives of the life of Confucius that became popular in China in the Ming. Known generally as Shengji tu 圣迹图, or "Illustrations of the Sage's Traces," they were created in sets of multiple scenes and were widely distributed in the form of woodblock prints.[6] Confucius's imagined "life" depicted therein was derived to a certain extent from the very spare biographical information in the Analects, but much more of it was derived from folklore and apocryphal tales that developed long after Confucius's death. It is this apocryphal Confucius--astrologer, diviner, seer, and ritual master--not the Confucius of the Analects, that became popular in Tibetan traditions. This apocryphal literature is not well known except in specialized sinological studies, and to those who are unfamiliar with it, there might seem at first to be a marked disjuncture between the Chinese Confucius and the Tibetan one. [7] But the Tibetan Confucius, like the Chinese Confucius of the apocrypha, is an astrologer, diviner, seer, and ritual master.

Some scenes in the thangka, however, are completely unrelated visually to the Shengji tu illustrations, and hence must have come from other sources. Hence, it is difficult to discern whether Tibetan understandings of Confucius are derived primarily from Shengji tu images, from much earlier Han apocrypha, or from other sources entirely. In fact, one scene from the Guimet thangka, one where Confucius ritually conjures tiger spirits with esoteric mudras, seems most closely associated with textual descriptions of Confucius's body that appear in the Han apocryphal literature (see the discussion of "tiger palms" below). This scene does not appear in Chinese Shengji tu illustrations. And one of the most important scenes in the thangka, a depiction of Confucius's encounter with a young man who is very similar to the Chinese child-prodigy Xiang Tuo, has no Chinese visual parallels. It instead shows many parallels with Dunhuang stories about Confucius's encounter with Xiang Tuo.

Yet several scenes in the Guimet thangka do show parallels with Shengji tu woodblock images. Some Chinese scenes appear to have been adopted almost wholesale by the Tibetan artists; others contain only fragments from Shengji tu scenes or reflect combinations of Chinese and Tibetan elements, and others show combinations of several different Shengji tu scenes. Most scenes in the thangka also include Tibetan visual motifs that do not appear anywhere in the Chinese visual materials.

Confucius's birth, scene 1 孔子诞生,第一幕. Chronologically, Confucius appears first in the Shenrab and Confucius thangka in a scene depicting his birth. This image is located at the very top of the picture plane, slightly to the left of center. Framed by a rectangular house, a man sits facing a woman who holds a large baby in her lap. Kvaerne associates this scene with a passage from the Ziji that relates how Kong tse was born at the foot of a great mountain called Ta-la-po-çan; there a prince is born with thirty magic letters on his body (Kvaerne 1986:69). The Tibetan "Ta-la-po-çan" sounds like the Chinese "Tai Shan" (泰山), Mount Tai, the mountain in Shandong province near Confucius's birthplace. In the painting itself, no magic writing or pattern appears on the child's body. In contrast, Chinese depictions of the infant Confucius usually depict him with an inscription on his chest, as described below. The inscription is taken verbatim from Later Han apocryphal texts. In the Guimet thangka, in the courtyard in front of the house stand several figures who offer gifts to another adult.

This scene is similar to a birth scene in the Shengji tu—but not to a scene of Confucius's birth, but to a scene of the birth of Confucius's son Boyu (伯鱼). Various versions of the Shengji tu commonly begin with illustrations of Confucius's nativity, but these images are often almost immediately followed by scenes of Boyu's birth. One can easily understand how an artist who cannot read the classical Chinese captions accompanying the Shengji tu images might confuse the births of father and son. Visual parallels between the birth scene in the thangka and Boyu's birth in the Shengji tu are obvious. In scene 11 of the Ming Zhengtong (明正统) edition of the Shengji tu, which is dated to 1444, Boyu is depicted seated in his mother's lap; mother and child are framed by a rectangular house. In the courtyard outside the house are several standing figures who offer gifts to another adult. The person offering gifts is a visiting duke, who presents a gift of fish to an adult Confucius.[8] One cannot state for certain whether a Chinese depiction of Boyu's birth from the Shengji tu genre has served as a prototype for the Tibetan depiction of Confucius's birth, but the presence of so many parallels is worth noting.

Confucius's birth, scene 2 孔子诞生,第二幕. The Guimet thangka contains yet another depiction of Confucius's birth on the center of the left side of the picture plane. This is a scene for which Kvaerne finds no corresponding text in the Ziji, and this is the scene that shows parallels with the Chinese depiction of Confucius's own birth. It moreover shows a conflation of two different but contiguous images from the Zhengtong era Shengjitu illustrations.

In thangka, a rectangular house frames two adults seated on either side of an extremely large naked infant. The baby reaches out toward one of five male figures, and over the roof looms a large dragon that ostensibly belongs to a different scene in the thangka above the house. The overall composition of this scene--five beings descending from the sky above the roof of a house to attend the birth of a child--is evident also in the Chinese Shengji tu scenes of Confucius's birth (scenes 7 and 8 in the 1444 Zhengtong version). In scene 7 of the 1444 edition of the Shengji tu, five elderly men (五老) descend from the clouds. They are the essence (jing 精) of five stars who appeared in human form in the sky over Confucius's house on the night of his birth to herald the imminent arrival of the sage. Two rampant dragons appear above Confucius's house at the same time. [9] In scene 8 of the Chinese woodblock prints, five celestial musicians appear in the sky above a birthing room that depicts a large infant Confucius, who is born with an inscription on his chest that is identical to one recorded a millennium earlier in Han-era apocryphal texts, as discussed below.[10]

The Guimet thangka, then, appears to have combined elements of scenes 7 and 8 from the Shengji tu birth scenes, placing the five celestial beings on the right, the newborn child in the house on the left, and one of the two dragons above.

Confucius constructs a temple 孔子建造庙宇. Visually, in the Guimet thangka, the dragon actually belongs to a scene directly above the second birth scene, one that depicts a temple under construction in the middle of a lake where the dragon resides. According to Kvaerne, this depicts a story from the Ziji that relates how Confucius begins to construct a temple in the middle of a lake. Using suprahuman powers, he calls on hundreds of demons for assistance. They promise to help him, provided Confucius keeps their activity secret. Confucius, holding a golden scepter, directs their work. Eventually, however, both Confucius's wife and mother find out about the secret temple. Angered that Confucius has betrayed them to the women, the demons leave. Confucius, dejected, goes back to his own country.[11]

In the Guimet thangka, the scene of the construction of the temple is on the left half of the picture plane. Several human figures stand atop a white tower or wall, and the largest of these figures, a man dressed in red and white and holding a scepter, is Confucius. Demonic figures with animal heads reach up to the men on the tower, offering them building materials for the temple's construction.

This scene exhibits many visual similarities to an illustration in the Shengji tu literature called "Ritual Dismantles Three Cities" (礼堕三都). In that illustration, Confucius observes the dismantling of the walls of three cities that had been built by regional clans in transgression of state rules that forbade their construction by people of low rank. In the Chinese illustration, as in the Guimet thangka, several human figures stand on top of a white tower or wall, and the largest of these is Confucius. The "Three Cities" scene is based on a written account found in the first chapter of the Kongzi jiayu 孔子家語, which dates perhaps to no later than the third century.[12] And like the city walls in the Shengji tu scene, the temple built by Confucius in the thangka will eventually be dismantled.

Confucius invokes demons with mudras 孔子的虎掌. How did Confucius call on the demons to help him build the temple? He used his own spiritual powers, as shown in a small image directly to the left of the white tower in the thangka. This image has no parallels in the Shengji tu illustrations but instead parallels the Tibetan biography of Tonpa Shenrab, which Kvaerne relates as follows. Before undertaking the construction of the temple, Confucius sees that he will need the help of suprahuman forces. So he looks at the magic writing on his hands (recall that according to Tibetan sources, he was born with writing on his hands) and sees that in a previous lifetime, he had connections with a hundred demons. So he sits cross-legged and makes mudras with his hands, upon which a hundred tigers and lions spring from his shoulders, a flying garuda appears above his head, and a fierce demon king appears before him. Here were the creatures who will help him build the temple in the lake (Kvaerne 1986:69).

Visually, the scene in the thangka follows this text closely: Confucius sits cross-legged, rapidly moving his hands as he creates mudras that conjure the demons. A gold tiger and white lion appear at his side; above him flies a garuda, and next to him stands a fierce blue deity.

As one might expect, this depiction of a demon-conjuring Confucius has no visual parallels in Chinese visual materials. Yet there are parallels between this Confucius and the Confucius of Han apocryphal texts (谶纬书). In the apocrypha, the body of Confucius, like the bodies of the other culture heroes, has many unusual attributes, and one of them is something called "tiger palms" (hu zhang 虎掌). In the Tibetan thangka, Confucius's mudra-making hands are featured so conspicuously, and the artist has placed the golden tiger so close to them, that one is tempted to see a connection between the Tibetan Kongtse and the tiger-palmed Confucius of the apocrypha. According the Goumingjue (钩命决) apocrypha, "Zhongni [Confucius] had tiger palms that emanated his magnificence" (仲尼虎掌,是谓威射) (Yasui and Nakamura 1994:1011). Nothing else is said in the apocrypha of Confucius's tiger palms, and one knows only that they are associated with majesty (wei 威) and powers of emanation(she 射). Perhaps it is no coincidence that in the apocrypha, tigers are said to be the essence of gold (虎,金精)--the same color as the tiger in the thangka (演孔图; Yasui and Nakamura 1994:586).

The Chinese Confucius was never a master of hand mudras or other esoteric Buddhist practices, but human hands are nonetheless powerful signs in the apocrypha, for they are simulacra of cosmic forces. In its description of various parts of the human body, the Yuanmingbao 元命包 of the Chunqiu apocrypha associates somatic and cosmic phenomena. Tongue, lips, mind-heart, viscera, and orifices are variously associated with the Five Phases, yin and yang, astral bodies, and qi; as for the hands, "the palms are round and model heaven and its evolutions and movements; there are five fingers, and they model the Five Phases" (Yasui and Nakamura 1994:627). The human hand, then, is heaven in miniature and the fingers are signs of a full complement of cosmic energies. If ordinary human hands possessed such symbolic richness, it is little wonder that Confucius's hands were even more powerful.

In the Chinese apocrypha, moreover, Confucius's hands and the hands of his disciples also bear unusual writings or patterns that are not unlike those the Tibetan Confucius examined to discern his relationship with divinities in a previous life. According to the Zhaifuxiang (摘辅象) apocrypha, one of Confucius's disciples, Zhong Gong (仲弓) (Ran Yong 冉雍), "had hooked writings (gou wen 钩文) on his hands, so he understood beginnings" (Yasui and Nakamura 1994:1072). The significance of "hooked" or perhaps "cursive" writings is unclear, although gou is often used to describe calligraphic styles. References to "beginnings" suggests the writings gave Zhong Gong (an error for Zhongni 仲尼?) special insight into the origins of things. It is possible that these writings were a kind of template inscribed on the palms intended to be used for divination. Such practices are described by Marta Hanson in her discussion of hand mnemonics, which explores the cosmological significance of diagrams and writings inscribed on human hands (Hanson 2008). She reproduces Aurel Stein's eighth-century Dunhuang line drawings of human hands that show palms and fingers inscribed with the Chinese characters for space, wind, fire, water, and earth (Hanson 2008: fig. 7; from Stein 1921, vol. 4, pl. 99). These are not the Chinese five phases of earth, metal, wood, water, and fire but are based instead on an Indian cosmological model.

A passage from the Yan Kong tu (演孔图) apocrypha (a passage whose precise antiquity is questioned by Yasui and Nakamura but that appears in Tang editions of the apocrypha) states that Confucius, too, had writings on his palms, but they are jun (钧)writings rather than gou (钩) writings (jun wen zai zhang 钧文在掌 (Yasui and Nakamura 1994: 577). Jun and gou are so graphically similar that they might be variants or mistaken characters. One of the common meanings of jun (钧) is "weight of thirty measures," and it is perhaps no coincidence that in Tibetan texts Confucius is often said to have thirty letters on his hands.[13]

In the Chinese apocrypha, Confucius's body as well as his hands bear cryptic writings (wen 文). According to the Yan Kong tu, he was born with an inscription on his chest that reads "One who formulates the evolutions of the talismans that fix the ages" (制作定世符运)(Yasui and Nakamura 1994:576). That is, he embodies and systematizes dynamic semiotic systems--talismans--that reveal the direction of the operations of the cosmos. In the apocrypha, Confucius's entire being is a site of divination and prognostication, and he moreover formulates divinatory systems and interprets the signs of the cosmos. Ming illustrations of the birth of Confucius often depict the newborn child with this inscription on his chest. In the Guimet thangka, the naked infant Confucius is not depicted in either birth scene with writings on his chest, but he was otherwise most commonly understood in Tibetan written sources as a master of divination.

Confucius encounters three boys 孔子遇见三个男孩. According to the written text in the Ziji, Confucius attempts to build the temple with the help of the demons, but when they flee, he leaves for a frontier region in the northeast. There he encounters three boys, one of whom is a divine being who performs a divination with dice that indicates that the temple can, in fact, be built. With the help of the divine boy and Tonpa Shenrab, who manifests himself to aid Confucius, the temple is built. (Kvaerne 1986: 69-71). In the thangka, this scene is depicted in the upper right corner. Confucius, dressed in his usual attire of red robes and white turban, encounters three boys who have square game boards or game cloths spread before them. The largest of these young men throws dice as Confucius watches over his shoulder.

Samten Karmay has translated the Zermig version of Confucius's encounter with the divine boy, whose Tibetan name, Ken-tse lan-med, he translates as "One who does not reply [lan-med] to Confucius [Ken-tse]" (Karmay 1975:576, fn. 81). In the Zermig account, Confucius encounters three young boys and engages one of them, Ken-tse lan-med, in a contest of wits. Confucius asks the boy many riddles about cosmic forces, natural phenomena, and ordinary objects, and in each case the boy proves himself more profound and insightful than Confucius. This Tibetan version of the story shows many parallels with Chinese stories of the meeting between Confucius and the child-prodigy Xiang Tuo. Xiang Tuo appears in many pre-Han Chinese sources, and his connection with Confucius grows during the Han; by the Tang, the tale of Confucius and Xiang Tuo becomes so popular that it appears in several Chinese and Tibetan versions in Dunhuang (a region dominated by Tibetan culture for long periods during the Tang).[14]

Chinese sculpted depictions of Confucius's meeting with Xiang Tuo commonly appear on stone bas reliefs of the Han and early medieval periods, but they are visually completely different from the depiction of the encounter between Confucius and Ken-tse lan-med in the Guimet thangka. In Chinese bas reliefs, Confucius and Xiang Tuo almost invariably appear as a triad with Laozi, and Xiang Tuo is positioned between the two much larger adults as a small child pulling a wheeled toy.[15] In the Guimet thangka, Laozi is nowhere evident, and Ken-tse lan-med is drawn larger than Confucius himself. The scene in the Guimet thangka, then, shows parallels with written Dunhuang tales but shows none with Chinese bas relief sculptures of Confucius and Xiang Tuo.

The dismantling of the temple by demons and its reconstruction by Tonpa Shenrab 庙宇被恶鬼拆了,后来由东巴辛绕重建. Ken-tse lan-med divines that Confucius's temple in the lake can, in fact, be built, and many artisans are called on to help with its construction. But dragonish demons who live in the lake are still angered that Confucius betrayed their secret; they destroy the temple except for its foundations, and it is nearly completely submerged in the waters. Confucius cries for help, and he is heard by Tonpa Shenrab, who creates the temple anew (in the picture plane, to the right of the old temple) and the watery demons flee below. Tonpa Shenrab manifests himself in his glorious form in the temple and guards it with four deities. Confucius makes an offering to Shenrab, who becomes Confucius's spiritual teacher and gives him a mantra (Kvaerne 1986: 71-72).

Confucius was of course never understood in China as a disciple of a Bon master, and hence it is not surprising that there are no Chinese parallels for these last scenes in the Shengji tu literature. The dragon at the foot of the flooded temple, however, shows parallels with the dragons that appeared over the house of Confucius on the night of his birth. Tonpa Shenrab's manifestation in the completed temple reflects Himalayan Buddhist rather than Chinese visual influences.

Conclusion. The thangka Shenrab and Confucius illustrates that Confucius had a significant presence in the Bon tradition of the Tibetan plateau. Given the visual parallels between the Guimet thangka and the 1444 edition of the Shengji tu, it is probable that Tibetan artists who created the Guimet thangka had access to Shengji tu woodblock prints. The Bon Confucius depicted in this thangka owes little to the Analects; it instead shows parallels with Chinese folk traditions from Han apocrypha, early medieval compilations such as the Kongzi jiayu, Dunhuang stories, and Ming illustrated biographies. This Bon Confucius moreover engages in esoteric ritual practices such as conjuring with mudras that the Chinese Sage certainly never used. Tibetan artists who created the thangka might have been inspired in part by Chinese woodblock illustrated biographies, but they also drew upon other sources that have no Chinese counterparts.

Confucius was known in Tibetan traditions primarily as a master of astral sciences, divination, and ritual, especially funerary ritual. As such, he more closely resembles Han, rather than late Zhou, understandings of Confucius. In the Book of Rites, an early Han text, Confucius is presented primarily as a master of ritual, especially funerary ritual; in the later Han apocrypha, he is primarily a master of divination and astral sciences. Apocryphal understandings of Confucius became less popular in China at the end of the Tang, and they became largely proscribed. They appear to have persisted, however, in Tibetan understandings of Confucius.

It is possible that Confucius became absorbed into Tibetan traditions in the Tang, when Central Asia and western China was under Tibetan control. The presence of Chinese and Tibetan versions of the encounter between Confucius and Xiang Tuo/Ken-tse lan-med at Dunhuang indicates that these cultural interactions occurred no later than the closing of the Dunhuang library. Such interactions deserve more study: Dunhuang versions of the encounter between Confucius and Xiang Tuo show interesting parallels with Bon forms of riddle-divination and with the story of the Bon figure Tapihritsa, a precocious young man who, like Xiang Tuo, proved to be much more sage than his elderly teacher.

Folk traditions about the sage Confucius are relatively little studied, and much work remains to be done. Very recently, scholars in Tibetan studies have begun to take note of Confucius's role in Himalayan forms of Buddhism and Bon (Gurung forthcoming and Lin 2007).[16] In China, texts outside the traditional commentarial canon can shed new light on previously unknown understandings of Confucius. In addition, objects from the visual canon, such as the Guimet thangka, can illustrate how Confucius was understood in cultures far from his homeland in Shandong.

Works Cited

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  1. I am grateful to Natalie Bazin of the Musée Guimet for providing me access to this image, which is accession number M125. Painted in color on silk (80.9 x 53.5cm. in dimension), it is thangka number 11 in what was most likely originally a set of 12. Previously reproduced in Karmay 1975, pl. 2-3; Kvaerne 1986, pp. 70-71; and Beguin 1995, pl. 410.
  2. I am grateful to Kalsang Norbu Gurung for sharing with me the unpublished manuscript of his forthcoming article "The Role of Confucius in Bon Sources." See Gurung, forthcoming. For studies of Confucius in Tibet based on Tibetan sources, see also Lin 2007.
  3. I follow the simplified romanizations of Bon terms used in Karmay and Watt 2007. For an English synopsis of the Zermig, see Kvaerne 2007.
  4. The prints are now in the collections of the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka. See Karmay 2005:142.
  5. See Karmay 2005, plates 93 and 126 and p. 183.
  6. See Murray 1997 and 2002. In this essay I refer to the 1444 version reproduced in Hebei Meishu, ed., 1996.
  7. For depictions of Confucius in Han apocryphal texts, see Dull 1966.
  8. Hebei meishu, ed., 1996:110, scene 11.
  9. Hebei meishu, ed., 1996:108, scene 7. In the Lunyu chen (论语谶) of the Han apocrypha, Confucius describes how Yao and Shun once also encountered five elders, but it is not clear whether these are the same five. Yasui and Nakamura 1994:1085,
  10. Hebei meishu, ed., 1996:109, scene 8 .
  11. For this account, I follow Kvaerne 1986:69; see also Karmay 1975:564.
  12. Scene 47 in the Hebei meishu edition of the Shengji tu. For the Kongzi jiayu account, see Kramers: 204.
  13. The very similar jun 均, or potter's wheel, suggests circularity; again, Tibetan texts sometimes understand the writings on Confucius's hands to be arrayed in circular or spiral patterns. For the writing on Kongzi's hands in Tibetan sources, see Norbu 1995:151, Lin 2007:115; and Gurung forthcoming.
  14. Xiang Tuo was studied in the early nineteenth century by Yu Zhengxie 俞正燮 (Yu 1957). For more recent studies, see Fu 2004, Liu 2003, Soymie 1954, Waley 1960, Zhang 1984 and 1985.
  15. See for example Wang 2001, p. 427, fig. 92.2.
  16. Confucius's importance in Bon ritual is also mentioned incidentally in Kind 2002 and Norbu 1995.

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