Dharmapala Thangka CentreSchool of Thangka Painting


Secret Visions of the Fith Dalai Lama

Tibetan Miniatures Drawn from the 17th cent.

Book Cover

This beautiful manuscript recounts in words and images the visionary experiences of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyamtso [1617-1682]. A new discovery, it is the sole illustrated secret autobiography known to exist in the world. Hitherto totally concealed both from Tibetans and others alike, and recently acquired for the Fournier Collection, it is only now that this extraordinary document comes to light and is available for study. Although it never circulated outside his personal court, the Dalai Lama clearly states that it was composed and executed "in order to guide the uninitiated and for all those who wish to do drawings and paintings of the heavens"

The Fifth Dalai Lama is famous for having established in Tibet the dynastic government which survived in Lhasa until 1959, thus reuniting the country under one leader for the first time since the collapse of royal authority in the ninth century. He was a skilful politician and outstanding statesman, dealing effectively with the other religious schools, the Mongol Khans and the Manchu Emperor. He is also celebrated for having built the Potala Palace and for being the prolific author of some 235 works on philosophy, meditation, history and poetry. With the publication of the Gold Manuscript another aspect of the life of this great ruler is now unveiled; an inner world of profound mysticism, magical powers and often disturbing theophanic visions.

Towards the end of his life a group of senior court officials and companions, who later maintained the secret of his death for fourteen years until the succeeding incarnation was of age to rule, requested the Dalai Lama to set down in an easily understandable manner the many visions that had occurred to him throughout his life and to explain their significance. The result is the exquisite Gold Manuscript on 184 folios which was started in 1674 and completed around eleven years after his death. It is composed of 16 texts executed by his personal calligrapher and with 67 illustrations and 19 miniatures drawn by his own master artist.

As a detailed narrative catalogue of his visionary experiences from the age of six until one year before his death at the age of sixty-five, The Gold Manuscript serves as a guide not only to the inner mystical life of this extraordinary man but also to the complex interweaving of the various gods, goddesses, protectors, teachers, demons and spirits who populate his consciousness. They provide him with prophetic instructions, warnings and exhortations on his spiritual development, on the conduct and foreign relations of his government, as well as on the welfare of Tibet and its people, an overriding concern throughout his life.

We, the readers, stand in the arena at the dawn of modern Tibetan history. The texts are reproduced in their entirety and are summarised in translation by Dr. Samten Karmay, who also provides an historical introduction.

The 67 illustrations, reproduced in full colour, contain a total of around 886 individual subjects and consist of diptychs and triptychs which are grouped into five sections associated with the main participating deities. They represent the finest-known quality in the miniature style of Tibetan art and stand as the earliest manifestation of the 'black thangka' style of painting. The leaves are executed in gold, silver, subtle greens, blues and reds against a charcoal black background. Up to 48 different ritual objects can be depicted in an illustration and all have been fully identified in the corresponding captions, with their ritual use explained in a comprehensive Glossary.

The reader intrudes with astonishment on a secret universe, an amalgam of mysterious, complex and tangible symbols that translate the Dalai Lama's powerful mental projections and visualisations into a black void, destined for inner eyes and for the manipulation of the powerful forces of the human psyche. Mandalas, chakras and lingas serve as visual supports for the different rituals concerned with power, both spiritual and political, many of which later became annual ceremonies of state. The manuscript is thus also a precise manual of ritual practice and ritual paraphernalia as well as a unique artistic masterpiece.

Source: Secret Visions of the Fifth Dalai Lama, by Samten Gyaltsen Karmay, Serindia Pulications, 10 Parkfields, Putney, London, GB, 9.75 x 13.25 in, 248 x 337 mm, Pages: 142, ISBN: 0906026474