[Buddha-l] Compassionate Violence?

Christopher Fynn chris.fynn at gmail.com
Fri Jun 7 03:48:02 MDT 2013


"The story involves the visit of two Khotanese monks to Tibet. The
monks hope to see Avalokiteśvara face to face, and have been told that
they may do so by travelling to Tibet and looking upon Songtsen Gampo,
who is in fact Avalokiteśvara in person. Upon their arrival in Tibet,
the monks are shocked to see the execution, imprisonment and corporal
punishment of criminals. Thinking that the bodhisattva of compassion
could never countenance such cruelty, they resolve to go back to
Khotan immediately. However, Songtsen   Gampo, hearing of this, has
them brought to the palace and shows himself to them in the form of
Avalokiteśvara. Speaking to them in Khotanese, the king assures the
monks that the atrocities they witnessed were just magical illusions
created by the king to ensure the rule of law in his land. The monks
are filled with faith; they fall asleep in the palace and wake up back
home in Khotan.

This story addresses doubts regarding the compatibility of the king's
enforcement of Tibet's laws with his identity as the bodhisattva of
compassion, Avalokiteśvara, by employing the common trope of magical

In some sources the barbaric nature of the Tibetans is invoked at this
point to justify the king's use of these violent illusions in
enforcing the law, showing again the close link between the cultural
emblems of the Red Faced Ones and the bodhisattva king. The prominence
of this story in the histories does suggest that by the eleventh
century there were some doubts among Tibetan Buddhists regarding the
compatibility of the Tibetan kings' status as bodhisattvas, and the
violence required of them as imperial rulers."

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