Saturday, December 18, 2010

E. Gene Smith - An Anecdote

That's him on the right, at a library in Cambridge,
examining a Tibetan pecha

I hope you know Tibeto-logic is not a personal blog, and I would just as soon keep it from becoming about moi. But today circumstances demand that I make this one exception and tell a personal story in memory of E. Gene Smith who left this life just two days ago.

Gene was legendary for his prodigious memory of Tibetan bibliography. Of course, an essential part of his story is that he headed the New Delhi office of the Library of Congress and its effort to preserve Tibetan Literature for many years... but anyway, the legendary status was not without good reason, I can tell you... and in fact I will. And he was always openhandedly generous with his knowledge and other resources, as many besides myself will tell you. About how many persons could you truthfully say, "What he had he shared"?


In 1998, I went with my wife on a side trip down from Harvard to Yale to visit J., the resident Buddhologist in that place in those days. For entertainment, weighing the alternatives, he thought we would have the most fun in the Beinecke Rare Books Library. When we got there he ordered up from the stacks a number of Tibetan books, including a few boxes of uncataloged materials. One book was so big the librarian couldn't lift it, so she had to call upon a strong young man to wheel it out to us in the reading room on a cart. I found several things of interest to me, but one of the most intriguing items in the boxes was a cursive manuscript made up of exceptionally narrow leaves, but with the front leaf, the one that would have contained the book’s title, missing. I could tell soon enough from its content that it was a Tagtab (Brtag-thabs) text, a fairly rare genre of Tibetan literature, one that resembles pariksha texts in India (there is a similar genre in classical Arabic literature). It described such things as saddles, horses, helmets, swords, teacups and so forth. These connoisseur's handbooks, if we may call them that, have hardly ever been noticed outside Tibet himself, despite their inestimable importance for cultural studies.

Back at Harvard Square, I had a supper appointment with Gene that very night. At the time his incalculably huge collection of Tibetan books was housed in nearby Somerville. Before the food arrived at the table, I decided to tell him about my great find in New Haven. No sooner had I started to describe the manuscript than — to my utter consternation — he told me nearly everything there was to know about it. He told me its title, the name of the person who once owned it (J.F.W.), the monastery where it was kept before then, the name of the author, the probable date (1536 or 1476 CE?) given that the author was a student of the 7th Karmapa hierarch (1454-1506 CE). But what astounded me almost as much as all this detailed knowledge about something I had assumed was my own original discovery was the news that he had never actually seen the manuscript with his own eyes. He had long tried to persuade the owner to let him publish it — he had heard about it from a former Lhasa noble who had actually seen it, but Gene had never seen the book himself.  The only thing new I could tell him, the one detail he didn't yet know, was that the former owner had meanwhile donated the manuscript to Yale.*

(*This bit of information about the text's present location has since been added to that wonderfully useful database of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Centre (www.tbrc.org) at TBRC Work RID: W30393. The author's name is Cha Jamyang Tashi Namgyal — Bya 'Jam-dbyangs Bkra-shis-rnam-rgyal. Chances are very good that the library system in Yale is still entirely unaware that it exists in their collections...)

I write this mainly as a way of finding an outlet for my personal grief. Gene was an irrepressible character who will remain forever irreplaceable. If you want to read a moving tribute, read what Matthieu Ricard has written at his blog page. Now that we've gotten this far into the 21st century, it’s even possible to find an endless stream of messages on Twitter.  If you are a Tibetan reader you can find a story, with added comments including many tributes to Gene, at the Tibetan-language site Khabda.  


I am not sure what Gene would want exactly, let alone what his family would wish, but I can only recommend from my own side that if you would like to honor Gene's memory, do something to honor his vision. One thing you could do, among others, is donate something for the movie that is being made about his life by Digital Dharma. Another even more obvious choice would be to give something to the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center he founded. 


The funeral is tomorrow, in case you find yourself in the New York area, but a more public memorial service is planned for the near future. A tribute page has appeared overnight on the internet, here.  


There is a blog entry at Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar.  More tributes and anecdotes have appeared at H-Buddhism and H-Asia. I also just noticed these words by Tim McNeill of Wisdom at Buddhadharma.  The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives has an obituary. There is another tribute by Jeff Watt... one by Ariana Maki...


A Door in the Library of Congress


I recommend watching the video of Gene Smith's presentation of a "mini-Mac" hard drive containing scans of 4,000 Tibetan books to Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche at Bka'-rnying Bshad-sgrub-gling ("Isle for the Teaching and Accomplishment of Kagyu and Nyingma Teachings") in Bodhanath, Nepal at this webpage.






Postscripts (Sept. 24, 2012):

A little behind on my reading — and who isn't? — I noticed only just today that the manuscript that features in this blog has now been publicized in an appendix to Donald J. LaRocca, et al., Warriors of the Himalayas: Rediscovering the Arms and Armor of Tibet, The Metropolitan Museum & Yale University Press (New York & New Haven 2006).  You can find a Tibetan-script edition of some parts of it, and even a photograph of the colophon page with the authorship information.

The movie about Gene is now out, and I've heard it has been shown in NYC.  I hope to see it before long.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Dromton's Encouragement

Click to enlarge

With Eid al-Adha and Thanksgiving just over and Hanukah, Christmas and Saturnalia so rapidly approaching, I find myself in a holiday mood despite myself. So, now that I’m equipped with a reasonable scanner for the first time in my life, I want to use it to spread around nice digital versions of the few but very select Tibetan-language woodblock prints and manuscripts that are in my possession (and that haven’t been published, or haven’t been published in the form in which you will find them). 
(I know, I tried this already, without much success, in the Zhabkar blog. I’ll have to try and scan that text again, only on a lower resolution next time.)
This time I want to share a beautifully made woodblock print made in Amdo at the Kumbum Monastery.  The paper is that very same finely made paper you are used to seeing in Kumbum and other Amdo monastery publications done before the [anti-]Cultural Revolution (today most of the printing of otherwise traditional Tibetan books called pecha is done on brown grocery-bag paper).* It contains three different titles, the one you see above as well as two other titles further on in the pile of loose leaves. The first one is a well-known Kadampa text by Dromton Gyelwai Jungné (1004 or 1005‑1064 CE). The third one is an even better known Tanjur text. The second one as far as I know is something unpublished so far.
(*Actually the paper of Kumbum prints in my experience is much brighter white than the cream-colored paper you see here.  And it is relatively thicker; many Kumbum prints are made on extremely thin white paper, only slightly thicker and less translucent than the kind we used to call ‘onion skin.’ So to overcome the problem of ‘bleed-through,’ the two sides are printed on one sheet, and then the sheet is folded over. You will see there is some bleed-through in our print, but it really isn't too bad)

Text 1:

The title as it appears on the front of the title page is this:  'Brom chos kyi rgyal pos mdzad pa'i rang rgyud la skul ma 'debs pa dad pa'i ljon shing.


I would roughly translate this, "Faith's Tree: Words of Encouragement for My Own Mind, Composed by Drom Chökyi Gyalpo."


It should be possible to locate another copy of this at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center via this link.

This same text exists in a beautifully done English translation under the title "Tree of Faith" in Thupten Jinpa's translation of The Book of Kadam: The Core Texts, at pages 37 through 60. Tibeto-logic readers may be interested to hear that this work contains, among other things, both the ‘marketplace’ metaphor used by Padampa in his Tingri Hundred and the image of the black and white rodents of day and night chewing away at human life, as found in the story of Barlaam and Josaphat.


Text 2:

Rdzun pa nyi shu'i gtam sbyor.


I'll just translate this one as Twenty Lies.  (Be assured that the things called lies here are mainly the kinds of lies one tells to oneself.)  It is written by one of the Shingza (Shing-bza') incarnates, reincarnations of Tsongkhapa’s mother* who could sometimes be appointed head abbots of Kumbum Monastery. The given name of the author appears in its long form at the end of the text like this:  Lobzang Tenpai Wangchug Tsultrim Puntsog Pel Zangpo (Blo-bzang-bstan-pa'i-dbang-phyug-tshul-khrims-phun-tshogs-dpal-bzang-po).  According to the only list of Kumbum abbots I have on hand at the moment, he lived from 1825 to 1897.  He served as Kumbum's 58th head abbot from 1861 to 1864.
(*Tsongkhapa’s mother’s name was Shingza Achö [Shing-bza' A-chos]. Generally the syllable za in a Tibetan name indicates that it is the name of a married woman, and the syllable [or sometimes syllables] before the za indicate her own clan name or the like. And of course, as always, what western Europeans would call the last name or surname is in this part of Eurasia given first. There is a marvelous story about how a tree that grew on the spot where Tsongkhapa was born was preserved. It miraculously displayed letters and Buddha-images on its leaves.  Huc and Gabet, Christian missionaries, examined it in the mid-19th century. This tree is said to be the inspiration for the name Kumbum (Sku-'bum), which means 100,000 images, not 10,000 images as you find in the account of Huc and Gabet [on them, see down below]. You think they may have had a lazy or negligent typesetter?)

Text 3:










Sems can mgu bar bya ba'i bstod pa.



The Sanskrit ought to be Sattvārādhana Stava, and if you would prefer reading the Sanskrit you ought to be able to find it here:  Sylvain Lévi, Autour d’Aśvaghoṣa, Journal Asiatique (1929), pp. 264‑266 (try this direct link).


It was translated into Tibetan in the mid-11th century by the Bengali Atiśa working together with his long-time Tibetan co-translator Tsultrim Gyelwa (Tshul-khrims-rgyal-ba).


We’ll translate this title as A Praise for the Delight of Sentient Beings. It was written by the Indian teacher Ludrub (Klu-sgrub), this being the Tibetan version of the name Nāgārjuna, but it is by no means to be regarded as his original creation. Strangely, it says near the end that it represents words of the Blessed One spoken to the sixteen Great Hearers that were taken from the Bodhisattva Basket’s Ba tshwa'i chu klung scripture. A few of you may remember this scripture, incidentally — from a previous blog — as the River of Salt. So this Tanjur text is actually just a selection from a Kanjur text put into a verse summary by Nāgārjuna. I hope you could follow all that.

So, unless you have better things to do on a cold and (we may hope) rainy autumn day, which I very much doubt, go now to 


at Dropbox and download the text in the form of a full-color PDF created and double-checked by myself and my scanner. Of course, if you are not prepared to read Tibetan, you will need to find some other way to fill your time. I can’t see why anyone would listen to me, but I recommend and encourage you to read Jinpa-la’s English translation of the Dromton text. I don’t believe there are any complete English translations of the other two titles, although I would be pleased to learn that I am sadly mistaken.





By the way, you ought to go to the download site soon, since there is no guarantee it will be there a month or two from now. If you happened to run across this blog sometime early in the year 2011, it might still be there. Give it a try by clicking there or here, whichever. Sound simple? Indeed, it is. And I think you might like to see the result.

§  §  §


Recommended reading 
Of course the unabridged 2-volume version you see here is by far the best, unless you are the sort who prefers the original French. Mine is dated 1928, but I still had to cut open some of the pages with a letter opener. Evidently Gale C. Griswold, whose name appears with the date Jan 2nd, 1934, never got around to reading it all.  Hmmm... I wonder if that's the person by that name who might have worked for the Communicable Disease Center in Atlanta Georgia, as chief of the Audio-Visual Production Branch... ?*





*Anyway, I'm so happy to welcome it to its new home and to offer it a seat on my bookshelf, since for so many years I fancied myself content with the so-called "condensed translation" by Mrs. Percy Sinnett in a very badly made but oh-so cheap 1971 Taiwan pirate edition of this 1852 publication. I doubt there is anything to recommend the outrageously expensive Routledge reprint of 2004, so my advice is to try your luck with the used book dealers, as I did. I think I pointed this out before, but you can have the French for free by pressing here and waiting. You could also sample some parts of the Hazlitt at Googlebooks if you wanted. My age is probably showing, but so what? I miss the old days when you couldn't read a new book without a knife in one hand.  Well, old style Indian and Tibetan books never needed cutting... so then how do you explain the sword in the right hand of Mañjuśrī?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bricks, Brilliance & Baking

Foundation Figure from Uruk,
south Iraq, 4000 years BP. British Museum. A king is carrying a basket of mud to make the first brick to be used in building a house for the gods. This object (Sumerian kak) is, as Hummel has argued, a Middle Eastern prototype of the pegs that Tibetans would call the phur-pa.














"...when bread was eaten in the shrines of the land, when the ovens of the light were burning..."  
— Gilgamesh and Enkidu, George tr.

Not so long ago I was planning to begin my next blog with a few minutes of silence in memory of the late lamented oracle octopus known by the Christian name Paul. I decided against it. My reasoning was that my next blog (meaning this one) was supposed to be one about Aramaic words in Tibetan magical spells, for which this kind of dedication might have been entirely appropriate. But oh well, really, whatever the reason, if you want to remember the eight-legged aquatic soothsayer with the suction cups, be my guest. You take sugar or cream with your tea? No, really, it’s nothing. No trouble at all.  I’ll only be a second. Make yourself comfortable.

Let’s see... Where were we? OK, right... The Aramaic will have to wait. Only today I noticed yet another of those peculiar language connections that are likely to get people scratching their heads — in this instance, a shared word for ‘brick.’ 

I had already noticed a few such apparent connections between ancient Sumer and Tibet. In years past I’ve done my best to keep myself abreast of the extremely limited literature on the subject and to tell the truth found it largely unimpressive. It’s a little bit — or maybe a lot — like when I was trying to help a linguistics grad student locate Tibeto-Mayan cognates for his dissertation... I hope somebody somewhere finally accepted it. 

About the only impressive matches, to my mind, were words for ‘needle’ and ‘leather’ (khab and ko-ba in Tibetan; I forgot the ancient Mayan already). I suppose it was supposed to be fun, and I guess it was. Well, do you think there is some way needles and leather could have figured in trans-Pacific trade early on? Think Kon-Tiki.

Disregarding everything I just said — I realize this may be as easy for you to do as it was for me to say — I believe the examples I have to offer today are extremely impressive, not likely to be purely accidental happenstance, as if there were such a thing (the Buddha, among others, said “Things come from causes!”). 

I dare say even the hardcore Proto-Sino-Tibeto-Burman-PIE historical reconstructionists will find the commonalities worthy of their consideration, even if they may then come up with ways of accounting for them the rest of us will find hard to follow. As we tend to do in those awkward social situations in which we find ourselves seated next to physicists, we’ll take the very obscurity of their explanations as gauge and mark of their brilliance.

There are a couple of cultural traits that old Sumer and (more recent, I guess, but anyway) old Tibet held in common.  One is drinking mildly alcoholic barley beer (in Tibetan, chang), invented by the Iraqis about 5,000 years before present.* 
(*As an aside, in both cultures the length of the barley corn was used as a small unit of measure, although this probably reached Tibet from or via India together with Abhidharma sciences.)
Another is burning juniper leaf as a way of purifying large outdoor areas. Tibetans call this bsangs. For the practice in ancient Mesopotamia, see the Wilson book. 


One Akkadian word that ended up being used in Tibetan is gu-gul, a word for bdellium that would have traveled to Tibet and elsewhere along the trade routes together with the pricey aromatic gum it names.

There are a couple of vocabulary connections that tend to stand out as not only plausible but likely as indications of Iraqi-Tibetan connections that might not have been mediated by India. All have something to do with flames and baking, in the oven or in the sun or wherever.

These two words are from the Tóth article (his nos. 180 and 87). And both are obviously connected with fires, flames and lights.


BAR BA  blazing, flaming.  In Sumerian bar (or bar7), ‘to shine.’

ZIL  brightness, splendor.  Compare Arabic jila, ‘to polish, shine, clean.’   Compare, too, Sanskrit verbal stem jval, ‘blaze brightly, shine, flame.’  The comparable Sumerian word is zil, ‘to be bright, light.’  One reason we might feel sure this word wasn't mediated by India is just that Sanskrit doesn't have the 'z' sound (modern Hindi adds a dot to the 'j' to indicate the 'z' that is found in mainly Persian borrowings).*  

[*For those who believe in the Indic origin of Tibetan script (some do believe otherwise), it would appear that the sign for 'j' in that Indic script was reversed to form the Tibetan sign for 'z' (explaining why the two letters are perfect mirror images of each other). It’s possible anyway that Indic 'j' could shift to 'z' in Tibetan, as in the Tibetan spice word zi-ra for ‘cumin’ evidently from Sanskrit jîra... So I’m not entirely sure India has to be eliminated as an intermediary in this case... will have to think on it some more. That cumin was a very popular spice in the ancient Middle East may or may not have something to do with it. It’s one of my favorites.]


Could the brightness of flames be somehow connected to ovens and bricks? Wait one minute.  Think carefully before you answer.  Walls are made of bricks. What are bricks made of?  Wait again, since anyway this could be a trick question. And finally, What keeps bricks together?

I don’t remember any studies of masonry in Tibetological literature since that fascinating bit David Templeman wrote about mortar.  I'm not ready to remedy this sad situation, since as sad as it is true, I don’t know anything more than he does about it. I could only argue with him from a position of ignorance, which doesn’t seem all that worthwhile, now, does it? A substance called khro-chu was used in the Jokhang (or the Lhasa Tsuglagkhang) as a brick mortar. Sometimes it is understood to mean ‘molten bronze.’ but I’m not entirely convinced that is exactly what it was. It could have been some other molten metal.  Templeman believes its use in Tibet reflects an influence from Iran, and that may well be the case (I’d just like to know more about molten metal mortar in other cultures... I understand it was known to the Incas, for example...) The Indian architectural literature knows of a vajralepa used as a superior type of bonding agent that could be used as a mortar, but that, too, is a mystery to me. Still, it is difficult to eliminate India as source of Tibetan practice here. The important point for now is just that unlike practically every other building in Tibet, the Jokhang was originally built in the 7th century CE making use of bricks, not stone. For Tibet building with bricks was highly unusual, given the easy availability of stone and Tibetans’ remarkable stone-working abilities. But perhaps this very special building was built using this especially unusual method just because it was unusual?

It is not beside the point, although I suppose it is well known to most of us, that Tibetans traditionally imported their tea from China in the form of bricks. There are some interesting new studies on this very subject (see Tashi Tsering's and Bertsch's articles listed below).

The usual Tibetan word for ‘tea’ is ja, and one of the most usual words for ‘brick’ is pha-gu. For those spiritual seekers among you who may consider bricks to be a complete distraction from their exalted quest, or even to present a serious obstacle, I might point out in their favor that one of the many rims and borders you see in painted maṇḍalas is one known in Tibetan as rin-po-che'i pha-gu, or ‘jewelled bricks.’  Even divine palaces have their bricks.

Just for fun, consider that there very well may be odd interconnections between bricks and pigs (and pork) in a number of languages. Pha-gu looks like a diminutive of phag, ‘pig,’ and therefore it probably is one. So we could say that a brick is a ‘piggy.’ To give just one example, the English word porcelain is said to have originated in Italy as porcellana, a word for cowrie shells, given them because of their resemblance to the back of a pig (this based on my Hobson-Jobson dictionary, p. 725; some other explanations are more indecent). Try casually introducing that interesting factoid the next time you have a friend over for tea.  Maybe you would like to put a porcelain pig on the tea tray as a way to get the conversation rolling. To point out the obvious, porcelain is fired clay, just as bricks are. It isn’t just that we tend to take our tea in it.

The ordinary Sumerian word for ‘brick’ is sig (sig4).  Here is the link to the wedge-writing hieroglyph for it.  

Now the exciting fact that I would like to wave in front of your face like a brightly colored flag is that Tibetans have long used a term for tea bricks in which the concept ‘brick’ is represented by the syllable sig.  This term, ja-sig, can be found in the glossary to Samten Karmay's book Treasury of Good Sayings.  It is found in the dictionaries of Jäschke, Btsan-lha (he spells it with a final -s that has no effect on its pronunciation) and Dagyab. Although difficult to say just how old it is, I assure you it is not a newly confected Tibetan term. We find in one text compiled no later than mid-13th-century that a person who had resolved to study meditation with Pagmodrupa brought with him as offerings a copy of the Eight Thousand Prajñâpâramitâ Sûtra and ten tea bricks (ja sig). (The source of this is at p. 467 here.)  The word is used 19 times in this biography of Tsongkhapa. Here is a text with a passage that seems to be saying that taking tea bricks as your main object of contemplation would a sin (maybe I’ll have a closer look and get back with you, but meanwhile try replacing tea bricks with chocolate bars and I think you'll get the intended idea). Sumerian and Tibetan share a word sig that means ‘brick.’ This much is certain. I’m not exactly sure where we go from here, and on a beautiful day like today, with the sun shining brightly, it doesn’t matter all that much. We might just rest here awhile.

Bricks aren’t the only things that need to be baked, of course.  And needless to say no oven is needed to bake bricks in those hot arid days of Iraq's early summer. To say something even more needless, baking is something that is usually done in some kind of oven.

I would like to suggest we briefly consider a word that is certainly ancient Mesopotamian. While it exists today in Tibetan literature, it was probably transmitted via India, and more particularly via the Vinaya and medical literature that was translated into Tibetan.* This is one of those obscure words in the literature that is very unlikely to be known by even well educated persons, so it might be fun to try it on your Tibetan teacher and see how flustered they get trying to tell you what it means. 
(*I’m not too sure on that point, since I haven’t completed an investigation into the sources in both their Tibetan and Sanskrit versions... In the medical text’s example below, it is used to translate a Sanskrit word that doesn’t the least bit resemble it...  Perhaps this will prove true of the other sources? If so we might have to reopen the possibility that the word entered Tibetan via Persia...)
The word may at times be misspelled da-bur, but the correct spelling has to be da-nur. One dictionary of rare outdated terms defines it as ‘burning place’ (sreg-gnas). Although fairly obviously a foreign word itself, it was used to translate Sanskrit kandu in the translation of Siddhasāra, a medical work. Even if Emmerick didn’t think so, I think da-nur is without much, if any, doubt identical to the Persian word.  I mean that even if it was much older in its origins, it most probably spread through Persian influence (and perhaps via India). The exact spelling da-nur does occur at least once, in the sense of a kind of oven, in Vinayavibhaṅga (in Tibetan, 'Dul-ba Rnam-par 'Byed-pa).  There is even an interesting usage in a work by Vasubandhu, the Vyākhyāyukti.* 
(*I ought to make clear that in these two just-mentioned cases I am speaking only about the Tibetan translations of these texts.  I could locate these two uses of the word only with the help of the ACIP digital texts of the Tibetan, for which we now have a very useful search facility called Ace. I highly recommend it to Tibetanists who haven’t tried it yet. Find it here. You can type in a word and search through the entire [at least nearly entire] Tibetan Tanjur. How remarkable is that?)
It seems to be very well established that the Hebrew word tanûr is ultimately from Akkadian (tīnūru, 'oven'), which is probably Sumerian tinur. From this comes the Aramaic, Syrian and Arabic (tannūr). It is even to be seen lurking behind the ‘tandūr’ part of tandoori chicken. In the Hebrew Bible, it occurs a number of times as a portable stove or fire-pot. In modern Hebrew, it is the familiar everyday word for ‘stove.’ In Tibetan, the word was so unfamiliar that it was often misspelled. So we can encounter such forms as da-phur, and even dbur (in this last, a tseg punctuating mark was dropped, as is explained in a commentary by the Seventh Dalai Lama). 

Oh, and if you will allow me one final parting shot, I would like to add that Tibetan biographies are called namtar.* In Sumer, nam.tar meant ‘fate, destiny.’ I wasn’t the first to mention this, and as fate would have it I probably won’t be the last.
(*Rnam-thar; see Roberts’ article.)



My conclusion, since I thought I ought to state one, is this. I think these words for bricks and ovens and the brilliance of flames that so closely resemble each other in Tibetan and Sumerian are all part of one semantic package, one group of conceptually and/or practically inter-related meanings. Perhaps some day someone will find herself ready to speculate in a not-too speculative way about the historical scenario underlying what will remain for the mean time a curious happenstance. 



§  §  §    





Babylonian World Map,
2,600 years BP

(see the Horowitz 
book)



Bits of bibliography gleaned from here and there for your amusement —

André Alexander, The Temples of Lhasa: Tibetan Buddhist Architecture from the 7th to the 21st Centuries, Serindia (Chicago 2005), p. 45, for information about the unique use of fired bricks in the Jokhang, with one depicted in an illustration.  The same material may be found in the following publication, if you happen to have it instead.  Mortar is mentioned on p. 30.

André Alexander, Part 4: The Lhasa Jokhang: An Indian Vihâra in Tibet, contained in: Gyurme Dorje, et al., Jokhang: Tibet's Most Sacred Buddhist Temple, Edition Hansjorg Mayer (London 2010), pp. 201-249, at p. 221.  There is also some discussion of the Jokhang's timber and brick construction on p. 157 of this online PDF of an article by the same author (but sadly there is no brick photo; for that you need the print publications).

Charles James Ball, The Relation of Tibetan to Sumerian, Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, vol. 40 (1918), pp. 95-100.  I haven't actually seen this article, and my search of the internet archives failed to find it.

Wolfgang Bertsch, The Use of Tea Bricks as Currency among the Tibetans, The Tibet Journal [Dharamsala], vol. 34, no. 2 (Summer 2009), pp. 35-80.

Karl Bouda, Die Bezeihungen des Sumerischen zum Baskischen, Westkaukasischen und Tibetischen, Harrassowitz (Leipzig 1938). I have seen this, although I don't have it at hand.

Jan Braun, Sumerian and Tibeto-Burman, Agade (Warsaw 2001), in 93 pages.  I saw this in a library a few years ago.

James Huston Edgar, Sumerian and Tibetan Equivalents, Journal of the West China Branch of the Royal Society, vol. 5 (1932), pp. 66-68.

R.E. Emmerick, Some Lexical Items from the Siddhasāra, contained in: E. Steinkellner and H. Tauscher, eds., Contributions on Tibetan Language, History and Culture, Motilal Banarsidass (Delhi 1995; reprint of Vienna 1983), pp. 61-68.  Footnote 8 on p. 67 has the relevant passage mentioning and dismissing (simultaneously) the connection between Tibetan da-nur and Persian tanūr.

Nathan Hill, Aspirated and Unaspirated Voiceless Consonants in Old Tibetan,  Language and Linguistics, vol. 8, no. 2 (2007), pp. 471-493.  The PDF is here.  On p. 487 is the most reasonable discussion about Tibetan words for ‘brick’ I’ve ever read.


Wayne Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, Eisenbrauns (Winona Lake 1998).  This is a major study of the world map illustrated above.

Jo-sras Bkra-shis-tshe-ring, Bod dang ja smyags pa dang 'brel ba'i chig lab thung ngu, The Tibet Journal, vol. 34, no. 3 (2009) through vol. 35, no. 2 (2010), special issue, "The Earth Ox Papers: Proceedings of the International Seminar on Tibetan and Himalayan Studies, Held at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, September 2009 on the Occasion of the ‘Thank You India’ Year," ed. by Roberto Vitali, pp. 263-298. This is a truly significant contribution on Tibetan tea culture’s history, with much information beyond what is found in Bertsch’s very informative paper mentioned before.

R.P. Kulkarni, Specifications for Brick Masonry according to Samarāgaa Sūtradhāra, Indian Journal of History of Science, vol. 22, no. 4 (1987), pp. 328-331.  Download it in PDF here.

Daniel Potts and A. Parpola, et al., Guhlu and Guggulu, Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, vol. 86 (1996), pp. 291-305.  They suggest that the Sanskrit word comes from Akkadian. If this is so, the Tibetan form probably comes from the Sanskrit.

Peter A. Roberts, The Evolution of the Biographies of Milarepa and Rechungpa, contained in: Linda Covill, Ulrike Roesler and Sarah Shaw, eds., Lives Lived, Lives Imagined, Wisdom Publications (Boston 2010), pp. 181-203.  In his first pages Roberts gives a very Indic explanation for the Tibetan generic term used for biographies, rnam-thar, one that doesn’t rely in the least on Sumer. He may be right. I don’t know. The book itself is warmly recommended if you are interested in Buddhist biographical literature.

Ann Macy Roth and Catharine H. Roehrig, Magical Bricks and the Bricks of Birth, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 88 (2002), pp. 121-139.  Even if I didn’t manage to find a way to work this into some flimsy argument, as I should have done, the Egyptian use of bricks for birthing practices (then employed symbolically in tomb construction) is wonderfully fascinating.  And in Egyptian art you can sometimes see impressively personified bricks, bricks with human faces.

David Templeman, Ensuring Firmness: The Use of Molten Metals in Tibet and Iran, Tibet Journal, vol. 26, nos. 3-4 (Autumn-Winter 2001), pp. 199-205.

Alfréd Tóth, Tibeto-Burman and Hungarian, Central Asiatic Journal, vol. 53, no. 1 (2009), pp. 80-104.  The Tibeto-Sumer connections suggested here all seem to be derived from those in Braun's booklet. You can find a different article by the same author here.

E. Jan Wilson, 'Holiness' and 'Purity' in Mesopotamia, Verlag Butzon and Bercker Kevalaer (Neukirchen-Vluyn 1994). See page 36 on juniper burning.

Irene J. Winter, Radiance as an Aesthetic Value in the Art of Mesopotamia (with Some Indian Parallels), contained in: B.N. Saraswati, S.C. Malik and Madhu Khanna, eds., Art: The Integral Vision, A Volume of Essays in Felicitation of Kapila Vatsyayan, D.K. Printworld (N.Delhi 1994), pp. 123-132. I haven’t been able to see this yet, although it sounds very relevant to judge from the title.

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Oh, and if you’re interested to know more about Indian mortar making, see if this link will work for you (I’m not sure if it will, but if it does you might find a recipe for vajralepa).  You might have to start from here and then search from there by yourself.




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Addendum (November 20, 2010):  


Nathan Hill kindly sent me a copy of his unpublished review of Jan Braun's pamphlet Sumerian and Tibeto-Burman. Even more kindly, he readily granted permission to put it up to be freely downloaded by all who wish. You will find it in the form of an attachment to THIS PAGE at "Tibetological." I think you will find it interesting.













Why are we here? 
To build houses for the gods.
No other reason.


[With regard to building of Eninnu Temple by King Gudea of Lagash, re. 2144-2124 BCE


“Now it was time to start preparing for the actual construction of the temple, and this involved as a first step the choosing by appropriate omens of the first symbolic brick and inscribing it with the god’s emblem, a joyous act accompanied by the burning of fragrant incense...  


“Gudea himself then kneaded the first brick and placed it in a brickmold, and after removing it from the brickmold, carried it in a basket on his head and placed it in the spot where the temple was to be built—symbolic acts accompanied by sacrifices, prayers, music and jubilation.  Now the foundations were laid, ritual supervised and blessed by the en and the lagar, the two highest priestly officials of the temple.”
 
Source:  Samuel Noah Kramer, The Temple in Sumerian Literature, contained in:  Michael V. Fox, ed., Temple in Society, Eisenbrauns (Winona Lake 1988), pp. 1-16, at pp. 4, 5.

    “There was, furthermore, a warrior. His arm was bent, holding a lapis lazuli tablet in his hand, and he was setting down the plan of the house. The holy basket stood in front of me, the holy brick mould was ready and the fated brick was placed in the mould for me. In a fine ildag tree standing before me tigidlu birds were spending the day twittering. My master's right-side donkey stallion was pawing the ground for me.”
For the source, look here

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Postscript to end all postscripts:

      An interesting thing, I was looking at p. 207 of Guitty Azarpy, W.G. Lambert, W. Heimpel, and Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, Proportional Guidelines in Ancient Near Eastern Art, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, vol. 46, no. 3 (July 1987), pp. 183-213, and found to my surprise that the fated brick, the same brick made with the clay in the baskets you see the kings carrying on their heads in the baskets, is called sig4-nam-tar-ra. Now I’m thinking I ought to take the Sumerian nam-tar as corresponding with Tibetan rnam-thar idea more seriously. It fits inside our little semantic circle much better than I had thought.  There is much more of interest, not only for bricks, but for ovens as well, to be found in this article.  We may read as part of an account of the foundation-laying rituals done by King Gudea (p. 205):

In front of me stood a pure basket.
A pure brick mold had been fitted.
A fated brick was there for me in the brick mold.


 
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