Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tibetan manuscript

As a beautiful surprise last year, Barry bought this Tibetan manuscript book.  As we understand it, it is probably 17th-18th century but beyond that we don't understand its context or importance.

In a roundabout, somewhat connected way, I have recently been investigating abstract calligraphic art - and am working through why it appeals to me so much and why I like it.  One of the things I have realised is that I love to see calligraphy written in other languages.  As I consider why, I think it is in part because my left brain disengages - I look at the texture of the text, the rhythm, the movement, the lines and the shapes, without having my left brain try to "read" the writing and interpret it. I look at the visual cues not the verbal ones.

This gives me a gentle sense of peace.  And so when I see abstract calligraphic art written in English it does the same for me - I appreciate the beauty of the work before trying to interpret, read, or decipher the text.

These are a few of the pages of the Tibetan manuscript (click on the image for a larger shot).


  1. Very special, Fiona. Thanks for sharing these.

  2. "One of the things I have realised is that I love to see calligraphy written in other languages"

    Me, too! For me, it is the same reason all calligraphy moves me so much; it's because it is the expressive connection to an individual. It's the legacy of the individual that calls to me, whether it be the first scrawl of a small child or the masterpiece of a world renowned calligrapher like Sheila Waters.

    Underlying all written words is an individual. The hand lettering joins heart and mind and hand. It's beautiful to me.

  3. ∂ear Fiona,

    Hi. I'm a Tibetologist and keep a blog called Tibeto-logic. There was a recent post there on cursive script, although your text is all in block Tibetan letters, not cursive. It's a set of instructions for what I would call 'magical medicine,' in the sense that it's mainly talismanic, but instead of tying up garlic in a bag around your neck like your great-grandmother did when someone was sick, they put these diagrams. I recognize the one that looks like a maze, used here also in cases of difficult childbirth. The final one on your 4th photo I'll just translate for you, if you don't mind, as an example:

    "After a child is born and there is no milk in the mother for the child to drink, Inscribe this 'wheel' diagram on a Tuesday ('red eye' means Mars' day) morning and with a paste of white "si-la" incense sandalwood, camphor, agar, and saffron. Then bind it up and tie it to your neck and milk will certainly fall."

    Sorry, that was a very fast and not very careful translation, just to give an idea.

    Personally I would consider that the handwriting is very beautiful. It's fine, but the paper wasn't very well sized, so there is a bit of fuzziness, which anyways adds to the 'folksiness' of it. That something pertains to the 'folk' is a very good thing. You see these bundles of paper tied up in colorful threads around the necks of Tibetan kids everywhere.


  4. Hi Dan

    Thanks so much for your comments - how amazing! The book is in fair condition - lots of marks where it has been handled, which I quite like. The images of grids, and mazes and stars are all interesting and I loved your translation of the maze passage.

    I enjoyed your blog - a good friend has a very fineTibetan art collection and I have passed it on. There was lot of interesting writing that I will return to read. I also posted on some tsakli recently (

    Go well


  5. Dear Fiona,

    By one of those odd coincidences (well, I think they are *all* odd, and therefore not *so* odd) I was at JSTOR today and ran across an Italian article on written amulets.

    Giorgio R. Cardona, Gli amuleti scritti: un excursus comparativo, La Ricerca Folklorica, no. 8 (Oct. 1983), pp. 91-97.

    Apparently wearing curative and protective written amulets has been popular in Italian folk medicine, and this article goes into a cross-cultural comparison that includes Tibetan Buddhism, Viet Nam, etc. I was reminded that people in ancient Israel were wearing these things under the name qami'a (plural qemi'oth). The mezuzah is a similar thing, with a written 'charm' inside, but used on doors and not tied around necks.

    I once noticed a Mediterranean version of the Tibetan maze amulet to ease difficult deliveries, but I long ago forgot where I saw it. Of course, the difficulty of passing through the maze makes what might be obvious sense for this purpose. (I tried to Schmoogle some of the words, but lost patience with it.)

    Anyway, I thought I might point that out, since it at least shows Tibetans are in this case not very exceptional after all. Well, I think we *all* are, but anyway.



  6. Hi Dan

    I imagine there are lots of folklore-y charms that have helped many of us thru the ages - nice to see the maze connection across cultures (I also get the maze and difficult delivery association...).

    I have several more pages that you might like to look at sometime - do you share your email address at all?



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