Tag Archives: Dalai Lama

First Jewish reference to the Dalai Lama

Meoreot Zvi, published Lvov 1804, was a narrative of the events surrounding Shabbatai Zevi along with a description of his prophecies, visions, magic, and charismatic gifts used in generating a following.  The work is modeled after Enlightenment travelogues to the East with their vivid reports of distant lands combined with condescending evaluations of the foreign cultures. The author shows that he read such works and provides many parallels between Shabbatai Zvi’s actions and Eastern practices.

In the province in the sky, which is the great [Lhasa] valley in the land of Tibet next to East India is their great city Potala. There resides the great monk of all their idolatrous monks, called the [Dalai] Lama, who is father of impurity from which all the monks derive their way of crookedness from one of the spirits of impurity.

The mater is like this: The monks called Brahmins make a golem from clay in the image of a man with their magic until skin, flesh, bones, and veins. Afterward, they adjure it with (demonic) spirits of the impure spirit because of their crookedness. Then an actual living man literally appears and its appearance is like the golem made from clay by our [Jewish] masters of the names. [The Jewish masters of the name] do everything with the predetermined received skills; in contrast they adjure spirits of the false seven heavens. They are all experts in adjuring spirits of impurity, especially the face-spirit of impurity. By their oaths a face-spirit continuously appears illuminated, sometimes it changes and there will appear a continuous image of the previous (demonic) [Dalai] Lama, who had died.

At the time of a particular festival of theirs, the monks bear [the Dalai Lama] through the streets of the city in a throne sheathed in linens, with his face covered. His face does not appear to the masses, because he is holy in their opinion. When he dies they treat the incoming ruling Lama with the same authority as they did for the preceding Lama. The monks deceive  the masses with the image saying that their Lama is the living and eternal God, holy and awe-inspiring.

Any one of the masses that is at least worthy to drink from the urine of the Lama (which the monks themselves urinate) is sanctified with a special holiness. Those sanctified with the drinking of this urine are called holy and pure due to all types of holiness.

Thousands and tens of thousands go on pilgrimage to him from far and he prophecies the future for them, and the monks write healing amulets with his name inside. Even the emperors who rule over them, and every prince of the kingdom, must receive authorization for his rule from him or he will not be received as king over them.

I thank Prof. Zvi Mark for the reference. There are other digressions on Buddhism,  but this is one of the longest. The religious language used in the account reflects a mixture of Enlightenment, and Catholic ideas. The idea that ecstasies are either divine or demonic is an early modern Catholic language, depicting a world of exorcisms and possession. The mention of their impure spirit rather than the traditional Jewish discussion of their idols, their avodah zarah, reflects a source in a missionary travelogue.

As historic points, the 18th century Enlightenment actually entertained using the urine-cure as one of the wondrous cures available from the East. The description of the creation of a golem like figures in Tibet is readily available in Alexandra David-Neel, Magic and Mystery in Tibet, 1929.