21. Go Lotsawa Zhonupel
(cat. pl. 45)
c. late 15th or 16th Centuries
Copper alloy
h. 10.5cm

 Go Lotsawa Zhonupel

This sensitive portrait reveals an elderly figure whose face displays signs of considerable age, with heavily hooded eyes and sagging cheeks and jowls; he retains, however, a wise and kindly expression. A lump is depicted on his right upper arm and both hands adopt the 'mind refreshing' mudra.357 An inscription along the front of his cushion identifies the subject as the encyclopedist Zhonupel.358 This famous polymath, also known as Go Lotsawa (1392-1481), wrote The Blue Annals between 1476 and 1478. This vast treatise on the history of Buddhism in Tibet, in which careful attention is drawn to chronology, includes much information about early Tibetan Buddhists and their spiritual lineages. The author drew upon earlier records, notably The Red Annals of Midakpo Kunga Dorje, written in 1346, Buton Rimpoche's History of Buddhism, written in 1322, and the biographies of other early Tibetan Buddhists. Go Lotsawa also drew from monastic histories available in his day.

Go Lotsawa was eighty-four years old when he began his treatise, which was dictated to attendants whose labours he notes with gratitude in the text. Two colleagues, Choki Gyaltsen and Gelek Pelgon, then edited the work. In 1481, the year of Go Lotsawa's death, work was begun to prepare woodblocks for printing his manuscript. The original edition of The Blue Annals was preserved at Yanpachen monastery, west of Lhasa. Go Lotsawa describes his effort thus: 'The story of the Immaculate Precious Doctrine of the Jina, handed down from Holy Men to Holy Men, I have thread on a string of letters, in order that they may be seen by people endowed with the eye of wisdom.'359 The highly attentive depiction of the character and appearance of the man in this sculpture would suggest that the image is likely to have been made during his lifetime or within living memory. (cat. pl. 45)

357. sems nyid ngal gso.
358. thams chad mkhyen pa gzhon nu dpal la na ma
359. Roerich (1979), pp. 1091-2.

images © Nyingjei Lam
text © D. Weldon, Jane C. Singer