Karma-pa Scroll ( Tsurphu Scroll)

The Karma-pa Scroll recorded the events that occurred during the 5th Karma-pa’s (Dezhin Shegpa) to Nanjing by invitation of the Yongle (Chengzu, r.1402-1424) emperor to perform the Mass of Universal Salvation (Pudu dazhai) at the Linggu Monastery in 1407. The 50m long silk handscroll depicted 49 scenes of miraculous signs that took place during the performance of the ritual, which were described in Chinese, Arabic, Uighur, Tibetan and Mongolian. The performance of the Mass of Universal Salvation for the deceased Hongwu emperor and his consort Empress Ma was part of the Yongle Emperor’s endeavor to first legitimize his position on the throne after usurping it from his nephew the Jianwen emperor and also to officially establish a Ming-Tibetan relationship. The scroll symbolically functioned as both a bureaucratic imperial tool as well as a religious and spiritual instrument for the ultimate fusion of universal authority supposedly mandated to the Yongle emperor. The fusion of both Buddhist and Daoist motifs and the fact that the scroll was tailored to appeal to the Chinese support the universalistic significance of the scroll as first and foremost a representation of the legitimacy of the Yongle emperor as the rightful heir to the throne. However, the scroll did not explicitly define the relationship between the Yongle emperor and the 5th Karma-pa, who rejected the proposal for formal relations with the Yongle Emperor along the same lines as that of the Yuan Emperors and the Sa-skay-pa. However, the inscriptions and scenes on the scroll portrayed the Karma-pa as having attained actual Buddhahood, referring to him constantly as “rulai” (meaning, “thus come” an epithet for Buddha). Moreover, the wonders of the miraculous signs were also attributed solely to the performance of the Karma-pa beginning with the ritual of the Mass of Universal Salvation.

  • Berger, Patricia, Miracles in Nanjing: An Imperial Record of the Fifth Karmapa’s Visit to the Chinese Capital, Cultural Intersections in Later Chinese Buddhism, UH.P. 2001
  • Sperling, Elliot, The 5th Karma-pa and Some Aspects of the Relationship Between Tibet and Early Ming, Tibetan Studies in honor of High Richardson: Proceedings of the International Seminar of Tibetan Studies, Oxford 1979

Entry by ShiQi Wu, 2/20/07