Dabaoji Gong 大宝积宫

Dabaoji Gong was founded in 1582 in an ethnically Naxi village called Baisha (白沙村), several miles from Lijiang in Yunnan (云南丽江). The Naxi (纳西族) was a group ethnically and linguistically related to the Tibetans, but who had, by the Ming era, more closely identified themselves politically and culturally with the Chinese. Lijiang prefecture was officially recognized as beyond the direct control of the Ming court, but was still of strategic military and economic importance since major invasion as well as trade routes lay within its territory. Thus the Ming court recognized the authority of its local rulers and relied on them to maintain control over the Tibetans along the southwest border of the empire.

The height of Lijiang military conquests and territorial expansion into Tibetan areas occurred during the mid-16th and 17th centuries and corresponded with an increased interest in Tibetan Buddhism. This interest was reflected in a sharp increase in temple-building activity, which can be interpreted as Lijiang’s efforts to attract the support of major Tibetan Buddhist figures to install the Lijiang court with politico-religious legitimacy in the eyes of Tibetan, and perhaps also Chinese, communities. The Kar ma bKa’ brgyud in the early Ming were widely known for their esoteric powers, and were therefore targeted for religious patronage.

The founder of the Dabaoji Gong, Mu Wang (木旺) (r.1580–98), was the ruler of Lijiang. He, according to the Ninth Karmapa’s biography, had a Tibetan Buddhist preceptor named Byang bshes pa, and also wished to commission a new woodblock edition of the bKa’ ‘gyur, which his son and successor, Mu Zeng (木增) (r.1598–1646) later completed. In addition to the Kar ma pas, Mu Wang also patronized other sects, particularly the dGe lugs pa.

Mu Wang’s son, Mu Zeng, expanded the Lijiang kingdom to its greatest breadth and at the same time was involved in building an unprecedented number of temples. He renounced the throne in 1624 at the age of 36 to pursue religious instruction at Fuguosi (福国寺) (one of the five main bKa’ brgyud schools in Lijiang). He is thought to be responsible for the paintings extant at Dabaoji Gong.

While Ming-era murals in Lijiang predating the Daobaoji Gong reflect Chinese and Bai styles and subjects, the murals in Dabaoji Gong are unique in the Sino-Tibetan painting tradition they exhibit. Temple murals that succeed the Dabaoji Gong show the increasing influence of Tibetan styles and themes. Thus Daobaoji Gong can be identified as the earliest extant temple that demonstrates the Sino-Tibetan painting tradition executed by local patronage and workshop.

The murals in the front half of the hall contain a mixture of Chinese Buddhist, Daoist, and Tibetan Buddhist figures and themes, while the murals in the rear of the hall are Tibetan Buddhist in nature, particularly that of the Kar ma bKa’ brgyud order. Of significance is the mural on one section of the rear wall that depicts the root of the Mahamudra lineage from Vajradhara to what is thought to be the Tenth Karmapa, Chos dbyings rdo rje (1604–74), who later fled to Lijiang following the devastating attack inflicted by the Fifth Dalai Lama on the Karma bKa’ brgyud (c. 1642). The style executed in this mural link the paintings in both the front and back of the temple while the dating of this mural links it to Mu Zeng’s patronage program that aimed to build new temples in Lijiang as well as connect them to specific Tibetan Buddhist lineages.

In total, thirteen Karma pa temples were built in the Lijiang area, and all, including Dabaoji Gong later became branch temples of dPal spungs in sDe dge when the sDe dge Si tu lineage reassembled the scattered bKa’ brgyud leadership in Eastern Tibet.

Thus the Dabaoji Gong reflects the intricate role the Lijiang kingdom played as a peripheral, autonomous region involved in conflicts among the Tibetans as well as between the Tibetans and Chinese. Through Buddhism, the Lijiang court sought legitimacy as religiously-sanctioned rulers among the Tibetans via their patronage of lineages and building of temples, as well as the Chinese in their patronage of temples at Mt. Wutai and other sites in China.

  • Karl Debreczeny. Sino-Tibetan Artistic Synthesis in Ming Dynasty Temples. Tibet Journal. 28: 49107.

Entry by Eveline Yang, 2/26/07