Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1949 Tibetan thutob
Subjectthutob / mthu stobs fighting monk, ldab-ldob 'punk monk'
Culture: Tibetan
Setting: Tibet mid-late 20thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Clarke 1997 p86
"The other half of the monastic population [apart from the academics] consisted of those who had neither the inclination nor the capability for book learning and corresponded roughly to the lay brethren in a Christian monastery.  So great was the intake of the monasteries, with most families sending at least one younger son in to one, that a large section of the monkhood could naturally not turn out to be mystics or scholars.  They performed necessary duties such as cooking, cleaning, playing musical instruments, serving tea at ceremonies, craftworking or trading.  From them were also drawn the fraternity of more physically inclined policemen or fighting monks, the dob dob.  Others who were more intelligent became administrative officials or traded on the monasteries' behalf."

* French 2002 p357 n3 (Chapter 9)
"[F]ighting monks called thutob (mthu stobs) ... often tried to enforce the law through their own physical prowess ...."

​* Makley 2007 p282
​"[T]he heroic masculinity of the monks hinged on the ability to defend mandalic realms and conquer the enemies of Buddhism, and within the tradition of mass monasticism at Labrang, this had included the capacity to fight and kill when monasticism was vitally threatened.  In the contemporary context, most young monks were not interested in repudiating lay masculinity to the extent of forsaking the potential for heroic violence.  Indeed, one of the anonymous messages written on monastery walls while I was there was a warning to the Tibetan PSB officer widely rumored to have frequently participated in beating arrested monks.  The message threatened him with physical retaliation if he did not mend his ways.
    "Much of the magnetic appeal of foreign videos for monks was after all the glorification of masculine violence they portrayed.  I saw in several monks' quarters not only pictures of the Dalai Lama but also pictures of Rambo, his machine gun raised and ready, chest bared, ammo belts slung across his bulging muscles.  Akhu Konchok studiously avoided public places, held out great respect for monastic scholarship, and was so politely diplomatic that he was often chosen to host visiting cadres and VIP Chinese tourists, yet he enthusiastically described for me one day his fascination with Rambo movies, which, he said, was so strong that he would drop everything and go see one if it was showing in Labrang.  He explained that Rambo was great because he could take on whole armies by himself so bravely.  Watching those movies, he said, made one feel strong, and he demonstrated by flexing his meager biceps.  Hence the great appeal of Rambo: in Labrang, defending the monastery and openly attacking the state would be tantamount to taking on a whole army single-handedly, and yet Rambo succeeded on the sheer force of his hypermasculine strength and determination.
    "But the danger of the situation at Labrang was that, with the mitigation of the authority of monasticism to mediate and domesticate masculine violence, young monks in Labrang participated in acts of physical violence that differed little from those increasingly common among young laymen there.  Their violence was not under the auspices of or in service to monasticism, but like that of laymen it was always spontaneous, and sometimes random.  Tibetan PSB officers I spoke to expressed angry yet unsurprised concern at what they said was an increase in brutal fighting and murders among young Tibetan men.  This they attributed to what they represented as the unschooled barbarity of young nomad men especially, who were coming to town to spend huge cash windfalls from sales of surplus livestock and other pastoralist products."  [references omitted]

* Goldstein/Kapstein eds. 1998 p17-19 (Melvyn C Goldstein, "The revival of monastic life in Drepung Monastery" p15-52)
"In addition to the high prestige of being a monk, the emphasis on mass monasticism can be seen in the manner in which monasteries made it easy for monks to find a niche within the monastic community by allowing all sorts of personalities to coexist.  The monastery did not place severe restrictions on comportment, nor did it require rigorous educational or spiritual achievement.  New monks had no exams to pass in order to remain in the monastery, and monks who had no interest in studying or meditating were as welcome as the dedicated scholar monks.  Even illiterate monks were accommodated and could remain part of the monastic community.  In fact, rather than diligently weed out young monks who seemed temperamentally unsuited for a rigorous life of prayer, study, and meditation, the Tibetan monastic system allowed all sorts of deviance to exist, including a type of 'punk monk' (ldab-ldob) who fought, engaged in sports competition, and was notorious for stealing young boys for use as homosexual partners.  Monks were expelled only if they committed murder or major theft or engaged in heterosexual intercourse."


* Buddha Weekly online
"Contrary to the fictional portrayals of the Phurba in Hollywood movies, the Phurba is far from being any sort of weapon — but it is very active.
    "In fact, one definition of the Phurba (Kila or Kilaka in Sanskrit) is “activity of the Buddhas.” In other words, from a purely “symbolic function” point of view, the Phurba represents the activity and wrath of all the Buddhas.
    "It is a primary symbol, just as the “Red Lotus” represents the “Speech” of all the Buddhas or the Jewel representing “Body”. These typically align with the ritual implements or symbol of the five Buddha Families (Vajrakilaya being of the Karma group) ....
    [....]  It is true that the Phurba is the penultimate wrathful implement. Externally, it triune blade can supress demons (inner or outer). Internally, as a meditation object, it is the implement used to cut through the three poisons (more on this later), and all delusions. But, it is often used to exorcise demons (inner or outer) — which is no doubt why it is popularly used in movies (albeit incorrectly.) It is said no demon or spirit can resist the blade of truth (so called, because it can cut delusions.) When made of meteoric iron, they are even more potent — metal touched by the divine heavens.
    "Traditionally, the point and blade are used for protection, banishing, repulsing, exorcising and wrathful actions; while the reverse end — typically crowned with either a half vajra or a horse head(s) — is used for attracting blessings, health, prosperity. In the video at Sera Jey, the abbott is touching the horse head crown of the Phurba to the people being blessed or healed.
    "So, Phurba is a balanced implement. The handle, with it’s vastly significant symbolism, is considered a blessing and peaceful tool. The blade is used to banish, compel and cut delusions — wrathful practices.
    "Typical of the “banishing” action, in ancient times the Phurba would be driven into the earth to subdue nature spirits who might disturb residents. This would then be followed by non-Phurba Yurt or tent pegs to hold up the structure.
It is important to note, although there are certainly supernatural powers associated with Phurbas, the banishing can equally be banishing our own negative afflictive emotions such as anger or jealousy or attachment."

* Marcotty 1987 p11-12
"Anybody who has been dealing with Buddhism will ... notice that the area of the Phurpa cult is practically identical with that of Mahayana Buddhism, also called the 'Great Vehicle'.  This leads to the assumption that the teaching of the dagger might be an offshoot of Mahayana Buddhism if not part of it.  This is corroborated by the following fact: nowadays the Phurpa cult is practiced by Buddhist monks, principally by the members of the Nyingmapa order or 'red caps'.  They are the non-reformist monks who remained faithful to the 'teachings of the old' contrary to the 'yellow caps', reformists who rather reject the dagger cult.  Yet this appearance may be misleading.  Judging by the present state of knowledge one may also presume that the Phurpa cult and Mahayana Buddhism coexist by mere coincidence in the same region: the Phurpa cult, examples for this can be found, can very well do without Buddhism.  On the other hand the Buddhists are not dependant [SIC] upon the dagger cult.  And history, profane as well as divine, even allows the supposition that the Phurpa cult adn the teachings of Gautama Buddha originate from quite different times and centuries.
    "First the profane history: by this I mean history in the western scientific sense of the word.  According to this the dagger cult is at least a thousand years older than Buddhism.  The first traces of the Phurpa cult are not even to be found in the Buddhist sphere of influence.  The earliest ritual daggers are rather to be found in Mesopotamia, now Irak, where they have been discovered among the relics of Sumerian times.  The Sumerian daggers, this is what we do know, served for the so-called soil consecration.  This means they were driven into the ground as a kind of border markings to indicate to everybody, mainly the roaming demons, mainly the roaming demons, that the thus marked and bordered area was inhabited by man and thus out of bounds to demons.  The ritual daggers are right from the beginning tied up with the notion of the defense of demons.
    "To this desire of denying access to demons may have been added a more practical purpose.  Anyone who struck a tent on a camping site will now know what this is about: ritual daggers resemble the pegs by the aid of which nomads used to tie their tents to the ground from times immemorial.  Such pegs should best be made of iron so that the tent dwellers maybe [SIC] in a better position to drive them also into stony soil.  Furthermore the pegs should be shaped three-edged to avoid the wind and weather pulling them out.  And thus we obtain the principal characteristics that mark the Phurpa up to this day: ritual daggers ought to be forged of iron their blades having three edges.  All these are features that have no relation to Buddhism whatsoever."


​* Clarke 1997 p100 caption
​"Nyingma lama carrying a rosary and wearing a maroon robe and what is known as a pundit's hat.  The pundit's hat, named from the Sanskrit word for scholar (pundita), was brought from India at an early date and was worn in Tibet mainly by lamas of the Nyingma and Kagyu orders."


​* Ghose 2016 p31
"Rosaries in fine materials -- turquoise, amber, and coral beads accented by gold and other precious gems -- may have been worn by monks or by the wealthy Buddhist laity of both sexes. Yuthok speaks of 'a fashion of wearing rosary beads wrapped around the arms at the wrist. One hundred eight beads, the number necessary for a rosary, were made from coral and turquoise. Sometimes some smaller beads made out of coral or even glass or plastic would be added to the one hundred and eight beads just for decoration.' In an iconic photograph taken in Darjeeling, India, around 1910-12, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama is holding a rosary."

Bell & Pestle

* Clarke 1997 p84
"In Tibetan Buddhism the essential nature of Enlightenment is characterized as an unbreakable union of two qualities: transcendental wisdom and compassion.  The highest wisdom of seeing the true nature of things as empty and illusory inevitably creates great compassion for those who still believe the world to be real and who, ensnared by this illusion, struggle and fight to gain things which, in essence, do not exist.
    "Used together, two Tibetan ritual objects, the diamond sceptre (dorje) and the bell (drilbu), symbolize this indivisible union.  The dorje represents practical compassion seeking to save others and the drilbu the highest wisdom or understanding of reality.  With its symbolism of the indestructible awakened state, the dorje has given its name to a rapid path to Enlightenment called Vajrayana (the 'Diamond Path', from vajra, the Sanskrit for dorje), which existed alongside the Mahayana teachings in Tibet."

* Museo Nacional de Antropología > Religiones Orientales
"[....]  La vajra (cetro) en la mano derecha simpoliza la verdad suprema, lo masculino, y la ghanta (campana) en la mano izquierda simoliza la sabaduría, lo feminino. Juntos componen la unión mistica para la salvación."