Mishandled Mail: The Strange Case of the Reting Regent’s Letters to Hitler

Isrun Engelhardt

In March 1939, during the visit of Ernst-Schäfer’s 1938/39 Tibet expedition¹ to Lhasa, Reting Rinpoche, the Regent of Tibet, wrote two letters to the German leader at the time, Adolf Hitler. This was, although not the most important result of the Schaefer expedition, perhaps the most famous, and has played a major role in determining the expedition’s legacy and the resulting assessment of contemporary German-Tibetan relations.

My paper seeks to reveal the implications of these letters. A brief overview of the expedition in its historical context and an analysis of the letters will be followed by further questions, such as: Why did Reting send two letters? Were they no more than relatively innocuous and non-committal letters written out of politeness? Did the letters reach Hitler?

I will also focus on the implications of the contemporary translations and their differences. The paper will conclude with a discussion of some unexpected political consequences of the letters.

In 1930, when Schäfer had just started to study zoology at Göttingen University, Brooke Dolan, a rich young American, came to Germany to recruit scientists for his zoological expedition. Schäfer participated in this first Brooke Dolan Expedition to West China and Tibet at the tender age of twenty. In 1932 he returned to Germany to resume his studies, joining the SS in 1934. From 1934-1936 he took part in Brooke Dolan’s second scientific expedition, to Eastern Tibet and China, as the expedition’s scientific head. Schäfer returned to the United States with Dolan in January 1936.

After returning to Germany, Schäfer continued his studies in Berlin, receiving his doctorate in zoology in 1937. At that time, the “Reichsführer-SS” Heinrich Himmler was already trying to exploit Schaefer’s reputation for Nazi propaganda purposes. When he learned of Schäfer’s desire to lead a further expedition to Tibet, Himmler was immediately fired with the idea of sending this expedition to Tibet under the auspices of the “SS Ahnenerbe” (SS Ancestral Heritage Society).²

While Himmler also intended to use the expedition as a tool for pseudo-science, the scientist Schäfer had more legitimate scientific purposes in attempting to obtain the scientific freedom he needed.³ However, in January 1938 he was informed: “The expedition’s aim has come to diverge too far from the targets of the Reichsführer-SS and does not serve his ideas of cultural studies.” In the end, the expedition was therefore not sponsored by the “Ahnenerbe” or the SS;” Schäfer actually funded his expedition himself. Only the flight back, necessitated by the imminent danger of war, was sponsored by Himmler’s circle of friends. Nonetheless, Schäfer had to compromise on some points as he needed Himmler’s political support.

Zemu Region. The Five Members of the Expedition.

The Five Members of the Expedition.
BA: 135-KA-03-076

The five scientists of the expedition’s team set off in April 1938, with Calcutta their first stop. After many obstacles, Schäfer eventually received an official letter of invitation from the Kashag giving permission for a two-week stay in Lhasa. The expedition reached Lhasa in January 1939.

While in Lhasa, Schäfer successfully extended the mission’s stay several times, so that they finally stayed in Lhasa not for two weeks, but for a full two months. Schäfer witnessed the Mönlam festival and gave a highly vivid and extensive description of it. The expedition’s members established many cordial contacts with aristocratic families, particularly the Tsarong, and made official contact with the Kashag ministers and the Reting Regent.

Reting’s letter

In his diaries Schäfer gives a lively and detailed account of his meetings with the Regent Reting Rinpoche. Schaefer first appeared to be impressed by the personality of the young Regent, telling that although the rule was that requests for an audience had to be submitted at least three days in advance and that even the prime minister had to wait a long time, Schäfer himself was soon able to have an audience whenever he liked. Though Richardson told Schäfer that Reting Rinpoche would only grant “ten-minute audiences,” Schäfer succeeded in staying with the Regent for more than three hours. During the German’s visits, the Regent would be sitting on his throne bed together with his favourite dog. A young boy he described as his “favourite”, the son of the new Kashag minister, was always present. Reting was dressed in a yellow suede coat, with many German pistols and two golden Belgian pistols hanging above him. According to Schäfer he knew little about the outside world, and also little about Buddhism. Schäfer was very keen to learn more about Buddhism and was rather disappointed that Reting could not, or would not, respond to his curiosity.

Schäfer at first appeared to be impressed by the personality of the Regent, his contemporary in age. Schäfer invited him to Germany and they seriously discussed plans for the journey, as several other aristocratic young men also wanted to travel there. Reting wanted to be picked up by a German plane in Calcutta and flown to Germany, but apparently the Kashag would not give consent to the trip. Although Schaefer apparently enjoyed a good relationship with Reting, gradually, however, Schäfer’s initial positive impression of the Regent became increasingly negative, as the Reting Rinpoche was apparently constantly seeking some benefit from their contact. The language and style of Schäfer’s diaries in descriptions of his audiences with Reting also undergoes a striking negative change. He wrote of no other Tibetan in this way. However, this applies only to the diaries; his publications presented a wholly positive image of Reting.

Tibetexpedition, Regent of Tibet with Beger

Reting with Beger
BA: 135-S-13-11-15

Reting must also have been very fond of Bruno Beger, whom he wanted to engage as a bodyguard, and Beger experienced some difficulty in withdrawing from this situation without offending the Regent. Reting suggested that Beger stay in Tibet (Beger 1998: 160) and that a Geshe go to Germany in exchange, in order to introduce Buddhism there.¹⁰

This may have been the first official attempt by the Tibetans to spread Buddhism in Europe. But the most famous, if not the most important, outcome of the expedition is the letter the Regent wrote to Hitler. Schäfer obviously persuaded the Reting Regent to write a letter to Hitler, although Reting probably had little idea of who Hitler was.

Why would Schäfer have been interested in such a letter from Reting? There is no hint in his diaries, so that we must rely on suppositions. Schäfer did never meet Hitler personally, and the expedition was unconnected with him, since Hitler had no interest in Asia¹¹ and may even have been unaware of the expedition. However, pressure from the British authorities increasingly drove Schäfer to equate the success of his expedition with success for Germany; he felt himself under extreme pressure to succeed, and was obsessed with the idea of producing positive results to enhance the expedition’s prestige. Since in Lhasa the pursuit of his personal research goals was possible only to a limited extent, he was obviously forced to seek additional proof of his success.

But why did Reting write the letter? Schäfer had probably given the impression that he carried far more political weight than was actually the case. And Reting may have thought that establishing contact with Germany’s rgyalpo and expanding Tibe’'s foreign policy contacts could do no harm.
The envelope of the letter is addressed:

To his Majesty Herr Hitler, Berlin, Germany
'Jar man rgyal po har hi ti lar mchog la 'bul rgyu bod kyi rgyal tshab srid skyong rwa greng ho thog thus sa yos bod zla chig 1 tshes 18 bzang bor phul

Envelope of Reting's letter to Hitler, 16 March 1939

Envelope of Reting's letter to Hitler, 16 March 1939
© Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München

The letter in the official accompanying English translation reads:

To his Majesty Fuhrer Adolph, Hitler, Berlin,
              The Regent of Tibet.
On the 18th day of the first month of Sand-Hare Year.

Your Majesty,
I trust your Highness is in best of health and in every progress with your goodly affairs.
Here I am well and doing my best in our religious and Government affairs.
I have the pleasure to let Your Majesty know that Dr. Schaefer and his party, who are the first Germans to visit Tibet have been permitted with­out any objection, and every necessary assistance is rendered on their arrival. Further, I am in desirous to do anything that will help to improve the friendly tie of relationship between the two Nations, and I trust your Majesty will also consider it essential as before.
Please take care of Your good self, and let me know if Your Majesty desire anything.
I am sending under separate parcel a Tibetan silver lid and saucer with a red designed tea cup, and a native dog as a small remembrance.
         Sincerely Yours,
              Reding Ho-Thok-Thu.¹²

Analysis of the letter

External form

Envelope of Reting's letter to Hitler, 16 March 1939

Reting’s letter to Hitler, 16 March 1939
© Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München

As Tibetan diplomatic correspondence follows strict rules, upon visual inspecttion it becomes clear that the lines run too close to the margin. There is no space of respect between the inscriptio and introduction. The spacing between the lines is too wide. And only the envelope bears a seal, not the letter itself. However, why was the letter written on such a small sheet of paper, yet in such a large envelope? Why is the paper so thin? Why is there no seal on the letter itself, but only on the envelope? Why, on the other hand, is the accompanying translation on such exquisite paper? After Panglung Rinpoche and Hanna Schneider had kindly examined the letter, their unanimous verdict was that the letter could not possibly be the original, for precisely the reasons given. It can only be a draft or a copy. But where is the original? Did Reting deliberately place a mere copy in the impressive envelope? Or did Schäfer have a copy made and keep the original for himself? But Schäfer writes that he received an envelope with five seals. This question will probably never be answered until the Lhasa Archives, where we may hope to find the original, is fully opened to scholars.


A comparison with other types of letter reveals that the letter is no more than a typical example of formal Tibetan courtesy correspondence. Clearly, no political or other interesting matters are mentioned.


While the question of content is relatively easy to answer, the matter of style is a far more complex one. I know neither of other letters to further Western rulers from this period which would serve as a basis for comparison, nor of any other letters written by Reting. In addition, the letter-writers never quote any example of correspondence with Western authorities.¹³

However, why does the letter contain no flowery adjectives describing Hitler’s attributes, and why are the other sections of the letter also free from the polite circumlocutions customary in Tibet? Hanna Schneider, the expert on Tibetan correspondence, comments:

Tibetan epistolary theory ascribes great significance to the inscriptio and the conclusion, since these sections must list the precise titles, and if applicable express the mutual respect or differences in rank between the writer and the addressee with more or less subtlety.
While the inscriptiones found in letters to addressees within Tibetan society, whatever their rank, are characterised by extreme courtesy and considerable verbosity, the inscriptiones, and indeed the entire sample letters, for correspondence to the “outside world” are generally composed with remarkable brevity and precision. If we compare the inscriptio of Reting’s letter with those of letters to other rgyal-po’s, the phrasing of the inscriptio in Reting’s letter does not overstep the bounds of protocol.¹⁴

Nevertheless, several subtleties of phrasing indicate that Reting was evidently uninterested in creating a good impression and making his mark, or in flattering Hitler in any way. The impression remains that he was not impelled to write the letter by his own interests but was persuaded to do so, and thus adopted a style with a minimal level of courtesy.

Second letter

Yet why is there also a second letter,¹⁵ dated eight days later, that differs only in the description of the gifts? Schäfer’s diaries are the only source of explanation. They clearly reveal his annoyance over the pettiness of Reting’s gifts, particularly compared to the gifts from the Kashag Ministers: “impudently offering very poor gifts about which we only can be very angry.”¹⁶ He complained to Major Bista, the Nepalese representative, saying he would be “standing between the horns of a bull, on the one side the Regent to whom he could not return the tea­cup, and on the other side Hitler, where he would cut a very poor figure because of [Reting’s] great boundless impertinence.”¹⁷ Reting apologised for the ridiculous gifts and tried to find other gifts, asking to have his first letter returned.¹⁸ But Schäfer pretended that he had already sent the letter to Calcutta.¹⁹ At the farewell audience he received a new letter and additional, although not greatly different, presents; he was presented with a gold coin, a robe of a monk official and a mastiff instead of an apso.²⁰


To what extent do the accompanying gifts reflect the state of the relationship between Reting and Schäfer? Was Schäfer after all right to be so angry about the shabbiness of the Regent’s gifts and issue a complaint? This episode is doubtless a unique event of embarrassment and discourtesy in the history of Tibetan-European relations.²¹ Since the Tibetans had a highly sophisticated system of awarding gifts, and gifts most definitely expressed the degree of a friendship or relationship, I would dare to contend that Schäfer was right. What is my evidence? We are fortunate that the Munich Ethnological Museum has in its possession a faded list hand-written by the anthropologist Beger, minutely detailing each one of the ethnological collection of over 2000 items bought by or presented to the expedition, and listing their dates, origins, places of purchase and prices.²² On examination, this list reveals some interesting discoveries; it contains several farewell gifts presented to the expedition by members of the Kashag, nobles and the Regent himself from the beginning of March 1939. It is possible to identify the precise degree of warmth in the relationship between Schäfer and the members of the Kashag; for example, Schäfer wrote that he enjoyed a particularly good relationship with the Kalon Lama, and indeed the Lama’s gifts, including two evidently valuable Thangkas, have a total value of 428 rupees. The Senior Kashag was described by Schäfer as sceptical or critical of him, and his gifts bear this out, with a total value of a mere 26 rupees.

Let us now return to the Regent’s gifts. The expedition itself was presented with gifts – chiefly a variety of Tibetan fabrics – totalling 56 rupees and 8 annas in value. However, the value of the Regent’s gift to Hitler, the silver teacup, was listed by Beger as only 18 rupees, although he does not note the additional gift of the lama’s robe mentioned in the second letter. As a comparison, Schäfer had previously presented the Regent with the following gifts: Meissner porcelain, precious stones from IG Farben, optical equipment, a case of medicines and – immediately upon his arrival – a radio set.²³

Evidently Reting’s choice of gifts also violated the principle of reciprocation that the Tibetans always held in such esteem – even given that foreigners frequently bestowed more generous gifts to Tibetans because they were frequently backed by some ulterior motive.²⁴

Whether the modest nature of the Reting’s first gifts to Hitler could have been caused by Schäfer’s refusal of Reting’s requests for arms deliveries from Germany will probably never be clarified.²⁵

However, the additional gift of a complete set of a vermilion silk lama’s upper dress,²⁶ in Reting’s second letter is worth examining more closely, suggesting as it does a change of mind or at least a moment of perception on Reting’s part. Gifts of fabrics and robes have always played an important role in the Tibetan and Buddhist cultures,²⁷ particularly in Bhutan.²⁸

The first Jesuits received gifts including bolts of red cloth,²⁹ as did the Pope in 1741 from the 7th Dalai Lama at the time when the Capuchins were in Lhasa,³⁰ George Bogle received several gifts of costly clothing from the 3rd Panchen Lama.³¹ Albert Tafel received bolts of red from the 13th Dalai Lama,³² as did Sven Hedin from the 7th Panchen Lama.³³ And in 1924 the 13th Dalai Lama gave to the first governor of Lhoka province (lho khar spyi khyab) a complete dharma robe as a gift.³⁴

And the enormous significance of costly brocades imported from Russia, China and India and stored, sometimes for centuries, in Lhasa in the treasury of the Potala, can be seen in the informative report of the tailor Gyeten Namgyal, the Namsa Chenmo.³⁵

“In the culture of Buddhism monks’ clothes have symbolic character,”³⁶ and great value was set on the most painstaking and perfect production of clothing for holders of religious office. Compared with other gifts such as carpets, the other lama robes presented to the Schäfer expedition by the Kalon Lama and others were the most valuable gifts of all next to Thangkas. Carpets, for example, were given in Beger’s list at a maximum price of 15 rupees, lama robes at 70-100 rupees.

Did Hitler actually receive the robe, and was he aware of its value and significance?

Schäfer describes what happened to the costly gift:

The parcel,³⁷ was not presented until 1942. I received a completely unexpected invitation to the ‘Wolfschanze’, the Führer’s headquarters in East Prussia. After passing the multitude of guards, I was received by Reich Chief Press Officer Dietrich and SS General Schaub. I laid down the parcel … but the gentlemen dared not touch it. Were they afraid of a bomb? Orderlies were summoned, the seals were opened, the string untied and a costly lama’s robe wrapped in white silk came to view. Schaub took it up and vanished into the Führer’s bunker. An eternity seemed to pass before he returned. “The Führer is disappointed”, said Schaub. How was I to explain to these philistines that this robe of a “living Buddha” was the most valuable gift a Tibetan Regent had it in his power to give.³⁸

What happened to the letters – did they reach Hitler? What was their later fate?
After Schaefer’s return from Tibet in August 1939, just before World War broke out, he was not even permitted to present Hitler with the genuinely urgent letter written by the Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, in the face of impending war, so that we may conclude that he was also refused permission to present Reting’s diplomatic letter to Hitler.

The Viceroy explained the British view of Germany to Schäfer in a very frank manner and asked him to transmit a personal message to Hitler. Shortly after his return Schäfer tried to see Hitler, but to his great disappointment Himmler prevented him from doing so.³⁹

I could find no confirmation of receipt for the letter in the relevant files of the Reichskanzlei.

Three years passed before any indication that the letter may have reached Hitler, at least briefly. Schaefer was summoned to the Führer’s headquarters in May 1942, where he attempted to present Hitler, via his adjutants, with the Regent’s gift of the lama’s robe. Reting’s letter was probably presented at the same time. The extent of the German government’s interest can be inferred by the fact that almost three years elapsed before Schaefer was finally allowed to hand Reting's letter to Hitler. Yet a short time later, the Führer’s headquarters sent Schaefer a letter marked “Secret”, returning Reting’s two letters and officially requesting their translation.⁴⁰ Only the English translations seem to have been retained for some weeks in the Führer’s headquarters.⁴¹

I will conclude with a discussion of some unexpected political consequences of the letters. The letters obviously had no consequences whatsoever during the war, concerning neither Hitler nor other Nazi leaders. They seem to have remained in the Sven Hedin Institute until the end of the war⁴². What consequences could the letters have had? Completely surprising ones, and that over 50 years later.


But for this purpose first I must focus on the implications of the contemporary translations and their differences.

As we have seen the accompanying official English translation of the letter is brief and relatively factual.

The translator was most probably Ringang, the youngest of the four “Rugby boys” sent to school in England in 1913. He was the most intelligent of the boys and stayed in England until 1924 to study later engineering. He was in charge of the hydro-electric power-station in Lhasa and becoming also the Tibetan government’s official translator.⁴³ A superficial comparison of translations of Tibetan letters to Suydam Cutting,⁴⁴ shows that the translations of Cutting’s correspondence were very similar to those of Reting’s letters, and Cutting also specifically mentions that the letters to him were translated by Ringang.⁴⁵

But now let us look at the German translations. Schaefer cleverly gave the letters to the two German Tibetologists of the time, Helmut Hoffmann,⁴⁶ Berlin and Johannes Schubert,⁴⁷ Leipzig, for translation.

Both scholars evidently had difficulty deciphering the 'khyug yig, the Tibetan italic script, with its abbreviations.⁴⁸ Schubert even thought that translating such a letter was a higher achievement than completing a doctoral thesis and viva.⁴⁹

While Hoffmann’s translation was largely correct and literal where possible, Schubert’s translation is in a completely different style. Ringang did not translate the phrase yangs pa'i sa la dbang thob, which he evidently considered to be implicitly linked with the form of address rgyal po. Helmut Hoffmann’s literal translation reads: “to Mr Hitler …, who has gained power on the broad earth” Schubert, however, probably intended to flatter Hitler, translating, “the excellent Mr Hitler …, who has gained power over the broad earth.”

Schubert was a well-known Tibetologist who had vainly sought to enter the Sven Hedin Institute in the early forties. He may have thought it advantageous to try to translate this letter in the Nazi style and thus deliberately falsified the translation as a means of flattering Hitler. However, his translation is quite simply wrong. He also added remarks that are not found in the original document. The most egregious interpolation is: “At present you [Hitler] are making all efforts to create a lasting empire in peaceful prosperity based on the foundation of race,” instead of correctly translating the common Tibetan phrase: “Here I [Reting] am well and doing my best in our religious and Government affairs.”

As a consequence of this and other mistranslations, we discover to our amazement that possible difficulties with the Tibetan language, but more probably deliberate subtle manipulations in translating a formal, non-committal diplomatic letter, have suddenly resulted in, or created, a political letter that was certainly not Reting’s original intention. In 1995 Reinhard Greve published Johannes Schubert’s hand-written translation, (Greve 1995: 175-176) instead of the far more accurate one by Helmut Hoffmann. Extracts from Schubert’s translation were later quoted in English, prompting an immediate and strong reaction from some Tibetan Buddhists.

Subsequently some have now regarded this letter as proof of the Tibetans’ uncr­tical friendship with Nazi Germany. New German publications tend to ascribe to the Tibetans the current notion of Tibe’'s “pro-Nazi attitude”, even going so far as to allege the Dalai Lama is directly influenced by Nazi ideology.⁵⁰ Schubert’s translation is relied upon by neo-Nazis as propaganda for their cause as they seek to demonstrate Tibetan sympathy to racist ideas.

And thus we find we are ultimately dealing with a paradox: Reting’s demonstratively uninterested, half-hearted letters to Hitler reached their destination three years late, if at all, and brought no results apart from an official commission for their translation. Now, 60 years later, publication of an incorrect translation has thrust them into the public eye and generated wholly unexpected consequences. They are misused as a tool with which to accuse the Tibetans of being friendly with the Nazis.

However, I hope to have furnished sufficient proof to show that this implication is a complete and utter fabrication. Neither Reting’s contact with Schäfer nor Reting’s letters to Hitler are suitable material from which to extrapolate a “Nazi­Tibet-Connection.”

Taixu’s letter, an excursus

A clearer sense of the rather insubstantial nature of Reting’s letter may be gained by comparing it to another letter to Hitler from a Buddhist leader: Although Reting pondered the remarkable idea of exploiting the opportunity of the German presence in Lhasa by sending a Tibetan Geshe to Germany to propagate the dharma there, his letter to Hitler made no mention of this subject, confining itself to rather banal formalities. A much bolder approach was taken in a spectacular letter to Hitler from the great Chinese Buddhist reformer Taixu (T’ai Hsü), preserved in the files of the “Reich Ministry for Religious Affairs” in the Federal Archives in Berlin:

Abbot T'ai-hsü, Monastery Ta-lin Szu
Kuling via Kiu-kiang (Kiangsi) China
Kuling, 11 August 1937
To the Leader of the German People,
Mr Adolf Hitler.

The scientific Civilisation of our time is sustained by the Aryan race, but the religious culture of the past has its culmination in Buddhism, whose founder, Buddha Shakyamuni, was also of Aryan origin.

People in Europe and America today are not happy, evidently because their lives are ordered by science alone, which offers no answers to questions concerning religious issues. They are in need of religion. Now most religions are the antithesis of natural science; only Buddhism has completely absorbed the insights of this field, indeed surpassing them. Thus Buddhism is chosen to become the religion of the peoples of Europe and America.

Buddhism has recognised the fundamental truth of the existence of four primary virtues which man must possess in order to achieve perfection: Compassion (for the need of one’s neighbour), by conforming⁵¹ (to the social hierarchy), Meritorious Action (?) (for improvement) and Effort (to break down opposition). While the peoples in India and China possess the first two of these virtues, they do not have the last two in sufficient measure, thus their personality is incomplete and the full extent of the blessing of Buddhism cannot yet reveal itself to them. I believe that the Germanic people, now united under its Führer, have wondrously developed three characteristics: Knowledge, conforming to the social hierarchy (?) and Effort. Thus only the Buddhist religion, in which these three characteristics are primary virtues, can be the religion of the German people. And only that most excellent scion of ancient Aryan stock, Shakyamuni, the Holy, can be the religious leader of the Germanic people, that most excellent scion of ancient Aryan stock.

If the Führer is desirous of studying the Buddhist religion, which can become so important for Europe and America today and for the Germanic people, I request him to write to me and I will take pleasure in answering to the best of my knowledge.

I wish your government fearless fortitude!

[several seals]
Leader of the Buddhists in China
signed Tai-hsü⁵²

Who was Taixu, and what could have moved a Chinese Buddhist to write such a letter to Hitler, of all people?

Taixu (1889-1947), one of the greatest and most controversial⁵³ reformers in the first half of the 20th century, had as his goal not only the reform of Chinese Buddhism, but also the vision of a Buddhist “ecumenism”.

As early as 1925, when he had been chief delegate at the East Asiatic Buddhist Conference in Japan, he had accepted an invitation by Wilhelm Solf,⁵⁴ German scholar, ambassador to Japan and President of the Asiatic Society in Tokyo, to conduct a lecture tour of Germany.⁵⁵ This became a lecture tour of Europe and America extending over several months in 1928-1929. At the China-Institut in Frankfurt he repeated the lecture he had held in the Musée Guimet in Paris, on the subject of “Historical and Modern Movements in Buddhism.”⁵⁶

The known Sinologist Richard Wilhelm introduced his readers to Taixu thus in "Sinica":

One of the most remarkable figures in modern Buddhism is High Abbot Shi Tai Hü. In addition to promoting scientific studies, his primary significance concerned the area of practical organisation. In his youth, he pursued an intensive study of Buddhist literature under an eminent master, and in early years took up the task of reforming Chinese Buddhism, which had occasionally sunk ominously low from its previous status, and forging an organic link between Chinese and world Buddhism. He enthusiastically participated in international Buddhist congresses in China and Japan, and succeeded in founding a central representative body for Chinese Buddhism. However, his ideas extended beyond the borders of East Asia. Modern humanity forms a single entity, and spiritual movements can only gain true significance when they concern humanity as a whole. Tai Hü studied both Chinese literature and the fundamental principles of European philosophies, from which he developed the idea that Buddhism could promote and enlighten discussions of Western sciences on essential issues. He thus set out on a journey around the world as the first official representative of Buddhism, with the intention of paving the way for the foundation of an international Buddhist research institute. This institute was conceived not as a place of religious specialist propaganda, but as a place of academic knowledge. (Wilhelm 1929: 16)

The International Buddhist Institute was to have its headquarters in Nanking and offices in Paris and Frankfurt.⁵⁷ Its areas of research would include Sanskrit Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism with its offshoots. The foundation of the institute was approved by a long list of well-known academics in France and Germany.⁵⁸

However, Taixu’s plans for an international center for Buddhist studies were never realized and the research institute for which Taixu had labored never materialized in China, France, Germany, or elsewhere. (Pittman 2001: 129-130)

He was, however, successful in generating an awareness of greater contexts, at least in China, founding institutes for the study of the Tibetan tradition and thus signalling a rejection of Chinese isolation.⁵⁹ Taixu recognised the importance of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition⁶⁰ and was initiated by the Panchen Lama.

One of his longest-lived institutes was “the Sino-Tibetan Institute” in Chongqing which remained open from its founding in 1931 until the Communist victory in 1949. This academy accommodated as many as a hundred students at a time and served as Taixu’s base of operations during the war. This longevity is certainly attributable in part to the fact that it was subsidized by the government as part of its Tibetan policy.“ (Ritzinger 60)

What could Taixu’s motives for writing to Hitler have been?

He was particularly concerned with the relationship between Buddhism and science,⁶¹ although evidently lacking any formal scientific education himself.⁶² He claimed that scientific knowledge could prove the Buddhist doctrine, but also argued: “Scientific methods can only corroborate the Buddhist doctrine, they can never advance beyond it … Science therefore can never be the main support for Buddhism although it may act as a valuable auxiliary and much may be expected from uniting the two methods of investigation … The scientist however, is constantly trying to improve his instruments rather than his inner vision. The main principles of the Buddhist doctrine therefore are ‘unscientific’ and sweep away all the false conclusions at which Science has arrived, otherwise it would be impossible to overcome ignorance and attain enlightenment.”⁶³

Taixu therefore held the view that Buddhism should also be a healing force for the Western world: “China needs Christianity and Europe and America need Buddhism.”⁶⁴

The source of unrest in the world today comes from the West. If the unrest in the West stops, the unrest in the whole world ceases … First it is necessary to establish an international Buddhist organization that transcends all the states in the world. When the westerners are convinced of the essential wisdom of Buddhist compassion, they will overcome their arrogance and taste for fighting.⁶⁵

Westerners have changed the life patterns of the oriental people by their material force whereas we oriental people should change them by our spiritual morality. Mankind may enjoy peace and countries feel secure only when both Oriental and Western peoples make changes. One cannot persuade the Westerners to change their ideas except through the spiritual and moral teaching of the Buddha.⁶⁶

Probably Buddhism alone will be able to furnish a faith suitable for the present and the future. For it is only on the basis of the Buddhist world view that a unified view of life can be worked out. Buddhism alone can re-establish the moral standards needed by mankind. (T’ai Hsü 1934: 438)

However, Tai Xu was also considered “a ‘political monk’ because he was constantly involved in politics and kept close ties with the Nationalist Party.⁶⁷ In fact, he was a member of that party. He often employed his close ties with Chiang Kai-shek to protect the rights and benefits of Buddhists.” (Long 2000 b: 60)

Immediately after the Japanese invasion in China “the Chinese Buddhist Association sent an open letter to the Japanese Buddhists, appealing for concerted action to stop the Japanese militarists’ drive in north China”⁶⁸ and sent a cable to the Japanese Buddhist Association “requesting their assistance in persuading the Japanese government to find a peaceful resolution.” (Pittman 2001: 135) And after the fall of Nanjing he instructed his students of the Sino-Tibetan Institute in Chongqing to “receive first-aid training to go to the front.”⁶⁹

During World War II, Taixu played an active role in politics, organising a Chinese Buddhist delegation to Burma, India, Ceylon, Singapore, Malaya, and Vietnam. During this visit he tried to explain the Chinese government’s policies against Chinese aggression, and refuted fallacies propounded by the Japanese to the effect that the invasion of China was only aimed at saving Chinese Buddhism. (Long 2000 a: 173)

It can thus be assumed that Taixu probably wrote to Hitler while still devastated by Japan’s recent invasion of China, and deeply anxious about any recurrence of such events. The letter demonstrates Taixu’s missionary consciousness and corresponds to his usual line of argument. However, he evidently forged his own combination of the four primary virtues. Only the emphasis on the Aryan race and on the Aryan origins of Buddha and the Germanic people appear, to the best of my knowledge, to contradict his other beliefs.⁷⁰ He probably hoped to gain Hitler’s attention more easily with this flattery.

But did Hitler ever receive this letter, and what, if any, was its effect?

Although Taixu had visited Germany in 1928 at the invitation of the German ambassador to Japan, an enquiry by the Ministry for Church Affairs to the Foreign Office in 1937 revealed no knowledge of Taixu.⁷¹ However, the Ministry endeavoured to gain information from other sources, learning from the mission director of the East-Asia Mission, Devaranne:⁷²

Reverend Devaranne stated that it was correct that Abbot Tai-Hsü be regarded as the spiritual leader, and to a certain extent, as the head, of Buddhism in China; he was the reformer of Chinese Buddhism and his personality as a reformer could in a way be associated with that of Luther⁷³. Continuing, Reverend Devaranne said that Tai-Hsü turned against the deplorable state of affairs in the Buddhist monastery system, was in favour of strengthening the lay element, and so on. In 1924 or 1926, said Devaranne, Tai-Hsü had also visited Germany and was a supporter of that country. His name was often mentioned with respect in comparative religion. Thus Abbot Tai-Hsü can be regarded as a personality that appears not inappropriate in consideration of the reply to his letter to the Führer and Reich Chancellor of 11 August 1937.⁷⁴

And on 21 January 1938 the Ministry actually formulated a very diplomatic letter which was forwarded by the Foreign Office.

“I noted with interest your letter of 11 August 1937 addressed to the Führer and Reich Chancellor. In Germany Buddhism has an estimated 3 – 4000 supporters.” In addition, the Ministry skilfully incorporated a point of interest of its own, asking “whether the Buddhist monk Tao Chün (bourgeois name Martin Steinke), resident in Potsdam near Berlin and said to have been ordained in Chi-chsia­sham, is authorised to propagate the teachings of Buddhism in Germany, so that if necessary persons seeking a Buddhist teacher may be referred to him.”⁷⁵ Taixu, finally in reply to an enquiry by the German Embassy in Hankow, “has not issued any declaration of authorisation for Martin Steinke.”⁷⁶

In contrast to Reting’s letter, which, could only have been given to Hitler one year after Reting had retired as Regent, if at all, Taixu’s letter was considered worthy of an answer from the Ministry of Church Affairs. And at least the nu­ber of Buddhists in Germany could have given Taixu hope. Hitler certainly never saw this letter, since only the most vital communications reached him. One can only wonder what he would have made of Buddhism. Perhaps it is fortunate that he never saw either letter.  ■



The two Reting letters

Reting letter 1

1 'jar man rgyal po har he ti lar mchog la 'bul
2 rgyu bod kyi rgal tshab srid skyong rva sgreng ho thog thus sa
3 yos bod zla 1 tshes 18 bzang po phul

1 Z, yangs pa'i sa la dbang thob 'jar man
Z, rgyal po har te ti lar
2 mchog la / ched zhu / der sku khams bzang zhing / mjad bzang
3 yar ldan du bzhugs yod shag / 'dir kyang 'byung kams bde zhing / bstan
4 srid bya bar brcon bzhin mchis / mtshams zhu / da lam 'jar man
5 bod 'byor thog ma sa heb she phar / ngo 'khor bkag 'gog med par bod phyogs
6 'phral gtong dang 'brel pan char grogs 'gyur dam don zhus pa ma zad / da dung
7 rgyal khab phan tshun mthun lam gong 'phel yong ba'i lhag bsam yod mus
8 dang / Z, rgyal po har he ti lar mchog nas kyang de don mthun lam gtso gyur gyi
9 dgongs pa zab bzhes sngar ltar mi lhod pa nas / sku gzugs la 'phrod rten dang /
10 gsung 'os rigs nang lar yod pa zhu / stong min 'bul mtshon bod lugs
11 kha brtag a she dang / dgnul gyi phra bstegs khebs gcod ja dkar dmar phra rang 'grigs
12 bod khyi a sob gcig bcas / bod kyi Z, rgyal tshab srid skyong rva sgreng ho thog
13 thus / sa yos bod zla 1 tshes 18 la phul //

Reting letter 2

1 'jar man rgyal po har he ti lar mchog
2 la 'bul rgyu bod kyi rgyal tshab srid skyong
3 rva sgreng ho thog thus sa yos bod zla 1 tshes 26
4 la phul

1 Z, yangs pa'i sa la dbang thob 'jar man Z, rgyal po har te ti lar mchog la / ched
2 zhu / der sku khams bzang zhing / mjad bzang yar ldan du bzhugs yod shag / 'dir kyang
3 bde zhing / bstan srid bya bar brtson bzhin mchis / mtshams zhu / da lam 'jar man bod 'byor
4 hog ma sa heb she phar ngo 'khor bkag 'gog med par 'phral gtong dang 'brel yul babs mthun
5 'gyur rog ram gang zab zhus yod cing / da dung rang re rgyal khab phan tshun mthun lam gong
6 rgyas yong ba zhu sems yod na / khyed rang rgyal po har he ti lar mchog nas de don mthun lam
7 gang zab gnang thabs yong bai'i dgongs pa zab bzhes yod pa nas / sku gzugs la 'phrod rgyas
8 dang / gsung 'os rigs nang lar yod pa zhu / 'bul rten lha gos a she dang / bod kyi
9 gser tam gcig / dgnul gyi phra bstegs khebs gcod dang zhal dkar dmar phra rang 'grigs
10 gcig / gos kha ti⁷⁷ mthsal ka'i 'phyar gru chab stod cha⁷⁸ tshang gcig | bod kyi
11 'dog khyi gcig bcas / bod kyi Z,⁷⁹ rgyal tshab srid skyong ho thog thus / sa yos bod zla 1 tshes 26
12 bzang po la //

Translation of Johannes Schubert⁸⁰

Dem trefflichen Herrn Hitler, Führer [wörtl. «König»] der Deutschen, der erlangt hat die Macht über die weite Erde!
Mögen Ihnen miteinander körperliches Wohlbefinden, friedliche Reise und gute Taten beschieden sein!
Gegenwärtig bemühen Sie sich um das Werden eines dauerhaften Reiches in friedlicher Ruhe und Wohlstand, auf rassischer Grundlage.
Deshalb erstrebt jetzt der Leiter der deutschen Tibetexpedition, der Sahib Schäfer [She.phâr], zumal keine Schwierigkeiten im Wege stehen, bis zu einem unmittelbaren Verkehr mit Tibet nicht nur das Ziel der Festigung der [persönlichen] freundschaftlichen Beziehungen, sondern hegt darüber hinaus auch den Wunsch einer künftigen Ausdehnung des vorgenannten freundschaftlichen Verkehrs auf (unsere beiderseitigen) Regierungen.
Nehmen Sie nun, Euw. Exzellenz, Führer [wörtl. «König»] Herr Hitler, zu diesem Verlangen nach gegenseitiger Freundschaft, wie Sie von Ihrer Seite ausgesprochen wurde, unsere Zustimmung.
Dies gestatte ich mir Ihnen zur Bestätigung mitzuteilen.
Gegeben am 18. Tag des 1. tibetischen Monats [im Jahr] Erd-Hase [1939] vom Qutuqtu von Rvasgreng, dem Reichsverweser und Regenten von Tibet, mit
[1.] einer silbernen, mit verziertem Fuß und Deckel versehene Teetasse mit rotem Edelsteinschmuck,
[2.] einem tibetischen A.sob [genaue Schreibung «Ab.sog»] Hund [Lha.sa-Terrier] und
[3.] einem A.she-Seidenstück als Kha. btags, wie es in Tibet Brauch

[übersetzt 12. Juli 1942, Dr. Johannes Schubert]

Translation of Helmut Hoffmann⁸¹

An den deutschen König, den erhabenen Herrn Hitler.
Vom Regenten von Tibet, Reding Hutuktu am 18. Tage des 1. tibetischen Monats im Erde-Hasenjahr abgesandt.

An Herrn Hitler, den deutschen König, der auf der breiten Erde Macht erlangt hat. Es freut mich, daß Ihr Euch wohl befindet und Eure guten Handlungen von Erfolg gekrönt sind. Auch ich hier befinde mich wohl und widme mich eifrig den Angelegenheiten der buddhistischen Religion und der Regierung. Ich habe nicht nur Saheb Schaefer und seine Begleiter, die jetzt als erste Deutsche nach Tibet gekommen sind, ohne Behinderung nach Tibet hineingelassen und bin ihnen im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes ein freundschaftlicher Helfer gewesen, vielmehr hege ich auch den Wunsch, die bisherigen freundschaftlichen Beziehungen zwischen unseren beiden Residenzen zu intensivieren. Ich glaube, daß Ihr, erhabener König, Herr Hitler, in dieser Angelegenheit mit mir übereinstimmend dies wie früher für wesentlich und nicht für gleichgültig erachtet. Widmet Eurem Wohlbefinden Sorgfalt und benachrichtigt mich von Euren Wünschen. Als Gabe sende ich in gesondertem Paket eine vorzüglich Seidenschärpe (Khatag) tibetischer Art, einem silbernen Tassendeckel und Untersatz samt der weiß-roten Teetasse selbst und einem tibetischen Asob- Hund.

Von Reding (Rva-sgreng) Hutuktu, dem Regenten von Tibet, am 18. Tage des 1. tibetischen Monats im Erde-Hasenjahr abgesandt.



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[1] For more details on the expedition see Engelhardt 2004.

[2] Final Intelligence Report (OI-FIR/32), “The Activities of Dr. Ernst Schaefer, Tibet Explorer and Scientist with SS-Sponsored Institutes,” February 12, 1946, National Archives, Washington, RG 238, M-1270 roll 27, fol. 3.

[3] Bundesarchiv Berlin, NS 48/69, fol.113 and R 135/43 fols. 163367-163370.

[4] Sievers to Wolff, 23 January 1938, Bundesarchiv Berlin, NS 21/682.

[5] Ernst Schäfer. Unpublished and hand-written notes, Library of Congress, Washington, Manuscript Divsion, German Captured Documents, Container 828, Reel 492. This bulk of handwritten notes on microfilms is in great disorder, and as the folios are unnumbered by the Library, no folio numbers can be given.

[6] Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 135/39, fol. 6a.

[7] Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 135/39, fol. 5d.

[8] See also Hugh Richardson: “The Regent is governed by self-interest. He has no fixed policy and his actions are dictated by momentary considerations. The misfortune of Tibet lies in the fact that although there are many officials who may disagree with some of his actions, there is no determined opposition.”, In Report on Tibetan Affairs from October 1938 to September 1939, British Library London, OIOC, L/P&S/12/4165, fol. 90b; On Reting, see also Wangchen Gelek Surkhang 1983:33-39.

[9] e.g. Schäfer 1949: 24-30.

[10] Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 135/39, fol. 1b.

[11] e.g. Kuhlmann 2003 and Flacker 1998.

[12] Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München, Cod. tibet. 535 and 535 a; as early as 1950 there were photographs of both letters, translations and envelopes “uncovered in Vienna”, in the American National Archives II, Washington, Records of the Army Staff, Record group 319.12.3, Ernst Schafer Expedition to Tibet.

[13] Cf. Schneider 2003:122.

[14] Hanna Schneider, personal communication, 7 October 2002. Many thanks for all her support.

[15] Of course, this second letter is also to Hitler and not to Himmler, as Schäfer later claimed in some letters, whatever his political or personal motives; see for example Schäfer to Brandt, 25 June 1940, Bundesarchiv Berlin, NS 19/2709, fol. 55.

[16] Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 135/39, fol. 81d.

[17] Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 135/39, fol. 85a.

[18] Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 135/39, fol. 86d.

[19] Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 135/39, fol. 87a.

[20] “In the afternoon we visit the Regent for the last time and receive a letter and a new gift for the Führer,” 14 March 1939, Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 135/40, fol. 8b.

[21] However, there was a similar situation in the beginning of the 20th century, when the 13th Dalai Lama during his stay in Kumbum returned the gifts of the Chinese Amban several times because of their pettiness, see Tafel 1914: 311.

[22] I am grateful to Bruno Richtsfeld, Munich Ethnological Museum, for saving this informative list before the ink faded into illegibility, taking the trouble to type it up and kindly making it available to me.

[23] Geer, settlement of accounts for the DFG, 21 October 1940, Bundesarchiv Koblenz, R 73/1478.

[24] See also Engelhardt 2003.

[25] Beger 1998: 194; Schäfer. Unpublished Memoirs. Although two years later Schäfer contradicts himself for political reasons: Bundesarchiv Berlin, NS 19/2244, fol. 8.

[26] For more details, see note 78.

[27] e.g. Gittinger 1992. Whether the principle also applies to Tibet that “presentations of clothing were an essential part of the process of political reconciliation among the Mongols,” I am unable to judge; see Allsen 1997: 47.

[28] Myers and Bean 1994: 70-80.

[29] See Francisco de Azevedo 1996: 192. “quatre pièces de laine”.

[30] Petech 1953: CD 27, 215, “due pezze di veli fiammanti, tre pezze di broccato di China”.

[31] Markham (ed.) 1879: 89, 94, 140, 167; Samuel Turner 1800: 283, 346.

[32] Tafel 1914: 317, “two pieces of red wool cloth from Gyantse, which always play a part in the gifts of the Dalai Lama.”

[33] Hedin 1907:352, “pieces of Tibetan cloth, Chinese golden cloth.”

[34] Lho kha spyi khyab 2003: 48, chos gos bsnams [snam] sbyar cha tshang gsol ras stsal bas. I am grateful to Namgyal Ronge for having drawn my attention to this passage.

[35] Gyeten Namgyal 1994: 28-63.

[36] Myers and Bean 1994: 147-149.

[37] In a letter to Brandt on 25 June 1940, Schäfer assumed it would contain a robe of the last Dalai Lama, Bundesarchiv Berlin, NS 19/2709, fol. 55. In this letter he also expressis his hope to submit Reting’s letter and gift to Hitler soon.

[38] Schäfer. Unpublished Memoirs.

[39] Schäfer. Unpublished Memoirs.

[40] Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München, Nachlaß Helmut Hoffmann, Ana 527, B. VI.7.

[41] Bundesarchiv Berlin R 135/45, fol. 151558.

[42] The odyssey of the letters is quite interesting: One letter only together with other Tibetan manuscripts the Schäfer Expedition brought back to Germany came to the Bavarian State Library, Munich, during the seventies. However, the letter bore a different date from that on its accompanying envelope and English translation. The letters had probably been mixed up at some stage during the confusion of war, and then separated. And there was a copy of the other letter and its translation, but the location of the originals was unknown. They had been stored for years at the US Collecting Point, then deposited in the keeping of the Bavarian Ministry of Finance. The State Library had made persistent but unsuccessful attempts to get the letter, failing to assert its interests over the financial institution. In the meantime the Ministry office had been closed and it was not possible to trace the documents until, on the point of giving up, the letter was discovered by chance, listed in the Internet under a department of the Federal Ministry of Finance in Berlin. This office now acts as trustee for the US Collecting Point, with the primary aim of restoring works of art to their rightful owners. Since reiteration of the formal arguments on the part of the State Library had been futile, finally listing the historical arguments was successful. After years of mishandling, both letters are since 2003 archived in the Manuscript Department with their original accompanying envelopes and translations, 50 years after the war has ended.

[43] See on Ringang Tsering Shakya 1986, especially: 11-12, 14.

[44] For which I am grateful to Valrae Reynolds of Newark Museum.

[45] Cutting 1947:176; id. 1936: 104; see also Chapman 1938: 82-84.

[46] Bundesarchiv Berlin R 135/51, fol. 162385: See also his transliteration and detailed notes in Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München, Nachlaß Helmut Hoffmann, Ana 527, D.II.2

[47] Bundesarchiv Berlin R 135/46, fols. 164539-164540 and 164560-164561.

[48] Schubert to Schäfer, 12 July 1942, “The translation was not at all simple, actually requiring a great deal of background knowledge. The script used in the letters was also tricky. As you can see, I rose to the task so tacitly bestowed and completed the work equally tacitly at my desk. I would now be extremely interested to know, as I am sure you will understand, how far my translation complies with the English translation which the Tibetans always enclose with such letters, and also the results of Mr Hoffmann’s efforts.” Schubert also to Beger, 12 July 1942: “However, I maintain the view I already mentioned to you, that Mr Hoffmann was scarcely able to read and translate these letters on his own account.” Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 135/46, fols. 164558-164559 and 164555164556

[49] Beger to Schäfer, 8 July 1942: “The translation seems to have given him [Schubert] considerable difficulty, for reading the Tibetan italic script requires an enormous amount of practice … Schubert is of the opinion that translating such a letter is far more effort than a doctoral thesis plus viva.” Bundesarchiv Berlin R 135/51, fol. 151558. See also Hoffmann to Schäfer, 3 July 1942: “I enclose the translation of the two letters from the Tibetan Regent to the Führer. They were particularly interesting because of the new, previously unknown expressions they contained. I also return the photos for the archive. It would interest me greatly to receive a description of the appearance of the lama’s robe.” Bundesarchiv Berlin R 135/49, fol. 164107. However, both were probably occupied the longest with the spelling and significance of the Tibetan apso a-sob or a-sog, which was evidently rather little known at the time. See also Schubert to Schäfer 19 June 1942, R 135/46, fol. 164572; Schubert to Beger 25 June 1942, R 135/46, fol. 164567-164568.

[50] See for example Trimondi 2002, and the refreshing essay of Clemens 2000, against this kind of arguments.

[51] This term – in German “Einordnung” – is rather obscure. All four virtues in German are: “Mitleid (mit der Not des Nächsten), Einordnung (in die sociale Rangordnung), Wirken (für Besserung) und Mut (Widerstände zu brechen).” As I am translating only the German translation and do not have the Chinese original, and I thus cannot vouch for the accuracy of the translation of Buddhist technical terms from Chinese into German.

[52] Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 5101/23400, fols. 98-99, arrived 27 October 1937. The letter is written in perfect German; however, I was unable to find out the name of the translator and the Chinese original.

[53] See particularly Welch 1968: 51-71.

[54] Wilhelm Solf was originally an Indologist, who in 1926 held an English lecture in Tokyo on the subject of “Mahayana – The Spiritual Tie of the Far East”, had suggested the foundation of a Mahayana Institute in Tokyo or Kyoto and complained that Europe had derived far less benefit from the treasures of Eastern wisdom than Japan had from Europe; see Vietsch 1961: 276-280. See also Pittman 2001: 119.

[55] See the forward in Tai Hsu 1928: 14.

[56] Published as: Der Buddhismus in Geschichte und Gegenwart. (Vortrag von Rev. Tai Hü, Nanking, gehalten im China-Institut zu Frankfurt a. M., am 14.12.1928) 1928: 189- 196. In English: The History of Buddhism and its Recent Tendences. In Tai Hsu 1928: 15-29.

[57] Not in Berlin, as Welch stated, 1968: 59.

[58] Anonym. Internationales Institut für Buddhismusforschung 1929.

[59] See Müller 1994: 78.

[60] For Taixu’s attitudes toward Tibetan Buddhim, see Tuttle 2002.

[61] See T’ai Hsu In Lopez 2002: 85-90.

[62] See Long 2000 a: 181.

[63] Tai Hsu. Science and Buddhism. In Tai Hsu 1928: 49-50; also in Lopez 2002: 89-90.

[64] Taixu cited in Long 2000 a: 167.

[65] Taixu cited in Long 2000 a: 180.

[66] Taixu cited in Long 2000 a: 182.

[67] See also the critical remarks of Müller 1994: 191-192.

[68] W.Y. Chen cited in Pittman 2001: 135.

[69] Chou Hsiang-kuang cited in Pittmann 2001: 137.

[70] Taixu: “It is only through morality that men will be able to relieve the world, of this distressing condition. But this morality must be a world morality. Nothing racial or provincial in its scope will do.” T’ai Hsü 1934: 438.

[71] Auswärtiges Amt, Pol. VIIII 1826, 26 November 1937, Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 5101/ 23400, fol. 96.

[72] Ministerium für kirchliche Angelegenheiten, note 21 January 1938, Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 5101/23400, fol. 101.

[73] Even one follower of Taixu had referred to him as the Martin Luther of modern Chinese Buddhism, see Long 2000a: 167. Furthermore, John Blofeld mentioned after meeting Taixu that he was sometimes called by Westerners “the Chinese Buddhist Pope,” Blofeld 1988: 177.

[74] Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 5101/23400, fol. 101v.

[75] Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 5101/23400, fol. 101v and r.

[76] Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 5101/23400, fol. 178.

[77] more probably kha thi

[78] Dorje Wangdu Phalha 2004: 109, writes that during chibs bsgyur the whole entourage of the Dalai Lama wore the phya gru cha stod, a monk’s dress with edgings of brocade, consisting of two outer lenghts of brocade and one inner one of wool. See also Dorje Wangdu Phalha 1999: 88.

[79] The respect marker, the half-sbrul shad (it is indicated as a ‘Z’ in the transliteration, see Schneider 2002: 417) for one’s own title is remarkable.

[80] Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 135/46, fol. 164539-164540.

[81] Bundesarchiv Berlin, R 135/51, fol. 162385.


ISRUN ENGELHARDT (Germany), PhD, was a researcher at the Institute of Central Asian Studies, Bonn University. Her subjects of research are Tibetan-European encounters and relations mainly from the Tibetan side from the 17th to the 20th century.

Isrun Engelhardt: Mishandled Mail: The Strange Case of the Reting Regent’s Letters to Hitler in Zentralasiatische Studien (ZAS) 37 (2008), 77-106.

Offered with kind permission from the author.


Header images

Left: Reting Rinpoche, Regent of Tibet. Tibetexpedition 1938/39. Photographer: Schäfer Ernst / Licence CC-BY-SA 3.0 © Bundesarchiv: Bild 135-S-12-40-25
Right: Reting’s letter to Hitler, 16 March 1939 © Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München


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