The Brotherhood of Kelan / Khe-lan / Khe-lang

By David Reigle on December 22, 2016 at 5:10 am

The “brotherhood of Khe-lan” was first mentioned by H. P. Blavatsky in her 1877 book, Isis Unveiled, saying that it “was famous throughout the land,” presumably meaning Tibet (vol. 2, p. 618):

“Within the cloisters of Dshashi-Lumbo and Si-Dzang, these powers, inherent in every man, called out by so few, are cultivated to their utmost perfection. Who, in India, has not heard of the Banda-Chan Ramboutchi, the Houtouktou of the capital of Higher Thibet? His brotherhood of Khe-lan was famous throughout the land; and one of the most famous “brothers” was a Peh-ling (an Englishman) who had arrived one day during the early part of this century, from the West, a thorough Buddhist, and after a month’s preparation was admitted among the Khe-lans.”

Probably very few people, in India or elsewhere, have heard of the Banda-Chan Ramboutchi and his brotherhood of Khe-lan, in these spellings. The Banda-Chan Ramboutchi is of course the Panchen Rinpoche; but while the brotherhood of Khe-lan may have been famous throughout Tibet, outside of Tibet it seems to have remained mysterious. The “Brotherhood of Khe-lang” (with added final “g”) was again mentioned by Blavatsky in her 1881 article, “Lamas and Druses,” saying that it is a “mysterious community of religionists, of which nothing, or next to nothing, is known by outsiders” (The Theosophist, vol. 2, no. 9, June 1881, p. 193):

“But the two are still more closely related to a third and still more mysterious community of religionists, of which nothing, or next to nothing, is known by outsiders: we mean that fraternity of Tibetan Lamaists, known as the Brotherhood of Khe-lang, who mix but little with the rest. Even Csoma de Koros, who passed several years with the Lamas, learned hardly more of the religion of these Chakravartins (wheel-turners) than what they chose to let him know of their exoteric rites; and of the Khe-langs he learned positively nothing.”

The compiler of Blavatsky’s Collected Writings, Boris de Zirkoff, added a footnote regarding the “Brotherhood of Khelang” (printed there without a hyphen) when this article was reprinted therein (Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 3, p. 177):

“This Brotherhood has not been identified, in spite of considerable research. It is not definitely known what H.P.B. meant by this term, which she uses in several places, among them in Isis Unveiled, Vol. I [typo for II], p. 618.—Compiler.”

The problem in identifying this brotherhood is the spelling of the terms. As was so often the case, Blavatsky had adopted the spellings she used from previously published books. Those in her Isis Unveiled paragraph were adopted from an 1850 book by Evariste Régis Huc, Souvenirs d’un Voyage dans la Tartarie, le Thibet et la Chine, pendant les annes 1841, 1855 et 1846, 2 volumes, or from its 1852 condensed English translation by Mrs. Percy Sinnett, Recollections of a Journey through Tartary, Thibet, and China, during the years 1844, 1845, and 1846, 2 volumes:

“Les provinces sont divisées en plusiéurs principautés, qui sont gouvernées par des Lamas-Houtouktou. . . . Le plus puissant de ces Lamas souverains est le Bandchan-Remboutchi, il réside à Djachi-Loumbo, capitale du Thibet ultérieur.” (p. 276). “Ceux qui font le pélerinage de Djachi-Loumbo, séculiers ou Lamas, hommes ou femmes, tout le monde se fait enroler dans la confrérie des Kélans, instituée par le Bandchan-Remboutchi. Presque tous les Bouddhistes aspirent au bonheur de devenir membres de cette association, qui pourra fort bien un jour faire naître dans la haute Asie quelque grave événement.” (p. 278).

“The provinces are divided into principalities, which are governed by Lamas (Houtouktou). . . . The most powerful of these minor sovereigns is the Bandchan Remboutchi: he resides at Djachi-Loumbo, the capital of Further Thibet, . . .” (p. 162). “All persons, without exception of rank or sex, who make the pilgrimage to Djachi-Loumbo, enrol themselves in the brotherhood of the Kelans, an institution of the Bandchan Remboutchi, and which may one day become the instrument of some grave event.” (p. 163).

So the word Kelan, along with Houtouktou, Bandchan-Remboutchi, and Djachi-Loumbo, with slight variations in spelling, was adopted by Blavatsky from Huc. What word, then, did Huc’s spelling “Kélan” represent? The answer to this was provided by Professor Paul Pelliot in a 1928 reprint of Huc’s book, although in a circuitous way.

Besides the 1852 condensed English translation of Huc’s French book by Mrs. Percy Sinnett quoted above, there was an 1851-1852 English translation of it by William Hazlitt, Travels in Tartary, Thibet, and China, during the years 1844-5-6, two volumes. It is this translation that was reprinted in 1928 with added material by Paul Pelliot. However, in Hazlitt’s translation the word “Kélan” was changed to “Kalon”:

“The provinces are divided into several principalities, which are governed by Houtouktou Lamas. . . . The most potent of these Lama sovereigns is the Bandchan-Remboutchi. He resides at Djachi-Loumbo (mountain of oracles), capital of Further Thibet.” (p. 156; 1928 ed. p. 193). “Those who make the pilgrimage to Djachi-Loumbo, seculars or Lamas, men or women, all enrol themselves in the society of Kalons, instituted by the Bandchan-Bemboutchi. Almost all the Buddhists aspire to the happiness of becoming members of this association, which will give rise, some day, to some important event in Upper Asia.” (pp. 157-158; 1928 ed. pp. 194-195).

A “Kalon” is different from a “Kelan.” What a Kalon is can be seen in a passage of Huc’s book that occurs shortly before the passage about the Kelans. Kalons are government ministers:

“Toutes les affaires du gouvernement dépendent du Nomekhan et de quatre ministres nommés Kalons. Les Kalons sont choisis par le Talé-Lama, sur une liste de candidats formée par le Nomekhan : ils n’appartiennent pas à la tribu sacerdotale, et peuvent être mariés; la durée de leur pouvoir est illimitée.” (p. 276).

“All the affairs of government are transacted by the Nomekhan and four ministers, called Kalons. These Kalons are named by the Talé Lama, from a list furnished by the Nomekhan; they do not belong to the priestly class, and are at liberty to marry; their term of power is unlimited.” (Sinnett trans., p. 161).

“All the affairs of the government are managed by the Nomekhan, and four ministers called Kalons. The Kalons are chosen by the Talé-Lama, from a list of candidates made out by the Nomekhan; they do not belong to the sacerdotal tribe, and may marry; the duration of their power is unlimited.” (Hazlitt trans., p. 156).

The word “Kélan” is used nine times in Huc’s French book, all on pp. 278-281 of volume 2, while the word “Kalon” is used about twenty-five times, on pages ranging from 276 to 471 of volume 2. Why the nine occurrences of Kélan were changed to Kalon in Hazlitt’s English translation is unknown. So it was a translation that only had “Kalon” to which Paul Pelliot added an introduction and index entries. For the index entry “Kalon,” Pelliot wrote:

Kalon [Gelong (dge-slong)], a clerical degree among Lamas, I 246; in all other places = Kalon (bka’-bha)”

There are two errors, apparently typographical, in this index entry. The word “Kalon” does not occur in vol. 1, p. 246, nor even in vol. 2 on that page. Thus we do not know where Pelliot thought that Kalon should mean Gelong. As we recall, there were nine occurrences of Kélan in Huc’s French text. Then, for Kalon proper, a government minister, the Tibetan bka’-bha is undoubtedly a typographical error for the correct bka’-blon. Despite these errors, and despite the fact that Kélan is not found in this edition, Pelliot has provided us with the identification of Huc’s term Kélan: the Tibetan word “gelong,” spelled dge-slong.

A gelong is a Buddhist monk. It is the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit bhikṣu, which is the same as the Pali bhikkhu. The monastic order, consisting of Buddhist monks (and nuns in countries where nuns can be ordained), is called the saṅgha, often translated as “community.” So the “brotherhood of the Kelans” is the order of Buddhist monks, the saṅgha of gelongs. They are indeed “famous throughout the land.”

Huc never got to Djachi-Loumbo, i.e., Tashi-Lhunpo; and like many of his statements based on incomplete or second-hand information, his statement that the brotherhood of the Kelans is “an institution of the Bandchan Remboutchi,” i.e., the Panchen Rinpoche, is not quite right. Of course, it is possible to enroll oneself in the brotherhood of the Kelans, i.e., in the order of Buddhist monks, at Tashi-lhunpo. But this is also possible elsewhere in Buddhist lands, since this is a Buddhist institution, not limited to Tashi-lhunpo or the Panchen Rinpoche.

Blavatsky referred to Khe-langs in two more places. We may note that her addition of final “g” is phonetically closer to gelong, and in these two places it seems that she knowingly used Khe-lang in the meaning gelong. A reference to “Khe-lang missionaries” was made by her in an 1882 editorial note, apparently meaning missionaries to the Khe-langs (The Theosophist, vol. 3, no. 4, January 1882, p. 98):

“Generally, little or no difference is made even by the Khe-lang missionaries who mix greatly with these people on the borders of British Lahoul—and ought to know better—between the Bhons and the two rival Buddhist sects, the Yellow Caps and the Red Caps.”

The fourth and last place that Blavatsky refers to “Khe-langs” is in an article written in Russian in late 1890 or early1891, shortly before her death in May, 1891, but not published until 1980 (“Neo-Buddhism”). Here she refers to Khe-langs as Lamaist-Buddhists, seemingly in general, and also as Mongolians, which place them far from Tashi-lhunpo and the Panchen Rinpoche. She is replying to a Russian critic, Vladimir Sergueyevich Solovyov, who had reviewed her book, The Key to Theosophy (Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 12, p. 337):

“I will devote but a word or two to the fact that our critic assures the public, as if in defense of ‘Mrs. Blavazky,’ that she could not have ‘invented the Tibetan brotherhood or the spiritual order of the Khe-langs’ (?!), as the missionary Huc furnishes ‘positive and reliable information’ about them in a book written by him ‘more than thirty years before the formation of the Theosophical Society.’ In answer to this, I will take the liberty to ask our critic where he has read or heard that Mongolian Khe-langs, Lamaist-Buddhists, have ever been referred to as ‘Mahâtmans’ by proud Brâhmanas? Have I not stated in my letters, From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan, that the one whom we recognize as our chief teacher (and whom Hindus recognize as a Mahâtman) is a Râjput by birth, and therefore belongs to the caste of Kshatriyas or warriors? There are other Râja-Yogins known to us, Brâhmanas and Himâlayan ascetics, mystics of various nations, among whom are some Mongolians, but of course they are not Khe-langs. How could, not only Khe-langs, but even Hutuktus and Hubilkhans (the incarnations of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas) teach us anything else but Lamaist-Buddhism?”

In conclusion, to repeat, the “brotherhood of Khe-lan” or Khe-langs is nothing more mysterious than the order of Buddhist monks, the saṅgha of gelongs.

Category: Uncategorized | 3 comments

  • Jacques Mahnich Jacques Mahnich says:

    “Kahlon”, as described by Alexander Cunningham in 1854 (Ladak), refers to government ministers. He wrote (p.258) : “In Great Tibet the Kahlons of the four chief provinces of Ngari, U, Tsang and Kham, were elected by the civil power in subordination to the Grand Lama, while the inferior Kahlons, and all other petty officers of state, were elected by the four chief Kahlons.”…(in Ladak) The prime minister was simply styled Kahlon, or “the minister”, or Banki-Kahlon, “the chief-minister”, while his deputy was usually known by the addition of his own name…
    On this subject, Cunningham refers to Moorcroft (I. p.238-249), and it is also the way Gabriel Bonvalot named the ministers of Tibet (the kaloun) in his trip report “A travers le Tibet” (1896).

  • David Reigle says:

    Nicholas Weeks sent in “a supporting citation from CW 6:293 about Tibetan monks=bhikshus=gelongs=khelangs.”:

    “Anyone can go to Darjeeling and receive, a few miles from thence, teaching from Thibetan monks, and ‘under their roofs.’ But I have never so claimed, so far as I know, for the simple reason that neither of the Mahatmas whose names are known in the West are monks.”

  • Robert Hütwohl says:

    Thank you David for filling in the holes. This is what good research should intend to do.


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