The Khrims gnyis lta ba’i me long (The mirror of the two laws) is the earliest (known) Tibetan legal treatise. Created in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth centuries, it contains fifteen edicts, the zhal lce bco lnga, which provided inspiration for later legal texts. They are introduced as the g.yu ’brug sgrog pa’i zhal lce so sor bshad pa, ‘an explanation of the edicts, which are (like) the roar of a turquoise dragon’.
By adopting Buddhism Tibetans adopted a jurisprudential problem: how were they to account for the use of physical punishments? This problem had already troubled Indic writers, who had developed different approaches to the role of the good Buddhist king, the cakravartin.
Lha bLa ma Ye shes ’Od, ruler of Western Tibet in the late tenth century, is well known for his efforts to promote Buddhism, suppress Bon, and stamp out inappropriate ritual practices. He was also a law-maker.
Laws have not survived from his time, but a biography, written four centuries later, is shot through with references to khrims.  It indicates that for Yeshe Öd, law-making was a means to protect religious institutions, maintain peace, promote the moral conduct and happiness of his people, and ensure correct behaviour among monastics.
Chinese emperors regularly granted amnesties. These were gestures of mercy, often announced at the beginning of a reign, or on other auspicious occasions. During the Tang dynasty there were 176 such amnesties. They generally applied to convicted criminals, but might also extend to cancel debts.1 Were Tibetan emperors inspired to do something similar?
The Tibetan concept of khrims can generally be rendered as ‘law’. Examining early sources, however, suggests a subtle shift in the ambit and significance of this term towards the end of the imperial period. This was a time during which new ideologies about Tibetan history, kingship, and statehood were being worked out and the concept of khrims came to play a new, and prominent, role within them. In this post I trace these changes and consider their historical context.