In case you missed the hubbub about the “discovery” in Nepal, here is an excellent response from Dr. Gombrich. This “discovery” was something even the BBC reported.
The story that garnered international headlines made numerous unfounded and misinformed claims
by Professor Richard Gombrich
In the December 2013 issue of the archaeological journal Antiquity there appears an article by several authors, headed by Prof. Robin Coningham of Durham University. Its appearance has been successfully managed to secure international publicity. The article was embargoed until a specified hour, timed to immediately succeed an announcement to the press in the USA.
The article claims a sensational discovery. The press release is entitled “Archaeological Discoveries Confirm Early Date of Buddha’s Life,” and its first paragraph summarizes the claim in these words: “Archaeologists working in Nepal have uncovered evidence of a structure at the birthplace of the Buddha dating to the 6th century BC. This is the first archaeological material linking the life of the Buddha—and thus the first flowering of Buddhism—to a specific century.” On the BBC website the announcement reads: “‘Earliest shrine’ uncovered at Buddha’s birthplace.” Thus at each stage the alleged discovery becomes simpler and more definite. Notice also the word “confirm” in the title of the press release. If we go back to the article we find the same process: as hypothesis, or rather, guess, builds upon guess, possible slides into probable and finally emerges unembellished as a firm claim…
Read the full article here:
Yeh, Emily T. Taming Tibet: Landscape Transformation and the Gift of Chinese Development. Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 2013.
Emily brings her considerable knowledge and depth of research to a range of fascinating topics that provide a truly rich picture of development in Tibet. Doctor Tsering Shakya wrote that the book “should be required reading for anyone interested in understanding contemporary Tibet and China’s relations with periphery regions” and it is clear from the start that he is correct. Filled with rich ethnographic data we find not only detailed theoretical analysis in her book, but also invaluable first person testimony. I am finding that more than anything else, reading Emily’s book is helping me to process the experiences I had in Lhasa in 2007-2008 and in the aftermath of the 2008 riots. In particular, the italicized sections that begin each chapter provide a compelling view of people and their experiences in “China’s Tibet” that I find resonate with my experience much more than many of the other writing out there. Emily provides for us a window into that world that is markedly less mottled than similar accounts. If you study Tibet, or wish to travel there, please do read this book.
It has been an active year for the publication of translations. Here are some highlights from the year:
(please do add a comment if you feel something is missing)
The Light of Wisdom series from Rangjung Yeshe Publications will be complete this year with the publication of both the Great Accomplishment: Teachings on the Drubchen Ceremony (vol. 3) and Light of Wisdom: The Conclusion (vol. 5). This series is the translation of three connected texts: 1) the root text is a Padmasambhava terma, as recorded by Yeshe Tsogyal in the 8th or 9th century, and revealed by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Chogyur Lingpa in the 19th century as the Lamrin Yeshe Nyingpo (ལམ་རིམ་ཡེ་ཤེས་སྙིང་པོ་). 2) the main commentary is Jamgön Kongtrül Lodro Thaye’s (1813-1900) the Light of Wisdom, “Yeshe Nangwa” (ལམ་རིམ་ཡེ་ཤེས་སྙིང་པོའི་འགྲེལ་པ་ཡེ་ཤེས་སྣང་བ་རབ་ཏུ་རྒྱས་པ།, TBRC Text). 3) the third text is Entering the Path of Wisdom, Yeshe Lam Juk (ཡེ་ཤེས་ལམ་འཇུག), a set of annotations and notes from Jamgön Kongtrül’s student, Jamyang Drakpa, as recorded by Jokyab Rinpoche (1903-1960). Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche in turn received these teachings directly from Jokyab Rinpoche and his explanations are also included throughout the series. The first volume of the series was translated in 1993 and the final will be released on November 12th, 2013. The translation has been completed by Erik Pema Kunsang (Erik Hein Schmidt) with help from Gyurme Avertin and editing done by Marcia Schmidt and Michael Tweed.
Keith Dowman’s Eye of the Storm has been republished in a new edition by Wisdom Publications as Original Perfection: Vairotsana’s Five Early Transmissions. These are translations of 1) Rig pa’i khu byug: The Cuckoo’s Song of Gnosis 2) Rtsal chen sprugs pa: Radical Creativity 3) Khyung chen lding ba: Great Garuda in Flight 4) Rdo la gser zhun: Pure Golden Ore and 5) Mi nub pa’i rgyal mtshan: Nam mkha’ che: The Eternal Victory Banner: The Vast Space of Vajrasattva.
Cyrus Stearns published a translation of Tshar chen blo gsal rgya mtsho’s (1502-1566) Celebration of the Cuckoo (རྟོགས་བརྗོད་ལམ་གླུ་དཔྱིད་ཀྱི་རྒྱལ་མོའི་དགའ་སྟོན།, rtogs brjod lam glu dpyid kyi rgyal mo’i dga’ ston) as Song of the Road: The Poetic Travel Journal of Tsarchen Losal Gyatso with Wisdom Publications and Tsadra Foundation.
Jeffrey Hopkins’ team at the UMA Institute for Tibetan Studies have been hard at work at a set of translations, many of which are available online here. Recent publications that are available now include:
Principles for Practice: Jam-yang-shay-pa on the Four Reliances with Ngag-wang-pal-dan’s Annotations, 120 pages, translated by William Magee.
The Hidden Teaching of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras: Jam-yang-shay-pa’s Seventy Topics and Kon-chog-jig-may-wang-po’s Supplement, 750 pages, translated by Jeffrey Hopkins and Jongbok Yi, and edited by Elizabeth Napper.
This year, Snow Lion, now an imprint of Shambhala Publications, printed several previously published works along with new translations. Heidi Köppl‘s Establishing Appearances as Divine and Glen Mullin‘s From the Heart of Chenrezig: The Dalai Lamas on Tantra are both worth mentioning here. As you can see below, they also generously published a number of books in the Tsadra Foundation Series.
Dharmachakra Translation Committee completed Distinguishing Phenomena from Their Intrinsic Nature Maitreya’s Dharmadharmatāvibhaṅga (ཆོས་དང་ཆོས་ཉིད་རྣམ་པར་འབྱེད་པ།, chos dang chos nyid rnam par ‘byed pa, TBRC Text) with Commentaries by Khenpo Shenga (TBRC Text) and Ju Mipham (TBRC Text).
Wulstan Fletcher and Helena Blankeleder of the Padmakara Translation Group have finished the second and concluding volume of the Treasury of Precious Qualities, translated from Jigme Lingpa‘s Tibetan text the Yönten Dzö (ཡོན་ཏན་རིན་པོ་ཆེའི་མཛོད།, TBRC Text) with Kangyur Rinpoche‘s commentary.
Columbia University Press
Andrew Quintman‘s The Yogin & the Madman: Reading the Biographical Corpus of Tibet’s Great Saint Milarepa in the South Asia Across Disciplines series from Columbia University Press. Although not primarily a translation, this is worth mentioning here and includes translations with Tibetan transcription in the appendices.
Special mention should be made of the Sources of Tibetan Tradition, from Columbia University Press, edited by Kurtis R. Schaeffer, Matthew T. Kapstein, and Gray Tuttle. This text will certainly become an essential resource for students of the Tibetan traditions. Mr. Schaeffer and Mr. Tuttle have been particularly busy, as they also published A Tibetan History Reader, which “reproduces essential, hard-to-find essays from the past fifty years of Tibetan studies, along with several new contributions.”
And in other news for 2013, Christian Wedemeyer‘s Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism: History, Semiology, and Transgression in the Indian Traditions received the 2013 American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion (Historical Studies).
Speaking of Columbia, Bob Thurman and Tom Yarnall’s team at AIBS have been busy with several new publications:
Tom Yarnall’s translation of chapters 11 and 12 of Tsong Khapa’s སྔགས་རིམ་ཆེན་མོ། (sngags rim chen mo) is now available as Great Treatise on the Stages of Mantra, which was published as a part of the rjey yab sras gsung ‘bum series, which is a sub-series of the Treasury of Buddhist Sciences series from the American Institute of Buddhist Studies.
As a follow up to his 2007 publication of The Cakrasamvara Tantra, David Gray published editions of the Sanskrit and Tibetan texts in the Treasury of Buddhist Sciences series from the American Institute of Buddhist Studies. The volume “includes an introductory essay on the textual history of the Cakrasamvara Tantra, a critical edition of the Sanskrit text, based upon available manuscripts, commentaries, and intertexts in the Buddhist explanatory tantras; a critical edition of the standard Prajñākīrti-Mardo revised Tibetan translation, based upon seven print redactions; a diplomatic edition of the Sumatikīrti-Malgyo revised translation, as preserved in the Phug-brag manuscript Kangyur; and an edition of the extracanonical Sumatikīrti-Mardo translation, based upon two surviving prints.”
Having completed the ten volume Treasury of Knowledge (ཤེས་བྱ་མཛོད།) translation in 2012, an interactive digital edition was launched for the iPad this year, available at the Apple Store (an Android version is coming!)
In 2013 Richard Barron (Chokyi Nyima) translated Jamgön Kongtrül’s dkar chag from the གདམས་ངག་རིན་པོ་ཆེའི་མཛོད། (gdams ngag rin po che’i mdzod). Mr. Barron continues to work on volumes one and two (gsang sngags rnying ma) of the eighteen volume collection, while Sarah Harding works on volumes thirteen and fourteen on ཞི་བྱེད་ and བཅོད་ (zhi byed dang gcod).
Karl Brunnhölzl, who appears to be constantly finishing translations, had Mining for Wisdom Within Delusion come out in January from Snow Lion/Shambhala Publications. Along with the text attributed to Maitreya and Asanga, the Dharmadharmatāvibhaṅga, this publication includes Vasubandhu’s Dharmadharmatāvibhaṅgavṛtti, Ranjung Dorje’s commentary ཆོས་དང་ཆོས་ཉིད་རྣམ་པར་འབྱེད་པའི་བསྟན་བཅོས་ཀྱི་རྣམ་པར་བཤད་པའི་རྒྱན། (chos dang chos nyid rnam par ‘byed pa’i bstan bcos kyi rnam par bshad pa’i rgyan, TBRC Text), and Gö Lotsāwa’s commentary ཐེག་པ་ཆེན་པོ་རྒྱུད་བླ་མའི་བསྟན་བཅོས་ཀྱི་འགྲེལ་བཤད་དེ་ཁོ་ན་ཉིད་རབ་ཏུ་གསལ་བའི་མེ་ལོང། (theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma’i bstan bcos kyi ‘grel bshad de kho na nyid rab tu gsal ba’i me long, TBRC Text), as well as excerpts from all other available commentaries on Maitreya’s text.
A new version of bu ston rin chen grub’s (1290-1364) བདེ་བར་གཤེགས་པའི་བསྟན་པའི་གསལ་བྱེད་ཆོས་ཀྱི་འབྱུང་གནས་གསུང་རབ་རིན་པོ་ཆེའི་མཛོད། (bde bar gshegs pa’i bstan pa’i gsal byed chos kyi ‘byung gnas gsung rab rin po che’i mdzod, TBRC Text) was translated by Lisa Stein and Ngawang Zangpo (Hugh Thompson) as Butön’s History of Buddhism in India and Its Spread to Tibet with Snow Lion/Shambhala Publications in the Tsadra Foundation Series.
Sarah Harding updated her classic work Machik’s Complete Explanation (an expanded edition in the Tsadra Foundation Series) with added texts on chod from Ranjung Dorje, གཅོད་བཀའ་ཚོམས་ཆེན་མོའི་ས་བཅད། (gcod bka’ tshoms chen mo’i sa bcad) and གཅོད་ཀྱི་ཊཱིཀཱ་ (gcod kyi ṭīkā).
In France, Christian Charrier finished the first volume of Au coeur du ciel, Le système de la Voie médiane dans la tradition kagyu by Karl Brunnhölzl (traduit de l’anglais The Center of the Sunlit Sky: Madhyamaka in the Kagyu Tradition).
ALSO IN 2013
José Cabezón published a translation of Rog bande shes rab’s (166-1244) detailed presentation of the “nine vehicles” from the 13th century text གྲུབ་མཐའ་སོ་སོའི་བཞེད་ཚུལ་གཞུང་གསལ་བར་སྟོན་པ་ཆོས་འབྱུང་གྲུབ་མཐའ་ཆེན་པོ་བསྟན་པའི་སྒྲོན་མེ། (grub mtha’ so so’i bzhed tshul gzhung gsal bar ston pa chos ‘byung grub mtha’ chen po bstan pa’i sgron me, TBRC Text) in The Buddha’s Doctrine and the Nine Vehicles: Rog Bande Sherab’s Lamp of the Teachings with Oxford University Press (320 pages, 978-0-19-995862-7).
More translations were also published in 2013 by the Padma Karpo Translation Committee. Recent publications from PKTC include Maitreya’s Sutras and Prayer With Commentary by Padma Karpo, translated by Tony Duff and Tamas Agocs, and A Bitwise Commentary on Entering the Conduct “A Lamp for the Path of the Middle Way by Drukchen Padma Karpo, translated by Tony Duff. And kindle versions of Five-Part Mahamudra by Padma Karpo and Five-Part Mahamudra by Situ Chokyi Jungnay are available on Amazon.
Elio Guarisco and Nancy Simmons produced a translation of Karma gling pa’s བར་དོ་ཐོས་གྲོལ། (bar do thos grol TBRC Text) in The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Awakening Upon Dying published with North Atlantic Books and Shang Shung Publications.
Donatella Rossi translated and edited A History of Zhang Zhung and Tibet, Volume One: The Early Period (264 pages, 978-1583946107) by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu. Published by North Atlantic Books.
Martin J. Boord has updated, revised and expanded his The Cult of the Diety of Vajrakīla into this year’s Gathering the Elements: The Cult of the Wrathful Deity Vajrakila According to the Texts of the Northern Treasures Tradition of Tibet (410 pages, 978-3-942380-10-2). Published by Edition Khordong at Wandel Verlag.
Also in 2013, Brill’s Tibetan Studies Library added two more to the series:
Tibetan Inscriptions (9789004250697)
Proceedings of a Panel Held at the Twelfth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Vancouver 2010
Edited by Kurt Tropper, University of Vienna and Cristina Scherrer-Schaub, University of Lausanne/École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris
Monastic and Lay Traditions in North-Eastern Tibet (9789004255692)
Edited by Yangdon Dhondup, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, Ulrich Pagel School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and Geoffrey Samuel, Cardiff University
Brandon Dotson, Kazushi Iwao, and Tsuguhito Takeuchi produced an edited volume from the 2010 IATS in Vancouver, Scribes, Texts, and Rituals in Early Tibet and Dunhuang with Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag. Although not a translation per se, it gets an honorable mention for being the first (I believe) publication of collected essays from the 2010 meeting of the International Association of Tibetan Studies.
Harvard Oriental Series Volume 75 was published in 2013: The Foundation for Yoga Practitioners: The Buddhist Yogācārabhūmi Treatise and Its Adaptation in India, East Asia, and Tibet. This collection of essays was edited by Ulrich Timme Kragh and includes essays on the background and environment of the Yogācārabhūmi, the text and key sections therein, and a section each on Indian, East Asian, and Tibetan receptions to the text. The Tibetan section includes essays by Dorji Wangchuk, Orna Almogi, Ulrich Kragh, and Leonard van der Kuijp.
● When Clouds Part, Uttaratantrashastra, with commentary by Tashi Ozer, translated by Karl Brunnhölzl
● Au coeur du ciel, Le système de la Voie médiane dans la tradition kagyu, vol 2, traduit de l’anglais par Christian Charrier
● Naked Seeing: The Great Perfection, the Wheel of Time, and Visionary Buddhism in Renaissance Tibet by Christopher Hatchell of Coe College. 464 pages, expected in December 2013, published by Oxford University Press.
“This superb study brings to light some of the most esoteric and innovative contemplative practices ever to emerge within Asian religions. In clear and engaging terms, Hatchell explores how the visionary techniques of the Kalacakra and Great Perfection traditions work to undo our deeply engrained psychophysical habits and open us to new ways of seeing. The result is a study that will appeal not only to scholars and practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, but to anyone interested in the phenomenology of sensory perception.” –Jacob P. Dalton, UC Berkeley
● Colloquial Tibetan by Jonathan Samuels presents contemporary Lhasa Tibetan for beginners and includes CDs.
by Sarah Harding
This year the seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies was held in Mongolia, co-sponsored by the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, in association with the National University of Mongolia. It was a fitting place for international scholars of Tibetan studies to convene, given the long, ancient history with Tibet and the resurgence of Buddhist activities in the last twenty years. The University is in central Ulaanbaatar–a booming city with nonstop construction during the few summer months when this is possible. It is only a block from the parliament building with its commanding statue of Chinggis Khan, the great warrior venerated everywhere as the ancestor and symbol of the Mongols.
On the other side of the parliament square is the psychedelic home of the Tyrannosaurus dinosaur found in the Gobi, a close second as a symbol of national pride ever since the smuggled skeleton that had sold for over a million dollars was demanded back by the Mongolians and duly returned by the U.S.
It is tempting to just write about fascinating Mongolia, but the subject here is, of course, the conference. After a late night arrival, the next morning we faced the crushing registration process, took advantage of bus tours to Ganden monastery or the Bogd Kahn palace museum, and later attended the opening plenary session, where many of the greatest scholars in the field could be seen in deep jet-lag sleep. I was honored to join them there.
Over the next six days there were panels and sessions averaging at least ten per time-slot, making choices so hard as to be almost random. I am still stricken with regret over the ones I missed. And all of us missed the scores of Tibetan nationals who were denied exit visas at the last minute, leaving some panels with skeleton crews. Still, there were some six hundred participants and plenty of stimulation. Here is a mere mention of a few sessions that I didn’t miss: There was an interesting panel on kingship with a wide range of papers. I remember subjects such as Kingship Ideology in Sino-Tibetan Diplomacy, The Dalai Lama as the Cakravartin Rāja Manifested by the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, and an interesting discussion by Nathan Hill on the sku-bla rite in Imperial Tibetan religion. To quote from his conclusion: “The evidence of the sku-bla across Old Tibetan literature indicates that the sku-bla is the spiritual counterpart of the Tibetan emperor and has been his companion ever since both resided in the heavens, specifically the realm of Dmu; vassals of the Tibetan Empire (not the imperial government itself) propitiate the sku-bla in ritual observance.” New to me.
A panel called “The Secular in Tibet and Mongolia” had been convened by Colorado locals Holly Gayley of CU (and my travelling companion) and Nicole Willock of DU. Janet Gyatso expertly set the stage by establishing the parameters of secularism and used her current research on Tibetan Medicine (translating the rgyud bzhi) as an example. Holly, Nicole, Tsering Shakya and others followed with excellent papers, bringing us right up to the present time with Holly’s discussion of Buddhist advice to the laity in contemporary Tibet and Emmi Okada’s discussion of the Dalai Lama’s Ethics for a New Millennium. Of all the panels and sessions I attended, this one had the hottest discussion afterwards that left us invigorated.
Another popular and packed panel was called “Hermes in Tibet,” with an entertaining-as-ever presentation by Robert Thurman, as well as John Campbell, Christian Wedemeyer (and sadly not David Gray), all focusing on the Guhyasamāja tantra, capped off by a fascinating paper by Yael Bentor on “Interpreting the body mandala.” It occurred to me that delving into the deep levels of tantra, we are really just scratching the surface, smart as we are.
I found the panel on Nyingma very refreshing, as it was held in a beautiful room with old wood stadium seating, the only time I wasn’t packed into a hot stuffy classroom. There were other good things too. Naropa alum Joel Gruber, now at UCSB, did a great job as convener, especially when a paper on the rNying ma rGyud ‘bum drew some rapid-fire retorts on incredibly important points that I can’t remember. Joel’s own paper on mahāyoga commentaries attributed to Vimalamitra was adorned with beautiful graphs, which that auditorium could actually project on a big screen. I realize that to be a researcher in the field one needs to be expert at math and graphic (literally) art, something Joel certainly didn’t get from me at Naropa.
I wanted to stay in that cool room all day, but felt compelled to abandon the Nyingma for Mahāmudrā in another tiny stuffy room. Such is my karma. Or is it collective? Anyway, the māhamudrā discussions were both familiar and interesting. Klaus-Dieter Mathes headed up a group from Vienna, where many papers focused on specific recurring thematic terms, such as lhan cig skyes pa, bsres ba, gshis, and gdangs. Roger Jackson finished from the outside, as it were, with the fascinating question “Did Tshog kha pa teach mahāmudrā?” and reiterated the many objections to Kagyu mahāmudrā put forth by Gelukpas and Sakyas over the centuries. I love this stuff: ending up both confirmed and disturbed!
Finally I had to miss all kinds of good things in order to be at my own presentation. The loosely grouped catchall session entitled “Tibetan Buddhist Women” consisted of presentations on contemporary living situations and nunneries for women practitioners. Again, unfortunately, the scholars from Tibet were absent, as was even the discussant. We heard from Bhutanese Ani Rinzin on the flourishing state of Pema Choling Nunnery, a place close to my heart that was started by Gangteng Tulku in Bhutan. Karma Lekshe Tsomo delivered a rousing speech on the history and current state of bhiksuni ordination, deftly using the very arguments employed by Tibetan clerics who oppose it to negate them in true madhyamaka style. Then it was my turn to follow up those current and relevant issues with the highly irrelevant and unresolvable question of whether or not Machik Lapdrön really taught gcod some time back in the 11th century. Lucky for me I was in the right place, as the Tibetan scholars who are also apparently interested in ancient dusty pecha poured in. I presented the scant evidence from the early texts that I have translated from the gDams ngag mdzod for Tsadra Foundation. Of course I talked too much and there was no time for discussion, but I later heard some feedback that I had successfully made the case. And at least I could introduce my preference for the Single Mother of Color with my single-photo power point:
So that, in brief, is my experience of the conference. It was a good conference, and only partially eclipsed by the good fun that followed. Holly and I joined Nicole and her resident friend Robin for a few days of adventure out on the steppe and to Chenggis Khan’s ancient capital of Karakaroum (with “k” pronounced as “h” it sounds more like a sneeze). After that, Holly and I and another Naropa alum, Lilly Atlihan, went for a longer horse ride in the countryside west of Ulaanbaatar. Here are some of my photos of the open, or narrow, road:
The Tsadra Foundation and Center for Asian Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder are collaborating on a conference, “Translating Buddhist Luminaries: A Conference on Ecumenism and Tibetan Translation,” scheduled for April 18-20, 2013 on the CU Boulder campus.
Buddhist luminaries, clustered in eastern Tibet in the nineteenth-century, composed numerous short texts of advice that are lively in their use of language and poignant in their pith instructions. This conference explores a range of such texts of advice, which are animated in their use of language and convey a strong sense of the Tibetan author’s voice, tone and style. Through the conference, we hope to stimulate a discussion about the ways in which we can approach authorial voice and literary style in the translation of Tibetan texts.
The conference includes a distinguished panel that is free and open to the public:
Ecumenism in Tibet: Panel with Ringu Tulku & Visiting Scholars
7pm on Thursday, April 18th
British Studies Room on 5th floor of Norlin Library at CU Boulder
In nineteenth-century Tibet, a circle of Buddhist luminaries worked tirelessly to collect a compile a wide range of teachings in order to preserve their distinctive practice traditions. These collections and the ecumenical impulse they represent have been important to preserving Tibet’s unique tantric heritage in the diaspora. What was the approach to ecumenism among these luminaries? How has their approach and legacy impacted Tibetan Buddhism as it has grown and taken root beyond the Tibetan plateau? How should we understand the ongoing significance of their work?
Ringu Tulku is a leading experts on ecumenism in Tibet. Holder of an Acharya degree and author of The Ri-me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, Ringu Tulku is an avid translator and author as well as the founder of Bodhicharya International and abbot of Rigul Monastery.
Sarah Harding, Naropa University
Michael Sheehy, Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center
Douglas Duckworth, East Tennessee State University
Holly Gayley, University of Colorado at Boulder
In conjunction with the conference, Tsadra is hosting an Open House at the new location of their Research Center in Boulder at 2930 Island Drive, Boulder, CO. Driving directions: Take 28th street north to Kalmia. Take a right on Kalmia and your first left onto Island Drive. It will be the stucco and red stone house on the right side. Please try to carpool. This is a residential neighborhood, and it would be nice to have fewer cars parked on the street.
This conference is co-sponsored by the Tsadra Foundation and the Center for Asian Studies with additional support from the Center for Humanities & the Arts and the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The symposium held this past weekend at the University of San Francisco was a gathering of scholars from around the world who presented papers focused on the “Tulku” (སྤྲུལ་སྐུ་ , sprul sku) institution of Tibetan Buddhism. Organized by professor Tsering Wangchuk and Jake Nagasawa, the conference was the second recent meeting focused on the reincarnation system of Tibetan Buddhism. There were four main panels at the conference, allowing for thirteen seasoned scholars to present their research:
1) Tulkus in Transnational Buddhism: Authentication and Contestation of Hybridity in the Cross-Cultural Reincarnation System
2) Tulkus in Historical Context: Power, Knowledge, and Politics in the Innovation of the Reincarnation Institution
3) Tulkus as a Model of Ideal Beings: Embodying the Enlightened Characteristics
4) Envisioning and Retelling Birth-Stories: Tulku Lineage Narratives and the Quest for Legitimation.
Representatives speaking at the conference ran the gamut of scholars and although some papers seemed farther from the theme than others, the threads tying them together were questions about the history, place and function of the unique system of dynasties of reincarnated Buddhist masters solidified in Tibetan culture as the “Tulku System.” I’m not sure what general readers imagine Tibetan history may have been like, but perhaps imagining a Tibetan version of Game of Thrones with the houses as monastic institutions continuing not through a lord’s blood relations but via recognition and enthronement of child prodigies destined to take the place of previous throne holders is a useful “imaginary.” The reasons for a gathering focused on discussing the Tulku Institution are many: it is an essential and unique part of Tibetan culture and history, it is a useful entry point for discussions about the transmission of Buddhism or about the philosophical and religious beliefs of historical Tibetan peoples and of modern Buddhist practitioners, and it is a controversial topic, both inside and outside of the tradition. In recent years we have seen young tulkus rebelling against their traditions and revealing improprieties, movie stars becoming tulkus, and reports of general distrust of the tulku system in modern Tibetan peoples. Despite any of this, tulkus are often some of the most powerful and popular Tibetan Buddhist teachers. But these controversies were less the focus of the conference as it was about presenting research on various historical figures and creating a more nuanced and detailed thick description of the phenomenon of Tulkus in Tibetan society.
- Dr. Donald Lopez gives the first Keynote speech
Fascinating, but utterly different keynote speeches were delivered at the symposium by professors Donald Lopez and Jeffrey Hopkins. The difference in their presentations is of course partly due to personal style, but the tension between the two approaches is illustrative of some of the tensions observable throughout the symposium. Some presenters discussed the idealized tulku as a prodigy motivated by the will to help all sentient beings, while others focused on children forced into servitude of an institution motivated by greed and power. Some discussed the history of the tulku institution or the particulars of the development of tulku lineages in particular monastic institutions, and others focused on various responses to the question of its continuation in the modern world. Dr. Lopez’s presentation was expertly delivered and fascinating in that it revealed that a 20th century gathering of the most powerful exiled Tibetan leaders ended with a moratorium on the recognition of tulkus, which lasted a decade before some unnamed group broke it, ushering in open season on tulku recognition. This is interesting because it appears that the Tibetan leaders, many of whom are recognized tulkus, found reason to suspend their own system. However, it appears no one has studied the meeting in depth and we don’t know whether this was motivated by an attempt to end the tulku system for good because of corruption, or if it was an issue of expediency brought on by exile, or some other reason. Lopez weaved together reports from the earliest Western accounts of encounters with young tulkus (they must be demons!), Central Asian and European history, and modern accounts. His talk was called, “Four Possibilities,” referring to a logical relationship between the term “lama” and “tulku,” argued by the Dalai Lama in a talk attended by Dr. Lopez to be “mushi“. Namely, there are people who are neither lamas nor tulkus, people who are both lamas and tulkus, people who are lamas but are not tulkus, and people who are tulkus who are not lamas. It is this last one that gives people pause, as it is generally assumed that tulkus are not merely lamas, but are the representatives of the highest level of realized masters.
While Lopez’s approach was historical and text-based, on day two Dr. Hopkins gave his usual hilarious, rambling, and intensely personal account of study with Tibetan masters such as the Dalai Lama. He mixed his narrative with great jokes as well as with translations from specific philosophical texts providing traditional definitions of Tibetan Buddhist concepts such as the various kayas and the meaning of “tulku.” This is perhaps not the place to mention the significance of some of his other comments about reincarnation, and as Hopkins himself said during his speech, perhaps there are things that should remain private. Hopkins first emphasized the technical definitions, taken from the Gomang Curriculum material he is currently translating, that require tulkus to be dharmakayas and not merely bodhisattvas of some high level. However, he also placed emphasis on his own doubt about most tulkus’ knowledge and he insisted that what a teacher says, and the knowledge he or she thereby displays, is more important than any official stamp of recognition as a tulku. That he felt it necessary to admonish the audience, as though they were making the mistake of believing all tulkus to be genuinely capable teachers, is interesting in and of itself.
The Beginning of the Tulku Institution?
Sometimes people like to spice things up a bit by debating when some historical institution, philosophical school, or religious practice started or ended. In the case of the Tulku institution, the topic of this short symposium, some speakers talked about the earliest texts describing concatenated reincarnates (an unbroken line of dharma teachers) or the earliest reported recognition of Tibetan people as emanations of deities. But the statement found in a text that so and so is the emanation of so and so is not the same as the cultural phenomenon of the recognition of a person as an emanation who then comes to take the power and wealth of the deceased leader, subsequently taking on the wealth and followers of that leader. Perhaps an interesting question would be, who was the first Tibetan student who, upon the death of his teacher, having spent a lifetime studying with him as the executive of a monastery, found himself bowing down to a child believed to be the reincarnation of his teacher? That is, when and how did the social event of the installment of a Tulku first occur? How meaningful was it for that society? After the conference I am still wondering about the answers to these questions.
Some students of Tibetan Buddhism may believe that the earliest members of a lineage of reincarnated teachers held the same kind of status as the later members of the lineage. In fact, many lineages would be applied or recognized later in history, once the institution of the lineage holder became relevant. For instance, while surely the first Karmapa’s students revered him in his time, they may not have thought of him as a special reincarnation while he was alive. It was not until later Karmapas that the lineage was written down and traced backwards. So one of the questions is, when did this way of thinking about teachers come about?
Daniel Hirshberg’s paper at the conference, “A Post-Incarnate Usurper? Guru Chöwang’s Claim to the Patrilineal Inheritance of Nyang” indicates that a 13th century figure may have worked rather hard to become recognized as a reincarnation. Guru Chowang appears to have inserted himself in Nyangral’s lineage line and Nyangral himself used various strategies to claim a lineage stretching back to the great Tibetan King Tri Song Detsen. These are stories of people convincing themselves and others of holding the connection of an unbroken lineage and claiming to be “tulku” – emanations, not merely of a Buddha or deity in general, but of specific historical people. Although the basic logic is much older, it doesn’t seem to be until the 12th century that we are seeing the tulku logic instantiated in texts listing specific historical names, as indicated in José Cabezón’s paper at the conference.
Although it is often said that the life of the second Karmapa, squarely in the 13th century (1204/06-1283), marks the start of the Tulku institution, José Cabezón mused that the textual evidence is in fact representative of reports of what the second Karmapa said about his previous lives and could have been the work of a later writer, such as the third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorjé. Leonard van der Kuijp has shown evidence that there were people recognized as reincarnations of earlier figures in the 1100s. But here we are not talking about a fully formed Tulku institution. There were, of course, earlier written accounts of people being recognized as emanations of deities and Buddhas and so forth, but what of the earliest accounts of the Tulku institution being present and functioning in a Tibetan society? Would this be the third Karmapa? The Fourth? Another lineage? Who was first called “tulku” by Tibetan peoples?
While most scholars at the conference presented information about historical figures, a few scholars focused on current living tulkus, both Western and Asian. Elijah Ary, a recognized tulku, a Canadian, and a scholar trained at Harvard, spoke of the small group of “Western Tulkus,” many recognized by traditional Tibetan leaders but rarely teaching to ethnic Tibetan peoples. Dr. Ary questioned the use of the term “Western Tulku” and talked about the unique challenges of young people recognized and expected to fulfill their duty in a traditional religious culture. The clash of cultures represented by the term seems to me to be a fascinating starting place for discussions about the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism to the modern Western world. Will any Western teacher ever create a lineage of tulkus? Would any want to? I’m sure we can look forward to seeing more discussion of this kind in the future as Tibetan Buddhism gains more and more adherents in the West.
The Mangalam Research Center for Buddhist Languages will be offering 7-week language programs in both Sanskrit and
Tibetan this summer with Dr. Ligeia Lugli (SOAS) and Dr. Alberto Todeschini (UVa) respectively.
Applications for both these programs are due by May 1, and applicants will
be notified by May 15. For further information, see www.mangalamresearch.org
Oct 26, 2012
We are delighted to announce that the final volume of the ten-volume Treasury of Knowledge Series has now been published. This brings to completion a project begun by the previous Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche and his students over 25 years ago, and is – to quote Roger Jackson in his article to appear in Buddhadharma – “a signal event in the transmission of Buddhism to the West”.
We would like to take a moment to acknowledge not only the translators who completed this work, but also the great number of individuals who participated in the early translation efforts in Bodhgaya and Sonada, India, in the early years, the many Rinpoches and Khenpos who offered their encouragement and assistance throughout the translation process, and those who offered sponsorship in first difficult years.
Tsadra Foundation was established in 2000 and very quickly decided this was a project worthy of its support. Collaborating with Bokar Tulku Rinpoche (who had taken over responsibility for the project from the previous Kalu Rinpoche) and with Snow Lion Publications we were able to provide stable financial and logistical support to move the project ahead.
Today we see the fruit of all these years of effort, dedication and commitment. We invite you all to take a moment and join us in celebrating this extraordinary accomplishment. Attached below you will find Roger Jackson’s full article that will appear in the Winter 2012 Edition of Buddhadharma: The Buddhist Practitioner’s Quarterly.
and the Directors of Tsadra Foundation
from Buddhadharma: The Buddhist Practitioner’s Quarterly, Winter 2012 edition.