Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category
Sponsored by Tsadra Foundation, Shambhala Publications, and Wisdom Publications.
Tara Mandala and Lama Tsultrim Allione will be hosting a unique conference on Chöd and Zhijé traditions that will include presentations from our friends Sarah Harding, Amelia Hall, Dan Martin, Sangye Khandro, Karma Lekshe Tsomo, and many other luminaries.
Register now for discounted Early Bird pricing for the Historic First International Chod-Zhijé Conference July 12-16, 2017 at Tara Mandala. Practice retreats to follow July 18-23, 2017. This conference will bring together leading scholars and teachers of the unique Tibetan Buddhist lineages of Chöd and Zhijé in their various forms. To register, and for more information please click here: http://chodhealing.org/
Follow-up Retreats July 18-23, 2017
- Chöd Retreat: The Ear-Whispered Lineage of Ganden with Kunze Chimed (Mongolian scholar, writer and singer) & Chöying Khandro. Click here for more information and registration
- Tibetan Healing Chöd with Drüpon Lama Karma. Click here for more information and registration
- Lama Tsultrim Allione, founder and spiritual director of Tara Mandala, is author of Feeding your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict and Women of Wisdom and a teacher of Chöd.
- Lama Tsering Wangdu Rinpoche, lineage holder of the Longchen Nyingthig, Zhije, and Chöd traditions, is founder of the only monastery dedicated to Chöd teachings in Nepal.
- Venerable Drüpon Lama Karma is renowned as a genuine retreat master throughout Bhutan, having spent 13 years in strict meditation retreats, and has been one of the most important Bhutanese lamas to disseminate the teachings of Terton Pedgyal Lingpa. He teaches the Chöd Rinchen Threngwa and the Chöd practice of Laughter of the Dakinis from the Longchen Nyingtik Tradition, among other practices.
- Sarah Harding translated Machik’s Complete Explanation: Clarifying the Meaning of Chöd, and Dudjom Lingpa’s cycle of Thröma Nakmo with Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche. As a fellow of the Tsadra Foundation, she recently completed the volume on Chöd in Jamgön Kongtrul’s Treasury of Precious Instructions. She is Professor at Naropa University.
- Dan Martin, Ph.D., is a literary translator for the Institute of Tibetan Classics at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has written extensively on the Zhije tradition and Padampa Sangye.
- Sangye Khandro is a highly esteemed Tibetan translator; during the past forty years she has translated many of the liturgies that accompany the Dudjom Tersar terma tradition of Chöd, and has lead numerous retreats.
- Michael Sheehy, Ph.D., is the Director of Programs at the Mind & Life Institute, and an Assistant Professor in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. He is the author of “Severing the Source of Fear: Contemplative Dynamics of the Tibetan Buddhist gCod Tradition.
- Amelia Hall, Ph.D., received her doctorate at Oxford University; her dissertation translates and reflects upon the biography of HH Kunzang Dechen Lingpa and his development of a Healing Chöd practice presented in the West. She is Assitant Professor at Naropa University.
- Kunze Chimed is a Mongolian Chöd singer, and practitioner and teacher of Chöd in the Gelugpa tradition. She has published the Manual of Chöd Practice, among other works.
- Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at University of San Diego. Working with the Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women and the Jamyang Foundation, she is closely in touch with Chöd practitioners in India, Mongolia, Nepal, and Siberia.
- Michelle Sorensen, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Western Carolina University. Her dissertation is entitled “Making the Old New Again and Again: Legitimation and Innovation in the Tibetan Buddhist Chöd Tradition.” She continues to research and write extensively on Machig Labdrön and Chöd philosophy and practice.
- Alejandro Chaoul, Ph.D., teaches various meditation practices, including Chöd and Tibetan Yoga through Ligmincha Institute, founded by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. He is the author ofChöd Practice in the Bön Tradition.
- Bhikhuni Jampa Sangmo Karuna has been a practitioner of Gelug Chöd since 1989. She studied with Jetsün Dhampa Khalka Rinpoche for 7 years and currently lives in the mountains of Switzerland at the Chöd Center under the guidance of Lodro Tulku Rinpoche.
- Naksang Rinpoche was recognized as a tulku by HH the 14th Dalai Lama and completed the traditional three-year meditation retreat in a cave in the Indian Himalayas. He will share the unique healing Chöd ceremony from the mind treasure of Kunzang Dechen Lingpa.
- Sarah Jacoby, Ph.D., is Associate Professor in the Religious Studies Department at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. She is the author of Love and Liberation: Autobiographical Writings of the Tibetan Buddhist Visionary Sera Khandro.
- Ācārya Malcolm Smith is a senior student of Dzogchen masters Chogyal Namkhai Norbu and the late Kunzang Dechen Lingpa. His most recent published translation is Buddhahood in This Life: The Great Commentaryby Vimalamitra.
- Chöying Khandro, M.A., holds the complete transmissions of the “Ganden Ensa Ear-Whispered Lineage” and “The Machig Dakini Ear-Whispered Lineage” from her teacher, the late 9th Khalkha Jetsun Dampa. Over the last three decades she has brought this rare Machig Dakini lineage to the West by translating the complete texts and leading retreats.
- Tina Lang is a graduate student in Buddhist Studies at Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she is focusing on the practice and study of Chöd.
- And others…
Tara Mandala is an international Buddhist organization supporting the development of wisdom and compassion, with a primary focus on the lineage of Machig Labdrön in both its ancient Tibetan forms and its modern adaptations. Founded by Lama Tsultrim Allione and David Petit in 1993, Tara Mandala Retreat Center is located on 700 acres outside of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and is home to the Trikaya Tara Temple. See www.taramandala.org.
Join us at the University of Colorado, Boulder, May 31 – June 3, 2017
Attendees and speakers must all register online.
Space is limited so please sign up as soon as possible.
More than 200 translators, practitioners, scholars, and specialists in Tibetan language will be meeting together for workshops and discussion sessions throughout the weekend. You can see the full list of speakers and presenters here.
2017 Translation & Transmission Conference
WEDNESDAY, May 31, 2017
4:30 PM Registration & Welcome Reception at the UMC, Boulder Campus
6:00 PM Welcome Banquet at the Glenn Miller Ballroom, UMC, Boulder Campus
THURSDAY, June 1, 2017
Keynote Lecture by Susan Bassnett – 9:00 AM
Plenary Session 1: Translators & Intention – 11:00 AM
Panelists: Janet Gyatso, Anne Klein, Wulstan Fletcher, and Karl Brunnholzl
Discussion Sessions – 2:30 PM
1. Translation Theories Made Practical
2. Exploring Approaches to Tibetan Translation 1: Responses to issues from the keynote
3. Exploring Approaches to Tibetan Translation 2: Responses to panel discussions
4. The Translator’s Intention
5. Translation: Text Creation, Augmentation, and Creativity
Plenary Session 2: Approaches to Translation & Transmission – 4:45 PM
Panelists: Luis Gomes, Susan Bassnett, and David Bellos
FRIDAY, June 2, 2017
Keynote Lecture by Jan Nattier – 9:00 AM
Plenary Session 3: Translating: What and How? – 11:00 AM
Panelists: Kurtis Schaeffer, Thupten Jinpa, Elizabeth Napper, and Sangye Khandro
Translator’s Craft Session 1 – 2:30 PM
1. Master Class on Kavya in Tibet following from a workshop on Tseten Zhabdrung’s commentary on poetics that was hosted at the Latse Library with Gendun Rabsel, Nicole Willock, Andy Quintman, and Kurtis Schaeffer.
2. Languages of Contemplative Experience: Translating the Worlds of Dzogchen & Mahamudra with Anne Klein, Ken McLeod, and David Germano.
3. Unique Registers and Specialized Terminology: Sanskrit and the Tibetan Language in Translation with Christian Wedemeyer and Art Engle.
4. Working with Old Tibetan Sources with Jake Dalton and Brandon Dotson.
5. Public Session: Approaches to Transmission in the West: A Discussion with Contemporary Shedra Students and Robert Miller (Lozang Zopa).
Translator’s Craft Session 2 – 4:45 PM
1. Working with the Medium of the English Language with Wulstan Fletcher and Thupten Jinpa.
2. Accuracy and Inspiration: Translating Mahamudra Texts with Elizabeth Callahan and Klaus-Dieter Mathes.
3. Oddities and Curiosities in Tibetan Translation with David Jackson and Dan Martin.
4. Using Technology Skillfully (Resources for Translators) with Kurt Keutzer, Paul Hackett, Gerry Wiener, and Nathan Hill.
5. Public Session: Approaches to Transmission in the West: New Voices & Old Traditions with Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel, Ari Goldfield, Sarah Plazas, and Gyurme Avertin.
Dinner & Evening Event at Naropa University – 7:00 PM
with Thupten Jinpa & Donald Lopez
SATURDAY, June 3, 2017
Keynote Lecture by José Cabezón – 9:00 AM
Plenary Session 4: The Editorial Process Throughout Creation and Completions Stages – 11:00 AM
Panelists: John Canti, Tom Yarnall, David Kittelstrom, and Emily Bower
Discussion Sessions – 2:30 PM
1. Large Scale, Multilingual (Skt/Tib) Projects: Philological, Technical, and Team Challenges and Solutions
2. Editing for Practitioners: Presenting Liturgies, Commentaries, and Songs of Realization
3. Editing and Disseminating Buddhist Materials
4. Editing and Publishing Translations
5. Transmission and Translation
Plenary Session 5: Translations in Transmission – 4:45 PM
Panelists: Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Sarah Harding, Peter O’Hearn, and Ringu Tulku
6:30 PM Closing Session & Award Announcements
7:00 PM Closing Dinner
Hosted by Tsadra Foundation
The American Institute of Buddhist Studies
Columbia University Center for Buddhist Studies
Tibet House US
Tibet Himalaya Initiative at CU Boulder
The Khyentse Foundation
with the support of:
Rangjung Yeshe Institute, Maitripa College, Wisdom Publications,
and the University of Colorado, Boulder Religious Studies Department
Pha Dampa Sangye and the Alphabet Goddess
A preliminary study of the sources of the Zhije tradition
Presented by Sarah Harding at the 2016 meeting of the International Association of Tibetan Studies (IATS) in Bergen, Norway:
I did not master all of Indian tantra or positively connect the lovely Mātkā alphabet goddess with Dampa Sangye, except for circumstantial evidence. Even the 25 texts in volume 13 of the Treasury of Precious Instructions (gDam ngag mdzod) that I have been tasked to translate for the Tsadra Foundation remain at the end of this long road. But with much snooping I have tried to examine some of the sources of the Zhije (Zhi byed) tradition, particularly the two “tantras,” and their influence in the actual rituals and practices of the tradition.
First a very brief background of this complex tradition, called Zhije or “Pacification,” that traces back to the South Indian Dampa Sangye. I will call him by his most commonly used name, but you may be more familiar with Pha Dampa Sangye, used by most western scholars. The anecdotal story of the “father” appellation of pha can be found in Machik’s Complete Explanation, where mother Lapdrön’s son decides that he is like a father to him, and thus the balance of Ma-chik and Pha-Dampa, probably lending itself also to the popular and unsupported belief that he was Machik’s consort. Dampa’s Indian names were Kamalaśrī and Kamalaśīla, which Tibetans took to be the same person as Shantarakśita’s famous disciple of the 8th century. And he was also identified with the Chinese Cha’an patriarch Bodhidharma (5th–6th centuries), giving him a lifespan of over 500 years.
Also in the realm of legend is the story of his reanimation of a corpse of a dark-skinned Indian siddha (Dampa Nagchug) who had reanimated and run off in Dampa’s beautiful body after Dampa had entered the corpse of a dead elephant to remove it from a village, leaving him stuck with what was considered an unattractive form, and gaining him the name of Black Dampa or Indian Dampa. His visits to Tibet numbered anywhere from three to seven, with five being the most common. Jamgön Kongtrul’s summary from the Treasury of Knowledge reports the exact starting and ending locations of all five journeys, which is affirming. However, he may have “sojourned” there only three times. Kongtrul also states:
On all those occasions [Dampa Sangye] would intuit the exact character and faculties of each individual and liberate them through a few appropriate instructions. Thus there is no single primary source or systematic tradition that one could ascribe to them all. Nevertheless, [we could say] that he principally based himself in the source texts Ālikāli Great River Tantra, Mahāmudrā Symbol Tantra, and others. The methods he used, consistent with his own life example, were the three [levels of] vows as the support, ascetic exertion (dka’ thub kyi srang) as the path, and activities for the welfare of others as the fruition. Multitudes of beings possessed of the [right] karma—as numerous as the stars in the sky— were liberated in the state of buddha.
Kongtrul’s understanding here of the great variety of teachings associated with Dampa as skillful pedagogy I find more felicitous than the views of one western scholar who derided it for lacking a cohesive system.
Nevertheless, what remains of a wide-ranging tradition makes it difficult to summarize. The bare minimum is the breakdown of teachings into three main lineages (brgyud) or transmissions (bka’ babs): early, middle, and later, with some other miscellaneous lineages. “The first of these is when Dampa explained to the Kashmiri Jñānaguhya the Cycles of Three Lamps of Pacification.” These can be found in the Tengyur under the name Kamalaśīla. They are described as containing, respectively, the teachings of the vinaya, abhidharma, and sūtra, but also, mysteriously, “the semantic meaning of the fifty-five” sounds,” which is not at all evident in those texts. Also in the Tengyur, incidentally, are Dampa’s collections of dohās from the Indian mahāsiddhas, which had a huge influence in Tibet.
The Middle Transmission is divided into three, known as the Ma, So, and Kam systems, based on the principle recipient’s place names. In summary, he gave rMa Chos kyi Shes rab the teachings of awakening mind, the discourses, scattered teachings, and oral instructions. The second system conferred to So chung dGe ‘dun bar was the instructions of the fifty-four male and female adepts, called “Instructions on the Naked Perception of Awareness.” And the third system given to Kam Ye shes rgyal mtshan is called “the Guide to the Essential Meaning of the Perfection of Wisdom.” Lochen Dharmaśrī, in his commentary, mentions that originally this system would have been the preliminaries to the Kam system practice, suggesting that there was once a more cohesive system in the past. But, he says, “now, the lineages of the guides other than this one have not lasted except as reading transmissions.” This may be true for other doctrines as well. One can easily see that the very preliminary nature of the teachings that remain from this system could hardly touch the perfection of wisdom doctrine.
The Last Transmission is considered the main teaching of Zhije and was transmitted to the Bodhisttava Kunga (Byang chub sems dpa’ Kun dga’), who was acknowledged by Dampa as his primary disciple. Dharmaśri describes:
From the instructions to the four direction yogins in the last transmission, which is the main teaching of Pacification, this is the system of Guru Bodhisattva Kunga. The teaching consists of instructions on the perfection of wisdom that are consistent with Secret Mantra. The root is conferred to the mindstream and the essential meaning is introduced. After you are adorned with methods of numerous, great interdependent connections, all the Buddhist teachings are practiced at one time on one seat. This is the esoteric instruction called the Practice Cycle of the Immaculate Drop. 
Within this transmission, there are three guides: “The White Guide concentrates solely on mind training on the path, the Red Guide [concerns] the practice of five or three paths, and the Black Guide produces realization of the types of letters.” It is interesting that only the Red Guide is elaborated in the literature. It contains an unusual instruction of a five-fold spiritual path: mind training, austerities, subsequent cognition, equalizing taste, and non-action. They are equated with the five Mahāyāna paths, but bear so little resemblance to the normative explanations that the correlation may be ex post facto. Indeed, Kongtrul affirms that “This path did not occur previously in India and Tibet, but is the special teaching of Dampa Rinpoche.” I will return to the intriguing Black Guide later.
What peaked my curiosity occurred during the conferral by Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche of the relevant transmissions of the tradition from Kongtrul’s Treasury of Precious Instructions in Kathmandu, November 2014. Large portions of the empowerment involved the Sanskrit alphabet, with master and recipients repeating it again and again—forwards, backwards, by columns, by rows, every fifth letter, just the vowels, just the consonants, and other seemingly random combinations. The monks at Benchen Gonpa were incredibly adept in getting it all up on the big screens as fast as the Rinpoche could read.
Nothing in the Zhije histories had alerted me to this pervasive use of syllabary. Except—and how did I miss the one obvious hint everywhere alluded to—that the source text of Zhije is something called Ālikāli Inconceivable Secret Great River Tantra, where āli-kāli refers to the vowels and consonants of Sanskrit! The other source mentioned, called Mahāmudrā Symbol Tantra, has been previously misidentified by me and everyone else. That was easy to do, since there are dozens of texts with similar titles—nine just in the first volume of the Zhije collection from the recently printed 13 Dingri Langkor Volumes. However, based on positive identification of quotations attributed to “Mahāmudrā Symbol” in other Zhije texts, I have located it in the collected works of Bodong Chokle Namgyal, volume 92, and in no other place. The full title is Mahāmudrā Symbol Tantra, the Secret in the Hearts of All Ḍākinīs. I will mainly be looking for the influences of those two tantras in the Zhije praxis .
I had little success locating another two of sources of the four named by Gö Lotsawa in the Deb gter ngon po (p. 1134): a general sutra called Total River Play (Chu klung mngon par rol pa’i mdo); a particular sutra which is Heart of Wisdom; a general tantra called Illuminating the Pitaka (sde snod gsal byed); and the particular tantra called Great River Tantra (chu klung chen po).
Some interesting remarks in Jamgön Kongtrul’s Record of Teachings Received (gSan yig, p. 769) would be worth pursuing:
In the general table of contents of Pacification, [it states that] from the five great dharma series that came from the precious Lamps, in the third one—Stainless, along with the Subtle Drop (dri med phra tig dang bcas pa)—there is a series of six dharmas of experience. Of those, the sixth is about the result of maturation concerning the outer, inner, and secret instructions of ālikāli. The outer [instruction] contains the three [subjects] of divination, astrology, and auspicious connections. Of those, the latter is mainly from the old books: the history of ālikāli. The root of the outer cycle is the vajra diamond substance (pha lam rdzas kyi rdo rje), the root of ālikāli; the auspicious connections of ālikāli (“known as the eighty white auspiciously connected substances”) along with the outer, inner, secret, and suchness; the instructions of the aural lineage of ālikāli; and the cycle of mantras from the five cycles of auspicious connection (“the connection of mantras [for] raining hail”).
Those will prove to be very interesting if ever located. To return to the two tantra sources that I did examine: In discussion of whether the teachings that were passed to Kunga in the last transmission should be considered as sutra or tantra, Gö Lotsawa in the Deb gter ngon po concludes that they are sutra “because it is like the explanation of the doors of the 42-syllable dhāraṇī in the Perfection of Wisdom sutra itself. (But Kongtrul disagrees, holding the middle transmission as sutra and the last as mantra).
In the Perfection of Wisdom in Eighteen Thousand Lines, we find the 42-syllable a ra pa cha na alphabet, so-called because it is first five syllables of the Kharoṣṭhi script of Ghandāra and possibly the earliest use of dhāraṇī. Each syllable or phoneme is used to indicate a phrase beginning with that syllable that embodies an idea relevant to the perfection of wisdom, and hence the designation of dhāraṇī as a door or entrance:
And again, Subhuti, the dhāraṇī-doors are the great vehicle of the Bodhisattva, the great being. Which are they? The sameness of all letters and syllables, the sameness of all spoken words, the syllable-doors, the syllable-entrances. What then are the syllable-doors, the syllable entrances?
The syllable A is a door to the insight that all dharmas are unproduced from the very beginning (ādy-anutpannatvād). RA is a door to the insight that all dharmas are without dirt (rajas).
And so forth, through that alphabet. Thus it could be seen as a mnemonic device, to help in memorizing the alphabet itself and those concepts. My favorite example using instead the Sanskrit alphabet in a similar way is in the old Lalitavistara Sutra (Ch. 10), where the bodhisattva Śākyamuni attends his first day of school. Here’s what happened:
Through the bodhisattva’s power, the schoolmaster taught the children:
When he said the letter a, out came the statement: ”Every composite phenomenon is impermanent (anityaḥ sarvasaṁskāraḥ). When he said the letter ā, out came the statement: “Beneficial to self and others” (ātmaparahita). When he said the letter i, out came the statement: “The vast development of the senses (indriyavaipulya).
And so forth. In this way, “32,000 children gave rise to thoughts aimed at unexcelled, perfect and complete awakening.”
We are, of course, all familiar with this technique in English:
A you’re adorable, B you’re so beautiful, C you’re so cute and full of charm.
Or, from the 18th century:
A was an apple-pie; B bit it, C cut it, D dealt it…(and so on).
By the way, the title of that one—which could rival any Sanskrit or Tibetan title—is: “The Tragical Death of A, Apple Pye Who was Cut in Pieces and Eaten by Twenty-Five Gentlemen with whom All Little People Ought to be Very Well Acquainted.” Compare that to the 32,000 children who engendered bodhichitta.
Alphabet practices are found in tantras, such as the early Mahāvairocana Tantra with its placement of the alphabet around the letter a which “itself abides as the inherent nature of the array of various forms. It also reveals by its own nature that all phenomena are unborn..” etc. And the ritual of the mantra of the hundred letters based on the letter aṃ “the hundred-door essence” rather than a. The mnemonic correspondence seems not be a factor here, where each syllable has taken on its own inherent profound meaning and correspondences that don’t indicate a Sanskrit word. Rather, that sound is itself an entryway into an absolute truth. Unfortunately, those inherent syllable meanings vary widely from text to text and page to page.
Later tantras show alphabet and syllable usages as well, such as Chakrasaṃvara with its placement of letters on the practitioner cum deity and the encrypted use of the alphabet in a “mantra puzzle” to discover the secret essence mantras. Now, of course, it is no big surprise to find a lot of mantras in the Secret Mantra vehicle. I don’t intend to try to explain the tremendous power that was invested in sounds and letters. Mostly, however, mantras are words that carry lexical meaning, and my interest here is in the non-lexical syllables.
The two source tantras of Zhije are chock full of sounds, syllables, dhāraṇī, and mantra. The Ālikāli Tantra is presented in 24 chapters in the form of questions and answers between Vajrapāṇi and the Buddha. The 24th chapter and an interlinear note reveal that Dampa Sangye reconstituted three somewhat disparate sections of this “tantra” that were previously divided according to the following story: After the Buddha entrusts the tantra to various protectors he departs for Kushinigar.
Then the assembly went off to the king’s palace and divided the tantra into three parts. The first in eight chapters were written on leaves of a wishfulfilling tree, then encased it in a precious crystal vase. The gods summoned it and it rests inside a gandhola on the peak of Supreme Mountain. The middle section of eight chapters was written on the inner bark of a wishfulfilling tree and encased in a precious silver amulet box. The demigods and yakṣas summoned it and it rests in a copper house of blazing weapons midway up Supreme Mountain. The last section of eight chapters was written on blue water silk and encased in a golden box. The nāgas summoned it and it rests in the storehouse of the nāga at the base of Supreme Mountain. Later these three treasure teachings that were divided were brought together into one and written on the skin of a demoness (srin mo) and put into the skin bag of a white lioness. It rests in the endless knot of the secret treasury in the charnel ground of glorious Uḍḍiyāna.
The tantra may have been composed by Dampa himself, which is especially suggested by the use of the term “treasure teachings” (gter bka’). Yet it is consistent with other tantras in its contents. It answers such questions as “What is the Book” (glegs bam): the codex or volume that is used to confer the empowerments of Zhije, rather than the usual mandala or vase. The Buddha answers in verses such as:
In the teaching of the victorious sugatas of the three times
the sounds of great earth, water, fire, wind, and space,
[as] plants, forests, earth, stone, mountains, cliffs,
and all sentient beings, are saying the sounds of the teaching. (Ch. 4, p. 25)
And answering “What is the essence?”:
All phenomena are Ālikāli.
If the wise do not know that fact
they are obscured as to meaning and enter the path of the womb.
One must know that method and wisdom are not two.
And: “If all phenomena are ālikāli, what is the essence?”
Essence is wisdom in the shape of the letter a.
Intrinsic nature unimpeded appearing in the form of oṃ.
The characteristic is nonduality, the perception door of dhāraṇī.
From the perception door of wisdom a and oṃ
the emanation of unimpeded methods arise as kāli.
The guru of this emanated fifty
turns infinite unimaginable dharma wheels.
Repeating aloud the meaning of text, you retain it.
The drawing is the ālikāli of form.
Then the ālikāli of amazing substance
and the ālikāli of realized meaning
and the ālikāli of illustrative words
and the ālikāli of concordant examples.
These five I have explained as the secret essence. (Ch. 5, p.27)
Then the Buddha goes on to explain each of those. In chapter 6, first the Buddha pronounces the Sanskrit alphabet straight through and then other buddhas intone the various sets of letters from it:
Then tathāgatas in the east say ka ca ṭa ta pa ya śa / i ī ṛi;
tathāgatas in the south say kha cha ṭha tha pha ra ṣa / e ai ṛī;
tathāgatas in the west say ga ja ḍa da ba kṣa / a ā / aṃ aḥ /
tathāgatas in the north say nga ña ṇa na ma va ha / ḷi u ū /
tathāgatas in between say gha jha ḍha dha bha la sa / lī o au /
tathāgatas above say gu ru hya bad at / e vaṃ ma ya /
tathāgatas below say sa ca na si ka ra / maṃ kha la vo / (p. 32)
And in Chapter 7 we find:
The root of all phenomena is one’s own mind.
The nature of mind is power from concepts
Concepts depend on channels and winds.
The entity of channels and winds abides in the form of letters.
Therefore all phenomena are the clear form of letters.
The fifty come from a.
It is explained as the seed of all phenomena. (p.35)
In response to this question of the letters’ essence, the Buddha says, “I am the essence,” but continues with correspondences such as: ka kha ga nga are wind letters, blue, are ten, abiding in the lungs and so forth for each set. Other sets of syllables purify the afflictions, and so on endlessly, back and forth between non-lexical phonemes and regular lexical mantras that bestow power and efficacy. All this is interspersed with explanations of practices that are indeed reflected in the Zhije corpus.
Now the Mahāmudrā Symbol Tantra, the Secret in the Hearts of All Ḍākinīs contains in its 21 chapters similar teachings but in quite a different manner. For one thing, it is spoken not by the Buddha or Vajradhara, but the Bhagavatī, mistress of the realm, surrounded by goddesses and ḍākinīs. She appears but doesn’t, and says “a a a” without saying anything. And the interlocutor is none other than a certain “Kamalaśrī,” (Dampa Sangye) who relates the story in first person. The Sanskrit alphabet makes its first appearance in chapter three “from the vajra Body, Speech, and Mind of the emanated goddess.” This gives rise to the yab-yum in union and the mantras of empowerment, producing a stream of bodhicitta that matures all beings. Many mantras ensue, some familiar from the Ālikāli Tantra, as well as the distinctive five-fold path of Zhije. Three whole chapters (7–9) are given over to the explanation of the suchness of letters (yi ge’i de kho na nyid). And there is also an apparent “mantra puzzle” here, but I just can’t figure it out! It is tenuous to identify the mantras with those in the Ālikāli Tantra since the Tibetan phonetics for the Sanskrit of this text in particular seem quite corrupt. But, alas, this is a problem with most Tibetan phonetic reproductions where Devanāgarī is unavailable. And if the Sanskrit syllables really are doors to the vast absolute truth, this is extremely worrisome if not disastrous for the Tibetan practices based on alphabet and mantra!
The last chapter and the colophon, however, are surprisingly clear, giving an exact date, writing medium, and location. Spoken in a Pig Year, this would be 1107, if Dampa did die in 1117. The tantra was “given to the ḍākinī herself where it remains as the secret treasure of the heart.” The colophon mentions Dampa’s monastery of Dingri Langkor by name, and that it was translated by “the Indian Khenpo Kamalaśrī and Tibetan translator Zhwa ma Ton pa seng ge gyal po,” who was known as Zhama Lotsāwa, Dampa’s regular translator.
Though these two tantras may well be apocryphal, the material in both is generally concordant with Buddhist tantra, yet specific to the Zhije practices. However, the specificity involves the doctrines that appear in the practice and commentarial tradition, particularly the five-fold path mentioned above, and not particularly in the syllable or mantra usage. Why is that? I propose that over time the magic of sound was less compelling to Tibetans than it had been to Indian tantrikas, and may have also generated some anxiety due to the problems of transliteration and pronunciation. The many lineages of Zhije have therefore privileged meditations such as mahāmudrā or tantric visualizations. Indicative of this, when Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo was extracting “the essence” of the Ālikāli Tantra for inclusion in Kongtrul’s Treasury of Precious Instructions, he chose only three chapters which had minimal mantra and no non-lexical syllabary.
Or, when later commentators present the teachings that were passed to Bodhisattva Kunga, they expound only on the Red Guide, and yet the Black Guide (nag khrid) is where the alphabet teachings are found. Have those been lost? I have so far only found a few scraps regarding this practice, and then in a seemingly negative light. For example, in a question and answer session with Bodhisattva Kunga in one text, a disciple asks about the Black Guide and the stains that will arise from it. The short and remarkable answer is:
What the Black Guide does is illuminate (gsal ‘debs) the letters of forgetfulness tokens (brjed rdo’i yi ge) as imprints on white paper, as it’s called. [When] the instructions of the hearing (“earhole”; snyan khungs) lineage (rgyud for brgyud) have been written down as letter drawings (ris su song) it is a shame (lod). It is like the king degenerating into a commoner. 
The possible downfalls of the practice are numerous, including getting hung up on the letters because, of course, “there are no letters for the genuine meaning.” And “Fixating on the excellence of understanding the progression of words (tshig ‘dros), [one] does not look elsewhere, and that is a stain.” And so forth.
However, in the story of the lineage holder rGyal ba ten ne, the Black Guide was divided and granted to him in four separate cycles: the transmission (bka’ babs); the Stainless (dri med); the aural lineage (snyan brgyud); and the dohas of mahāmudrā. If that’s generally the case, then in fact the Black Guide is all over the place and so pervasive that I missed it.
In conclusion, it has been very challenging to find the syllable practice in what’s left of the Zhije tradition, except in the empowerment conferral itself. No wonder it was a surprise as I was mumbling my way through coded phonemes of the empowerment.
After delivering this paper at the IATS conference in Bergen, an attendee very graciously offered some information of the kind I was desperately seeking in my research. It particularly concerned an observed and still current Vedic ritual in which the meanings to be conveyed to disciples are disallowed as script in any form other than alphabetic syllables for the purpose of recollection. I was referred to the work of William Sax at U. of Heidelberg and also of Frits Staal, in books such as his Ritual and Mantras: Words Without Meaning, and Discovering the Vedas Origins, Mantras, Rituals, and Insights. A paragraph from a review of the latter by Annette van der Hoek illustrates how very illuminating this information would have been:
“Part three explains, in quite some linguistic detail, that the syntactic structure of a mantra is, interestingly, often closer to birdsong than it is to natural language. this is demonstrated, for instance, in the use of sheer indefinite repetition – a,a,a,a,a –which is not a part of our everyday sentence construction and in the use of sequences – bha, bhu, bhi, bho – that again natural language wouldn’t feature except for maybe in a child’s play with words.”
 “He came to Tibet five times. The first time he journeyed to Tsari via Drintang-la. He set foot in all areas of Do-Kham, predicting the spread of the doctrine there. The second time he came from Kasmir and arrived in Ngari, where he accepted as disciples Zhangzhung Lingkawa and Bönpo Trotsang Druklha. On the third visit he came from Nepal to Tsang and gave instructions to Yarlung Mara Serpo and Kyotön Sönam Lama [Machik’s guru]. On the fourth he arrived at Nyal [near Arunashal Pradesh border] via Sha-uk Tak and purified the obscurations of his mother (yum). In Central Tibet he benefited Ma [Chökyi Sherab], So [-chung Gendun Bar], and Kam [Yeshe Gyaltsen]. On the fifth visit he first went to China, where he stayed for twelve years before returning to Dingri [until his death 1117—20 yrs).”
 Ronald M. Davidson, Tibetan Renaissance, p. 248: “The curiosity of Zhiché is not its multiple lineages but the fact that there seems go be no core teaching associated with the term Zhiché…”
 Zhi byed sgron ma skor gsum, here listed as sPyod pa’i sgron ma, Lam gyi sgron ma, and Thugs kyi sgron ma. But nine cycles (Zhi byed sgron ma skor dgu’i chos skor) are mentioned and listed in RHPS (488) and in BA (905-6) and even by Kongtrul himself in TOK 1:541. These can all be found in the Tengyur (Toh. 2315-2330), where they are attributed to Kamalaśila.
 See Kurtis Schaeffer’s Dreaming the Great Brahmin.
 Minling Lochen Dharmaśrī (1654–1717), Distilled Elixir: A Unified Collection of the Guidebooks of the Early, Middle, and Later Pacification. Zhi byed snga phyi bar gsum gyi khrid yig rnams phyogs gcig tu bsebs pa bdud rtsi’i nying khu by in DNZ vol. 13 (pa), p. 348.
 Dharmaśrī, Distilled Elixir, DNZ vol. 13 (pa), p. 352.
 Ibid. p. 354; and Jamgön Kongtrul, Treasury of Knowledge, Book Eight, Part Four Esoteric Instructions, trans. Sarah Harding, p.270.
 Kongtrul, ibid., p. 273.
 mKha’ ‘gro ma thams cad kyi thugs kyi gsang ba phyag chen brda’i rgyud in Bo dong Phyogs las rnam rgyal, De nyid ‘dus pa, the Collected Works published as Encyclopedia Tibetica, vol. 92, pp. 111–160.
 Possible Chu klung sna tshogs rol pa’i mdo, the Nānānadū sutra or Chu klung ba tsha’i mdo/Mūlanadī brought by Tönmi Sambhoṭa?
 Tashi Chöpel (bKra shis chos ’phel). Record of Teachings Received. ’Jam mgon kong sprul yon tan rgya mtshos dam pa’i chos rin po che mdo sngags rig gnas dang bcas pa ji ltar thos shing de dag gang las brgyud pa’i yi ge dgos ’dod kun ’byung nor bu’i bang mdzod. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2008
 Gö Lotsāwa: p 1134: shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa’i mdo nyid nas yi ge bzhi bcu rtsa gnyis kyi gzung kyi sgo bshad pa dang ‘gra ba’i phyir ro/
 “The middle transmission is the definitive meaning according mainly to the sutras. The last is for the most part in accordance with the mantra.” (Kongtrul, Treasury of Knowledge, vol. 3, p.542, my translation.)
 Richard Solomon, “New Evidence for a Gāndhārī Origin of the Arapacana Syllabary,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 110, No. 2, 1990; Jan Nattier, A Few Good Men, 2003, pp. 291–2, note 549. See also Jayarava, Visible Mantra: Visualizing and Writing Buddhist Mantras, 2011.
 Edward Conze’s translation in The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom, p. 160.
 84,000 online translation, “The Play in Full” accessed 05/30/16 http://read.84000.co/browser/released/UT22084/046/UT22084-046-001.pdf
 See Stephen Hodge, (trans.) The Mahā-Vairocana-abhisaṃbodhi Tantra with Buddhaguhya’s Commentary, pp. 216-232. (ch. 10). Said to be revealed around 640 CE.
 David Gray, The Cakrasaṃvara Tantra, p. 133.
 The Tshig mdzod chen mo (pp. 3218–19) states that “some say” Pha Dampa Sangs rgyas died in the fire fowl year of 1117. But it also gives his departure date to China as 1101 and returned to Dingri in 1113 for the last time. Most accounts agree that he spent 12 years in China. That would only give him four years at Dingri until his supposed death, with no intervening Pig Year, which wouldn’t be until 1119. The dating remains to be clarified.
 Chapters 10 on the five paths, 17 on the empowerment and pledges, and 23 on view, meditation, conduct, and results. From his colophon: Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Essence of Precious Segments of the Inconceivable Secret Tantra Section, the Source Text of the Holy Dharma Pacification of Suffering. Dam chos sdug bsngal zhi byed kyi gzhung gsang ba bsam gyis mi khyab pa’i rgyud sde’i dum bu rin po che’i snying po. DNZ, vol. 13, p. 15.
 bDud rtsi zhun ma’i gdams pa, DV, ga, p. 97. Nag khrid bgyi ba brjed rdo’i yi ge’i gsal ‘debs / dkar shog la btabs pa la zer ba yin te / snyan khungs [b]rgyud pa’i gdams ngag yi ge’i ris su son bas lod de / rgyal po rmangs su babs pa lta bu yin / rgyal po rmangs (dmangs) su babs pa lta bu yin / Much thanks to Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche for clarifying this passage. Personal interview, 06/04/16.
 Zhi byed bdud rtsi’i thigs pa’i gzhung yan lag lnga’i sgo nas rgyas par bshad pa, DV, vol. ga, p. 778.
 “‘Meaningless’ mantras and birdsong?: discovering the Vedas” The Newsletter, No. 53, Spring 2010: iias.asia/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL53_35.pdf
Save the Date! June 1-4, 2017
2017 Translation and Transmission Conference
At the University of Colorado, Boulder
The Foundation, in consultation with all the partners, sponsors, conference steering committee members, and speakers from the 2014 Translation & Transmission Conference is proud to announce the second conference in the Translation & Transmission Series, which will take place June 1-4, 2017 in Boulder, Colorado. In light of the universal support and positive feedback we received for the previous conference, we feel that it is important to continue the conversation and community building that the 2014 conference facilitated.
The purpose of this conference series is to provide an international forum for sustained dialogue and the sharing of ideas and experiences, as well as for collective reflection on the larger cultural and societal dimensions of the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism to the contemporary sphere. This conference is not a showcase for any single project or institution but an opportunity for all to gather in an open and collegial spirit.
In the spring of 2017 the conference will convene in the heart of Boulder, Colorado, at the Glenn Miller Ballroom, University Memorial Center, June 1st through 4th, 2017.
Day 1: Susan Bassnett (Warwick)
Day 2: Jan Nattier (Washington)
Day 3: José Cabezón (UCSB)
Translators – Day 1
1. Janet Gyatso (Harvard)
2. Anne Klein (Rice University, Dawn Mountain)
3. Wulstan Fletcher (Padmakara, Tsadra)
4. Karl Brunnholzl (Nitartha Institute, Nalandabodhi)
Translating – Day 2
1. Kurtis Schaeffer (University of Virginia)
2. Thupten Jinpa (Institute of Tibetan Classics)
3. Elizabeth Napper (Tibetan Nuns Project)
Translations – Day 3
1. John Canti (84000, Padmakara)
2. Tom Yarnall (AIBS, Columbia, Tibet House US)
3. David Kittelstrom (Wisdom Publications)
4. Sarah Harding (Tsadra, Naropa University)
Workshop presenters are still to be invited but will include more than 32 other translators and specialists in Tibetan language.
The program schedule is still being planned and announcements will be made as soon as possible. Please sign up to receive the conference newsletter if you plan to attend or would like more information about the conference.
Registration will open online in Summer 2016.
If you or your organization wishes to donate to the conference effort or become a sponsor of the conference, please contact Marcus@tsadra.org
The Conference Steering Committee
John Canti (Padmakara Translation Group & 84000)
Wulstan Fletcher (Padmakara Translation Group & Tsadra Foundation)
Holly Gayley (University of Colorado, Boulder)
Sarah Harding (Naropa University & Tsadra Foundation)
Thupten Jinpa (Institute of Tibetan Classics)
Anne Klein (Rice University & Dawn Mountain)
Marcus Perman (Tsadra Foundation)
Andrew Quintman (Yale University)
Kurtis Schaeffer (University of Virginia)
Tom Yarnall (Columbia University & AIBS)
Hosted by Tsadra Foundation
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
You can now view videos of each plenary session, listen to audio from workshops, and enjoy pictures from throughout the 2014 Translation & Transmission Conference on the updated conference website:
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 XVIIth Congress of the International Association of Buddhist Studies will be held at the University of Vienna, Austria in August of 2014. More information can be found on the conference website: http://iabs2014.univie.ac.at
The Thirteenth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies will be held in Ulaanbaatar Sunday 21 July to Saturday 27 July, 2013.
For more information see their new and developing website: http://www.iats.info/
Michael Sheehy gave a formal presentation entitled “Banned Books, Sealed Printeries and Neglected Dkar chag” that described some fascinating research on the history of Takten Damchö Phuntsok Ling Monastery (where Tāranātha passed on) and its printery. He recounted three separate attempts to rescue the woodblocks of Jonang texts from the Phuntsok Ling printery by three different Tibetan lamas over several centuries following Tāranātha’s death. It is not until the efforts of Losal Tenkyong (blo gsal bstan skyong), a Zhwa lu Tulku who was close to Jamgon Kongtrul, that the printery doors were unlocked and a dkar chag of the texts found there was created.