We are steadily expanding the holdings of our library here in Boulder, Colorado. Here are some of the more recent works added to our research library:New Arrivals Post May 2014-1

  • Faxian. Mémoire sur les pays bouddhiques. Les Belles Lettres, 2014.
  • Yang Xuangzhi. Mémoire sur les monastères bouddhiques de Louyang. Les Belles Lettres, 2014.
  • Akester, Matthew. 2012. The Life of Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo by Jamgön Kongtrul. New Delhi: Shechen Publications.
  • Ramble, Charles, Peter Schwieger and Alice Travers. Tibetans who Escaped the Historian’s Net: Studies in the Social History of Tibetan Societies. Kathmandu, Nepal: Vajra Publications, 2013.
  • Chopel, Gendun. 2014. Grains of Gold: Tales of a Cosmopolitan Traveler. Translated by Thupten Jinpa and Donald S. Lopez, Jr. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Haynes, Sarah F. and Michelle J. Sorensen. Wading into the Stream of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Leslie Kawamura. Contemporary Issues in Buddhist Studies.
  • Bengelsdorf, Hernán. Diccionario Tibetano-Castellano. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Dungkar, 2011.
  • Cranmer, Marit. Tibetan Literary Arts: Exhibition Catalog. Neilson Library, Smith College.. Shang Shung Publications, 2007.
  • Wimmel, K. William Woodville Rockhill: Scholar-Diplomat of the Tibetan Highlands. Orchid Press, 2006.
  • Lessing and Wayman. Mkhas grub rje’s Fundamentals of the Buddhist Tantras. Mouton, 1968.
  • Lopez Jr., Donald S. and Robert E. Jr. Buswell. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.
  • Adelheid Herrmann-Pfandt. 2008. Die lhan kar ma : ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte. Wien : Verlag der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

New Arrivals Post May 2014-2

  • Arslan, Saadet and Peter Schwieger. Tibetan Studies an Anthology. Beiträge zur Zentralasienforschung Vol 23. International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies (IITBS), 2010.
  • Dotson, Brandon, Kazushi Iwao and Tsuguhito Takeuchi. Scribes, Texts, and Rituals in Early Tibet and Dunhuang. Contributions to Tibetan Studies Vol 9. WiesBaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2013.
  • Hackett, Paul G.. A Catalogue of the Comparative Kangyur (bka’ ‘gyur dpe bsdur ma). Treasury of the Buddhist Sciences. New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies; New York: Columbia University’s Center for Buddhist Studies, 2012.
  • Gray, David B.. The Cakrasamvara Tantra (The Discourse of Śrī Heruka): A Study and Annotated Translation. Treasury of the Buddhist Sciences. New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2007.
  • Gray, David B.. The Cakrasamvara Tantra (The Discourse of Śrī Heruka): Editions of the Sanskrit and Tibetan Texts. Treasury of the Buddhist Sciences. New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2012.
  • Balikci-Denjongpa, Anna and Alex McKay. Buddhist Himalaya: Studies in Religion, History and Culture Volume I-III: Tibetan and the Himalaya;The Sikkim Papers; The Tibetan Papers. Proceedings of the Golden Jubilee Conference of the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology Gangtok, 2008. Sikkim: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, 2011.
  • ཏ་པོ། དུས་རབས་བཅུ་པ་ནས་ཉི་ཤུ་པའི་བར་གྱི་སྔ་མོའི་རྒྱ་གར་དང་བོད་ཀྱི་ལྡེབས་རིས་དང་ཡི་གེ། ནུབ་ཧི་མཱ་ལ་ཡའི་གནའ་བོའི་དགོན་གྲོང་ཞིག


  • Les Neuf Forces de l’Homme. Samten Karmay et Philippe Sagant. Recherches sur la Haute Asie 13. Nanterre: Société d’ethnologie, 1998.
  • Les habitants du Toit du monde. Samten Karmay et Philippe Sagant. Recherches sur la Haute Asie 12. Nanterre: Société d’ethnologie, 1997.
  • Nigouma et Soukhasiddhi: Hagiographies et chants. suivi de Horizons féminins Hadewijch-Lalla-Rabi’a al-Adawiya. Traduction de Joy Vriens (Lama Tsultrim Namdak). With the support of Tsadra Foundation. La Galerie: Éditions Yogi Ling, 2014.
  • Puṣpikā: Tracing Ancient India Through Texts and Traditions. Contributions to Current Research in Indology Volume 1. Edited by Nina Mirnig, Péter-Dániel Szántó, and Michael Williams. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2013.
  • Lambert Schmithausen. 2014. The Genesis of Yogācāra-Vijñānavāda: Responses and Reflections. Kasuga Lectures Series I. Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies.
  • Eimer, Helmut. A Catalogue of the Kanjur fragment from Bathang Kept in the Newark Museum. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #75. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2012.
  • Hofer, Theresia. The Inheritance of Change: Transmission and Practice of Tibetan Medicine in Ngamring. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #76. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2012.
  • Weissenborn, Karen. Buchkunst Aus Nālandā: Die Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā-Handscrift in der Royal Asiatic Society/London (Ms. Hodgson 1) und ihre Stellung in der Pāla-Buchmalerei des 11./12. Jahrhunderts. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #77. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2012.
  • Higgins, David. The Philosophical Foundations of Classical rdzogs chen in Tibet: Investigating the Distinction Between Dualistic Mind (seems) and Primordial Knowing (ye shes). Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #78. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2013.
  • Stuart, Daniel Malinowski. Thinking About Cessation: The Pṛṣṭhapālasūtra of the Dīrghāgama in Context. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #79. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2013.
  • Kuijp, Leonard W. J. van der and Arthur P. McKeown. Bcom ldan ral gri (1227-1305) On Indian Buddhist Logic and Epistemology: His Commentary on Dignāga’s Pramāṇasamuccaya. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #80. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2013.
  • Schneider, Johannes. Eine Buddhistische Kritik der Indischen Götter Śaṃkarasvāmins Devātiśayastotra mit Prajñāvarmans Kommentar. Nach dem tibetischen Tanjur herausgegeben und übersetzt. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #81. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2014.
  • Steinkellner, Ernst. The Edition of Śāntarakṣita’s Vādanyāyaṭīkā Collated With the Kundeling Manuscript. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde #82. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2014.
  • Ernst Steinkellner. 2013. Dharmakīrtis frühe Logik – Dharmakīrti’s Early Logic: An Annotated German Translation of the Logical Parts in Pramāṇavārttika 1 andVṛtti. Volumes 1 and 2. Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies.
  • Robert Kritzer. 2014. Garbhāvakrāntisūtra: The Sutra on Entry into the Womb. Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies.


Did Machik Lapdrön Really Teach Chöd? A Survey of the Early Sources
by Sarah Harding

This provocative title is a result of a persistent question in the back of my mind for several years while I was researching and translating the early gcod texts from Jamgön Kongtrul’s Treasury of Precious Instructions (gDams ngag rin chen gter mdzod), the next ambitious project of the Tsadra Foundation. As I patiently went through the marvelous teachings in each text, I kept wondering when I would find the actual instructions on gCod (“chöd”), or “Severance,” that I was so familiar with from translating Machik’s Complete Explanation and from my own three-year retreat practice. The following is a short survey of these texts and my findings therein, which suggest that there is no clear attribution of the body-offering practice, and certainly not in the elaborate form that we find today.

gCod is primarily known, now quite famously, as a visualization practice in which one separates one’s consciousness from the physical body, and then turns around to cut up the remaining corpse and prepare it for distribution to gods, demons, and spirits of all kinds. The ritual offering may involve going to specific places where such spirits might be found, such as isolated, frightening, or haunted places. It is immediately obvious that several terrifying psychological experiences are invoked: fear of the unseen spirit world, of wilderness, and of the maiming and dismemberment of one’s body. It is thus widely recognized as a practice of “facing your fears” and overcoming them.

gCod was developed, also famously, by the woman Machik Lapdrön in the late eleventh century, during the time in Tibet when many other lineages were forming. Although technically gcod is known as a subsidiary of the zhi byed or Pacification teachings of Dampa Sangye, clearly Machik is the single mother of this baby. In the records of Machik’s brief encounters with Dampa Sangye, and in the only Indian gcod source text (gzhung) by Āryadeva the Brahmin, there is little about this specific practice. It therefore seems to be solely a result of Machik’s own realizations, and so is famous as an original Buddhist teaching indigenous to Tibet that uniquely spread to India in a reverse trajectory from all other doctrines.

The realization that gave birth to Machik’s gcod is said to have occurred during her recitation of a prājñāpāramitā text, which she regularly performed as part of her job as a household chaplain. Specifically, it was while reading “the chapter on māra.” Many suggestions have been offered as to which section that would be, but in any case none of them throw light on the subject. The fact that it is mentioned at all, however, is very provocative. Māra, of course, is the antithesis of Buddha, and has been personified perhaps in the same way as enlightenment is personified as a buddha. Māra represents obstruction of the spiritual path or spiritual death (from Skt. mṛ-, “to die”) in all its forms. Besides the Buddha’s antagonist, a variety of māras were eventually classified into two sets of four, but there are many more examples in the texts I have translated here. It is tempting to imagine Machik’s inspiration as a profound encounter with the dark side, eventually resulting in the overcoming of that duality through the integration of the prājñāpāramitā teachings.

There is no shortage of reference to māras throughout the texts on gcod and their sources, and no question that the primary goal of these teachings is to deal with them, whether conceived of as demons or adverse circumstances or ego or as ultimate evil and ignorance. Simply put, the term used to describe that process is “chöd.” But it comes in two homonymic interchangeable spellings: gcod, which means “to cut” or “sever” and spyod, which means “behavior” or “action.” I have seen either used in alternate editions of the same text. Spyod and spyod yul instantly conjure up the bodhisattva’s conduct in the prājñāpāramitā literature, as in the recurring phrase:  “In this way one should train in performing the activity of the profound perfection of wisdom.” gCod as severance also has its Buddhist antecedents. The classic definition in gcod source material comes from Āryadeva’s Grand Poem, Esoteric Instructions on the Perfection of Wisdom:

Since it severs the root of mind itself,

and severs the five toxic emotions,

extremes of view, meditational formations,

conduct anxiety, and hopes and fears;

since it severs all inflation,

it is called “severance” by semantic explanation.

It is clear that the specific practice of cutting up the body is not alluded to in this definition, as well as all others that I encountered. In fact, it may just be an unfortunate parallel of usage that the process of resolution and integration of problems uses the same term as does the ordinary function of an axe or kitchen knife, or dragon glass, for that matter. We can think of the common term thag gcod pa (“decide, put an end to, determine, handle, deal with, treat”) to get more of a sense of this term, recalling also the interchangeability with spyod pa as “conduct and behavior.” What to do when things get tough? Act with determination.

Similarly, the term yul (“object”) in the longer name for this practice bdud kyi gcod yul (“the devil/evil that is the object to sever”) is used in the most abstract way and is attested in the Abidharma by Kongtrul and others. Consider the first verse in Machik Lapdrön’s source text, the bKa’ tshom chen mo (“Great Bundle”):

The root devilry is one’s own mind.

The devil lays hold through clinging and attachment

in the cognition of whatever objects appear.

Grasping mind as an object is corruption.

Or again, from the same text, referring to a more refined state of practice:

The conceit of a view free of elaboration,

the conceit of a meditation in equipoise,

the conceit of conduct without thoughts,

all conceits on the path of practice,

if engaged in as objects for even a moment,

obstruct the path and are the devil’s work.

The vast majority of the instructions in these early texts are on the practice and theory of prājñāpāramitā, as clearly indicated by their titles. These instructions are often reminiscent of mahāmudrā, and in fact later took on the epithet Severance Mahāmudrā (gcod yul phyag rgya chen po). For instance, from Machik’s Great Bundle:

Everything is self-occurring mind,

so a meditator does not meditate.

Whatever self-arising sensations occur,

rest serene, clear, and radiant.

Even the earliest source text by Āryadeva the Brahmin employs such mahāmudrā signature phrases as “clear light,” (‘od gsal) and “mental non-engagement” (yid la mi byed pa), while the commentary on those passages cites scripture such as Maitreya’s Highest Continuum and other sources usually associated with the third turning. There is constant reiteration of this basic instruction to rest relaxed without doing anything. One of the more famous sayings attributed to Machik, often used as a reference to the gcod practice, is not particularly giving an instruction to sever and offer the body, but is more of a straightforward prājñāpāramitā or mahāmudrā instruction:

Rest the body in the way of a corpse.

Rest in the way of being ownerless.

Rest the mind in the way of the sky.

As a candle unmoved by the wind,

rest in the way of clarity with no thought.

As an ocean unmoved by the wind,

rest in a way serenely limpid.

So where are the references to the practice of casting out the body as food that has made this practice so sensational? A quick survey of the ten early texts (two source texts plus Machik’s eight) making up 134 folia, turns up sixteen references to the catch phrase “separating the mind from the body,” all but one of which merely give mention to the term. This in itself, however, does not constitute the body-offering practice per se. Separating out the consciousness and “blending it with space” (byings rig bsre ba or ‘dre pa) or the much later nomenclature “opening the door to the sky” (nam mkha’ sgo byed) became signature gcod practices. Jamgön Kongtrul asserts that this is the main practice and relegates the body offering to post-meditation (rjes thob) or a branch (yan lag). The number of references to the actual body dismemberment is very rare, and, as I will suggest, limited to the texts of dubious origin. I will briefly survey the texts in the order they are found in the Treasury.

The verse text by Āryadeva the Brahmin, Esoteric Instructions on the Perfection of Wisdom, which is the only source text said to be of Indian origin, mentions the body offering only once, in the context of a classic graded path suitable for the three kinds of individuals:

Those with superior meditative experience

rest in the nondual meaning of it all.

The average practitioners focus on that and meditate.

The inferior offer their body aggregate as food.

The Great Bundle is taken as the earliest and most basic text attributed to Machik. As the story goes, she responded to three Indian inquisitors with an explanation of this composition and proved to them that that her teachings were indeed Buddha Word (hence bka’ in the title). It contains only one reference to a body offering:

Awareness carries the corpse of one’s body;

cast it out in an unattached way

in haunted grounds and other frightful places.

The third text classified as a source text by Jamgön Kongtrul is called Heart Essence of Profound Meaning.” That name came to indicate a whole cycle of teachings, but this source text is signed (not here, but in another edition) by Jamyang Gönpo (b. 1208?). In most records of the lineage, his name appears right after that of Machik’s son Gyalwa Döndrup, making him the earliest commentator on Machik’s teachings that I have yet encountered, nearly a century earlier than the third Karmapa (1284-1339), who is often given that credit. In this text, again, there is only one passage indicating the body-offering practice:

Free the mind of self-fixation by relinquishing the body aggregate as food.

Scatter the master of self-fixation by separating body and mind.

Liberate fear on its own ground by inspecting the fearful one.

Tossing away fixation on the body as self, obstacles will arise as glory.

We then come to an interesting text in the Treasury attributed to Machik called Precious Treasure Trove to Enhance the Original Source, A Hair’s Tip of Wisdom: A Source Text of Severance, Esoteric Instructions on the Perfection of Wisdom. It is evident that this is not a text by Machik, but a commentary on what may have been her teachings, which can be reconstructed by extracting the quoted segments. Using a methodology of searching citations in other gcod histories, specifically a huge auto commentary on the aforementioned Heart Essence by Jamyang Gönpo and Jamgön Kongtrul’s Treasury of Knowledge, I have determined that when something called kha thor (“scattered”) is referenced, it is in fact the quoted segments of this text (with one exception that I could not find there). This was an exciting discovery and solved a long standing mystery, and also corroborated my analysis of this text as a commentary, although it doesn’t solve its authorship. That being said, however, there is not a single mention of casting out the body as food. The entire commentary, including the words apparently spoken by Machik, concern the perfection of wisdom.

Then there are two or three or more “bundles” attributed to Machik. Another Bundle (Yang tshom) is in verse form of a dialogue with her son Gyalwa Döndrup. The longer title is Another Bundle of Twenty-Five Instructions as Answers to Questions, although not surprisingly there are actually twenty-eight questions in this version. Tacked on to that and unmentioned in any source or catalogue is a set of eighteen more questions with very cryptic verse answers, called Vajra Play (rDo rje rol pa). Then from an altogether different collection of ancient gcod texts found at Limi monastery in Nepal, there is a text called, again, “Bundle of Precepts” (bKa’ tshom). The colophon titles it “Thirty-five Questions and Answers on the Bundle of Precepts, the Quintessence of the Mother’s Super Secret Heart-Mind.” While this text bears no resemblance to Machik’s Great Bundle of Precepts (bKa’ tshom chen mo), it is strikingly similar to Another Bundle. Of the thirty-five questions (and this time the number is correct!), twenty-six of them appear in Another Bundle. There is some suggestion in the colophon that this bundle may have been gathered by, again, Jamyang Gönpo. What all of this indicates to me is that there were more than one set of notes circulating as records of Machik’s dialogues, and that Jamgön Kongtrul ended up with this particular set for his Treasury, while his contemporary, Kamnyön Dharma Senge, apparently had access to another one, judging from the citations found in his Religious History of Pacification and Severance.

To return to my point, there are but two brief mentions in Another Bundle concerning body offerings. The first is in a list of things to explain the term “unbearable” in response to the question “What is the meaning of “trampling upon the unbearable?” (mi phod brdzi ba), a phrase describing Severance. It says, “casting out the body to demons is unbearable (‘dre la lus skyur mi phod). The second instance is in response to the question “What should one do when sick?” and the answer is: “Chop up your body and offer it as feast.” (lus po gtubs la tshogs su ‘bul. Note the use of gtubs rather than gcod).

One last bundle is called The Essential Bundle (Nying tshom). Although it is attributed to Machik, it appears to be a summary of the other bundles, with a structural outline, scriptural citations, and even quotes from Machik, respectfully referred to as “Lady Mother” (ma jo mo). This assessment is further supported by the fact that it seems never to be cited in texts such as The Treasury of Knowledge, and is not mentioned in Kongtrul’s Record of Teachings Received, nor in Kunga Namgyal’s short list of ten Indian dharmas. In any case, again there are only two references here: (1) if afraid:Immediately hand over the body to those gods and demons without concern” and (2) “Those of inferior scope give over the body to the dangerous obstructers and rest in non-action within the state of mental non-recollection.”

Finally we have another set of three texts that I’ve called “Appendices” (Le lag), attributed to Machik. Here they are neatly divided into The Eight Common Appendices, The Eight Uncommon Appendices, and The Eight Special Appendices. However, in other supporting material when quotations are extracted from the “Appendices,” it is inevitably from the first set only, The Common Appendices. Moreover, in the aforementioned set of gcod texts from Limi monastery, there are just two sets of appendices, called “The Thirteen Appendices” and “The Eight Appendices.” The latter corresponds loosely to the Eight Common Appendices in the Treasury. The Thirteen correspond neither to the Uncommon nor Special Appendices. I therefore only feel comfortable confirming the Common Appendices (of the three sets) as part of original teachings by Machik.

The Eight Common Appendices mention the body offering practice twice: once simply stating, “The body is a corpse, cast it out as food” (lus ni ro yin gzan du bskyur), and then again reiterating the threefold gradation of practice:

[Recite] “unspeakable, unthinkable, inexpressible,”

or else rest in the separation of body and awareness,

or else cast out the body as food

and rest within the state of evenness.

The Eight Uncommon Appendices is a very interesting text, albeit of doubtful origin. The eight sections are less arbitrary and present a progressive analysis of important elements in the practice. They are: (1) the meaning of the name, (2) the vital points, (3) practices applied to faculties, (4) clearing away obstructions, (5) deviations, (6) containing inattention (7) how to practice when sick, and (8) enhancement. The biggest surprise in this text is in the seventh appendix, which concerns various healing ceremonies, the nature of which is not found in any of the other texts, and involves such items as leper brains and widow’s underwear. However there is a basic principle here, that of dealing with the most difficult circumstances by facing them directly and employing a kind of “like heals like” practice. Thus substances normally considered unclean may be used to cure disease resulting from contamination. Or, as in modern homeopathy theory, the text offers a prescription to “pacify the heat of feverish illness in fire and resolve cold illness in water.” In some ways this could be taken as the essence of gcod practice, though it might be more difficult to identify Buddhist elements here. Of the five references to giving away the body, whether one’s own or the patient’s, two of them are in this section. For example: “To treat sriu, take [the affected] to a haunted place and completely give over the flesh and blood to the harm doers. The mind will be blessed in emptiness.”

The last text of all those attributed to Machik Lapdrön is The Eight Special Appendices, and if the attribution is true, then this is where my theory falls apart. But of course I am somewhat skeptical. Stylistically it is very different from the ancient source texts, being comprised of eight sections outlining a progressive practice from beginning to end, much like a practice manual (khrid yig). The eight main headings are (1) the entry: going for refuge and arousing the aspiration, (2) the blessing: separating body and mind, (3) the meditation: without recollecting, mentally doing nothing, (4) the practice: casting out the body as food, (5) the view: not straying into the devils’ sphere of influence, (6) pacifying incidental obstacles of body and mind, (7) the sacred oaths of severance, and (8) the results of practice. The first four of these have further subcategories that contain not only descriptions, but also actual liturgy to be recited in the practice. And as the contents make clear, there is a whole section devoted to casting out the body as food, though not in the specific detail found in later works, such as Kongtrul’s Garden of Delight. In any case, this is the only text in the group where one can recognize the implementation of the practice of gcod as we have come to know it. And after the seemingly shamanic-type healing described in The Uncommon Appendices, it brings it all back into the Buddhist context with statements such as:

Casting out the body as food is the perfection of generosity, giving it away for the sake of sentient beings is morality, giving it away without hatred is patience, giving it away again and again is diligence, giving it away without distraction is meditative stability, and resting afterwards in the abiding nature of emptiness is the perfection of wisdom.

The refuge visualization includes not only Machik herself but also her son Gyalwa Döndrup and grandson or grandnephew Tönyön Samdrup, which would seem to indicate that it is at least second if not third generation after Machik herself. More research needs to be done and hopefully more will come to light as I continue with the translations in the volumes on Severance and Pacification in The Treasury of Precious Instructions.

The question I proposed: “Is there enough material here to warrant attributing the body offering practice to Machik?” has led to much speculation. I would have to say that so far I have not seen much evidence linking Machik with the culinary detail of the spectacular charnel ground practices we call “Chöd.” Yet this is not much different than any investigation of the sources of a full-blown tradition. Did Virupa teach lam ‘bras? Did Niguma teach Six Yogas? The ḍākinī’s warm breath cools down and the trail is lost, leaving us chilling in a nice cool spot. Buddhist and non-Buddhist elements mix and mingle and we drink, hoping for a good brew to warm us.

Did Machik Lapdrön Really Teach Chöd? A Survey of the Early Sources
Presented by Sarah Harding at AAR 2013, Baltimore, MD

Attached here is a listing of early gcod texts from the gdams ngag mdzod – Sarah Harding

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.

Recent discovery of “earliest Buddhist shrine” a sham?

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.


Graduate of the Indo-Tibetan Studies program at the University of Virginia, Doctor Daniel E. Perdue, author of Debate in Tibetan Buddhism (published by Snow Lion in 1992), passed away on November 18th, 2013. Obituaries can be found at H-Net, The Roanoke Times, and Richmond Times Dispatch.



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.



Adam Pearcey and the Lotsawa House team continue to do their great work online: http://www.lotsawahouse.org




Wisdom Publications

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.


Mark Siderits and Shōryū Katsura published Nāgārjuna’s Middle Way.







In 2013 Wisdom also published Yael Bentor’s A Classical Tibetan Reader.








UMA Institute

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.


Shambhala Publications

The Epic of Gesar of Ling was translated by Robin Kornman, Lama Chonam, and Sangye Khandro and published in a beautiful edition by Shambhala Publications (680 pages, 9781590308424)

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.

Also in 2013, Judy Lief’s three volumes of Trungpa teachings titled The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma was published in a beautiful set by Shambhala Publications.



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.”


Paul Hackett‘s A Catalogue of the Comparative Kangyur (bka’ ‘gyur dpe bsdur ma) was published in the AIBS series as well, with the second title on the Tengyur coming soon.





Tsadra Foundation

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 meTBRC 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.

The second volume is apparently available as The Light of Kailash from the Shang Shung Institute.






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.




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●    The Profound Inner Principles by Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, with commentary by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Taye, translated by Elizabeth Callahan

●    Refining Our Perception of Reality, by Sera Kandro, translated by Ngawang Zangpo

●    The Wondrous Dance of Illusion: The Autobiography of Khenpo Ngawang Palzang, translated by Heidi Nevin and Jacob Leschly

●    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.


The Tsadra Foundation website has been completely redesigned and updated with information about all our areas of activity.




Higher Education:


Home Page:

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.