Posts Tagged ‘IATS’

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:

“Collected Writings: (gsung ‘bum) in Tibetan Literature: Towards a Systematic Study of Their Compilation, Redaction and Composition and Its Use for Genre Classifications” by Jim Rheingans – Universität Bonn

I was keen to hear what Dr. Rheingans had to say regarding Tibetan genre because of our recent attempts to catalog the gdams ngag mdzod and all of the difficulties that arose when attempting to classify texts by subject. In his talk, Dr. Rheingans discussed his work on the 8th Karmapa’s (mi bskyod rdo rje, 1507-1554) gsung ‘bum, collected by the 5th Shamarpa (dkon mchog yan lag, 1525-1583). The gsung ‘bum as a concept, and as a classification scheme itself, does seem like an interesting place to begin looking for ways of classifying Tibetan writing by topic and genre. In the dkar chags of all the extant gsung ‘bum‘s we will find many different ways of classifying texts and I suspect it is not always easy to find systematic dkar chags. However, a study of many dkar chags would certainly begin to provide an interesting picture of how Tibetan’s classified texts over time. In the gdams ngag mdzod we see perhaps far too many schemas, as many different lineages are represented, each with their own classificatory terms. However, the organization of these disparate texts shown in the dkar chag by ‘Jam mgon kong sprul are themselves a useful example of a Tibetan system (historically situated in this case as a part of the ris med period) that might be worthy of research.

Dr. Rheingans noted that the concept of gsung ‘bum itself seems to be mostly Tibetan in origin and not something inherited from Indian literature. He seemed to be continuing to research this issue, briefly mentioning a loose collection of texts from Advayavajra but no “real” gsung ‘bum in the formal sense.

He went on to say that the norm seems to be that students take on the responsibility of systematizing the master’s work, sometimes with direction from the master, and sometimes after his death. In the case of the 8th Karmapa, it seems that there was in fact a blessing given and a clear intention written down by the Karmapa allowing the Shamarpa to begin the work of systematizing his works. There seems to be an important point here: the context of collecting these works and the historical situation is an important part of the study of the gsung ‘bum, and thus also of classification itself. Some gsung ‘bum have clear systematized dkar chags and some do not. The question Rheingans posed was, what is actually systematized? How far can we take these indigenous classification schemes? These kinds of questions need to be asked when engaging in classifying texts.

So many texts, how should/can they be classified?

In his talk he made the important point that paying attention to the context of literary production and genre can yield clues for historical research and interpreting doctrine in Tibetan studies. That is to say, other than abstract interest in classification schemes, there are utilitarian reasons why various types of scholars would be interested in systematic genre classification.

What I found useful was his call for more precision regarding understanding compilation, redaction, and composition when describing and discussing Tibetan writing. I wasn’t able to ask about his thoughts, but the thought that came to me was: since Tibetan writing often involves a large amount of “borrowing,” even the classification of a text as being “authored” by one person as opposed to another is complicated. Therefore, distinction between the redactor, compiler, or composer, is not always clear. That is to say, along with issues of genre, issues surrounding the classification of “provenance figures” or contributors to the text also have to be tackled.

In his short talk he did not try to present a list of genres or classificatory schemes everyone can take home and start using, but instead brought everyone’s attention to a set of questions that may lead us in the right direction. One of his guiding questions was: How can we employ academic classifications without neglecting traditional terminologies, both for generic terms we have and concrete genres? How much use can we get out of terms like narrative, explicative, argumentative, descriptive, and so forth? On this topic he noted that when classifying some text, one shouldn’t be distracted by the title, but take a closer look at how the topic develops in the text itself. He then gave some examples of situations where a text may be labeled as a rnam thar or placed in a volume of rnam thars, but in fact the content is found to be a set of specific instructions made in response to requests from a particular student. Apparently, one rnam thar he looked at can be used as a dkar chag for Mi bskyod rdo rje’s gsung ‘bum.

One text may also contain the qualities of several genres, in fact many Tibetan texts do, but this doesn’t have to make the project of discussing classification a non-issue. Rheingans called for more effort in this area, reminding us that if we only approach classifying a text from the traditional philological reading, then we “forget to write the book that may be influential beyond Tibetan studies.” That is to say, he wondered if it was possible to look more deeply at Tibetan literature and begin to form some useful schemas that would be transcultural, useful to academics at large, and not just to a small group of Tibetan studies scholars. Towards this end, he suggested systematic exploration with broader studies, which I presume would include cataloging larger numbers of gsung ‘bum and their classificatory schemas, as well as other types of collections and connecting that with the study of Tibetan literature as a whole. In doing this kind of work he suggested that some postmodern methodologies may be helpful, but we also have to use caution in their application. He suggested  that perhaps it is still too early in the study of Tibetan literature to begin these kinds of classificatory projects, but Dr. Rheingans did seem hopeful that progress could be made.

On an interesting side note: There was also a discussion amongst those present at the Tibetological Library and Archive Resources panel focused on the idea of collecting genre types, subject headings and classification schemes for use in cataloging and archiving Tibetan works. For the librarian, the issue of how to classify a text is in fact quite practical and immediate, as the creation of a catalog for a library that is searchable by topic and genre is an obvious desideratum. I hope that practical work can be done to further this project as it will certainly benefit the whole field of Tibetan studies.

‘Tools of the Trade’ of the Tibetan Translators
Peter Verhagen, Leiden University, The Netherlands

(12th Seminar of the IATS, Vancouver, BC, August 16th, 2010)

Peter Verhagen presented a list of textual sources that he believes the early Tibetan translators of Indian Buddhist texts relied upon as “tools of the trade”. I beg his pardon, and hope he doesn’t mind that I share this list here, as it was made publicly available by him at the conference and I think others will be interested. These are the texts he discussed and the citations he provided in a hand out:

1) Mahāvyutpatti = bye brag tu rtogs byed chen po
sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. co, f. 1r1-131r8

2) sgra byor bam po gnyis pa
sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol co, f. 131v1-160r7

3) khri lde srong btsan sad na legs (799-815) > ‘translation’ edict 814 CE

4) khri srong lde btsan (755-797) >’translation’ edict 795 (or 783) CE

5) *Sv-alpa-vyutpatti = bye brag tu rtogs byed chung ngu

9) Dhātupāṭha

– CG 21: Dhātu-kāya, Tib. byings kyi tshogs
sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. no, f. 112v6-122v2 (Tohoku no. 4429)

– CG 22: Dhātu-kāya, Tib. (lung ston pa ka lā pa’i) byings kyi tshogs
sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. le, f. 63r3-75r7 (Tohoku no. 4285)

– CG 25: Dhātu-kāya, Tib. (tsandra pa’i) byings kyi tshogs
sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. re, f. 71r5-78r7 (Tohoku no. 4277)

– CG 30: Kalāpa-dhātu-sūtra, Tib. ka lā pa’i byings kyi mdo
sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. no, f. 1v1-10r7 (Tohoku no. 4422)

– CG 32: *Dhātu-sūtra, Tib. byings kyi mdo (brda sprod pa tsandra pa’i byings kyi tshogs kyi gleg bam gyi mdo)
sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. no, f. 21v2-31v4 (Tohoku no. 4424)

– CG 45: Pāṇini-dhātu-sūtra, Tib. Pā ṇi ni’i byings kyi mdo
Peking bstan ‘gyur vol. pho, f. 342v2-358r5 (Otani no. 5913) [sde dge: deest]

10) Gaṇapāṭha

– CG 2: Viṃśaty-upasarga-vṛtti, Tib. nye bar (b)sgyur ba nyi shu pa’i ‘grel pa
(a) Peking bstan ‘gyur vol. le, f. 36v4-41v1 (Otani no. 5768); snar thang vol. le, f. 35v1-39v7; dga’ ldan vol. le, f. 43r1-49r2
(b) sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol re. f. 30r1-34r2 (Tohoku no. 4270); Co ne vol. re, f. 32r1-36v3

– CG 18: Prayoga-mukha-vṛtti, Tib. rab tu sbyor ba’i sgo’i ‘grel pa

  • sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. she, f. 244r1-250v6 (Tohoku no. 4292)
  • co ne bstan ‘gyur vol. she, f. 246r1-252v6
  • Peking bstan ‘gyur vol. le, f. 238v1-245v6 (Otani no. 5781)
  • snar thang bstan ‘gyur vol. le, f. 222v1-230r6

– CG 26: Saṃbandha-siddhy-abhidhāna-prakriyā,
Tib. ‘brel ba grub pa zhes bya ba’i rab tu byed pa

  • sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. re, f. 78v1-106r5 (Tohoku no. 4278)
  • co ne bstan ‘gyur vol. re, f. 85v4-114v4
  • Peking & snar thang bstan ‘gyur: deest

One hundred and ninety-five institutions from 25 nations attended 51 panels on Tibetan studies in five days spent on the UBC campus outside of Vancouver, Canada.

Almost every country with a university program devoted to Tibetan studies in some form or another was represented at this year’s conference in Vancouver: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bhutan, Canada, China, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Nepal, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the USA were all represented. The bulk of participants seemed to be from the US, followed by England, France, and Germany. A significant contingent of independent scholars, NGOs, and major libraries were also present.

This morning (Monday August 16th) marked the commencement of the 12th IATS conference. The opening included a general welcome by Tsering Shakya; followed by a brief welcome, a few jokes about wearing ties, and an exhortation to find a way to transmit the important knowledge held by “the world’s brain trust on Tibet” to wider audiences by Paul Evans. More welcomes followed with Pitman Potter making a comment about the IATS program being the culmination of the development of the Tibetan studies program at UBC and great support was shown for Tsering Skakya’s heroic work helping to make this year’s IATS a reality. After three light speeches, Charles Ramble gave the official IATS presidential welcoming address.

Dr. Ramble began on a somber and touching note by recognizing those colleagues who had passed on since the last IATS conference. A minute of silence was observed and then Dr. Ramble reminded us all of those colleagues who could not attend due to political issues, refusal of permissions to travel, or visa denials. Perhaps this kind of sensitivity is one of the great qualities that lead Dr. Ramble to be elected the president of IATS in the first place. Then again, he may also have got in on his wit, which was displayed in style after beginning on a serious note. Dr. Ramble extended his metaphor of relating attending IATS conferences to the ancient olympic games so far that it managed to come back around and delight everyone.

One of the most interesting things I would like to highlight from his speech was the time he spent making note of the fact that “scholars and work groups not associated with universities constitute a vital part of Tibetan studies.” He noted clearly that some of the most significant developments in Tibetan studies occur outside of academia and this work rarely appears in academic journals. However, he noted, IATS conferences are places where “unsung heroes” can present their research. And speaking of publishing… Some of the IATS conference proceedings are being made into digital texts! Some are already finished and others may be made available online, “in the future”, at This most exciting news rounded out the speech, along with the words, “let the games begin.”
………..                                                                              ………..                                                                                       ………..
Monday, August 16th, Panel 4: Contributions to Tibetan Literature: Texts, Genres and Generic Terms

There were really too many great papers to discuss here, but I must admit to feeling that the most enjoyable was Giacomella Orofino’s “The Long Voyage of a Trickster Story from Ancient Greece to Tibet“.

Unfortunately I missed most of Dan Martin’s lively discussion entitled, “Literary Tributes and Meaningful Attributions: A New History of the Ding-ri-ba verses of Pha Dam-pa Sangs-rgyas.” Here he discussed some of his findings related to his research on the different versions of The Tingri Hundred: The Last Will and Testament of Padampa Sanggyé. (pha rje btsun dam pa sangs rgyas kyi zhal gdams ding ri brgya rtsa ma).  In fact, Padampa’s Tingri testament is found in several versions of varying length, not just in 100 sections as the title indicates. One of the point’s I was able to catch at the tail end of Dan’s talk was that he found evidence of a kind of “moralizing” of the later versions of the texts, and the older terms were progressively updated in different versions, which seemed to get smaller over time as well.

While other papers opened a discussion about genre much was provisional and nothing particularly concrete came out of the discussions that I heard. One interesting paper was given by Peter Verhagen of Leiden University entitled “Tools of the Trade of the Tibetan Translators.” This paper included a list of texts which Dr. Verhagen believes were used as tools by the early Tibetan translators of Sanskrit texts.


After a long day of fascinating panels, in which one and all suffered without air-conditioning, a wonderful banquet was held out of doors at the beautiful Museum of Anthropology.
We were lead through the museum and
I was even treated to a short description of the creation story of the Haida people of the Northwest.
Here, Raven is seen coaxing the first peoples out of their clam shell. According to this fascinating version of the creation story, human beings are here reluctantly and were perhaps even tricked into living on the Earth. Raven is like Coyote of the plains, or in Tibet, perhaps we could say the trickster ཉི་ཆོས་བཟང་པོ་ (Nyi chos bzang po) or ཨ་ཁུ་སྟོ་པ་ (a khu bstan pa).
Inside the museum…
….boats in the air?
Tomorrow I hope to have the time to blog about several of the fascinating papers given at the Madhyamaka panel which saw Kevin Vose, Yael Bentor, Jeffery Hopkins, Tom Tillemanns, Jose Cabezon, Donald Lopez and quite a few other “rock stars” of Tibetan Buddhist studies all in one room. There were no fist fights but the verbal banter, eye rolling, and smirking was something special to behold. Tune in next time for some in-depth reporting  😉

The 2010 International Association of Tibetan Studies Conference will open tomorrow morning in Frederic Wood Theatre at UBC in Vancouver. The UBC campus has already been filled with a veritable who’s who of Tibetan Studies and I am looking forward to listening to as many of these eminent scholars as possible. Tomorrow will include a welcoming ceremony including addresses by professor Tsering Shakya and Dr. Charles Ramble. I will then spend most of the day at the Contributions to Tibetan Literature: Texts, Genres and Generic Terms panel, which will include papers titled:

” “Collected Writings” (gsung ‘bum) in Tibetan Literature: Towards a Systematic Study of Their Compilation, Redaction and Composition and its Use for Genre Classifications,” Tools of the Trade of the Tibetan Translators,” and  “Classifying Literature or Organizing Knowledge? Some General Remarks on Genre Classifications in Tibetan Literature.”

A more complete list of panels can be found here.

Do leave me a note if there is some discussion you simply must hear about, otherwise I will be attending things I am interested in, such as the Madhyamaka panel, the Tibetological Library and Archive Resources panel, and Buddhist Texts and Philosophy, and The History of the Rang-stong/Gzhan-stong, and the list goes on. It is impossible to attend all of the truly fascinating panels at this years IATS, but I hope to be able to discuss a few of the most interesting here on this blog over the course of the next week.

ISYT Conference Day 1

Mr. Gurung’s discussion of some finer points of Bön po history opened the conference, after a great welcome from conference convener Elijah Ary and superb speeches by the eloquent and genuinely funny Charles Ramble (President of IATS) and Brandon Dotson (President of ISYT). Dr. Ramble certainly stole the show on this first day with his well timed scholastic jokes and clear speaking voice. Notable moments of the commencement speeches include: Elijah noting the importance of the local for this second ISYT conference. The city of light has never held a IATS or ISYT conference and the venues (Ecole Normale Superieure, Bibliotheque Sainte-Barbe, INALCO and musee du quai Branly) are legendary. Charles compared his receipt of an invitation to give the opening speech to a description of the stages of shock a patient goes through when learning they have contracted an incurable disease, and Brandon noted the importance of a venue where a collegial attitude was the focus and young scholars could feel safe to “stick our neck out” with new ideas without fear of rebuke. The feeling was collegial, but perhaps a little subdued by humility as the honor of standing in the Ecole Normale Superieure began to sink in.

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