Week 2

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Week 2: The Inception of the Later Spread with Temple Building & Monasticism: The Emergent Cult of Sacred Places in the Tibetan Renaissance Seminar


Traditionally, the dissemination of Buddhism into Tibet from neighboring countries is classified by Tibetan historians into an "earlier dissemination" (snga dar) and a later dissemination (phyi dar). The former came from many countries during the Imperial Period (c. 600-c. 920), which Tibet was an imperial power at the center of many different Buddhist cultures - India, China, Central Asian areas. Then after the Empire disintegrated and Tibetans when through a dark period of socio-political chaos and the collapse of the state sponsored Buddhist monastic system (tenth century). This begins a period of several centuries often referred to by Tibetan historian as the "time of fragmentation" (sil bu'i dus). By the end of tenth century, an economic and political renaissance starts to stir, and it immediately becomes bound up with a revival of monastic networks and temples. In addition, a new class of Tibetan translators emerge - more entrepreneurial and local in character compared to the earlier state-sponsored translation efforts - who focus chiefly to the south of the Himalayas on India to translate new Buddhist literature from various Indian languages. This coincides with the final glory days of Indian Buddhism - which is seriously on the decline - including the final efflorescence of Buddhist esotericism. These new groups are critical of older traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, and gradually begin to see themselves as part of a loosely allied reform movement that goes by the name of the "new ones" (gsar ma, Sarma), or "modernists", in contrast to the older groups that come to self-identify as the "old ones" (rnying ma, Nyingma), or ancients. Overall, this quickly comes to constitute a literal renaissance of literature, art, practices, and institutions which not only massively translates Indian cultural products and forms, but also creatively adapts them into uniquely Tibetan forms. It is one of the most vibrant and creative periods of Buddhism in any culture. Thus at the heart of this onset of the renaissance is the emergence of trans-Himalayan translators, the explosive spread of new forms of Buddhist tantra (particularly the erotic and transgressive varieties), the reestablishment of monasticism, and the rebuilding of new temples and associated networks. Thus the revival of monasteries and monastic temples goes hand in hand with the emergence of net networks of sacred space. The Vinaya - the scriptural traditions of monastic decorum as well as other ethical guidelines - is thus reestablished during this time period, even while non-monastic tantric traditions are popping up everywhere. We want to keep an eye out for these new networks and institutions are interacting with clans, the dominant form of social organization on the Tibetan plateau at this time. We also want to look at broader notions of sacred space - how are the newly emergent sacred places connected to narrative literature which imbues those places with significance, what is the economic side of communities sustaining themselves at isolated sacred sites with trade in sacred “stuff” and sacred stories, and so forth.

Required Readings

Blue Annals

  1. Fragment #2: A Section on The Later Spread of the Teachings (pp. 63-101): bstan pa phyi dar gyi skabs.
  2. Fragment #15: A Section on the Development of the Monastic tradition (?) such as the four assembly divisions, Questions and Answers, and creation of wood printing blocks (for this text?) (pp. 1062-1093): tshogs sde bzhi sogs dge 'dun gyi sde ji ltar byung ba dang, zhu lan, par du bshengs pa'i skabs

Davidson, Tibetan Renaissance

  1. Chapter 2: The Demise of Dynasty and a Poorly Lit Path (72-104)
  2. Chapter 3: Renaissance and Reformation – the Eastern Vinaya Monks (105-146)

Additional Bibliographical Resources

  1. Additional Bibliography - Tibetan/Buddhist studies Week 2
  2. Additional Bibliography - Theoretical Week 2

The Big Questions


Weekly Student Generated Content

Discussion Questions and Notes