Week 3

Week 3: Tantric Translators: The New Cult of Translation and Tantra, Charisma and Biographies on the Margins of Monasticism


The early Renaissance period was marked by a cultic attitude towards individual religious figures, as reflected in (auto)biographies, rituals, historical literature, art work, and elsewhere. This focus on the individual religious figure clearly stems from various sources, but especially from the tantric focus on presiding deity of the mandala's center, the general Buddhist focus on the enlightened saint, and the Himalayan social status of the Big Man. In the early part of the Renaissance, the Tantric Translator is the most striking of all religious figures to galvanize Tibetan popular and literary attention with immense charisma, fame, and controversy. This cult of the Great Translators was bound up with the culture of the Guru/Lama, empowerments, lineages & social conflict We will thus also begin to look into the figure of the Guru/Lama and the significance of empowerments and lineages beyond their doctrinal definitions. We will thus pay particular issue to the nature, expression and resolution of conflicts revealed in the religious literature.

Required Readings

Blue Annals Fragment #7: A Section on the Development of Exegetical Traditions on the Tantric Corpus; Dum bu #7 (429-479): rgyud sde'i bshad srol ji ltar byung ba'i skabs

Davidson, Tibetan Renaissance, Chapter 4: Translators as the New Aristocracy (147-204)

external link: Gyatso, Janet (1998). Apparitions of the Self: The Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Visionary. Princeton: Princeton University Press, "Chapter 1: Autobiography in Tibet", pp. 101-123.

Martin, Daniel (1996). "external link: The 'Star King' and the Four Children of Pehar: Popular Religious Movements of 11th to 12th Century Tibet". In Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hung. Tomus XLIX (1-2), pp. 171-195.

Additional Bibliographical Resources

  1. Additional Bibliography - Tibetan/Buddhist studies Week 3
  2. Additional Bibliography - Theoretical Week 3

Weekly Student Generated Content

Discussion Questions

Reconstruction: Motivation and Identity (Carrie FF)

Davidson describes the various groups in action at the beginning of the renaissance as very deliberately and purposefully reviving Tibetan culture after the period of fragmentation. “Their (the eastern vinaya monks) groups of patrons and devotees evidently considered the revival of Buddhism to be a central issue in the reconstruction of Tibetan civilization, and eventually all the forms of Tibetan culture came to be seen as extending from the religious.” (Davidson, p. 101)

Are their actions so deliberately focused on the reconstruction of the entirety of Tibetan culture? Were these people actively thinking about saving their national identity and culture? Or are they more focused on their own lineages, texts, clans, and regions? Or both?

Why Monasticism? (Carrie FF)

Why monasticism? It’s easy to see how monasticism assisted in the renaissance, but why the strong attraction between Tibetan civilization and Buddhist monasticism? Other civilizations have influential monastic traditions and lots of lay-monastic relations (think Byzantium, or 19th century Russia, or modern day Cyprus), yet the model of monasticism as civil authority in Tibet seems so singular.