Week 9

Week 9: Kadampa


The Kadampa traditions traces its origins to Atiśa, the most famous Indian figure in Tibet during the 11th century and one of the most prominent exponents of Buddhism internationally during this time period. Atiśa was a monk and an outstanding representative of scholastic Indian Buddhism. His journey in Tibet began with a trip to Western Tibet (Ngari) at the invitation of a King there, and then later moved on to Central Tibet where he was associated with his most famous disciple, Dromtönpa, and ultimately passed away. Atiśa was portrayed by his Kadampa disciples as a fairly conservative figure stressing Buddhist morality, monasticism, the strict framing of Tantra with Mahāyāna study and practice, gradual approaches to the Buddhist path, and exoteric scholastic study. He was thus seen as a "reformer" who tried to correct the excesses of the 11th century with its supposed behavioral excesses, explosion of tantric movements, and figures/movements whose enthusiasm for Buddhism outstripped their learning and ethical rigor. He was immediately manipulated by the Kadampa as the saintly figure around which they built their identity, and much later in the fifteenth century, the Geluk tradition assimilated that mantle by portraying themselves as latter day reformers styled the "new Kadampa" with their stress on monasticism, morality, scholasticism, and gradated paths. Despite this, some evidence suggests that in fact Atiśa's own interests were very tantric in character, and far more free wheeling than his profile suggests. One of the interesting things about such a prominent figure is to examine the various biographical and historical narrations of Atiśa, and analyze how he is being manipulated as a figure by varying groups with different agendas. This introduces us to one of the most fundamental lessons of history, namely the difference between examining a person, place, text, and so forth in its own initial period of existence, and examining its reincarnations and reinterpretations over time by the many communities and individuals that utilize it subsequently within their own agendas.

Apart from the important issue of Atíśa, we are of course also concerned with the Kadampa sects themselves. The Kadampa are one of the earliest clear sectarian configurations to emerge in the Renaissance period. While often focused on for their ethical orientation, gradated Buddhist path, and non-tantric orientation, they also played important roles in the popularization of Buddhism amongst Tibetans, and the creation of the Avalokiteśvara cult. They also did have an involvement with tantra as yet poorly documented.

Required Readings

Blue Annals, Fragment #5 (tr. 241-327, PRC 297-396): A Section on The Sovereign Lord (i.e. Atiśa) together with his Lineages ; Dum bu #5 jo bo rje brgyud pa dang bcas pa'i skabs

NOTE THAT THE READINGS ARE ALL EASY AND SHORT – 100 PAGES OF THEORY, AND ABOUT 80 PAGES OF TIBETOLOGY. So its a lot of pieces but all short and easy to get through.


The first three articles are short pieces from external link: Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre, which can be found online by clicking the title just mentioned.

Jackson, David (1996). “The bsTan rim (“Stages of the Doctrine”) and Similar Graded Expostions of the Bodhisattva’s Path”. In Tibetan Literature edited by Jose Cabezon and Roger Jackson, Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, pp. 229-243.

Sweet, Michael (1996). “Mental Purification (blo sbyong): A Native Tibetan Genre of Religious Literature”. In Tibetan Literature edited by Jose Cabezon and Roger Jackson, Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, pp. 244-260.

van der Kuijp, Leonard W. J. (1996). "Tibetan Historiography." In Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre. Jose Ignacio Cabezon and Roger Jackson, Eds. Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca. pp. 39-65. Brief overview of the early development of Tibetan historical writing.

Ehrhard, Franz-Karl. external link: “The Transmission of the Thig le bcu drug and the Bka’ gdams glegs bam.” In The Many Canons of Tibetan Buddhism, edited by Helmut Eimer and David Germano, 29-56. Leiden: Brill, 2002.

Atisha, translated by Ronald Davidson (1995). external link: “Atisha’s A Lamp for the Path to Awakening”. In Buddhism in Practice edited by Donald Lopez, Princeton University Press, Pp. 290-301. This contains the root verses of the entire piece along with an introduction.

Jenkins, Keith (2003). Re-Thinking History. Routledge, London and New York. 2nd Ed. (1991). A brief introduction to the study of history. A postmodernist perspective. 84 pages. has a nice forward and interview in the new version. This is available as PDFs in the Resources section of our worksite: texts: Jenkins. READ THE WHOLE BOOK.

  • Introduction (1-5)
  • What history is (6-32)
  • On some questions and some answers (33-69)
  • Doing history in the post-modern world (70-84).

Hunt, Lynn, Ed. (1989). The New Cultural History. Influential recent collection of essays on cultural history. At UVa, go to Virgo, and then under “ebooks” on the left, do a search on “Lynn Hunt” and you will find the e-book. READ ONLY THE INTRODUCTION.

  • Introduction: History, Culture, and Text by Lynn Hunt (1-24)
  • 1. Michel Foucault’s History of culture by Patricia O’Brien (25-46)
  • 2. Crowds, Community, and Ritual in the Work of E. P. Thompson and Natalie Davis by Suzanne Desan (47-71)
  • 3. Local Knowledge, Local History: Geertz and Beyond by Aletta Biersack (72-96)
  • 4. Literature, Criticism, and Historical Imagination: The Literary Challenge of Hayden White and Dominick LaCapra by Lloyd S. Kramer (97-130)
  • 5. The American Parade: Representations of the Nineteenth-Century Social Order by Mary Ryan (131-)
  • 6. Texts, Printings, Readings (154-175)
  • 7. Bodies, Details, and the Humanitarian Narrative by Thomas W. Laqueur (176-204)
  • 8. Seeing Culture in a Room for a Renaissance Prince by Randolph Starn (205-232)

Additional Bibliographical Resources

  1. Kadampa Bibliography
  2. Additional Bibliography - Tibetan/Buddhist studies Week 9
  3. Additional Bibliography - Theoretical Week 9

Weekly Student Generated Content

Discussion Questions