Ethical reform in eastern Tibet

circumambulating-at-larung-garBuddhist ethical reform has become a major force in eastern Tibet, spearheaded by Larung Buddhist Academy in remote Serta, also known as Larung Gar. A new set of “ten virtues” (dge bcu), first formulated in 2008, have spread to neighboring areas in Kandze Prefecture and beyond. In “Reimagining Buddhist Ethics on the Tibetan Plateau,” I trace the ideological basis for this reform movement in the writings of Khenpo Tsultrim Lodro, one of the main successors of Larung founder, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok (1933-2004).  And, with Professor Padmatso in “Nonviolence as a Shifting Signifier on the Tibetan Plateau,” I explore a new articulation of nonviolence in the “amulet for peace” (zhi bde rtags ma) introduced by Khenpo Rigdzin Dargye in 2012.

Sadly, the state-mandated demolition of numerous monastic residences has been underway at Larung Gar since July. For the most up-to-date information, visit Radio Free Asia. For more photos and a short essay on the importance of Larung Gar, see my “Why Larung Gar, the Buddhist institute in eastern Tibet, is so Important” on The Lion’s Roar.

Monks circumambulating the Jutrul Temple at Larung Gar, photo by Holly Gayley.

Dharma Gathering at Nyenlung

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Photos © Holly Gayley

Since 1996, each year Nyenlung Monastery holds a dharma gathering (chos tshogs) during the auspicious month of Sagadawa. When Tare Lhamo was alive, the couple sat side by side on a peacock throne in the outdoor pavilion to give teachings to large gatherings of a thousand or more seated on the hillside below. These photos come from the dharma gathering I attended in 2006 with Namtrul Rinpoche presiding. It shows the crowds gathered and its varied activities, including an elaborate procession to consecrate anew the sacred structures on the monastery grounds. Today, Namtrul Rinpoche’s son, Tulku Laksam, presides over ritual occasions at Nyenlung.

Read an excerpt from Love Letters from Golok describing this event:

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New Conversations on Buddhism & Feminism

Last fall, The Arrow Journal dedicated a special issue to Buddhism & Feminism, revisiting some of the stands taken by the late Rita Gross, one of the first feminist theologians to write about Buddhism.

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The issue centers on an article by philosopher Alexis Shotwell, “‘Like Water into Water’: If Buddhism, then Feminism. But What Sort of Feminism.” Shotwell explores the ways that Buddhism and feminism are compatible with an emphasis on thinking through what sort of feminism would best serve contemporary Buddhist communities in North America in their ongoing diversity work.

I was asked to be one of three respondents to the article, alongside Judith Simmer-Brown, who offers a compelling account of feminist struggles during the 1970s and 80s within Buddhist convert communities in the US, and Sara Lewis who tackles gender issues within a Buddhist framework of relative and ultimate truth. My own response, “Where Do We Look for Buddhist Feminism,” addresses a broad question about methodology, asking what sources we use to construct a “Buddhist” position on a given contemporary ethical issue, particularly gender given the complex array of Buddhist representations in art, texts, and ritual performance. This is the third year for The Arrow Journal, co-founded by Gabe Dayley and Kai Beavers as a site of engagement between contemplative practice, politics, and activism.

Karma Lekshe Tsomo is charting another conversation on the topic with her next edited volume, Buddhist Feminism(s) and Femininities, forthcoming from SUNY Press. The volume includes contributions by Karen Lang, Lisa Battaglia, Jeff Wilson, Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa, and others. My contribution to the volume, “Gendered Hagiography in Tibet: Comparing Clerical Representations of the Female Visionary, Khandro Tare Lhamo,” explores salient differences between three biographies of Tare Lhamo by monastics in Golok with distinct perspectives on her identity.

Cover of The Arrow 3:1 featuring original artwork by Alicia Brown.

Announcing Book: Love Letters from Golok

love-letters-from-golokAnnouncing the release of Love Letters from Golok: A Tantric Couple in Modern Tibet, which chronicles the lives and letters of Khandro Tare Lhamo (1938–2002) and Namtrul Rinpoche (1944–2011). This Buddhist tantric couple played a significant role in revitalizing Buddhist teachings, practices, and institutions in the Tibetan region of Golok during post-Mao era.

Get 30% off at Columbia University Press with discount code: GAYLEY.
Read select letters in current issue of Tricyle Magazine.

I began this research project in 2004, when I first visited Golok. On that occasion, Namtrul Rinpoche kindly gave me their published corpus of revelations and an extra volume containing his correspondence with Tare Lhamo over more than a year, beginning in 1978. Their letters are almost entirely in verse, containing prophecies about their future revelations and intimate expressions of affection. The interplay of love and destiny in their letters and lives is a central theme in the book, alongside strategies for narrating cultural trauma related to their coming of age during the Maoist period. Read more

Himalaya Issue on the Secular in Tibet

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Nicole Willock and I co-edited the May 2016 issue of Himalaya on the theme,  “The Secular in Tibetan Cultural Worlds.” The issue examines Tibetan responses to secularism in diverse geographic contexts from Himalaya to Central Asia with contributions by Tsering Gonkatsang, Matthew King, Leigh Miller, Emmi Okada, Annabella Pitkin, Françoise Robin, Dominique Townsend, and the co-editors. Our introduction, “Theorizing the Secular in Tibetan Cultural Worlds,” discusses the categories of ‘religion’ and the ‘secular’ in Tibetan discourse as they emerged historically and places them within the context of the varieties of Asian secularisms. My own article, “Controversy over Buddhist Ethical Reform: A Secular Critique of Clerical Authority in the Tibetan Blogosphere,” examines the blogosphere debate over ethical reform inaugurated in eastern Tibet by Larung Buddhist Academy.

Cover of Himalaya 36:1, artwork by Dedron (Luciano Benetton Collection).

TBRC Series on the Dudjom Lineage

dudjom-lingpaKhandro Tare Lhamo had connections with the Dudjom lineage through her root teacher, Dzongter Kunzang Nyima (1904-1958), who was the grandson and speech emanation of Dudjom Lingpa (1835-1904), and through her first marriage to his son, Mingyur Dorje (1934-1959). In the early 1990s, Khandro Tare Lhamo recognized one of the reincarnations of Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdral Yeshe Dorje (1904-1987), the renowned reincarnation of Dudjom Lingpa who served as the head of the Nyingma lineage in exile.

Dudjom Lingpa was a terton (treasure revealer) and a towering figure in the Golok treasure scene and his eight sons all became important religious figures in the region. Several years ago, I wrote a series of three short essays for the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) website on the Dudjom lineage according to historian Pema Osal Thaye. “The Scions of Dudjom Lingpa” discusses the importance of family lineage in the transmission of Nyingma teachings, particularly the revelations of “treasures” or terma. “Articulating Lineage in Golok” explores different modes of religious authority and lineage transmission in the case of Dudjom Lingpa and his scions. And “Who’s Who in the Dudjom Lineage” provides an overview of his family lineage across four generations.

Statue of Dudjom Lingpa at Tsimda Monastery, photo by Holly Gayley.

Launch of Tibet Himalaya Initiative

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Last fall, together with colleagues Emily Yeh, Carole McGranahan, and Ariana Maki, I founded the Tibet Himalaya Initiative (THI) at CU Boulder. Our launch colloquium on “The Art of Translation” took place with Ringu Tulku Rinpoche on November 11, 2015.

In our inaugural year, we hosted more than a dozen guest speakers, visiting artists, and film screenings, including Tibetan Arts Week (April 4-10, 2016) with acclaimed contemporary Tibetan artist Gonkar Gyatso and the filmmaker and poet Jangbu (Dorje Tsering Chenaktsang).

In the coming year, we are co-sponsoring the Tsadra Translation and Transmission Conference, May 31 – June 3, 2017 and organizing Himalayan Studies Conference V, the biannual conference of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, September 1-4, 2017. Both conferences will be held on the CU Boulder campus.