Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Buddhist Tantric  Practice 

Preparing for Tantra: Creating the Psychological Ground for Practice by Rob Preece (Snow Lion Publications)

The preliminary practices of Tantra are not a hurdle to be gotten through in order to get somewhere else; they are an extraordinarily rich collection of practices which have much to offer as a means of cultivating and maturing the practitioner's psychological ground. They can enable experiences to unfold, and they can clear the way when there seem to be problems or hindrances practitioners are struggling with.

Preparing for Tantra presents a psychological understanding of ngöndro, or Tibetan Buddhist preliminary practices. The author, Rob Preece, is a psychotherapist and student of the late Gelukpa master Lama Thubten Yeshe. Emphasizing the need for a psychological ground for tantric practice, the author reflects on anecdotes from his own experience and makes frequent reference to the insights of the psychologist Carl Jung. For instance, Preece elaborates on Jung's symbolism of medieval alchemy to make use of the metaphor of an ‘alchemical vessel,’ a secure space in which the transformative practice of the preliminaries takes place. Divided into three parts, the book discusses preparing the body and mind, the traditional preliminary practices that include bodhicitta, prostrations, and guru yoga, and a conclusion on the importance of psychotherapy alongside Buddhist practice.

Buddhist tantric practices are examined from a psychological perspective by a long-time meditation teacher and psychotherapist. The foundational practices Preece presents are for the purpose of transforming and healing psychological wounds in order to gain the grounding and well-being necessary for advanced tantric practices.

In Preparing for Tantra Preece draws on his experience as a Tantric Buddhist practitioner, meditation teacher, and psychotherapist to explain how to make the preliminary practices psychologically meaningful and spiritually transformative. He examines each of the practices with an eye to revealing how they may be used to heal and transform psychological trauma, and offers practical suggestions for integrating them into daily life – as well as ensuring that practitioners are prepared psychologically, emotionally, and energetically to start out safely on the tantric path.

Western students of Buddhism – particularly those attempting to master the meditative techniques of Highest Yoga Tantra – face the daunting challenge of weaving these profound transformative practices into the fabric of their busy daily lives. In Preparing for Tantra, Rob Preece draws on his many years of experience as both a meditator and psychotherapist to demonstrate most eloquently how one's daily life and work, far from being a hindrance to one's spiritual practices, can serve as its ongoing foundation, fully integrated with the ngondro, or traditional tantric preliminaries. Inspiring and highly recommended. – Jonathan Landaw, author of Images of Enlightenment: Tibetan Art in Practice

An accessible guidebook for engaging in ngondro, the preliminary practices that are done before engaging in a long tantric retreat. These practices are also powerful tools for purifying negativities and alleviating guilt, healing difficult experiences, and enriching our minds with goodness so that we will be able to progress in our Dharma practice and gain realizations of the path. As a Dharma practitioner and a psychotherapist with many years of experience in both fields, Rob addresses many of the psychological issues that arise for Westerners practicing the Dharma and explains how to use the preliminary practices to clear and heal these. It is a great manual to have at your side while doing the preliminary practices. – Thubten Chodron, author of Buddhism for Beginners

Preparing for Tantra presents practical and helpful advice for inserting the practices into daily life in order to heal psychological wounds and to be grounded for tantra.

Esoteric Buddhism at Dunhuang  by Sam Van Schaik and Matthew T. Kapstien (Brill's Tibetan Studies Library: Brill) Esoteric Buddhism in late first millennium Tibet and China is nowhere in evidence so clearly as in materials from Dunhuang. In the original contributions presented here, Robert Mayer and Cathy Cantwell examine the consecrations of the wrathful divinity Vajrakilaya, while Sam van Schaik considers approaches to the vows of tantric adepts. Philosophical interpretations of Mahayoga inform Kammie Takahashi's study of the 'Questions of Vajrasattva'. The background for later Tibetan tantric mortuary rites is examined in chapters by Yoshiro Imaeda and Matthew Kapstein. In the closing chapter, Katherine Tsiang investigates early printing in relation to esoteric dharanis, and their role as amulets accompanying the deceased. The collection is an important advance in our understanding of the historical development of Buddhist tantra.

The last few decades have seen great strides in the study of Tibetan and Chinese manuscripts from the 'library' cave at Dunhuang, and, in particular, new work on previously neglected aspects of religious life relating to esoteric, or `tantric', Buddhism. During most of the twentieth century research on the Tibetan Dunhuang manuscripts employed the texts to illuminate historical and cultural aspects of the Tibetan imperial period. Major historical works like the Old Tibetan Annals and Chronicle were naturally a focus of this initial phase of scholarship, along with an examination of religious texts for insights into the culture of pre-Buddhist Tibet. The early catalogues of the Pelliot and Stein collections, though great contributions to learning, were written in a period when the tantric Buddhism of Tibet was little understood, and could not do justice to this aspect of the manuscripts. At the same time, the esoteric elements of Chinese religions, if not altogether ignored, were generally marginalised as mere artifacts of popular superstition. The recent change of emphasis has come in part from a generation of scholars more familiar with later manifestations of tantric Buddhism in Tibet, while specialists of Chinese religions have simultaneously shed new light on medieval beliefs and practices.

Among Tibetanists, Samten G. Karmay has been particularly important in tracing connections between texts found in the Dunhuang manuscripts and the Great Perfection and Mahayoga works of the Rnying ma tradition in Tibet. His discovery of manuscripts containing Great Perfection texts, and his identification of a doxographical model from Pelliot tibétain 849 as a prototype of the nine-vehicle structure expounded in later Rnying ma literature showed that there was more continuity with the later tradition than had previously been apparent.'

The links between the Dunhuang documents and later trends in Tibetan Buddhism also appear more significant now that many of these manuscripts have been dated to well after the Tibetan imperial period. Whereas it was once thought that the Tibetan texts in the Dunhuang collections must have been produced during the Tibetan occupation (between the conquest of Dunhuang of about 786 and the fall of Tibetan power there in 848), a significant proportion of the `library' has now been assigned to a later age, and some works to only a few years before the closing of the cave at the beginning of the eleventh century. Indeed, few if any manuscripts containing tantric texts have been securely dated to the earlier, imperial period.2 Some of those that we will look at below have now been firmly dated to the tenth century, and without contrary evidence, we may take it as a working hypothesis that all of the tantric materials under discussion here postdate the Tibetan rule of Dunhuang, and indeed may well be as late at the end of the tenth century.3

Regarding the milieu in which these manuscripts were produced, there are some indications that there was a relatively wealthy audience for tantric texts in the region of Dunhuang. We have, for example, the beatifully produced manscripts of the Guhyasamajatantra (10L Tib J 438) and the commentary on the Upayapasatantra attributed to Padmasambhava (IOL Tib J 321). A ritual item featuring Vajrasattva (and reproduced on the front cover of this volume) is decorated with the expensive pigments lapis lazuli and vermilion (IOL Tib J 1364).

Though Dunhuang is far from Central Tibet, in the tenth century it was a neighbour of two thriving centres of Tibetan Buddhist culture in northeastern Amdo and Gansu: Tsong kha and Liangzhou. The passage of merchants and pilgrims along the old Silk Routes continued in the tenth century to keep the Buddhists of these areas in contact, as attested by some of the Dunhuang manuscripts. In the first half of the ninth century the last of the great Tibetan imperial benefactors of Buddhism, Khri Gtsug lde btsan (or Ral pa can, reigned 815—c. 838) commissioned several monasteries and meditation centres in northern Amdo. Some of these, such as those situated in Tsong kha and Dan tig, became major centres of monastic Buddhism after the fall of Tibetan imperial power.

According to the traditional accounts of the 'age of fragmentation' (sil bu'i dus) in Tibetan historical literature, it was here in northeastern Amdo that the Vinaya lineage was maintained and exported back to Central Tibet. The traditional histories also contain hints that Amdo and the northern regions of Khams played a similar role in the revitalization of tantric lineages in Central Tibet. For example, one of the few tenth-century figures identified by historians as significant in the formation of Rnying ma lineages (especially the Great Perfection lineage adopted by the Khams tradition), A ro Ye shes 'byung gnas, seems to have been active in Amdo.4 The founder of the Zur tradition, Sakya 'byung gnas, is said to have been born and educated in his father's tantric lineage in northern Khams at the beginning of the eleventh century. Similarly, the founder of the Khams tradition, Dam pa bde gshegs, was born and received his early education in northeastern Khams in the early twelfth century.

Thus the geographical position of Dunhuang need not lead us to dismiss the manuscripts as peripheral to mainstream Tibetan cultural interests. Rather we may consider them as representing a local expression of a formative period in the development of rituals and doctrines that later became identified as the purview of the Rnying ma lineages. The fact that so many of the manuscripts containing Tibetan tantric texts date from the tenth century means that they are almost direct antecedents of the period when the Rnying ma lineages began to take shape during the eleventh century.6

In connection with Chinese materials, the evolution of scholarship devoted to esoteric Buddhism has followed a rather different course. What was crucial did not in the first instance concern the Dunhuang

manuscripts, but instead the dawning recognition that the tantric component of Chinese religions had been both more widespread and deeply felt than previous scholarship had known. The shift in perspective that was required was made plain not in work specifically related to documents from Dunhuang, but above all in the posthumous publications of one the most farsighted interpreters of East Asian religions, Michel Strickmann, the impact of whose contribution continues to shape the field today.? Though the precise applications of the categories of tantra and esotericism in the Chinese setting have been much contested in recent years, it seems unlikely that, having entered the stage, they will leave it any time soon.

In Chinese Dunhuang studies in particular, the developments that have recently brought tantric materials to the fore have been quite diffuse. Besides Strickmann's bold reconfguring of the position of tantra in the history of East Asian religions overall, Dunhuang scholarship has become increasing clear in asserting that what had once seemed marginal—divination manuals and almanacs, talismans and exorcistic recipes, miracle tales and rites to achieve postmortem salvation—were in fact central to the medieval Chinese experience.9 The importance of esoteric Buddhism (however one defines it) among the Chinese population of Dunhuang during the late Tang dynasty and for some centuries thereafter began to be discerned primarily in connection with documents such as these. But it was further seen to be in evidence in the magnificent painted mandalas found in Mogao Cave 17 and produced for Chinese donors. In these works, too, it became clear that Tibetan and Chinese tantric traditions were in some respects interlinked, though such connections as may have existed in this area remain obscure. At the same time, as Christine Mollier's recent investigations have shown, Chinese Buddhist esoteric traditions at Dunhuang were frequently distinctively Sinitic in character, as often tied to Taoist as to Indic antecedents.11

The present volume had its origin in a panel convened at the September 2005 London colloquium of the International Association of Buddhist Studies that was intended to explore and to further scholarship on Tibetan and Chinese Tantric Buddhism, as known from the documents discovered at Dunhuang. Although only three of the original presentations—those by Sam van Schaik, Kammie Morrrison Takahashi, and Matthew T. Kapstein—could be included, the intentions that motivated the panel are advanced here by the additional contributions of Cathy Cantwell and Robert Mayer, Yoshiro Imaeda, and Katherine R. Tsiang. In accord with a well-known tantric formula, we have organized their six studies under the rubrics of rites and teachings for this life and those intended to guide one's passage beyond.

The first chapter, by Cantwell and Mayer, is part of their broader project of analysing the Vajrakilaya (rdo rje phur pa) manuscripts in the Dunhuang collections and relating them to the material preserved in the Rnying ma'i rgyud 'bum —the collected tantras of the Rnying ma traditions. Here the focus is on the ritual manual IOL Tib J 331.111. They show that this work contains text that is also found (in variant forms) in several tantras from the Rnying ma'i rgyud 'bum. In particular, the text is almost entirely reproduced in a single tantra, the 'Phrin las phun sum tshogs pa'i rgyud, a work that in turn influenced at least one branch of the later Rnying ma commentarial literature on Vajrakilaya. The Dunhuang text is also shown to contain

correspondences with the main Vajrakilaya ritual of the Sa skya school, derived from the 'Khon family's Rnying ma heritage.

Like Kapstein, in his chapter below, Cantwell and Mayer demonstrate that studying Dunhuang texts can help us to appreciate the complexities involved in the construction of the Rnying ma tantras, although a complete understanding of these processes is still a distant ideal. Though they point out that it is not always certain how far the inclusion of material from one text in another may indicate deliberate selection or reworking, and how far accidental loss may have played a part, all three of these authors suggest that what we see in the overlapping material between the manuscripts and the tantras is evidence of the practice that Lévi-Strauss judiciously termed bricolage.

Another example of a specifically Tibetan development of Indic tantric Buddhism is described in van Schaik's chapter on the samaya vows of Mahayoga. Among the Dunhuang manuscripts we find discussions of a multiplicity of tantric vow systems, brought to Tibet in different tantric lineages before the tenth century. Among them is a twenty-eight vow system that, while comparable to those of the Guhyagarbha tantra and the exegete Vilasavajra, are not known outside of Tibetan Buddhism. However, it is identical to the samaya vow system adopted by the later Rnying ma traditions.

The Questions and Answers of Vajrasattva (Rdo rje'i sems dpa'i zhus lan) demonstrates that the continuities between the Dunhuang manuscripts and the Rnying ma traditions are also found in philosophical or doctrinal matters. The text was preserved and eventually printed in the Peking and Snar thang editions of the canonical collection of treatises and commentaries, the Bstan 'gyur, and various citations are embedded in the Lamp for the Eyes of Contemplation (Bsam gtan mig sgron) of Gnubs Sangs rgyas ye shes (tenth century). Takahashi's chapter in the volume presents the first critical edition of this important text, bringing together the major manuscript and canonical sources. The Questions and Answers of Vajrasattva is a vital historical document for the development of Mahayoga and the Great Perfection in Tibet, and Takahashi shows how the text reframes instruction on ritual and meditative aspects of Mahayoga in a wider realm of philosophical discourse that is similar to the later Mind Series (sems sde) literature preserved in the Rnying ma canons. This is represented in the question-and-answer format of the text, in which the questions are concerned largely with details of ritual, meditation and their results, while the answers emphasize the inherent emptiness of ritual forms and the spontaneous presence of the enlightened state—central concerns of the later Great Perfection literature.

While all three of these chapters are focused upon ritual and the refinement of practice and understanding to be undertaken by adepts with a view to mastery, or at least efficacy, here and now, in the second section of the volume our concern shifts to tantric approaches to mortuary rites. Imaeda's discussion of the influence of early Tibetan funerary practices on the later Buddhist texts concerning the intermediate state is an extension of an earlier work, one of the groundbreaking studies of the tantric manuscripts from Dunhuang, in which the author examined a text known as Overcoming the Three Poisons (Dug gsum 'dul ba) which was to be read out at the time of death, with the dead or dying person's name inserted into the prayer at relevant points. The text uses Buddhist mantras drawn from the Sarvadurgatiparisodhanatantra, among other sources, and is notable as the only instance of the famous six-syllable mantra of Avalokitesvara in the Dunhuang manuscripts. In his chapter in the present volume, Imaeda places these manuscripts in the broader context of Tibetan religious practice, connecting them with similar texts from the fourteenth-century Bar do thos grol, famed in the West as 'The Tibetan Book of the Dead', and related works on death and dying mainly found in the revealed treasure (gter ma) literature of the Rnying ma. He argues that this gives us a clear view of one instance in which Buddhism was `Tibetanised', rather than Tibet being `Buddhicised'.

The development of mortuary rites among the Rnying ma traditions is also the subject of Kapstein's chapter. Taking as his point of departure the morphological similarities relating a lotus-mandala described in a Dunhuang Tibetan text to the mandalas of the Sarvadurgatiparisodhanatantra and those of the Rnying ma ritual cycle known as the Na rak dong sprugs, the `Churner of the Depths of Hell', he shows that an additional element from the Na rak cycle, its major tantra the Dri med gshags rgyud (`Taintless Tantra of Contrition'), may also be traced in part in the Dunhuang finds. He sees here, however, not evidence that the Na rak cycle already existed at the time these manuscripts were produced, perhaps during the tenth century, but rather that they provide us with a glimpse of the types of sources that were available to the great redactors of the Na rak and other Rnying ma tantric collections, beginning during the eleventh century and continuing at least until the eighteenth, when the much of the corpus of the 'Oral Teachings of the Rnying ma' (Rnying ma bka'

ma) was given its modern form by the hierarchs of the Central Tibetan monastery of Smin sgrol gling.

The final chapter, Tsiang's study of printed images and texts of the eighth through tenth centuries, examines an important body of stamped images, texts and dharanis, some arranged in mandala-like concentric designs, that have been discovered at Dunhuang and in tombs throughout China in recent years. Her discussion shows us how these were related to hopes for protection and prosperity, and were sometimes sealed as amulets attached to the corpse of the deceased. Developing Strickmann's insights regarding the cardinal role of ensigillation in Chinese 'magical medicine', Tsiang argues that the early development of printing in China was in large measure driven by the need for precise multiple copies of esoteric images and texts.

Tsiang's contribution reminds us that it was among the goals of this project to initiate a dialogue between those working on Chinese and Tibetan esoteric materials, respectively, as these are represented at Dunhuang. For those familiar with later Tibetan Buddhist practice, once more among the Rnying ma in particular, it will be clear, moreover, just how suggestive such a dialogue can be. For one of the practices much promoted as Rnying ma tantric traditions evolved was that of btags grol, 'liberation by wearing', referring to amulets based upon mantras and dharanis to be worn by the living or fastened to the dead, much as was practised in late first millennium China as Tsiang shows. It is to be hoped that greater communication among scholars working in both domains will clarify the relevant points of contact, or of common inspiration, that may be supposed to have formed the background for developments such as these.

The chapters in this volume make it clear that various `proto-Rnying ma' materials are indeed to be found among the Tibetan tantric manuscripts from Dunhuang. The authors suggest various ways in which these doctrinal and ritual elements cast light upon the murky period in which the content of the Rnying ma lineages was taking shape, and on their implications for later manifestations of religious life. Thus the research presented here provides evidence of fluidity and development among the doctrines and texts of ninth and tenth century tantric Buddhism. Future work on both Tibetan and Chinese tantric texts from Dunhuang will undoubtedly yield further insights into the development of esoteric Buddhism in general. It is a particularly striking conclusion of the present collection, however, that all of the contributions, including Tsiang's which is devoted exclusively to Chinese materials, find strong parallels in the Rnying ma traditions of the eleventh century onward. Though the precise histories of these traditions have been much mythologised in later Rnying ma narrations, it is fair to hold that their genuine continuity with the esoteric Buddhism of the late first millennium is now established beyond reasonable doubt. It remains a task for future research to clarify the many details.

Matthew T. Kapstein, Sam van Schaik

Buddhism Beyond the Monastery: Tantric Practices and their Performers in Tibet and the Himalayas, PIATS 2003 edited by Sarah Jacoby, Antonio Terrone, Charles Ramble  (Brill Academic) 

Excerpt: Tibetan religions, including Buddhism and Bon, have been profoundly shaped by the institutional influence of monasticism—the congregation of ordained monks and nuns who support a sole religious tradition according to a cenobitic (communal), eremitic (isolated), or peripatetic (itinerant) lifestyle. Although Tibetan tradition claims that monasticism was established in the ninth century with the ordination of the first monastic community at Bsam yas monastery in southern Tibet, the full emergence and development of large-scale monasticism appeared only in the eleventh century with the emergence of the Sa skya school and the foundation of their monastery in Tsang. Buddhist monasticism is widely popular not only in Tibetan society, but also in the culturally akin societies along the Himalayan belt.

Despite its prominent role, monasticism is not the only religious manifestation in Tibetan society. Next to monastic life and activities, a variety of lay or non-celibate movements, communities, traditions, lineages, and religious practices have emerged in Tibet and the Himalayas. While sharing a common lexicon of contemplation and ritual practices with monasticism, non-celibate religious life is predominantly set in the more mundane world of the householder. Tibetan religions, therefore, can be equally characterised by both their monastic and non-monastic manifestations, the latter being popular beliefs, customs, communal gatherings, festivals and ceremonies, and religious rituals typically performed by non-celibate religious professionals.

This volume presents a wide spectrum of studies of the enormous set of cultural practices that constitute the body of Tibetan and Himalayan religion outside of the confines of monastic institutions. The majority of the essays collected in this volume were originally presented as papers at the Tenth Seminar of the International Association of Tibetan Studies in Oxford, England, in September 2003.1As these papers focused on rituals, communities, and practices that were largely non-monastic, the organisers clustered the papers into one session appropriately entitled "Buddhism Beyond the Monastery."2 In addition to the papers originally presented on this panel, Franeoise Pommaret and Sarah Jacoby were invited to contribute their articles, which were originally presented at the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association of Tibetan Studies in Bonn, 2006.

The vantage points from which the essays contained herein view Buddhism beyond the monastery are diverse, including analyses of Tibetan funerary practices, tensions between celibate and non-celibate interpretations of ideal religious conduct, the rise of non-monastic religious institutions such as religious encampments (sgar) and mountain hermitages (ri khrod) in contemporary Tibet led by Treasure revealers (gter ston), the overlapping and amorphous borders between Buddhism and Bon as seen through local community rituals in Bhutan and Central Tibet, the significance of spirit mediums (lha pa) in Reb gong, A mdo, and the social practices surrounding the recognition of reincarnated lamas (sprul sku) in the Tibetan Diaspora. Through these varied studies, readers gain familiarity with a host of religious specialists not necessarily associated with monastic Buddhism including yogis and yoginTs adept at gcod practice, funerary specialists who dispose of bodies in Tibetan sky burials (ro rgyab pa), deikinis (Tib. mkha"gro ma), Treasure revealers (gter ston), tantrists (sngags pa), ala priests, spirit mediums (lha pa), and reincarnated lamas (sprul sku). A common thread that ties these inquiries together, however, is their methodological approach emphasising ethnographic fieldwork. Though many authors included herein provide close textual analyses, they have also all spent time in the 'field' (either Bhutan, Tibet, or the Tibetan Diaspora) gathering information and working with informants to corroborate their findings.

The following essays are organised loosely in chronological and thematic order, beginning with Heather Stoddard's historical study of the rise of Tibetan sky burial after the fall of the Spu rgyal Empire / 9th centuries) and moving quickly to the volume's focus on the 'modern' period of the twentieth-century into contemporary, early twenty-first century Tibet.

Heather Stoddard's article brings the topic of Buddhism beyond the monastery to a perennial problem in human societies: the disposal of the dead. Stoddard explores multiple theories for how and why sky burial replaced earlier burial practices associated with the ancient Spu rgyal Empire between the periods of Fragmentation (846-978) and the Later Diffusion (late 10th-12th centuries). These theories include Zoroastrian influence, climactic changes brought on by a gradual desiccation and altitude increase in Tibet, shifting patterns of belief from pre-Buddhist to Buddhist understandings of the human body, and the influence of gcod and zhi byed practices in the second half of the 11th century associated with the teachings of Pha Dam pa sangs rgyas and Ma cig lab sgron. Stoddard's subtle analysis questions archaeologists' associations between the spread of gcod and zhi byed practices from India in the 11th century and the transformation in death rituals from earlier Spu rgyal Empire burial customs to later sky burial practices. Instead, she suggests that Tibetan sky burial is a remnant of the eastward spread of Zoroastrian-influenced Sassanian and Sogdian practices of exposing the dead that entered Tibet from the 8th century onwards. Nevertheless, Stoddard concludes that although sky burial in Tibet came from Zoroastrian Middle Eastern practices, there is a significant conceptual harmony between gcod practices involving mentally cutting up the body and offering it as a means to cut ego-clinging and the prevalent Tibetan funerary custom of exposing the dead for vultures to eat in sky burial. This symbiotic relationship between sky burial and gcod mutually reinforced both practices under the guise of distinctly Buddhist understanding of the significance of the human body.

Sarah Jacoby's article focuses on the controversial dilemma between celibate and non-celibate interpretations of ideal Tibetan Buddhist conduct. She explores this topic through a study of the biographical and autobiographical writings of Se ra mkha"gro (1892-1940), who was both a Treasure revealer (gter ston) and a consort. Se ra mkha"gro lived outside of the monastery but in another form of religious community called a religious encampment (chos sgar), which in early twentieth-century Mgo log was a mobile group of both celibate and non-celibate religious practitioners that often formed around a charismatic Treasure revealer. Jacoby suggests that we can interpret the many dialogues that Se ra mkha"gro recounts in her descriptive and prolific auto/biographical writings between herself and divine and human interlocutors as resources not only for a better understanding of the role of women and consorts in Tibetan Buddhism, but also for a social history of the religious encampments in which she lived and the role of Treasures and their revealers in broader Mgo log nomadic society. Despite both Se ra nikha"gro and her teacher and male partner Dri med 'od zer's occasional longings to be celibate monastics, Jacoby argues that the dakinis' prophecies so prominent in Se ra mIcha"gro's writings influenced her to privilege the expedient means of sexuality over the moral superiority of monastic celibacy.

The tensions between monasticism and non-celibacy appear also in the vicissitudes of the Tibetan Treasure tradition in contemporary Tibet according to Antonio Terrone's study. Terrone argues that in today's eastern Tibet, religious encampments (chos sgar) and mountain hermitages (ri khrod) especially associated with the Rnying ma school of Tibetan Buddhism have become emblematic of the growing role played by Treasure revealers as educators, innovators, and community leaders in the current revitalisation of Buddhism in Tibet. Whereas monasteries' populations have been limited by restrictive government policies and the traditional religious education they provided has been circumscribed by patriotic re-education campaigns, religious encampments and mountain hermitages have enjoyed a relative freedom of expansion. Not only have they become centres of religious education for monastics as well as non-celibate religious specialists in Eastern Tibet, but they have spurred a resurgence of interest in contemplative practices, especially of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen) system, among large groups of Tibetan and even increasingly of Chinese disciples. Central to these non-monastic religious communities' success has been the century-old phenomenon of Treasure revealers' charismatic leadership based on visionary expertise, the evocative energy of miracles, and Treasure excavations that have allowed Tibetans to regain access to forms of religious authority weakened or lost during the long years of religious suppression, ideological control, and mass resettlement in exile.

Although monastics and non-celibate religious professionals differ in terms of training, commitments, and disciplinary codes, the ritual practices engaged in by both categories of religious specialists converge considerably. This is emblematic of the porous boundary not only between monastic and non-monastic communities, but in some cases also between Buddhism and Bon. The soteriological focus of Buddhism has done little to obfuscate the wide spectrum of non-Buddhist or pre-Buddhist beliefs associated with local divine protectors and mountain gods whose ritual propitiation results in mundane, this-world gains relating to community and personal well- being. Even predominately Buddhist tantrists (sngags pa) provide ritual services aimed at mundane benefits as well as spiritual ones such as improving village welfare, personal health, crops, weather, and fertility. Religious festivals and local community rituals are often thus neither distinctly Buddhist nor Bon and continue to be important in many Tibetan and Himalayan cultural areas, providing a cohesive sense of local identity in the face of rapid modernisation and change.

Francoise Pommaret's article examines this porous boundary between Buddhism and Bon with a comprehensive study of a group of rituals she terms 'local community rituals' in Bhutan. These are annual multi-day rituals conducted by village communities meant to ward off evil influences and bring prosperity to villagers by pleasing local gods. Though the Bhutanese define these rituals as Bon, Pommaret points out that their participants are usually devout Buddhists, thus demonstrating another way in which Bon/Buddhist distinctions are context-dependent and flexible. Pommaret's comprehensive data stem from a larger project in which she has participated since 2001 under the auspices of the Institute of Language and Culture Studies (ILCS), one of the colleges under the Royal University of Bhutan, with funding from UNESCO for the documentation of intangible cultural heritage (see the annex to Pommaret's article for a short description of all the rituals documented by this project in 2003-2004). Pommaret concludes that these local community rituals represent the flexibility of Buddhism as it spread into the region of Bhutan, integrating the Buddhist focus on betterment for the next life with the local deity cults whose focus was the potentially antagonistic goal of seeking happiness in this life. But Pommaret argues that more than being a way to secure temporal happiness, local community rituals reflect local identity and continue to be important territory markers for Bhutan's ongoing nation building and administrative reorganisation.

Nicolas Sihlé continues this focus on Buddhist/Bon overlap by exploring a particular class of ritual specialist called the ala, or lha bon, in the southern agricultural part of Snye mo, a small rural area in Central Tibet. Suggesting that ala are neither Buddhist nor Bon clergy proper, Sihle attempts to move away from overly simplified distinctions between Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions and instead to speak of a religious spectrum ranging from hegemonic Buddhism on one side and only partially Buddhicised traditions on the other. Sihld finds hybridity in his case study of the relations between the ala priestly class and sngags pa, or `tantrists', who are either non-celibate Buddhists or Bon po religious specialists with hereditary lineage succession, instead of strict dichotomies between the two overlapping groups. Through examining a local collective ritual called the Chos skor involving the circumambulation of religious texts around the cultivated land of a village in order to benefit the crops, Sihlé demonstrates that despite the overlapping roles of ala and sngags pa in the ritual, distinctions in their religious specialisation and attributes can be found. Whereas the ala are always Bon and are associated with purification and fertility rituals as well as local place gods, the sngags pa can be either Buddhist or Bon and are particularly associated with exorcistic and other violent ritual activities such as warding off hail. Sihle's case study thus emphasises the hybridity and multiplicity of priestly categories that can be found in specific Buddhist localities, reminding the scholar of Tibetan religious studies that monastic Buddhism is only one facet of the varied and rich Tibetan religious field.

A form of social and religious authority particularly important outside of Buddhist monasticism within Tibetan lay communities is that of 'spirit mediums', or lha pa. Considered the mouthpiece of the gods, spirit mediums along with other religious professionals in contact with the dharma protectors (chos skyong) such as oracles (sku rten) are essential elements of both Tibetan Buddhism and Bon. In pre-1959 Tibet, they occupied a respected role in the social and religious life of many communities. Danzang Cairang's essay illustrates the history and the functions of lha pa in Reb gong, A mdo. He suggests that lha pa had an influential role in decision-making within their communities regarding issues ranging from social welfare to military affairs. Just like many other religious manifestations, the tradition of the lha pa suffered many hardships during the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution, but has since been reinvigorated by the PRC's more relaxed policies on religious practice and by renewed popular interest. Covering various aspects of the spirit-mediumship practised in the Reb gong community, Danzang Cairang discusses the recruitment of lha pa, the practices and performances associated with them, and the role they played both historically and today in the social and religious life of Reb gong.

The final topic addressed in this volume relates to the selection process of children recognised as reincarnated lamas (sprul sku). Marcia Calkowski's article analyses the ways in which reincarnated lamas (sprul sku) are recognised from the perspective of the signs and portents their families and local communities experience that often serve to validate the children's eventual official recognition. Focusing not on the official monastic recognition process but rather the popular one, Calkowski outlines several different social practices that can serve as signs of legitimation that a given child is a sprul sku including environmental or atmospheric phenomena such as rainbows, unusual thunderstorms, unusual or abundant crop growth, and significant dreams or visions experienced by those living in close proximity to the sprul sku. Additionally, Calkowski argues that secrecy, or the sudden reticence to talk about extraordinary signs, as well as attempts to keep a child especially 'clean' also serve as strong indicators that a child is extraordinary and will soon be officially recognised as a sprul sku. Calkowski thus demonstrates that the process of monastic succession via reincarnation entails far more than deliberations within the monastery but also is embedded in a wider system of social practices in which the laity surrounding the potential sprul sku plays a significant role.





Special Contents