From the Jacket
The papers in this collection, with one exception originated in a session on Tibet and Himalayan Societies held at the Australian Anthropological Society conference at the University of Newcastle, Australia, in August 1988. The conveners of the session wanted as wide a representation as possible of Tibetan and Himalayan specialists from Australia and New Zealand. They suggested that participants might choose to address a common theme, "Tantra and Everyday Religion". The term "everyday" or "popular" religion was meant to include both the formal religious traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon as part of everyday Tibetan life and the so called "folk religion" (Tucci 1980:163-212). The theme integral part of this whole area of 'everyday relision'.
These essays provide a significant series of attempts to explore a side of Tibetan religious experience which is of central importance but which has remained on the sidelines of most work on Tibet. By its very nature, the topic crosses boundaries between conventional disciplines and established approaches. Here it is dealt with from a variety of perspectives, from the literary and textual to the ethnographic and anthropological.
The first collection of Tibetan and Himalayan studies from Australian and New Zealand also serves to demonstrate that Australasia is now a significant part of the world Tibetanist community.
The papers in this collection, with one exception, originated in a session on Tibet and Himalayan Societies held at the Australian Anthropological Society conference at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, in August 1988. Although held as part of a conference of anthropologists, the session was also open to scholars from non-anthropological backgrounds. The convenors of the session, Elisabeth Stutchbury and myself, wanted as wide a representation as possible of Tibetan and Himalayan specialists from Australia and New Zealand. Twelve papers were presented to the session. Nine contributors came from Australia and two from New Zealand, while the twelfth was a research student from the People's Republic of China working at the Australian National University.
Elisabeth and I suggested that participant might choose to address a common theme, Tantra and Everyday religion.' In referring to 'everyday' or 'popular' religion, we meant to include both the formal religious traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon as part of everyday Tibetan life an the so-called 'folk religion' (Tucci 1980:163-212). Our theme intended to suggest that Tantra formed an integral part of this whole area of 'everyday religion'.
In the event, eight, eight of the twelve scholars who gave papers at the Newcastle meeting took up aspects of this theme. Six of these presentations, along with the contribution by Ana Marko, who was unable to attend the conference, have been rewritten to from the basis of the present took. The two convener have been joined in editing the collection by Hamish Gregor, who is responsible with myself for most of the detailed editing of the final contributions, and who also handled the preparation of the camera-ready copy.
Styles of presentation and referencing vary considerably among the articles in this collection. This in part reflects the conventions prevalent in the disciplines here represented. We have felt it better to refrain from imposing a uniform style. However, where authors have used no-Central Tibetan dialects (e.g., Ladakhi), we have attempted to facilitate comparison by supplying Central Tibetan equivalent in Wylie spelling where we are reasonably certain of them.
These essays provide what I believe is a significant series of attempts to explore a side of Tibetan religious experience which is of central importance but which has remained on the sidelines of most work on Tibet. By its; very nature, the topic crosses boundaries between conventional disciplines and established approaches. It proved a highly suitable theme to bring together the wide range of approaches, from the literary and textual to the ethnographic and anthropological, represented among our contributors.
Louis Dumont many years ago posed the task for the sociology (and one could equally say anthropology) of India as the establishment of the proper relation between it and classical Indology' (Dumont 1957). His own attempt at a synthesis, Homo Hierarchicus (Dumont 1970), remains controversial but there is no doubt that he succeeded in establishing his fundamental point. Neither the social sciences, with their traditional focus on the ethnographic techniques of participant observation and interview, nor Indology, with its emphasis on literary and historical materials, can provide a comprehensive picture of Indian society or of Indian religion. The two are complementary: the literary and historical material of the Indologist is given meaning and life through study of contemporary practice, while the parochial and limited focus of village ethnography is given context and depth through the Indologist's historical and textual perspective. Studies of Indian society today are coming to take this point for granted, and the best of them move freely between literary and ethnographic materials and between textual, historical, sociological and anthropological modes of analysis.
The same point can be made, mutates mutandis, about Tibet, but we are only beginning to see the appearance of studies of Tibetan society which have attained this degree of sophistication. In part, this is because the historical and literary side of Tibetan studies, for all of the explosion of academic activity set into motion by the exodus of Tibetan scholars since 1959, is still at a relatively early stage. There are still many basic questions to be answered. As the outline become clearer, we are becoming more aware how many texts have scarcely been looked at, how many religious traditions are as yet hardly studied, and how many gaps in our historical knowledge may never be adequately filled.
On the ethnographic side also, work has been concentrated in a few areas, particularly among the Tibetan frontier people in India (Ladakh) and Nepal, and large parts of the picture still remain to be filled in. many villages and communities remain little more than names. The anthropology of Tibet has yet to be galvanized by a Louis Dumont into dialogue about a single paradigm: there are as many approaches as there are anthropologists.
The theme of our collection can perhaps help to bring some coherence into this scatter scene. Tantra is a topic par excellence for literary and textual scholars in departments of history, philosophy and comparative religion, but the study of Tantra also demands a sensitivety to lived religious experience which goes beyond the merely textual. As for popular religion in Tibet, Tantra provides, as the word itself suggests, the continuing thread about which popular religion is woven. No understanding of Tibetan religion which fails to take it seriously into account can go beyond the superficial.
The first essay in this collection, Span Hanna's, is a remarkable personal account of one of the most spectacular and little understood components of Tibetan popular religion: the cult of gter ma or 'discovered objects'. gTer ma have been the subject of some scholarly attention in recent years (df. Dargyay 1978, Goodman 1983, Gyatso 1986, Martin 1985, Thondup 1986) and Tibetan accounts of the finding of gter ma have been published (Norbu 1986:52-3, Aris 1988, Orgyan Tobgyal 1988), but as far as I know this is the first Western eyewitness account is more than a simple narrative of an apparently incomprehensible event. He leads us gently towards a Tibetan understanding of the meaning of a gter ma discovery. As Mangyal Lhasey Tulku told the Tibetans and Westerners present at the finding, 'the purpose of all this was to encourage faith in the Dharma'. An event such as the finding of a gter ma has meaning and significance or Tibetan within a whole frame of knowledge and feeling which the scholar can only comprehend by careful and sympathetic study. The following six essays are all attempts from various perspectives to arrive at an understanding of this uniquely Tibetan world-view. It is for this reason that Hanna's account has been placed at the beginning of our collection.
The other essays have been divided somewhat arbitrarily into two groups: three dealing primarily with literary material, and three with a more ethnographic focus. David Templeman discusses the origins of the Tibetan connection between Tantra and popular religion in the activity of the Tantric siddhas of India, and shows how this tradition was taken up and developed in Tibet. Toni Huber deals with a genre of literature which is of great importance in the context of popular religion, the pilgrimage guide (gnas yig, dkar chag, lam yig); while my own contribution looks at the Tibetan epic as a source for information about popular religious attitudes.
The remaining three papers are based more on ethnography and oral history than on textual material. John Draper uses his field material to demonstrate how the differential distribution of knowledge in Sherpa society is articulated with patterns of power and inequality. Ana Marko's analysis of the great monastic and popular festival of 'Cham in Ladakh likewise reminds us that Tibetan societies have inequalities and power relations and that their modes of thinking and behaving are intimately bound up with those relationships. To argue in this way, as Draper notes, is not a denial of Tibetan spirituality, but helps us to retain an awareness of the very real human life within that spirituality is grounded and based. Finally, Elisabeth Stutchbury provides at the same time a valuable ethnographic picture of a little-studied region (Lahul) and religious tradition ('Brug pa bKa' brgyud) and a reminder that religion in Tibet is not a concrete and isolated object of study but a process grounded in both Tibetan history as a whole and in the local history of the numerous little communities which make up the Tibetan region.
I have suggested only some of the themes that can be found interwoven through this collection of studies. Others will appear to the reader: the relationship between centre and periphery in Tibetan society (Draper, Stutchbury); the creation and maintenance of the 'magical' view of reality through ritual, literature and teaching (Hanna, Huber)' the extent to which Tantra itself is based on a rejection of dichotomies between spirituality and everyday life (Samuel, Templeman). I hope that readers will be able to share in the excitement that was generated at our original conference and find her fruitful suggestions for further study. A collection like this is itself only a moment in an ongoing process, but it can serve to define a problem and to provide a measure of our current understanding.
This first collection of Tibetan and Himalayan studies from Australia and New Zealand also serves to demonstrate that Austral-asia is now a significant part of the world Tibetanist community. Tibetan studies goes back some years in Australasia. Senior scholars such as Professor J. W. De Jong, until recently at the Australian National University, and Dr Zahiruddin Ahmed of Latrobe University have made major contributions to the field. As these essays show, there is now a growing and substantial body of younger scholars to follow in their footsteps.
Language & Literature (443)
Sacred Sites (101)
Tantric Buddhism (87)
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