The Tibetan Graduates Studies Seminar (TGSS) is a weekly series of colloquia and guest lectures at the Oriental Institute.
The intended purpose of the TGSS is to give MPhil and DPhil candidates a platform to present their work-in-progress and receive feedback from staff and affiliated scholars of the field.
Additionally, the weekly time slot will also allow visiting scholars to present their current research.
They are provided with the opportunity to engage in similar ways with both students and fellows of the Tibetan Studies department.
‘Treasures’ (gter ma) and treasure-finders in Yungdrung Bön: a Tibetan tradition spanning a thousand years
This talk presents an outline of the Yungdrung Bön ’Treasure’ tradition The Tibetan Bön religion, often called Yungdrung (‘Eternal’) Bön by its adherents, arose in Central Tibet at the same time as the ‘Latter Propagation’ (phyi dar) of Buddhism, i.e. in the 10th-11th century CE. In fact, it shares many traits with the Latter Propagation, and may be viewed as part of a broader socio-religious movement in Tibet at the time.
An important element, shared by both these religions, is the appearance of ’Treasures’, texts (and to some extent objects) considered by their respective adherents to have been hidden in former centuries at a time when the religion was persecuted or when the people of Tibet were not considered sufficiently spiritually mature to receive the texts. The Treasures are believed to have been brought to light by ’Treasure discoverers’ (gter ston), particularly gifted or divinely chosen individuals who passed them on to their circle of disciples or patrons.
This talk will present an outline of the Yungdrung Bön ’Treasure’ tradition, a tradition which is still alive, thus spanning more than a thousand years. From origins which are different compared to those of Buddhist ’Treasures’, it has developed and diversified over the centuries, ultimately becoming the most significant source of Yungdrung Bön canonical scriptures.
Yoginīs, Revelation, and Hidden Knowledge in Tantric Śaivism (Oxford Treasure Seminar Series)
This presentation examines Śākta transformations of conceptions of revelation and the transmission of esoteric knowledge in Mantramārga Śaivism This presentation examines Śākta transformations of conceptions of revelation and the transmission of esoteric knowledge in Mantramārga Śaivism. In particular, the presentation focuses on representations of Yoginīs, both divine and human, as sources of power or hidden knowledge, as guardians of esoteric teachings, and as agents of revelation. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
Nectar, Water, or Blood? A Buddhist History of Perceptual Relativism
In this talk, Jacob Fisher presents his research on a history of the Buddhist discussions surrounding perceptual relativism, in India and Tibet Indian and Tibetan epistemologists have spent millennia grappling with the central philosophical questions of relativism and intersubjectivity. This talk will present my ongoing DPhil research that attempts to map a philosophical history of the discussion, by focussing on a specific Buddhist example that problematises perceptual relativism. This classic Buddhist example is the perception across world spheres of a river, which depending on the realm one belongs to, will be perceived as either blood for hungry ghosts, water for humans, or nectar for the gods. This classic example of at least three contradictory perceptions emphasises the paradox of relativism and elicits novel philosophical and epistemological solutions to this real-world problem.
The story begins in India with a brief map of the chronological and philosophical developments of the example, beginning with a Pāli discourse and followed by Vinaya, Abhidharma, and Mahāyāna sources. Next, the discussion shall survey the major Tibetan exegetes of Madhyamaka philosophy over the last millennia, specifically those who use the example. Finally, we will zoom inwards to focus on a specific debate on a highly controversial interpretation of the example by Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), in which he simultaneously bolsters the importance of conventional epistemic instruments (tshad ma, pramāṇa) while at the same time undermining them through ascribing an illusory nature to all existence. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
A Chorus of Voices Chanting the Names of Mañjuśrī Rong-zom Chos-kyi-bzang-po’s Commentary on the Nāmasaṅgīti, and Its Indian Sources
Nicola Bajetta takes us through Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo's commentary on the Nāmasaṅgīti, a hymn of praise dedicated to Mañjuśrī Among the circa thirty-two extant works by the seminal rNying-ma scholar Rong-zom Chos-kyi-bzang-po (11th–12th cent.), his Explanation in Three Points (rNam gsum bshad pa) is one of the earliest autochthonous Tibetan commentaries on the (Mañjuśrī)nāmasaṅgīti. Included within the author’s Collected Writings, the commentary is also transmitted, anonymously, in all editions of the bsTan ’gyur, with the title Lamp that Clarifies the Three Methods (Tshul gsum gsal bar byed pa’i sgron ma). Rong-zom-pa’s commentary, as the title suggests, is an exegesis of the tantra in three main points (rnam gsum): 1) a discussion of the nature of Mañjuśrī (i.e., non-dual gnosis), 2) of His different Names (i.e., the names of all defiled and undefiled phenomena), 3) and of the way His Names should be chanted (i.e., by viewing His Names as having the meaning of good qualities, by viewing His Names as having the meaning of mantras, and by viewing His Names as having the meaning of non-duality). Following a general introduction to the Nāmasaṅgīti, the commentaries thereupon, and the life and works of Rong-zom Chos-kyi-bzang-po, my talk will lay emphasis on the Indian sources that underlie the composition of the rNam gsum bshad pa. Particularly significant is Rong-zom-pa’s reliance on Vilāsavajra’s (late 8th cent.) Nāmamantrārthāvalokinī (NMAA) (one of three Indian commentaries on the Nāmasaṅgīti that are still extant in Sanskrit) and Smṛtijñānakīrti’s (11th cent.) *Guhyāpannopāyikāvṛtti, a commentary on Vilāsavajra’s maternal uncle Agrabodhi’s (8th cent.) *Guhyāpannopāyikā, translated by the same Smṛtijñāna, who also translated the NMAA. After analysing different modalities and degrees of textual borrowing / textual re-use from these two sources to the rNam gsum bshad pa, I will conclude by drawing a few comparisons between the canonical versions of the Tibetan translation of the NMAA and an extra-canonical version extant in a single dBu-can manuscript from the ’Bras-spungs-gnas-bcu-lha-khang in lHa-sa. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
Sūtra in Early Buddhist Treasure Texts (Oxford Treasure Seminar Series)
Reinier Langelaar’s talk on early Tibetan treasure literature’s influences, inspirations, and narrative themes Early Tibetan treasure literature was pivotal in the development of a distinctly Buddhist vision of Tibetan history. In formulating such narratives, two influential early works, the Ma-ṇi-bka’-‘bum and the Bka’-chems-ka-khol-ma, appear to have relied quite heavily on inspiration from Buddhist scriptures, as they refer to, and sometimes explicitly cite from, a raft of sūtra, dhāraṇī, and tantra. These sources include a somewhat enigmatic set of 21 scriptures that were taught to the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara.
This talk will explore to what degree Buddhist scripture in fact informed the composition of these two authoritative treasure texts. Were references and citations from Buddhist scripture chiefly window dressing, or did they provide genuine inspiration for the narratives formulated in these works? What narrative themes were adopted from Buddhist scripture? Did some sūtras play a particularly large role? By delving into such questions, this talk opens a window on the gestation of early Buddhist treasure texts, as well as the role that the Buddha’s Word (buddhavacana) played in Tibetan Buddhism during the phyi dar period.
Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
Early Teachings on the Four Phurpas and the Relationship between the Revelatory and Transmitted Textual Tradition (Oxford Treasure Seminar Series)
Early teachings on the Four Phurpas in the light of the Eightfold Buddha Word, Embodying the Sugatas (bka' brgyad bde gshegs 'dus pa) revelation of Myang ral Nyi ma 'od zer (1124-1192), and the relationship between the Revelatory (gter ma) and Transmitted Myang ral's twelfth century revealed corpus of the Eightfold Buddha Word, Embodying the Sugatas (bka' brgyad bde gshegs 'dus pa) became a template for Rnying ma practice focusing on the tradition's eight central tantric deities. In a previous article (2020a), I have suggested that the entire Action Phurpa ('phrin las phur pa) section of the Eightfold Buddha Word is likely to pre-date Myang ral, and seems to preserve an archaic practice tradition. Here, I explore further Phurpa materials in the corpus which relate to the teachings on the Four Phurpas, or the Four Phurpa Materials (phur pa'i rgyu bzhi), alongside related teachings in the corpus of transmitted texts (bka' ma) which were also part of Myang ral's heritage. The centrality of the Four Phurpa teachings in these texts may have influenced the later Vajrakīlaya traditions, which generally put considerable emphasis on these teachings. I assess how the specific teachings on the Four Phurpas passed on by Myang ral in the revealed (gter ma) and transmitted texts (bka' ma) relate to each other, and to other early sources on the Four Phurpas. It seems not only that some of the transmitted Eightfold Buddha Word texts of The Fortress and Precipice (rdzong 'phrang) cycle were very early, but one short instruction on the Four Phurpas is quite likely to derive from the historical Padmasambhava. Moreover, it draws upon an authoritative source which seems also to have made its way into texts within Myang ral's Embodying the Sugatas revelation dealing with the same topic. Finally, in considering the framing of Myang ral's Embodying the Sugatas as revelation, one effect of the new presentation is that King Khri srong lde'u btsan, who was supposed to have been the main original recipient of The Fortress and Precipice transmissions, but did not remain in the lineage, was brought back into centre stage in the transmission. For Myang ral was his rebirth, and key texts of the Embodying the Sugatas revelation are said to have come from the King's manuscripts.