The Nature of a Vow: Three-Vow Theory and Debates from India to Fifteenth Century Tibet


The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Dissertation Fellowships in Buddhist Studies


The three-vow genre of Tibetan Buddhism analyzes the interrelation, compatibility, and dissonance across the three sets of vows taken by Tibetan Buddhists: monastic, bodhisattva, and tantra vows. The only three-vow text included in the vast scholastic literature of Tibet’s Geluk sect was written in the fifteenth century by Khedrup Je Gelek Pal Sangpo, one of the primary students of the sect’s founder, Tsong kha pa, just as the Geluk were becoming doctrinally differentiated from the Sakya sect. This dissertation places this text in conversation with the writings of Sakya scholars of the time, revealing key terms and concepts that motivate the three-vow debates particularly as they concern Indian abhidharma ontologies of the fourth century CE and divergent understandings of the nature of reality.