Tibetan Buddhist Networking in the Eighteenth century: Lives and Letters


Henry Luce Foundation/ ACLS Program in China Studies Collaborative Reading-Workshop Grants


C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Tibetan Studies


Columbia University, East Asian Languages and Cultures (EALAC)


The spread of the Gelukpa School of Tibetan Buddhism and its forging of religio-academic institutions served to strengthen philosophical, literary, cultural, economic and political ties between and amidst a diverse group of interests in Inner and East Asia, especially during the 18th century. The biographies and literary texts of great teachers from this period are particularly ripe with illustrations of the networks that developed in a host of arenas, and we will examine poetic letters exchanged, accounts of several trips to Beijing, songs of realization, and writings on art and medicine for evidence of Buddhist networks that linked Asia through these elite figures.

We will explore these themes through a close reading of texts by and about two particularly influential Tibetan Buddhist teachers from the Tibetan borderlands of Amdo, now encompassed largely in the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan. These two lamas were seated at two of the most important centers in the area: Kumbum Monastery and Labrang Monastery, which had ties with the Qing Court, the Ganden Podrang Administration in Lhasa, and with leading monasteries in Central Tibet. This region has long been remarkable as a site of rich and complex cultural exchange -- identities and alliances were necessarily multiple, involving persons of Monguor, Tibetan, Mongolian, Manchu, Han, and Turkic origins. We will explore how these writings illustrate society and culture and what they reveal about the religious and institutional networks/conversations interactions that formed between Amdo, Lhasa and Beijing.