Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Cultureby Ronald M. Davidson

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  • Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture by Ronald M.DavidsonReview by: Sam van SchaikJournal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 127, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 2007), pp. 93-95Published by: American Oriental SocietyStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20297225 .Accessed: 17/06/2014 11:19

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  • Reviews of Books 93

    (pp. 149-67) she argues mainly with Hans van Buitenen and Jan Held, to acknowledge in the end that

    "no final solution for the problem of the dy?ta is presently possible" (p. 162). Muneo Tokunaga, "an

    analyst, but not without conditions" (p. 169), enters into the controversy regarding the didactic portions of the Mah?bh?rata, between the "analysts" represented almost solely by Joseph Dahlmann, and the

    "synthesists" or "excavationists" such as E. W Hopkins and Moriz Winternitz. And Yaroslav Vassilkov

    (pp. 221-54) intervenes in the opposing views of Arvind Sharma and Madhav Deshpande on the mutual relation of the Bhagavadg?t? and the Anuglt?.

    As he did in DICSEP 2 (p. 202), Bailey again raises the question of the audience the texts scrutinized at the Dubrovnik meetings were meant to reach. He notes that "Indologists themselves have assumed

    the role of the missing link, the reader/hearer" (p. 3). One might even go farther, and say that "Western"

    Indologists (in this volume, seventeen Europeans, four North Americans, one Australian, and one

    Japanese) have taken over the role of the Indian clientele. When the general editor, with justifiable pride, describes DICSEP 3 as a meeting of "scholars from all over the world" (p. xi), I cannot help reflecting that scholars from one relevant part of the world are indeed missing. To be sure, contribu

    tions by Indian scholars are quoted in the text, but, even then, far less often than those of their Western

    counterparts: except as editors of the critical editions (V. S. Sukthankar et al., P. L. Vaidya, and G. H.

    Bhatt et al.), no Indian scholars are included in the "Frequently-cited works" (p. xxv). As for the

    background and techniques of the numerous Indians who, for centuries, have transmitted?and

    shaped?epic and puranic stories, and the reactions of the even larger audiences, the study of the role

    these two classes of participants have played in the history of the two major epics, the Harivamsa,

    and the pur?nas appears to be left in the domain of historians, anthropologists, and folklorists.

    Databases play an ever increasing role as tools in the study of Sanskrit texts. The General Editor

    notes that, "[a]s a side product of the focus on the Harivamsa, a group of participants coordinated by Peter Schreiner has produced an electronic edition of the text based on the Pune Critical Edition" (p. xi). Also, James Fitzgerald presents an outline and a specimen of a new database that is in the process of

    development: a database for mapping and studying the non-anustubh portions of the Mah?bh?rata

    (pp. 137-48). The contributors I have had no occasion to mention so far are Georg von Simson (on the Nalop?

    khy?na as a calendar myth), Przemyslaw Szczurek (on bhakti additions to the Bhagavadg?t?), Mislav Jezic (whose article complements, for the R?m?yana, Witzel's notes on the structure of the Mah?

    bh?rata), Renate S?hnen-Thieme (on frame stories and layers of interlocution in the pur?nas),

    Angelika Malinar (on king Pariksit, to illustrate the relationship between the Mah?bh?rata and the

    pur?nas), Greg Bailey (on the pravrtti-nivrtti chapters in the M?rkandeyapur?na), Sandra Smets (on the story of Kausika in the Mah?bh?rata and the Brahm?ndapur?na), Paolo Magnone (with a survey of the Sivadharmottarapur?na, which indeed, for some unknown reason, never reached the printed version of my The Pur?nas), and Eva De Clercq (with the sole contribution on the Jaina pur?nas).

    The editing?and general presentation?of the volume, as of the previous ones, is superb. One

    misprint may be noted here: in the General Index Ernst Leumann appears as "Laumann," an is alpha betized accordingly.

    Ludo Rocher

    University of Pennsylvania

    Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture. By Ronald M. Davidson.

    New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. Pp. xvi + 596. $75. (cloth), $32.50 (paper).

    Everything you know is wrong. That phrase, a section heading for Ronald Davidson's previous book

    Indian Esoteric Buddhism, could be an alternative subtitle for this new study. In the most striking iconoclastic moment in the book, Davidson brings to light a previously neglected document that casts

    doubt upon the great translator Marpa's relationship with the Indian siddha N?rop?. This relationship is

    fundamental to the Kagy? lineages, and Davidson's challenge to the traditional accounts feels like a

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  • 94 Journal of the American Oriental Society 127.1 (2007)

    key moment in the clash between traditional Tibetan historiography and Western positivist historical

    methods.

    Tibetan Renaissance is a monumental work of tremendous scholarship, bringing together an array of historical sources to create a convincing narrative of the dynamic activity of Buddhists in Tibet

    during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This period is of vital importance in the formation of the

    religious traditions that came to characterize Tibetan Buddhism, both those of the old (Nyingma) and new (Sarma) traditions. The period was characterized by the influx into Tibet of a huge number of new tantric texts and practice lineages, and the formation of powerful groups around these new lineages. This is quite rightly the focus of Tibetan Renaissance.

    Davidson's Indian Esoteric Buddhism dealt with the phenomenon of "tantric" or "esoteric"

    Buddhism in India. Tibetan Renaissance begins with a summary of the relevant material from the

    first work. It is clear from the outset that the historical approach outlined at the beginning of Indian

    Esoteric Buddhism will also be applied in Tibetan Renaissance. In the earlier work Davidson stated

    that his aim was "to honour those Indian Buddhist masters who have constructed esoteric Buddhism

    in their own time" (p. xi). However this was not to be the same kind of honor accorded by traditional

    histories, for Davidson would "seek humanity where others seek holiness."

    Similarly in the current work Davidson is engaged in a kind of service of honor, in this case

    toward the early founders of the Sakya tradition, the Kh?n family, one of the most important and

    powerful new lineages that appeared in Tibet in the eleventh century. And while he affirms that the

    Sakya tradition is "as glorious as it has been proclaimed" (p. x), he approaches the individuals who created this tradition in the same critical manner, presenting them as fallible human beings rather than

    signifiers of holiness. Sometimes this critical manner becomes provocative, as for example when

    Davidson describes the siddha Vir?pa as "a failed monk, probably not excessively learned, and given to hanging round with the wandering bards for whom composition in Apabhramsa was the norm"

    (p. 54). Such statements seem to be intended as a corrective to traditional hagiography and contem

    porary Buddhists who continue to hold figures like Vir?pa in great reverence.

    Davidson makes it clear that his historical method is intended to have an immediate impact upon the

    contemporary tradition: "While the Kh?n and the Sakya tradition have not received the attention they

    merit, it is to some degree precisely because of their conservatism and unwillingness to compromise their principles in the modern world" (p. 267). This simultaneously respectful and critical attitude

    underpins Tibetan Renaissance. Davidson has dedicated himself to the reconstruction of the distant

    lives of the early Sakya masters, but this is not merely an act of homage to the tradition; with the

    attempt to present the biographies of the major figures of this period stripped of hagiography and

    secrecy, he aims to bring the tradition into the modern world.

    After a brief overview of Indian tantric Buddhism, Davidson turns to the narrative of the Tibetan

    renaissance, which begins with the period following the fall of the Tibetan Empire that has often been characterized as a "dark age." Davidson avoids that easy clich?, but does present the fall of the Yarlung

    dynasty pretty much in