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 11:19Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. .American Oriental Society is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal ofthe American Oriental Society.http://www.jstor.org This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 11:19:53 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=aoshttp://www.jstor.org/stable/20297225?origin=JSTOR-pdfhttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsphttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspReviews 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 This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 11:19:53 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp94 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 traditional terms. Apart from this, Davidson's account of this little-known era is impressive. Calling upon all the relevant recent scholarship and the earliest Tibetan historical data, Davidson shows how the dharma was maintained in the Sino-Tibetan cultural centers of northeast Tibet and the Hexi Corridor, a vital counterpoint to the usual emphasis on the agency of the western Tibetan kingdoms in this period. The subsequent political tensions between the monks returning from the north east to the diverse religious landscape in central Tibet are also treated with subtlety. The next section discusses the work of the translators who traveled to Indie lands in search of reliable tantric lineages. The career of one of these translators, Ralo Dorjedrag, is discussed at some length, again seeking humanity rather than holiness, for Ralo's antinomian activities are presented as human failings rather than as an illustration of the morality-transcending behavior espoused in many tantras. Here, and more explicitly in his treatment of Lama Zhang, Davidson declines the traditional acceptance of the violent and sexual activities of these figures and condemns the way they allowed tantric license to spill over into the secular sphere. There follows a more sympathetic treatment of Drogmi, the Tibetan translator who was to be of such great importance for the Sakyapas; his relationship with the wandering Indian yogin Gay?dhara is explored, and Gay?dhara is posited as the true origin of the Lamdr?. This is followed by a fasci nating digression on the treasure tradition of those who held onto the old lineages, the Nyingma. Here This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 11:19:53 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jspReviews of Books 95 Davidson finds new insights into the beginnings of the treasure tradition by relying on the earliest sources rather than later Nyingma codifications of the treasure tradition, and argues that the early treasure appeared as a reaction to the new lineages being brought from India, and functioned as a powerful evocation of the lost imperial past. The insights presented here are on their own enough to vindicate Davidson's historical method. In both situations?teaching by wandering yogins like Gay?dhara and Tibetan treasure revelation? Davidson argues that we are seeing creative reformulations of previous tantric discourses into some thing more suitable to a new Tibetan audience. This is especially interesting in the case of what Davidson calls "gray texts," those texts that were formulated by Indians for their Tibetan disciples ("gray" because they are neither wholly Indie or Tibetan). The argument for the creative agency of some figures, particularly Padampa Sangy?, is convincing. The other important argument, for Gay?dhara's authorship of the Lamdr? root text, is less credible; it is based primarily on the lack of evidence for its purported author Vir?pa. Although Davidson brings in other arguments, one is left wondering if the attempt to define an author for orally transmitted teachings such as the Lamdr? root text is not funda mentally flawed. The ascription of authorship to Gay?dhara is ultimately no more or less convincing than the traditional ascription to Vir?pa. The remaining chapters of Tibetan Renaissance follow the Sakya lineage through Kh?n K?nchog Gyalpo, Sachen K?nga Nyingpo, and his sons S?nam Tsemo and Dragpa Gyaltsen. Their lives are re constructed from the earliest sources and in connection with their most significant literary works. This material is augmented by discussions of other influential figures from the period, such as Gampopa, resulting in a compelling picture of Tibetan Buddhism in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Davidson's work to reconstruct what really happened during the lifetimes of these individuals, using the earliest historical sources, calls into question certain significant elements of Kh?n history, such as the clan's descent from divine beings and Sachen's visionary teachings from Vir?pa. But Davidson is often unable to replace these stories with satisfying alternative historical narratives. Surely this is because even the earliest sources cannot be relied upon to present what we would accept as a realistic portrayal of their subjects; for example, as Davidson himself points out, Sakya Pandita's biography of his uncle Dragpa Gyaltsen obscures his connections with teachers outside of the Kh?n clan. Many of Davidson's contentious re-readings of history?including the discussion of Marpa's re lationship with N?rop? mentioned above?thus remain unresolved and perhaps unresolvable. Further reflection is needed regarding this gap: the disparity between what modern historians would like to get out of the texts and what they are in fact capable of giving. Perhaps we need to understand better the structures and conventions of the Tibetan historical texts, how they signify and function within their own cultural (and spiritual) context. As yet there have been few moves in this direction, and it may be that positivist historical analyses of the sources, like those that Davidson has given us here, must come first. In any case, Tibetan Renaissance is a book that we cannot do without. Though Davidson's intention to bring the influential figures of tradition out of hagiography and into the clear light of history may be problematic, it does not invalidate this work, which will influence the reading of Tibetan history for many years to come, both as an invaluable historical narrative and as a catalyst for a multitude of issues and arguments regarding Tibetan traditions and their modern interpreters. Sam van Schaik British Library Haunting the Buddha. Indian Popular Religions and the Formation of Buddhism. By Robert DeCaroli. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Pp. viii + 230, plates. Over thirty-five years ago, the great historian of Indian art, V S. Agrawala, wrote a book on Ancient Indian Folk Cults. His stature resulted from his recognition that early Indian art needs to be analyzed as a pan-Indie phenomenon, and therefore it needs to be grounded in pan-Indie culture. This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 11:19:53 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditionshttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp