Hagiography. What a fascinating word; at one time I thought the “hag” implied the study of witches! The word, which of course literally means “writings on [the lives of] saints”, has also taken on a pejorative meaning, in the sense that since saints are supposedly exceptionally good people, even considered “perfectly-formed at birth” as Alexander Gardner puts it, admiringly servile biographies which flatter exceptionally bad people or even mediocrities must also be hagiographies, because they make those people look like saints.
Ah, Tibet! This is the land of stupendous mountain vistas, prayer flags flapping in the breeze, monasteries perched precariously on hillsides and gentle orange-clad lamas chanting Buddhist prayers in incense-filled temples. And then, along comes Tsering Döndrup to spoil it all.
Professor Holly Gayley offers a full translation of the tantric love letters between Namtrul Rinpoche and Khandro Tare Lhamo, two Buddhist lamas who worked to preserve Tibetan Buddhist culture in the wake of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
Christians have Jesus, the Jews the Messiah, Muslims the Mahdi, and Buddhists Maitreya. All these names are applied to someone who will, at some time, appear on earth as a representative, regent or successor of the principal object of religious veneration.
In the summer of 1792, the Qianlong Emperor was confronted with a uniquely Tibetan Buddhist problem: Qing authorities had discovered the Eighth Dalai Lama, Seventh Panchen Lama, the Fourth Jetsundamba, several other prominent reincarnate lineages, and a distinguished Tibetan statesman, were embedded in a web of kinship ties. “… How is it possible that the reincarnations of all the major kutuktus of Tibet have come to appear only in the noble households?” he remarked in a letter to one of his most trusted generals.
Modern Tibetan literature has been rather hard to find, with the exception of religious and spiritual writings, and some poetry, notably Woeser’s Tibet’s True Heart: Selected Poetry, the only book of modern Tibetan poetry I have come across. Woeser has a short story in this new collection, and was the only Tibetan writer represented that I actually knew by name.
Much of what we know of Gendun Chopel in the West must surely be due to the efforts of Donald Lopez, who tells us that he’s written six books on him; “I had not intended to write so much about him,” he says on the first page of this new book, but readers should be glad that sometimes intentions simply go out of the window!