In March 2018, the Modern Tibetan Studies program held three popular events: “Some Observations on the Social Status of the Spiritual Teacher in Tibet;” “A Conversation on Early Gelug Institutional History;” and “Social Mobility in the Tibetan Army.” Please read below to learn about the lectures.
“Some Observations on the Social Status of the Spiritual Teacher in Tibet” – a presentation by Leonard van der Kuijp
On March 9, 2018, Dr. Leonard van der Kuijp, Professor of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies of Harvard University, gave the lecture “Some Observations on the Social Status of the Spiritual Teacher in Tibet” at Columbia University. The event was moderated by Gray Tuttle, the Leila Hadley Luce Associate Professor of Modern Tibetan Studies of Columbia University, and co-sponsored by the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, and the Confucius Institute of Columbia University.
By studying early Tibetan historiography and biographies, such as The Testament of Ba/Wa extensively, Professor van der Kuijp profoundly discussed the social status of Tibetan spiritual teachers and the interactions between religious and secular leaders in different historical periods. Based on his philological research of texts related to the lives of significant Tibetan lamas, such as Butön Rinchen Drup (1290–1364), Dölpopa Shérap Gyeltsen (1292–1361), and the Eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje (1507-1554), Professor van der Kuijp contextualized the various dimensions of the lives of Tibetan gurus in the historical background of Tibetan society. The lecture provided the audience a lively and concrete scope to understand historical connections between Buddhism and Tibetan societies.
Around 50 guests atttended the talk, including scholars and students from Columbia University, Carnegie Mellon University, Renmin University, Minzu University of China, Bard College, etc. In the Q&A session, Gray Tuttle, Dominique Townsend, and other scholars raised questions about some Tibetan historical figures and texts.
— by Ling-Wei Kung
“A Conversation on Early Gelug Institutional History” – a presentation by José Cabezón
On March 16, 2018, the Modern Tibetan Studies hosted a conversation with the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Dalai Lama Professor, José Cabezón, moderated by Gray Tuttle, the Leila Hadley Luce Associate Professor of Modern Tibetan Studies. Professor Cabezón spoke about the institutional history of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism in celebration of the 600th anniversary of both the death of Tsongkhapa and the construction of the Sera Monastery just outside of Lhasa. The event gathered Columbia students, faculty, and friends for an hour-and-a-half-long informal conversation, followed by a traditional Tibetan lunch with Professor Cabezón. Professor Cabezón laid out his theoretical framework underpinning the strength of the Gelug school in Tibet which he attributed to the homogenization of and the consistency between Gelug monasteries.
Professor Cabezón’s talk reflects his current research project on the Sera monastery, where he lived and studied from 1980 until 1985. Since then, Professor Cabezón has been collecting materials for this new endeavor. In the early 2000’s, he returned to the Sera Monastery with his photographer. Pieces of his research project are posted on seramonastery.org. Additionally, Professor Cabezón has two forthcoming books, Sexuality in Classical South Asian Buddhism and a translation of Mipam’s Treatise on Royal Ethics.
Despite the Spring Break, Professor Cabezón’s lecture was well-attended. Students, faculty, and the larger Columbia community remained thoroughly engaged in his talk and asked thoughtful and insightful questions.
– by Constantine Lignos
“Social Mobility in the Tibetan Army”- a presentation by Alice Travers
On March 28, 2018, the Modern Tibetan Studies Program hosted Alice Travers, a permanent researcher in the CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research) and a member of CRCAO (Centre for Research on East Asian Civilisations – UMR 8155) at the Collège de France in Paris. The talk was moderated by Professor Gray Tuttle.
Dr. Travers discussed the social history of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century Central Tibet and the Ganden Podrang government and its institutions as the Principal Investigator of the project, “The Tibetan Army of the Dalai Lamas, 1642-1959,” at the Sorbonne, Paris.
During the eighth century, the Tibetan Empire (618-842) conquered a region encompassing sections of modern-day Afghanistan, India, Xinjiang (Eastern Turkistan), and parts of China proper, and its army made Tibet one of the major powers in Eurasia. Though the Tibetan military declined drastically after the collapse of the empire, military culture continued to influence Tibetan civil and religious society. Popular perception views Tibet as a passive agent, receiving Mongol and Manchu aid for military affairs. For instance, the current mainstream Chinese academic literature credits the Manchu general Fuk’anggan (1753-1796) for helping establish and train the Tibetan army after the Gurkha Wars ended in 1792. These assumptions, however, ignore the Ganden Podrang’s active pursuit of military and state-building deployment since its foundation.
Dr. Travers based her research on the model developed for her database on 19th and 20th century Central Tibetan aristocrats, which explored the social mobility of Tibetan civil officials in this period. The audience asked multiple questions on the Tibetan military and Professor Tuttle commented on the conscious state practice of deploying military officials and soldiers to sites far from their home areas in the 19th and 20th century, which suggests that Tibetan troops were not simply local militia.
— by Bart Qian