Death and Reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism
Routledge – 2013 – 148 pages
Contextualising the seemingly esoteric and exotic aspects of Tibetan Buddhist culture within the everyday, embodied and sensual sphere of religious praxis, this book centres on the social and religious lives of deceased Tibetan Buddhist lamas. It explores how posterior forms – corpses, relics, reincarnations and hagiographical representations – extend a lama’s trajectory of lives and manipulate biological imperatives of birth and death.
The book looks closely at previously unexamined figures whose history is relevant to a better understanding of how Tibetan culture navigates its own understanding of reincarnation, the veneration of relics and different social roles of different types of practitioners. It analyses both the minutiae of everyday interrelations between lamas and their devotees, specifically noted in ritual performances and the enactment of lived tradition, and the sacred hagiographical conventions that underpin local knowledge.
A phenomenology of Tibetan Buddhist life, the book provides an ethnography of the everyday embodiment of Tibetan Buddhism. This unusual approach offers a valuable and a genuine new perspective on Tibetan Buddhist culture and is of interest to researchers in the fields of social/cultural anthropology and religious, Buddhist and Tibetan studies.
"This is an important and fundamentally original work, theoretically sophisticated and multilayered in its approach. Perspectives offered by texts and individual practitioners are well chosen and balanced. While implicitly and explicitly acknowledging "the variation of knowledge systems in Tibetanized societies" (76), the author is able to present a set of findings with implications beyond the immediate issue. For this reader it was of particular interest in regard to the study of rNam-thar, a field in which a number of significant studies have recently emerged. It demonstrates the linking of biographies and realities that allows different lineages to present different interpretations of various biographical events and processes serving different purposes. No one interested in Tibetan concepts of death, whether from a ritual, textual, or philosophical perspective, can fail to gain fresh insights from this stimulating study. Partly due to a writing style that entirely eliminates excess, this is a short work, just 130 pages of text, but it has the great merit of leaving the reader wanting more." A. C. McKay International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden
1. Introduction 2. Relics and Reincarnation of Khenchen Sangay Tenzin 3. The Spiritual Mastery or (Spirit Possession) of Gupha Rinpoche 4. Embodying the Past in the Present: Gelongma Palmo 5. Buddhism Across Cultures: Bokar Rinpoche 6. Conclusion
Tanya Zivkovic is a Research Fellow in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Adelaide, Australia. Her research explores the body and cultural trajectories of the lifecourse.