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[books] Building a Religious Empire

Building a Religious Empire

Brenton Sullivan. Building a Religious Empire. Tibetan Buddhism, Bureaucracy, and the Rise of the Gelukpa

The vast majority of monasteries in Tibet and nearly all of the monasteries in Mongolia belong to the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism, best known through its symbolic head, the Dalai Lama. Historically, these monasteries were some of the largest in the world, and even today some Geluk monasteries house thousands of monks, both in Tibet and in exile in India. In Building a Religious Empire, Brenton Sullivan examines the school’s expansion and consolidation of power along the frontier with China and Mongolia from the mid-seventeenth through the mid-eighteenth centuries to chart how its rise to dominance took shape.
In contrast to the practice in other schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Geluk lamas devoted an extraordinary amount of effort to establishing the institutional frameworks within which everyday aspects of monastic life, such as philosophizing, meditating, or conducting rituals, took place. In doing so, the lamas drew on administrative techniques usually associated with state-making—standardization, record-keeping, the conscription of young males, and the concentration of manpower in central cores, among others—thereby earning the moniker «lama official,» or «Buddhist bureaucrat.»

The deployment of these bureaucratic techniques to extend the Geluk «liberating umbrella» over increasing numbers of lands and peoples leads Sullivan to describe the result of this Geluk project as a «religious empire.» The Geluk lamas’ privileging of the monastic institution, Sullivan argues, fostered a common religious identity that insulated it from factionalism and provided legitimacy to the Geluk project of conversion, conquest, and expansion. Ultimately, this system succeeded in establishing a relatively uniform and resilient network of thousands of monasteries stretching from Nepal to Lake Baikal, from Beijing to the Caspian Sea.»

[books] In the service of the 13th and 14th Dalai Lama

kashopaJamyang Choegyal Kasho. In the service of the 13th and 14th Dalai Lama: Choegyal Nyima Lhundrup Kashopa — Untold stories of Tibet.
There is probably no personality in modern (pre ’59) Tibetan politics more colourful or controversial than Kashopa Choegyal Nyima. Most major histories of modern Tibet mention him, some like Shakabpa favourably, others like Goldstein in less flattering terms.
In spite of his lengthy and contentious political career Kashopa has, unfortunately, not received more in-depth attention from historians and scholars, which is a pity as he was quite deeply involved in some of the most consequential events of modern Tibetan history: the Lungshar conspiracy, the imprisonment of Gedun Choephel, the Sera War and more. One scholar has gone so far as to note that «Kashopa’s presence is felt in every aspect of Tibet’s recent history».
Kashopa’s son, Jamyang Choegyal, has now come out with a very personal and engaging biography of his famous father, which will definitely contribute to our understanding of that fascinating period in Tibetan history. For the general reader there is much to enjoy in this absorbing story of a politician’s life in old Lhasa, with all its rewards and pitfalls.
(Jamyang Norbu — Exile writer and essayist, and author of The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes, Warriors of Tibet and Shadow Tibet)

New Book: Forging the Golden Urn

000000_urnMax Oidtmann. Forging the Golden Urn: The Qing Empire and the Politics of Reincarnation in Tibet.

«In Forging the Golden Urn, Max Oidtmann ventures into the polyglot world of the Qing empire in search of the origins of the golden urn tradition. He seeks to understand the relationship between the Qing state and its most powerful partner in Inner Asia—the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. Why did the Qianlong emperor invent the golden urn lottery in 1792? What ability did the Qing state have to alter Tibetan religious and political traditions? What did this law mean to Qing rulers, their advisors, and Tibetan Buddhists? Working with both the Manchu-language archives of the empire’s colonial bureaucracy and the chronicles of Tibetan elites, Oidtmann traces how a Chinese bureaucratic technology—a lottery for assigning administrative posts—was exported to the Tibetan and Mongolian regions of the Qing empire and transformed into a ritual for identifying and authenticating reincarnations. Forging the Golden Urn sheds new light on how the empire’s frontier officers grappled with matters of sovereignty, faith, and law and reveals the role that Tibetan elites played in the production of new religious traditions in the context of Qing rule».