The Legacy of the Eight Teachings: Revelation, Ritual, and Enlightened Violence in Classical Tibet

Trautz, Nicholas, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Germano, David, AS-Religious Studies, University of Virginia

The Sugata-Assembly of the Eight Teachings ( the bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa) has long stood as a foundational scripture for Tibet’s eldest Buddhist denomination, the Nyingma (rnying ma). From its revelation by Ngadak Nyangrel Nyima Özer (mnga’ bdag myang ral nyi ma ‘od zer 1124-92) in the mid-twelfth century, to its curation as a massive compendium of ritual knowledge for the Nyingma’s major temples in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Eight Teachings has supplied unique doctrines, mytho-historical narratives, and ritual programs that have undergirded the development of the Nyingma denomination. The bka’ brgyad’s wrathful iconography and apotropaic ritualism have provided imaginal and praxical resources for the Nyingma, and the Eight Teachings cycle was coordinated with emergent historiographical conceptions to advance a distinctive vision of Buddhist mastery and denominational identity. This dissertation traces a general history of the bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa from the twelfth through nineteenth centuries, observing how this cycle and its traditions proffered resources for Nyingma practitioners and institutions as they articulated, reformed, and exerted their denominational identity in response to extrinsic pressures. This history of Nyangrel’s bka’ brgyad documents the editorial and ecclesiastical treatment of this cycle in three pivotal historical moments: in the competitive environment of the post-fragmentation period of the twelfth through fourteenth centuries; in the tumult of sixteenth-century Central Tibet on the eve of Ganden (dga’ ldan) supremacy and the institutionalization of the Nyingma at Mindroling (smin grol gling); and in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Eastern Tibet as large Nyingma temples were implicated in the shifting political fortunes of the Degé (sde dge) Kingdom. This dissertation also undertakes a literary analysis of the Kabgyé Deshek Dupa’s foundational tantric literature, documenting the unique buddhologies, narrative topoi, doxographies, and ritual idioms supplied by the cycle. These features contributed to an overarching imaginaire around which doctrinal, narrative, and ritual engagements were constellated. In tracing the buddhologies and narrative imageries advanced in the bka’ brgyad scriptural and ritual texts, we may observe how the Eight Teachings cycle was leveraged as a resource in the crafting of collective identities and the construction of agentive subjectivities for its adherents. This dissertation seeks to decompartmentalize the domains of doctrine, narrative, and ritual practice to promote a comprehensive picture for religiosity as it is mediated through imaginal worlds and regimes of practice.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Tibetan Buddhism, Nyingma, Tantra, bka' brgyad, gter ma
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