The Development of Buddhist Traditions in Northeastern Tibet: A New Religious History of Rebgong in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.

Renqingduojie, , Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Schaeffer, Kurtis, As-Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Germano, David, As-Religious Studies, University of Virginia

In the late sixteenth century, a historic meeting between the third Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso and the Mongol ruler Altan Khan cemented a strategic alliance between the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism and the Mongols. Under Mongol patronage, the Geluk School developed at an unprecedented speed, with clusters of affiliated monasteries and retreat centers quickly dotting the terrain of Amdo from north to south. The growth of the Geluk School in Amdo reached its peak in the seventeenth century, which saw the largest number of new Geluk monasteries (founded or converted) of any century before or since. As Geluk influence swept Amdo, Rebgong soon became a hotbed of religious activity with the conversion of Rongwo Monastery and its rise to prominence, later boasting a network of satellite monasteries and retreat centers.
Existing scholarship on monasticism has viewed these changes primarily through the lens of major Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and their international relationships. This approach has received well-deserved attention among scholars, yet it has led to an overemphasis on the importance of international patronage for local monastic institutions, while ignoring the internal dynamics underlying these institutions’ development and expansion in their local settings. A major focus of this dissertation is the evolution of Rongwo Monastery’s religious, economic, intellectual, and political influence within Amdo society. Here, the goal is to avoid the use of stereotypical representations and instead to reconstruct diverse historical realities, demonstrating the particular and contingent nature of historical periods and the agency of local religious institutions and communities in borderland regions.
Rather than a story of Rongwo Monastery, however, this dissertation is a study of religious history centered on the single region of Rebgong and an exploration of the local intersections between personalities, institutions, practice systems, and sects in as much detail as the sources available now permit. Thus, while noting the impact of both international patronage and pan-Tibetan Buddhist trends on the region of Amdo, and avoiding a simple fixation on the Geluk community as represented at its major centers such as Rongwo Monastery, my approach is to explore in detail the levels of engagement between Rongwo and its neighboring monasteries (especially Labrang Monastery) so as to reveal the intra-school relationships that exemplified the era. In doing so, isolated Geluk developments at Rongwo are recast as part of a more complex dichotomy of developments at both Rongwo and Labrang. Lastly, lest we run the risk of presenting the image of an all-Geluk Rebgong, I turn away from Rongwo to Nyingma literature, which reveals still more of the dynamism of local sectarian rivalry, and more clearly demonstrates the contested domains of power and authority in Rebgong and Amdo beyond.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Rongwo, Rebgong, Labrang, Amdo, Monasticism , Lineage Transmission, Religious Pluralism
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