Vision and Violence: Lama Zhang and the Dialectics of Political Authority and Religious Charisma in Twelfth-Century Central Tibet

Yamamoto, Carl Shigeo, Doctor of Philosophy, University of Virginia
Germano, David, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Lang, Karen, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Groner, Paul, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Schaeffer, Kurtis, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Megill, Allan, Department of History, University of Virginia

This project examines the life and writings of a controversial twelfth-century religious figure, Lama Zhang (1122-1193), founder of the Tshal pa Bka' brgyud pa order of Tibetan Buddhism. Zhang was not only a literary innovator and a revered master of his tradition, but was also deeply involved in the political and military conflicts of his time. I use the life of this colorful and unusually self-aware religious figure as a means of exploring a complex of issues relating to the Buddhist revival in medieval Central Tibet: the transformation of scattered tantric Buddhist lineages into powerful religious orders, their increasing “worldly” involvements, the articulation of sectarian and individual identities, politico-religious conflicts and violence, and the emergence of new self-reflexive literary forms such as autobiography.

I argue that Zhang's principal contribution to this revival was a new model of rulership and religious community centered on the figure of the charismatic lama and serving as the symbolic connective tissue holding together one of the larger and more "worldly" of the new religious orders—the Dwags po Bka’ brgyud pa—as it underwent the transition from loosely organized groups of hermitic meditators to an integrated large-scale community. Zhang's model—which became enormously influential in the Lhasa area—was not based on scholarship, a strict monastic code, or doctrinal purity, but on the charisma of the tantric hermit who, shunning his beloved solitude, comes down from the mountains, assumes the mantle of "Lord of the Teachings," and builds a worldly community. The Lord of the Teachings, as envisioned by Zhang, is not only a religious adept, but also an aggressive political and military figure, an enforcer of law and order. He sustains a community through his multidimensional mastery. He masters space: annexing territory through magic and force, subduing enemies, and offering protection from physical danger, social disorder, and spiritual malaise. He masters time: linking his community, through narrative and symbol, to an authoritative tradition that leds legitimacy and supports group identities. And finally, he masters language and discourse: knitting together the continuity of community and tradition through his command of a large array of oral and written literary genres, employed in a remarkably self-conscious and purposeful fashion.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Tibetan Buddhism, Lama Zhang, Tibet, religion, Tshal pa Bka' brgyud pa
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