Lords of the Northern Treasures: The Development of the Tibetan Institution of Rule by Successive Incarnations

Valentine, Jay, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Schaeffer, Kurtis, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Germano, David, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation is a case study that critically examines the development of one particular incarnation lineage, the Lords of the Northern Treasure Tradition. The analytical goal of the case study is to develop the foundations of a theoretical framework for the further analysis of the social institution of rule by successive incarnations, which is a ubiquitous form of institutional leadership in Tibet. As the 14th Dalai Lama advances in age, his status as an “incarnate lama” (sprul sku) will increasingly become more important as the world turns its attention to the subject of his succession. This popular interest is mirrored by an equal measure of academic attention in the form of a series of books, dissertations, and conferences that also examine the subject of serial incarnation.
This investigation of the development of the incarnate Lords of the Northern Treasure Tradition (byang gter) is based upon a series of biographies and autobiographies of the early patriarchs of the tradition. This collective of charismatic leaders include: Nanam Dorjé Dujom (8th c.), Tropu Lotsawa (13th c.), Gödem Truchen (14th c.), Lekden Dorjé (16th c.), Ngakgi Wangpo (17th c.), and Pema Trinlé (17th c.). The resulting perspective offers insight into the transformation of a non-monastic Nyingmapa tradition into one of the most important Nyingmapa monasteries of the seventeenth century. This dissertation also examines the implicit shift in meaning of the term "tulku." I argue that this term that was originally used to describe the Buddha as a "magical emanation" of enlightenment, is best translated as "incarnation" or "steadfast incarnation" when used in the context of the tulku system to describe patriarchs that reliably return to human form.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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