Soteriology as a Gift System

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Title: Soteriology as a Gift System Religious Practice Among the First Tibetan Buddhist Nun Scholars
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Kashnig, Junmei Georgia
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2009
Publication Date: 2009


Subjects / Keywords: Tibetan Buddhism
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: This thesis is an ethnography of a small community of Tibetan Buddhist nuns, primarily from ethnically Tibetan Himalayan villages within the nation-state of India, who are among the first group of Tibetan Buddhist nuns to receive a scholastic education. My data is the result of three months of fieldwork involving participant-observation and both formal and informal interviews. I argue that the nuns maintain a position of "soteriological inclusiveness" regarding the status of women, which implies soteriological but not social equality. I employ theory on "the gift" in the modern world to discuss the nuns' religious practice, where "habituation," is a method of "learned spontaneity." I consider emotion as a commodity of gift exchange, where feeling serves as a clue to the strength or weakness of religious practice. The nuns' plans for the future reflect the highest forms of service in this Tibetan Buddhist gift system, which do not depend on receiving Geshe degrees or becoming fully-ordained nuns.
Statement of Responsibility: by Junmei Georgia Kashnig
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2009
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Vesperi, Maria; Newman, John

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Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2009 K19
System ID: NCFE004127:00001

Permanent Link:

Material Information

Title: Soteriology as a Gift System Religious Practice Among the First Tibetan Buddhist Nun Scholars
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Kashnig, Junmei Georgia
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2009
Publication Date: 2009


Subjects / Keywords: Tibetan Buddhism
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: This thesis is an ethnography of a small community of Tibetan Buddhist nuns, primarily from ethnically Tibetan Himalayan villages within the nation-state of India, who are among the first group of Tibetan Buddhist nuns to receive a scholastic education. My data is the result of three months of fieldwork involving participant-observation and both formal and informal interviews. I argue that the nuns maintain a position of "soteriological inclusiveness" regarding the status of women, which implies soteriological but not social equality. I employ theory on "the gift" in the modern world to discuss the nuns' religious practice, where "habituation," is a method of "learned spontaneity." I consider emotion as a commodity of gift exchange, where feeling serves as a clue to the strength or weakness of religious practice. The nuns' plans for the future reflect the highest forms of service in this Tibetan Buddhist gift system, which do not depend on receiving Geshe degrees or becoming fully-ordained nuns.
Statement of Responsibility: by Junmei Georgia Kashnig
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2009
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Vesperi, Maria; Newman, John

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2009 K19
System ID: NCFE004127:00001

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SOTERIOLOGY AS A GIFT SYSTEM: RELIGI OUS PRACTICE AMONG THE FIRST TIBETAN BUDDHIST NUN SCHOLARS BY JUNMEI GEORGIA KASHNIG A Thesis Submitted to the Divisions of Social Sciences and Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Dr. Mari a D. Vesperi and Dr. John Newman Sarasota, Florida May, 2009


i Acknowledgements This project, the fruition of countless causes and conditions, would have not have happened without the help of numberless named and unnamed people. In particular I would like to thank: The nuns at Jamyang Chling for sh aring themselves with me and o ffering me their friendship. Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo for conv ersation over tea and cookies. John Newman for introducing me to Buddhism, en couraging me to stay in school when I wanted to become a meditator, and offering to teach me Classical Tibetan. I am very grateful for the friendship and hospitality you and Beth have shown me throughout my years at New College. Maria Vesperi for your unconditional support and graceful character. Uzi Baram for your dedication as a teacher and for always reminding me that anthropology is about “real people.” The Anthropology Department for funding my tr ip to San Diego to interview Karma Lekshe Tsomo, which was integral to my project. All of my thesis readers—Susan Marks, Uzi Ba ram, Maria Vesperi, John Newman, my mom, and Morgan Dolon—who have spent hours reading my th esis (some of you have read several drafts of chapters). I greatly appreciate yo ur feedback and thoughtful comments. All of my colloquial Tibetan teachers: Gen Nicola s-la, Gen Tsering-la, and especially Gen Yankeyla, whose energy and enthusiasm as a teacher astounds me. Ejo McMullen for giving me a new name, which alwa ys serves as a friendly reminder to walk forward in this life in a straightforward manner. I sincerely thank you fo r your mentorship and friendship. Gensei Morris for your friendship and for alwa ys making me laugh—no matter how far away I am. Colin Gold—my favorite llama, Tibetan st udy buddy, and fellow Dharma(sala) bum. My family for the unconditional love and support you have always given me.


ii Table of Contents Acknowledgements ii Contents iii List of Illustrations iv Abstract v Chapter One: Introduction 1 Chapter Two: Soteriology and Education 29 Chapter Three: Practice as Habituation 53 Illustrations 78 Chapter Four: Emotion Management 84 Chapter Five: Plans for the Future 102 Bibliography 112


iii Illustrations: Figure 1: Map locating Dhar amsala within India (htt p:// map_india.htm, accessed March 3, 2009)………………………………………………………………..…………………6 Figure 2: Map of Dharamsala (http://www.trave, accessed March 18, 2009)…………………………… ………………..……………………… ………………………….………16 Figure 3: Tibetan thang ka painting of the stages of meditation ( com/imgres?imgurl=http://images.exotici _mental_development_tj68sm.j pg&imgrefurl=http://www.exotic 246/&usg=__gGGHDwd9hUD9REqOAsEapwPJgvc= &h=250&w=181&sz=38&hl=en&start=36&um =1&tbnid=f_j9vaAN4WXCLM:&tbnh=111&tbnw=80& prev=/images%3Fq%3Dtibetan%2Bthangka %2Bmeditation%26ndsp%3D18%26hl%3Den%26rlz%3D1T4GGLF_enUS282US282%26sa%3DN% 26start%3D18%26um%3D1, accessed Apr il 1, 2009)……………………….… ……………………………………..74 Figure 4: The hill where Tara Guest House is loca ted, between Jogibara and Temple Roads (used with permission of photographer) …………………………………………………………………………………….….…78 Figure 5: The back entrance to Tara Guest House (used with permission of photographer)…………………………………………………………………………….……………………….……………………78 Figure 6: The front edifice of Tara Guest House (used with permission of photographer)………………………………………..…………………………………………………………………………………79 Figure 7: Drying clothes on the second floor balcony (photograph by author)……….……….………..79 Figure 8: Lobsang Ngawang on the third floor balcony (used with permission of photographer)…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..80 Figure 9: Yangchen Wangmo and Tenzin Yongten at the main temple complex (used with permission of photographer)…………………………………………………………………………..………………..….....80 Figure 10: Tenzin Lhamo in the kitchen (used with permission of photographer)...………………….81 Figure 11: Tenzin Desal, Tenzin Pema and me (used with permission of photographer)..…………81 Figure 12: Nuns in Gharoh waiting for the Karmapa to arrive (used with permission of photographer)……………………………………………………………………..……………………………………………………82 Figure 13: Nuns in Gharoh going to the assembly hall for an evening debate (photograph by author………………………………………………………………………………………………………….………………….……….82 Figure 14: Lobsang Ngawang and I making a circumambulation of the main temple complex (used with permission of photogra pher)………………………………………………………………………………..…83


iv Figure 15: Mahakala, the wrathful manifestat ion of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion ( ve/material/mahakala.jpg, accessed April 9, 2009)………………………………… ………………………………………… ……………………………… ……………………………92 Figure 16: Nuns debating in pairs at Gharoh (used with permission of photographer)…………………………………………..……………………………..………………………………………….…..94 Figure 17: Nuns debating in groups at Ghar oh (photograph by author)…………………………..………..95


v SOTERIOLOGY AS A GIFT SYSTEM: RELIGIOUS PRACTICE AMONG THE FIRST TIBETAN BUDDHIST NUN SCHOLARS Junmei Georgia Kashnig New College of Florida, 2009 ABSTRACT This thesis is an ethnography of a small community of Tibetan Buddhist nuns, primarily from ethnically Tibetan Himalayan v illages within the nation-state of India, who are among the first group of Tibeta n Buddhist nuns to receive a scholastic education. My data is the result of thr ee months of fieldwork involving participantobservation and both formal and informal in terviews. I argue that the nuns maintain a position of “soteriological inclusiveness” re garding the status of women, which implies soteriological but not social equality. I employ theory on “the gift” in the modern world to discuss the nuns’ religious practice, where “habituation,” is a method of “learned spontaneity.” I consider emotio n as a commodity of gift ex change, where feeling serves as a clue to the strength or weakness of re ligious practice. The nuns’ plans for the future reflect the highest forms of service in this Tibetan Buddhist gift system, which do not depend on receiving Geshe degrees or becoming fully-ordained nuns. Maria D. Vesperi John Ne wman Division of Social Sciences Division of Humanities


1 Chapter One: Introduction Finding Jamyang Chling In December, 2007, I travelled to India to spend my winter vacation in McLeod Ganj, the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile. I hoped to volunteer teaching English at a nunnery in the area and to develop “rapport” with a community of nuns, who would be the focus of an ethnographic project during a longer stay in McLeod Ganj the following year. When I arrived in this Tibetan exile community, situated on a hill between the Dhauladhar mountain range and the Kangra Valley, the organization with whom I been in contact, Volunteer Tibet, told me that opportunities for teaching nuns for a short two-month stay were slim; nunneries in the area either had no accommodations for foreigners or wanted a teacher who could stay for a longer period of time. I quickly learned that English tutors are always in demand in McLeod Ganj. During the daytime, I attended public teac hings by the Dalai Lama and other local Buddhist teachers, and I spent my evenings tutoring Tibetan lay people with another volunteer organization. One month after I a rrived, the coordinator of Volunteer Tibet finally had an assignment for me: Jamyang Chling Institute, a nunnery located eight kilometers from Dharamsala, had a small br anch in McLeod Ganj where some senior nuns stayed. Although most of the nuns had left for winter break, there was one nun still there who was interested in having an English tutor.


2 Tenzin Drlma1 and I met every day in her room at the nunnery until I left McLeod Ganj three weeks later. With no ce ntral heating in the middle of winter, we kept warm with the help of a small portable heater, wrapping ourselves in blankets and drinking chai tea or boiled water. I corre cted her English journal entries and gave grammar lessons, and she offered me enormous portions of Tibetan-Indian food, which I stuffed down with difficulty. We develope d a friendship during these weeks which was characterized by the fact that I had not yet ma de the adjustment to thinking of myself as a social scientist, a participant-observer At that time, my knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism was primarily restricted to a hist orical understanding of its development in relation to other Buddhist traditions a nd an ahistorical understanding of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy: I delighted in the opport unity to converse and share with someone who embodied the tradition as a practitioner. One day close to my departure, Tenzin Dr lma asked me if I would help her write a short story of her life in English, which she would share with English-speaking friends. We wrote the story collaboratively, sentence by sentence: she told me what she wanted to write, I repeated the sentence back to her in reformulated English, and she either affirmed or asked me to reword it. We started:2 1All names are changed to protect the confidentialit y of the informants. Tibetan names consist of two personal names and no family name. Some households have an aristocratic name which indicates the economic status of the family, but these family names fell out of common use when Buddhism was incorporated into Tibetan society. Personal names are given by a parent or relative, or more frequently, a high lama. This is why many Tibetans have the name “Tenzin”—after the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. It is common for Tibetans to change their name s once or several times within their lives or be called several different names at the same time depending on the context and company. 2 The following italicized quotes are all excerpts from Tenzin Drlma’s life story, which I transcribed during this English lesson. As I learned more about the lives of Jamyang Chlin g nuns during the second visit, I was able to better contextualize th e significance of the events in Tenzin Drlma’s life, which I had transcribed the year before.


3 I would like to write a short story about my life. My name is Tenzin Drlma, and I was born on April 24th, 1969, in a town in the east of India called Kanam. This town is located in Himachal Pradesh, Distt. Kinnaur. As she recounted her life to me, I learne d that Tenzin Drlma was not a Tibetan refugee; she was from one of the many sma ll villages on the border of the Himalayan Mountains which are ethnically Tibetan but wi thin the nation-state of India. I later learned that most of the nuns at Jamyang Ch ling are from these villages, located within the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. I became a nun when I was 13 years old. At that time, I did not want to become a nun because I was so young and did not know which life path was right for me. However, my parents wanted me to become a nun because my aunt was a nun, and she had many books about Buddhism My parents wanted to pass these books down to me so this tradition in our family would not be lost. They also believed that if I became a nun, I would look after them in their old age. My parents are Buddhists, but they do not know much about the philosophy behind Buddhism. I agreed to become a nun and fulfill their wishes. Tenzin Drlma told me of her frustratio n that her parents had not sent her to school, where she could have learned Englis h and Hindi very well. Instead, Tenzin Drlma spent most of the year helping her parents at home doing agricultural labor except for two months when she stayed at Tashi Chling Nunnery near her village. Winter breaks were set aside as times wh en the nuns in her village could memorize prayers and learn to perform religious rituals. Tenzin Drlma took ten ge nyen (dge snyen) vows3 at age 16. In 1985, under the suggest ion of a monk teacher, she travelled to Bodhgaya, the site of kyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment, with nine other nuns from 3 ge nyen (dge snyen) generally means the five religious vows taken by the Tibetan Buddhist lay practitioner, though in these Himalayan border regions there is also the custom for girls to take the “half ordination” of ge nyen as a step toward taking novice ordination. Nuns who have taken ge nyen shave their heads and take ten vows but do not wear the robes of a monastic and instead wear a red suit.


4 her village. She and the other nuns received an initiation for the Kalacakra Tantra in Bodhgaya and were ordained as a ge tsl ma (dge tsul ma), or novice nuns.4 After we returned back home, the other nuns and I realized that although we were ordained as nuns, we did not understand the deeper meaning of Buddhism. We could not understand what Hi s Holiness was say ing in Bodhgaya. The people in Tenzin Drlma’s village speak Kinnauri, a language which shares the Tibetan written script but is unintelligib le to other varieties of Tibetan speakers. After receiving novice ordination, Tenzin Drlma resolved to leave Kanam and find a nunnery where she could learn Tibetan. She se nt a letter to a cousin in Gandn Chling Nunnery located in McLeod Ganj, but the nunnery was already overcrowded and had no space for new nuns. Tenzin Drlma’s cousin wrote that there was an American nun who had some land nearby who might have spac e where she could stay. In 1988, Tenzin Drlma travelled to Dharamsala with an other friend from her nunnery, Tenzin Pema. These two nuns have been roommates in Ja myang Chling Institute, founded by Karma Lekshe Tsomo, for the last 20 years as they have progressed through their study program. We learned to read and write in Tibetan, and after one year we started to study Buddhist philosophy. It took us almost twen ty years to learn these things. Even now our studies are not finished yet. We have almost finished studying five major texts, but we would like to continue to study Tantra, and this will take another couple of years. After we finish learning T antra we can earn a Geshe degree if we choose, but in order to do this we have to study these five major texts again for another five years. However, even tho ugh achieving a Geshe degree is a great accomplishment, I think it is more important to put the Buddhadharma in practice. 4 The Buddhist Vinaya texts, whic h outline ethical standards and beha vioral guidelines for ordained practitioners, include seven types of precepts : laymen and laywomen, novice monks and nuns, probationary nuns, and fully-ordained monks and nuns.


5 It was through this English lesson that I was introduced to the unique journey of the nuns at Jamyang Chling: these Himalaya n women came to Dharamsala intending to stay for a few years in order to learn Tibe tan but ended up staying for 20 years because they were given the opportunity to study B uddhist philosophy in a Geshe program. The following ethnographic project focuses on how these Jamyang Chling nuns understand themselves and their religious practice in light of having received a scholastic religious education, which has traditionally only been available to monks. Introduction to Dharamsala Dharamsala is situated in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The origins of the name “Dharamsala” are not clea r, but one story tells that Dharam Chang, a king of Kangra belonging to the oldest tracea ble genealogical lines in India, built a fort on Dharamkot hill as a secure vantage point. The king erected a “dharamsala” on the adjacent hill, a place for people to rest wh ile waiting for an audience for him (Russell 2006:21). In 1846, Dharamsala became a tempor ary camp for British troops when they annexed the kingdom of Kangra. It was late r upgraded to a cantonment and eventually became a hill-station, attracting the settlem ents which became the two small suburbs of McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj. Dharamsala is located close to an active tectonic fault line, and on April 4, 1905, a devastating earthquake destroyed most of the town’s infrastructure. The Church of St. John in th e Wilderness, built in 1852, was one of the only buildings which survived. Another structure which survived was a family-owned general store, which is now the location of the bus stand in McLeod Ganj. Nowrojee &


6 Son, the family business passed down for ge nerations, is a Dharamsala landmark. The store has become a veritable museum, displa ying paraphernalia saved from the time when it opened around 1860.5 Figure 1 A reconstruction of Dharamsala followed the earthquake, and the administrative buildings were re-established in “Lower Dh aramsala,” located several kilometers down the valley. British residents lived in the suburbs of McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj, known as “Upper Dharamala.” Many of the British left Dharamsala permanently 5 During my second stay in McLeod Ganj in 2008, th e last of the Nowrojee family members died. Some long-term residents of McLeod Ganj talked to me about not knowing what would happen to the store and mentioned that this was probably “the end of an era” for Dharamsala.


7 because of the unrest which followed Indian independence in 1947, and McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj were largely abandoned until the Tibetans arrived. Following the invasion of Tibet by China in 1950, the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 and settled in McLeod Ganj in 1960. Thousands of Tibetans followed the Dalai Lama in exile, most of them working at building roads and living in makeshift camps during the 1960s. Facilities and community se rvices for the exile community were founded and erected during the 1960s and earl y 1970s when it became clear that life in exile would not be short-lived. Today Dharam sala is not the quiet hill station it was during the British era, nor is it the undeveloped place of retreat where the Dalai Lama first found a home in exile. During the past four decades the infrastructure in and around Dharamsala has been built up consid erably, and rows of concrete and brick buildings stand where there used to be only forest. Several distinct groups of people live in McLeod Ganj today. There are two main groups of Tibetans: the first wave of exiles are mainly from Central Tibet, and a second wave came in the 1990s and are primarily from Amdo, the northeastern province of Tibet. The Dalai Lama’s presence in McLeod Ganj attracts many tourists and pilgrims from all over the world; they come to a ttend public teachings or courses at Tushita Meditation Center, an institute located a few hundred yards up the hill from the bus stand, which is part of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj are chie fly populated by Tibetans while Lower Dharamsala is populated by Indians. The Indians who live in both Lower and Upper


8 Dharamsala have only in rece nt generations settled in the area, and many of them have come for the cooler climate and for the tour ist-driven economy. The indigenous people of the Dharamsala region, the pastoralist Gaddi tribes, still live today in hills neighboring McLeod Ganj. They spend their winters in th ese hills where many of them have small huts, and they take their flocks of sheep and goats over the higher passes and settle in mountain pastures for the summers and monsoon seasons (Russell 2006:19). Introduction to the Tibetan Language The Tibetan language is a member of th e Tibeto-Burman family, which consists of about 250 languages. Ther e is some disagreement among Tibetan language scholars and linguists as to whether the Tibeto-Burma n family of languages belongs to the SinoTibetan superfamily, which compares in size and diversity to the Indo-European family. While there are some commonalities in words between Tibetan and Chinese languages, the disagreement pertains to whether thes e commonalities are the result of a common linguistic descent or the result of the comingling of Tibetan and Chinese people and cultures for centuries (see Miller 1955). There are dozens of varieties of spoken Tibetan in five countries: China, Bhutan, Nepal, India, and Pakistan. All of these varieties are generally subsumed under the heading of “Tibetan,” though many of them co uld just as easily be described as entirely different languages because they are often mutually unintelligible to other Tibetan speakers. The senior Jamyang Chling nuns ’ native languages—Kinnauri, Ladakhi and Spiti—share the Tibetan script but are genera lly talked about as distinct languages.


9 Kinnauri, though it uses the Tibetan script, is more distantly related to Tibetan than the languages of Ladakh or Spiti and shar es more similarities with Hindi. My language training in Tibetan pr ior to fieldwork consisted of two undergraduate semesters of Classical Tibeta n at New College of Florida with John Newman and an eight-week intensive collo quial Tibetan language course at the University of Virginia with Nicolas Tournadr e. Classical Tibetan is the literary language used in Buddhist scriptures and evoked in Buddhist philosophical discourse. The summer course covered the first two years of college-level instruction in chi k (spyi skad), or Standard Tibetan, which is the variety of Tibetan spoken in Central Tibet in the region of Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. When Tibetans travel to India, they come speaking different varieties of Tibetan, and many of them must learn chi k in order to communicate with other Tibetans. Even the various Tibetan exile communities throug hout India have their own accents, which are similar to chi k but have their own pronunciations and colloquialisms. The variety of Tibetan spoken in the monastic centers in South India is very different from the variety spoken in McLeod Ganj, and even the Tibetan Children’s Village of Dharamsala, a school located a few kilometers from McLe od Ganj which houses and educates more than 1,700 Tibetan exile children, has its own distinct way of speaking.6 6 The pronunciation of Tibetan words operates in accordance with tone and aspiration. If a word is pronounced in a slightly different wa y—if it is pronounced unaspirated where there should be aspiration or with a low tone where there should be a high to ne, for example—the meaning of the word can change completely. One Western Tibetan-speaking nun who had been living in McLeod Ganj for many years told me her theory of why there are so many varieties of Tibetan which are mutually unintelligible: “With English, you can still understa nd what the person is saying even if they don’t speak it perfectly. With Tibetan, you have to pronounce it perfectly, otherwise the people w ill not understand. You pronounce it in a slightly different way and it becomes a new language.”


10 It is necessary to include both a phon ological approximation of Tibetan words and a system of transliteration which repres ents the original Tibetan spelling. Tibetan spelling is complicated by many unpronounced letters.7 Therefore, several words which are pronounced identically ca n have completely different meanings and grammatical functions. There is no standard method of transliterating Tibetan words in a way which approximates pronunciation. I will be using Ni colas Tournadre’s system of phonological transcription described in Manual of Standard Tibetan (Tournadre and Dorje 2003:475478) and give Turrell Wylie’s widely-used system of transliteration in parentheses. For repeated use of the same Tibetan term I will give the Wylie transliteration only after the first usage. Because Tibetan does not have separate upper and lower case letters, I will leave all Tibetan words in lower case. Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism Buddhism, like the Tibetan language, could ea sily be categorized as one tradition or many different traditions. Descriptions of Buddhism, its practice, philosophy, and its cultural expressions vary greatly across the la ndscapes where it flourishes. Like speakers of languages who reveal their regional home lands and educational training in the way they pronounce words and use vocabulary, how Buddhism is defined identifies the positionality of speakers. Even among the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism—the Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug—the Buddhist teachings and practices vary greatly. In this short introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, I aim to present aspects of the tradition 7 These unpronounced letters represent an earlier pr onunciation of the language and some varieties of Tibetan still preserve these earlier pronunciations.


11 which are relevant to understanding my ethnographic data, collected in my field research among Jamyang Chling nuns. In Buddhism, duhkha is the basic characterization of life in cyclic existence, and it is the first of the Four Noble Truths, which Siddh rtha Gautama stated in his first sermon at Deer Park, near present-day Varanasi. The first two truths ( duhkha and the origin of duhkha ) characterize the Buddhist notion of sickness, and the second two truths (the cessation of duhkha and the path that leads to the cessation of duhkha ) characterize the Buddhist state of health and the medicine for the sickness. Though duhkha is usually translated into Eng lish as “suffering,” the three different aspects of duhkha go beyond the usual connotations associated with this English word: duhkha-duhkha refers to suffering associated with birth, old age, illness, death, encountering that which is unpleasant, separation from what is pleasant, and not obtaining what one wants; viparin ma-duhkha refers to the transient nature of conventional happiness; and samsk ra-duhkha is the duhkha of conditioned states. In A Dictionary of Buddhism Damien Keown writes of this third aspect of duhkha : “This teaches that what we call an ‘individual’ is, according to Buddhism, a combination of ever-changing physical and mental forces known as the ‘five aggregates’ (pacaskandha). This is known as the doctrine of an tman or no-self” (Keown 2003:81). These aspects of pain, the transiency of conventional happiness, and the conditioned state of things describe the Buddhist notion of duhkha as the unsatisfactoriness of cyclic


12 existence rooted in ignorance, which is a mi sconception about the nature of the self as independent, autonomous, and unitary.8 Buddhist literature describes three Buddhist y nas or vehicles for Buddhist practitioners, which are the means to “cross-over” to the “other shore” of enlightenment: in the ravakay na the “vehicle of the Disciples,” nirv na is achieved by listening to the teachings of a Buddha; in the pratyekabuddhay na the “way of the Lone Buddha,” nirv na is achieved on one’s own, without the help of listening to the teachings of a Buddha; and in the bodhisatvay na, one vows to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.9 Chronological studies of Buddhism describe Mah y na Buddhism as a movement which emerged around 200 B.C.E. in India as a result of internal dissent within the Buddhist community. Buddhists who de signated themselves as Mah y na, a word meaning “great vehicle,” defined themselves in opposition to aspects of the Buddhist tradition which they regarded as inferior—the H nay na, or “inferior vehicle.” In nonMah y na Buddhist literature, the path of the bodhisattva is mentioned only in reference to the historical Buddha, Gautam a, prior to his enlightenment and to Maitreya, the future Buddha (Strong 2002:161). In the Mah y na, the path of the bodhisattva is presented as the archetype to which all Buddhists should aspire rather than the path of only a few select individuals. 8 Ignorance is the first and most important link of the traditional Buddhist description of the twelve-fold links of dependent origination, which propel cyclic existence. 9 In Buddhist cosmology, sentient beings refer to consciou s beings who are born into the six realms of existence: hell-beings, hungry ghosts, an imals, humans, demi -gods, and gods.


13 The wisdom of the Arhat, the highest achievement of the ravakay na and the pratyekabuddhay na is considered incomplete in the Mah y na because it is understood to be concerned only with one’s own liberation. In contrast, the bodhisattva cultivates bodhicitta the altruistic motivation to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, and practices the p ramit s the “perfections,” which are the means to reach the other shore of enlightenment for the Mah y na practitioner.10 Like other Mah y na traditions, Tibetan Buddhism maintains that the highest wisdom of the Buddha is described in Praj paramit literature, which refers to the final p ramit the perfection of wisdom. Tibetan Buddhism also includes tantric practices, which are “in the broadest sense magical practices for transforming mundane reality into a form most suited to he lp others” (Williams 1989:185-6). The Vajray na, which refers to these tantric practices, therefore distinguishes itself from other Mah y na traditions not from a wisdom aspect but in the methods it employs to reach enlightenment. These methods are understood by Tibetan Buddhists as being the quickest path to enlightenment. Tantric deity yoga involves two aspects; in the generation stage, a practitioner visualizes hi m or herself in the form of a deity, and a completion stage, the practitioner becomes the deity. Nearly all Tibetans are culturally Buddhist.11 Tibetans understand a Buddhist to be someone who has taken refuge in the “three jewels”: the Buddha, Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha), and Sangha (the community of Buddhist practitioners). From 10 The most common categorization of the p ramit s is six-fold: generosity, et hical behavior, patience, effort, contemplation, and wisdom. 11 A small percentage of Tibetans are members of th e Bn religion, which was th e indigenous religion of Tibet before Buddhism was brought from India.


14 a Tibetan Buddhist philosophical perspective, adherence to the “four seals” designates an individual, whether formally Buddhist or no t, as adhering to a Buddhist philosophical point of view: all composite phenomena are impermanent, a ll contaminated things and events are unsatisfactory, all phenomena ar e empty and selfless, and nirvana is true peace (Gyatso 1995:31). The Indo-Tibetan philosophical tradition is subdivided into four main schools of thought, and Tibetan Buddhist monastics who receive a scholastic education acquire a thorough knowledge of the positions of these four schools. In the Geshe program of the Gelug school, this philosophical training reaches its apex in M dhyamika or “Middle Way”12 philosophy, which asserts that things exist conventionally as dependent upon causes and conditions but do not exist inhere ntly “from their own side.” This philosophy describes a middle way between the extremes of existence and nonexistence, between eternalism and nihilism. Methodology I returned to McLeod Ganj in early September, 2008, and stayed at Jamyang Chling Institute until early December of that year. My ethnographic fieldwork focused on the twelve senior nuns who have lived at the original branch of Jamyang Chling Institute in McLeod Ganj from the time when the nunnery was founded in 1988 to the 12 In the historical Buddha’s biography, the “Middle Way” is described as avoiding the extremes of asceticism and indulgence. In recent years, the Dalai Lama has also extended this phrase of the “Middle Way” to talk about the Tibet-Chinese conflict. Politic ally-speaking, the Dalai La ma advocates the “Middle Way” between Tibet’s independence and Chinese rule in Tibet, maintaining that Tibet should stay a part of China but should have “high-level autonomy.”


15 present day.13 During my fieldwork, I participated in informal conversations and conducted eleven formal interviews. Two nuns declined to be formally interviewed and two other nuns were not asked to participat e because of health reasons. Eight of the interviews were conducted with the original group of twelve, two interviews were conducted with nuns who were staying at the Jamyang Chling branch in McLeod Ganj for a shorter amount of time—one from Germany and the other from Japan—and one interview was conducted with an American man who has volunteered as the nuns’ English teacher off and on since 1989. Ka rma Lekshe Tsomo, the founder of Jamyang Chling Institute, lived in McLeod Ganj fr om 1972 through 1989 and served as director of the nunnery until 2000. In January of 2009 I flew to San Diego to conduct the final interview of my project with her. Jamyang Chling is the only nunnery in the Dharamsala area which houses primarily Himalayan women. For the first 17 years in McLeod Ganj, the senior nuns at Jamyang Chling lived in three dilapidated co w sheds which had previously been used as a monastery for Westerners. In 1988, Karma Lekshe Tsomo bought a separate plot of land eight kilometers from McLeod Ganj in the town of Gharoh Odder to house more nuns from these Himalayan villages who we re requesting to join the nunnery. The senior nuns at Jamyang Chling told me that shortly after this land was purchased, the Dalai Lama gave Jamyang Chling money to bu ild new facilities on the land specifically because Jamyang Chling nuns are Hima layan women; unlike Tibetan nuns, the 13 I include the one Jamyang Chling nun from Tibet in this group, though this nun did not start living at Jamyang Chling until many years after the original group came.


16 Himalayan women can return to their village s after receiving an education and pass on the teachings of the Dharma. With the help of Western donors, the senior nuns moved out of the cow sheds three years ago and bought a building locate d nearby where they no w live. The nuns live at Tara Guest House and also rent out th e House’s empty rooms for long or short periods of time. The building is located in between Jogibara Road and Temple Road, the two main roads in town, on the crest of the hill where McLeod Ganj looks out to Lower Dharamsala and the Kangra Valley. The fron t entrance of the House is located on a small, unnamed road which stretches from the main temple complex to Jogibara Road, and the back entrance is located where Hote l Bagsu Road dead ends (Tara Guest House is located near the number 11 in Figure 2). Figure 2


17 Looking out at the Kangra valley from the balcony of the nunnery, two monasteries border the building to the South and the West. A house with Tibetan residents borders the House on the eastern side. Tara Guest House is constructed of concrete and bricks and is pa inted peach; it has three stories with one extra room on the roof where there are also solar panels to provide the House with hot water. The House contains 21 rooms of varying sizes a nd dimensions, 18 of which are bedrooms. Seven of those rooms were occupied by nuns when I lived there, seven were rented out to tenants or travelers, and there were also a kitchen, an office, and a room for puja, or prayer. When I arrived at Tara Guest House, Tenzin Drlma gave me the only available room at the House. I had been hoping to share a room with one of the nuns, but I realized when I arrived that they all had roo mmates of their own; in fact, most of them had shared a room with the same person for the entire twenty years they had been living in McLeod Ganj. The room where I st ayed was the most expensive room in the nunnery at 4,500 rupees per month, which is approximately 92 dollars. When Tenzin Drlma showed me the room, she shook her head and apologized several times for the expensive rate. It was obvious that my abilit y to pay for such a comparatively expensive room set me apart from the nuns and even th e other tenants. Because it was the only room available and because I knew that Jamy ang Chling supports itself partially from the income received from the guest house, I accepted the room graciously. One month later, I ended up sharing it with another American woman who had come to Jamyang Chling to teach English.


18 It is difficult for me to think about the time I spent living in that room at Tara Guest House without remembering the variou s sounds associated with McLeod Ganj. The first bell of the day rang at 6:00 a.m. and called the nuns to the puja room, where we did communal prayer for one hour. The nun whose turn it was to cook the meals would ring another bell throughout the day to indicate that food or tea was ready. A careful listener could hear the different tone s of the bells and distinguish them from each other, as well as distinguish bells from the several other monasteries within hearing distance. The nunnery was located as far away from the two main roads as was possible in McLeod Ganj, but I could still hear the cacophony of car horns, barking dogs, and people spitting coming from the road s. At 8:30 p.m. the monastery next door, which housed many young monks, had evening puja, and from my room I was always greatly amused to hear them stomping their feet and yelling the Heart Sutra at the top of their lungs: “…mig me! na me! na me! ce me! l me! yi me!...” (“…No eye! No ear! No nose! No tongue! No body! No mind!...”) I had planned to conduct my field research only at Tara Guest House, but when I arrived at the nunnery, I soon learned th at the annual Buddhist philosophy debate tournament for nuns was to be held that year at Jamyang Chling’s main branch in Gharoh. The senior nuns were busily preparing for the tourna ment when I arrived. On September 19, nuns and their monk teachers from six other nunneries in India and Nepal arrived in Gharoh to participate in the tournament. From September 19 through October 20, 282 nuns squeezed into the living spaces at Gharoh, which usually accommodated 95 nuns. Some of the senior nuns relocated to Gharoh for the duration


19 of the tournament while others stayed in Mc Leod Ganj. I followed many of the senior nuns to Gharoh to help prepare the nunnery grounds for the tournament, and I spent the next month and a half travelling back and forth between Gharoh and McLeod Ganj in order to also spend time with the nuns who stayed behind at the branch in McLeod Ganj. The nunnery’s main branch is only eigh t kilometers from McLeod Ganj, but travelers without vehicles of their own must take a taxi ride to Lower Dharamsala, a bus ride to the outskirts of Gharoh Odder, a nd a fifteen-minute walk to reach the nunnery’s gate. Gharoh is nestled in the lower valley and is surrounded by beautiful fields with ripples of tilled soil. Because the elevatio n is much lower than McLeod Ganj, the temperature is decidedly hotter. The main branch’s facilities contrast greatly with Tara Guest House. The nunnery gate opens up to a la rge plot of land on which there are five two-storey buildings with living accommodations, two buildings with classrooms, a small library, an impressively larg e assembly hall, a dining hall, and a second kitchen, which was originally the only building on the pr operty when it was bought in 1988. The landscape is also dominated by a large stupa in the middle of the grounds. Because the duration of my stay was br oken up into the times before, during, and after the debate tournament, there was no one daily schedule which the nuns or I followed during the entire duration of my stay When I first arrived at Tara Guest House, Tenzin Drlma wrote down the usual daily schedule of the nunnery for me: 6:00-7:00 a.m. Group Puja (prayer) 7:00-7:30 a.m. Breakfast 7:30-9:00 a.m. Self-Study 9:00-10:30 a.m. Class


20 10:30 A.M.-12:00 p.m. Self-Study 12:00-1:00 p.m. Lunch 1:00-3:00 p.m. Text Reading 3:00-3:30 p.m. Tea Break 3:30-6:00 p.m. Self-Study 6:00-6:30 p.m. Dinner 6:30-8:30 p.m. Class 8:30-10:30 p.m. Self-Study 10:30 p.m. Bedtime The nuns followed this schedule during the time at Tara Guest House leading up to the debates, but there was less of a routine da ily schedule for the senior nuns during the debate tournament. Nuns who participated in the tournament had a regular daily schedule which began at 7:00 a.m. and finished at midnight with only one hour in the day allotted as a scheduled break. The senior nuns of Jamyang Chling were responsible for scheduling the debates, making the nunnery grounds presentable, handling the logistics of the tournament, holding admini strative meetings, maintaining the nunnery convenience store and restaurant, scheduling the visit of the Karmapa14 to watch the debates, and setting up a new computer room with internet access. After the tournament was over and the senior nuns and I were back living at Tara Guest House, the daily schedule was similar to when I had first arrived except there was no morning communal puja, and an evening puja was done instead of evening class. In “Son and Lover: The Anthropologist as Nonthreatening Male,” Michael V. Angrosino emphasizes that “The fieldworker is obliged to adapt to the most nearly comfortable version of the appropriate gender identity permissible in the host culture” (1986: 64). In my fieldwork situation, it was clear that there were two distinctly separate 14 The Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.


21 categories for females: the laywoman and the nun. Many of the nuns wanted to know why I was interested in studying Tibetan, a nd I was asked several times, especially by the younger nuns in Gharoh, if I wanted to become a nun. When I told the nuns I was learning Tibetan because I wanted to be able to talk with Tibetans and also understand ch k (chos skad),15 they oftentimes asked me if I wa nted to be a translator, which seemed to be the role they understood for an in ji (dbyin ji)16 lay woman who was interested in Buddhist philosophy. Although the nuns sometimes joked with me about becoming a nun (“We will cut your hair!”), these comments were merely jokes because they understood the decision to become a nun as a personal ch oice which an individual made for herself. Although as a participant-observer I was tr ying to some degree to understand their lives from an insider’s perspective, it would have been inappropriate to adopt the robes and hairstyle of a nun for a short amount of time or pretend to be anything but a laywoman. This belief was affirmed in November when Janine, the American women who shared my room, told me, “I always wanted to mo ve to a nunnery and shave my head,” and cut all her hair off. Far from expressing th eir approval, the nuns bemoaned the loss of Janine’s beautiful hair and gossi ped about her strange behavior. When I first arrived at the nunnery, I relied heavily on the nuns with more fluency in English to communicate. While I ha d anticipated a difficult transition from learning chi k in a college classroom to speaking in everyday conversation, regional 15 “Language of the Dharma,” also known as yik k (yig skad) or yik tsom ph yik (yig rtsom bod yig). 16 This term literally means “England,” “English,” or is a short-hand word fo r “person from England.” However, in conversation this word is used to denote any foreigner, particularly a person who has white skin.


22 variances in language colloquialisms and pr onunciation made communication difficult among even the small group of nuns at Jamy ang Chling. Among the group of twelve senior nuns, four were from Kinnaur, four were from Spiti, and three were from Zangskar, which is the southern valley of Ladakh. The one Tibetan nun was from the southeastern province of Kham, and even the Himalayan women had great difficulties understanding kham k (khams skad), or “Kham language.” I remember clearly m eeting the nuns for the first ti me as a group during morning puja. The chanting master had given me a book of the morning prayers and indicated where chanting would begin. The nuns chan ted with impressive speed, however, and I could not even follow the first few words with my finger on the page and was immediately lost. After the chanting ended a nd we were all eating breakfast in the puja room, the nuns asked me where I was from and where I had been studying Tibetan. I answered these initial questions in Tibetan, but the conversation quickly advanced beyond my comprehension and speaking level. By the end of the conversation they had resorted to quizzing me on my Tibetan voca bulary by pointing out different objects in the room. Two months later, Janine also started joining the group for puja. I was immensely pleased that I could translate much of what the nuns were saying for Janine, even when these words were not meant to be understood by us: “nga ts a me ri k phu mo khan tsa po dug” (“Our American girls are strange”). Even though my Tibetan speaking leve l improved, my language ability was not good enough to be able to conduct formal in terviews in Tibetan. It was clear to me when I arrived that all of the senior nuns at Jamyang Chling could speak English to


23 some degree, although it was not clear that they could speak English well enough for me to conduct interviews in Eng lish. I had asked Tenzin She npen, the German nun, if she knew anyone who could serve as a translat or, and she gave me the phone number of a monk who regularly translated for lamas at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics. Tenzin Shenpen said that the monk could translat e for the autobiographical questions and she could help for the more personal questions. Tenzin Drlkar was the first nun I approached for an interview, and she told me that she would prefer to do the interview without a translator. I was amazed at her English fluency level, however broken and id iosyncratic the sentence structures were. After the interview was over, Tenzin Drlka r and I sat on the House’s balcony with Tenzin Drlma, and the three of us talked ab out the process of being interviewed. Both nuns agreed that it would be difficult to use a translator because that person would have to be a monk and it would make it hard er to speak openly. Tenzin Drlkar told me, “You ask why I wanted to become a nun and I said because there are so many women with children in my town. This is not easy to say in front of a monk.” I was extremely pleased that all of the nuns who agreed to an interview could speak English well enough that no translator was needed. The nuns’ shyness was a constant difficulty throughout my fieldwork, in both formal and informal interviews. In less-than-p ersonal settings I was able to write in my field notebook, but in conversations one-on -one and in small groups the nuns would most often not allow me to write anything at all. During these times, I would concentrate on remembering the flow and content of the conversation, and when the


24 conversation was over would hurry to my fi eld notebook and write everything I could remember. I clearly remember one conversati on with two nuns one evening when I was learning about aspects of their lives which they did not talk about in casual conversation. We talked for three and a half hours, and I was forbidden to write anything. When I went back to my room, I wrote a two-page outline of all the main points I could remember, and I continued to expand on these notes for several days as I remembered more details of the conversation. Other times I was allowed to take notes but not allowed to turn on the recorder. I became adept at writing notes very quickly and I was amazed that I could reconstruct conversations very well from my scribbled notes. I also saw that the nuns shared more with me when they were not being recorded ; several times during formal interviews I would finish with my last question, thank them, and turn of the recorder. After the recorder was turned off, the nuns would give a big sigh, say, “Oh! My English is not so good!” and proceed with a long diatribe, in English, filled with all kinds of relevant information which I dearly wanted to have recorded. Overall, though, I found the nuns greatly warmed to my project and to me as a result of the interviews. They seemed to relax during the process, and many of them to ld me after the interview was over that I should let them know if I needed any more information or wanted another interview from them. I did worry about the state of my participant-observation when there seemed to be a lot that I could not participate in. A trul ku (sprul sku)17 who was staying at Tara 17 Literally meaning “emanation body,” th is word designates a reincarnate lama.


25 Guest House for a couple of mo nths told me, “Living in a monastery is like going to college. During break times you have to go to your room for independent study. Otherwise you will get distracted from your studies.” This certainly seemed to be the case for the nuns at Jamyang Chling; they sp ent long hours doing their daily practices and studying for exams in their rooms while I sa t in my room trying to think of excuses to knock on their doors. Me al times and tea time were good opportunities to meet communally, and I volunteered for opportunities to do errands with the nuns, help them with their English, watch a movie, and make circumambulations around the main temple complex. I also shared a room wi th two nuns during the times I stayed at Gharoh, and this proved to be very helpful in le arning the rhythm of their daily schedule. McLeod Ganj is a town which lives by the rhythm of the seasons and the schedule of the Dalai Lama. Relatively few tourists come to McLeod Ganj during the monsoon and winter seasons—the times when I lived there—and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives as well as some other bus inesses close during the slowest part of the winter season. When the Dalai Lama gives public teachings, however, the town doubles in size. The Jamyang Chling nuns rout inely checked the Dalai Lama’s website in order to know where he was at the moment how his health was, and when he was coming back to McLeod Ganj. For the days leading up to his arri val, banners were hung up welcoming him home, and the streets were painted with the eight auspicious symbols in Tibetan Buddhism. The entire town gathered in the streets on the day of his arrival, offering him kha tak (kha btags), which are traditional ceremonial white scarves.


26 McLeod Ganj is a small town with an international population. All longer-term residents seem to know each other or are at least able to recognize each others’ faces. When I returned to McLeod Ganj during my second visit, I saw many of the same people whom I had met through my volunteer work the year before, including both Tibetans who lived there permanently and volunteers from abroad. The American man who has been the nuns’ English teacher at Jamyang Ch ling on and off since 1989 spoke to me of the gossip which takes place in McLeod Ganj: “You’ve been here long enough, you’d be surprised—a lot of these people around he re, they’ll know things about you. They’ll have an opinion about you.” I noticed how qui ckly news travels in McLeod Ganj about halfway through my second visit; after having lunch with a male friend at a caf in town, within a day the nuns were dropping comments in conversation about my “boyfriend.” Although the Jamyang Chling nuns were usually too polite and nonconfrontational to talk about each other in outwardly offending ways, throughout the duration of my stay at Jamyang Chling I le arned that not everybody “got along” with each other. As far as I could gather, tensio ns within the House rarely escalated into serious fights but were expresse d in more subtle ways. Some tensions were easier for an outsider like myself to notice but others took me the entire duration of my stay to be able to recognize. I occasionally became in advertently strung in these webs of intranunnery politics, and during these times I pla yed the “oblivious fo reigner card,” which seemed to me to be bo th effective and true. There is a widely used proverb in Tibetan, “Each valley has its dialect, each lama has his religion.” The senior nuns at Jamyang Chling all come from Himalayan villages


27 in India, but I wanted to know more about th e variation in cultural practices among their native villages. I began all but one of my form al interviews by collaboratively sketching a kinship chart of the interviewee’s geneal ogical family stretching back to her grandparents.18 This opened up the conversation to variations in kinship structures and family relationships. I used a template set of questions for the formal interviews which began with autobiographical information about the towns they were from, why they became nuns, and how they came to Dharamsa la. I then moved on to questions which concerned Buddhist practice, their opinions on the status of women in Buddhism, obtaining a Geshe degree, and if they wa nted to take the full ordination of a ge long ma (dge slong ma), a bhikshuni (in Sanskrit). Th ough this template was useful and allowed me to compare the information I received, as the interviews prog ressed I relied less on the interview questions and more on the flow of the conversation as well as the issues which seemed to be important to them. Throughout the duration of my fieldwor k, I became increasingly aware of the complex issues which concern the status of Tibetan Buddhist nuns, the nuns’ religious practice, and recent changes within the larg er Tibetan Buddhist tradition regarding the issues of earning Geshe degrees and be coming fully-ordained nuns. The following chapters aim to address these issues. Chapte r two discusses the role and importance of a scholastic education in the Jamyang Chlin g nuns’ religious practice. I argue that the nuns understand access to this education as th e most important variable for measuring 18 I am grateful to my colloquial Tibetan grammar teacher, Nicolas Tournadre, for pointing out to me that Tibetans generally do not use the names of people who have died. The nuns I interviewed understood that I came from a very different culture than they did, but this tidbit of information prevented me from making at least one mistake which would have been culturally inappropriate.


28 social status. Anthropological theory on the gift frames my discussion of the Jamyang Chling nuns’ religious practice. In Chapter Three, I present Tibetan Buddhism as a gift system of social exchange and maintain that the nuns’ religious practice is habituation to the gift ideal in Tibetan Buddhism. Chap ter Four examines em otion as a commodity of gift exchange, where “feeling rules” determine emotion to be appropriate or inappropriate relative to the philosophy of the Tibetan Buddhist gift system. Chapter Five surveys the controversy surrounding es tablishing full-ordination for Tibetan Buddhist nuns, the issue of nuns earning Gesh e degrees, and the Jamyang Chling nuns’ plans for the future.


29 Chapter Two: Soteriology and Education That being born female is less desirabl e than being born male is a truism in Tibetan Buddhist societies, where the most common word used for woman, kye mn (skye dman), literally means “low birth.” My ethnographic data indicates, however, that the Jamyang Chling nuns understand a proper re ligious education, not a male birth, to be the fundamental prerequisite for Buddhist practice. This chapter focuses on how the Jamyang Chling nuns talk about the relationship between education and soteriological19 aims. Pertinent tropes for exploring this relationship include soteriological versus social equality, what kind of religious education the nuns value, and the interconnectedness of practice and st udy. I intersperse ethnographic data with historical information about Tibetan Buddhi st nuns in order to contextualize my informants’ statements and ascertain their sign ificance. In a linguistic assessment, I aim to demonstrate that the most common word used for “nun” is a kinship term that reflects a social hierarchy in which Tibeta n nuns’ institutions have been comparatively unsupported by lay communities, and I argue th at this lack of support has made it difficult for nuns to fully “leave home” as Buddhist renunciates. In “Gender Bias and Sex Bias: Removing Our Cultural Blinders in the Field,”20 Elizabeth Faithorn writes, “it has been suggested by many anthropologists that from a cross-cultural perspective women have lower status than men. But what does status 19 “Soteriology” derives from the Greek word “s t rion,” meaning “salvation.” In a Buddhist context, soteriology refers to liberation from the cyclic exist ence of suffering, samsara, and soteriological aims contrast with locative, or “worldly” aims. 20 Faithorn makes the distinction between gender and sex: “gender refers to cultural definitions of masculine and feminine, whereas sex refers to the tr anscultural biological div ision of the human species into male and female subclasses” (1986: 275-276).


30 actually mean? How do we decide what vari ables are important in measuring status?” (1986:277). Alan Sponberg prov ides a vocabulary for discussing the status of women presented in Buddhist communities. In “Attitudes toward Women and the Feminine in Early Buddhism,” Sponberg describes four distinct and contradictory attitudes: “soteriological inclusiveness” maintains that gender differences exist, but these differences are insignificant for soteriol ogical pursuits (1992:9). “Institutional androcentricism” refers to “the view that women indeed may pursue a full-time religious career, but only within a carefully regulated institutional structure that preserves and reinforces the conventiona lly accepted social standards of male authority” (Sponberg 1992:13). “Ascetic miso gyny” states that a person cannot attain liberation in a woman’s body. “Soteriological androgyny” refers to the view that all beings manifest the full range of characteri stics conventionally identified as gender specific (Sponberg 1992:25). I argue that “soteriological inclusiveness” best characterizes the Jamyang Chling nuns’ attitudes toward status of the se xes; although the nuns understand social differences to exist between men and women, they maintain that all people have equal opportunity to practice moral behavior, wh ich is the cause for higher rebirth, and eventually, enlightenment. Moreover, I aim to demonstrate that the nuns emphasize that access to a scholastic education is the most important variable for measuring status; they understand religious practice to be dependent upon study.


31 Tenzin Desal gave me a copy of a pa per she wrote in 2007 when she attended the International Congress on Buddhist Women’ s Role in the Sangha in Hamburg. It included this passage: [I]t is observing morality that causes liberation…if one restrains one’s body, speech and mind from mischief and keep s a proper moral conduct one is bound to achieve higher rebirth, definite realizations, and eventually, full awakening. In this respect, there is no gender bias; pr actice and enlightenment is possible for all. Although all people can practice moral be havior, the nuns maintained that a proper education allows practitioners to explore th e depths of the teachings and develop their reasoning skills. Given the importance accorded to access to education, the nuns always talked about equal access to education as the defining feature which made nuns equal to monks. As Tenzin Lhamo told me, “Bef ore nuns never get chance to study about philosophy or anything like this. Some people in the Western, they just don’t know like this. But the real thing is we [didn’t] ge t the chance, yeah. So when we study this philosophy, then it’s equal to monks and nuns.” When monks and nuns both have access to education, the Jamyang Chling nuns said that there is no gender bias. Yet when I asked the nuns what they would like to be reborn as in their next lives, many of them told me they wanted to be reborn as men.21 Several of the nuns indicated that monaster ies have more “facility” than nunneries: 21 I had initially thought to ask this question in interviews after attendin g a concert at the Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts during my time spent in the fi eld. At the concert, a well-known Tibetan performer sang a song in which the lyrics told of the violence which persists in Ti bet and of the wish to be reborn again in Tibet, even amongst the vi olence, where he co uld assist in the cause for Tibet’s political freedom. The song showed me how wishes for future lives ca n indicate political aims and values for Tibetans. Wishes for future lives of religious practitioners can a lso indicate views on the so teriological status of the sexes; all of the ethnographic research I found on Tibetan Buddhist nuns unanimously told of the wishes of these nuns to be reborn as men in order to be able to practice the Dharma more deeply.


32 Tenzin Drlkar: There is more facility, mo re chance to study in monks. Example, I give example: In South India, there is big monastery there. Maybe one monastery there, 2,000-3,000 monks. If we take five little boys, tomorrow they can study there. They can give the full room—everything. They didn’t say, “You can’t do.” They didn’t say. They have everything there—facility. Here in Jamyang Chling, some nuns coming new [but] we have no rooms. We have not enough sponsor, not enough food. So everywhere it’s difficult nun way. Tenzin Yongten told me she wanted to be bo rn a man because “man is not so worried to go alone. Girl is very difficult to go alone and say alone and very difficult to life.” When I asked Tenzin Yongten if it is better to be a man to study the Dharma, she told me, “Yeah this is ok, this ok. Because some nuns have very good education.” These statements describe a position of “soteriological in clusiveness”: although monks and nuns are soteriologically equal, social differences make the lives of males easier. Tibetan Buddhism has a rich history of scholasticism which it inherited from India. In Buddhism and Language: A Study of Indo-Tibetan Scholasticism Jos Ignacio Cabezn writes that the “common concern” wh ich scholastic traditions share is “that experience and action be guided and justifie d by reasoning and that rationally justified doctrine be made experien tially relevant” (1994:19). Georges Dreyfus, the first Westerner to receive the prestigious Gesh e degree in Tibetan Buddhism, writes in The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: The Educ ation of a Tibetan Buddhist Monk that Tibetan Buddhist scholasticism can be grouped into two pedagogical approaches: the curriculum of the Gelug tradition, which has focuse d on a few select texts and emphasized dialectical debate, and the curriculum of th e Nyingma tradition, which has emphasized commentary over debate and has included bo th literary and dialectical instruction (2003:133).


33 Before the advent of the ri me (ris med) or nonsectari an movement in Tibetan Buddhist history, institutions of higher scho lastic learning in Tibet were only of the Gelug tradition, while higher learning in the non-Gelug traditions were passed down within families or directly from teacher to individual students (Dreyfus 2003:147). The ri me movement of the nineteenth century advo cated an inclusive approach to recognize all schools of Tibetan Buddhism as valid, but it also served to strengthen the positions of the non-Gelug schools in opposition to the sc holastic dominance of the Gelug tradition. This revival of scholarship among non-Gelu g schools led to the establishment of nonGelug institutions of schola stic learning (2003:29). The scholastic education offered in these in stitutions of higher learning has been available only to monks until recent years. Ti betan oral histories tell of one group of Gelug nuns in Tibet who were able to lear n philosophical debate, though there are no historical records of this incident. The educ ation of women was primarily restricted to a small number of women from aristocratic backgrounds and to nuns. Girls sent to nunneries attained a basic level of education, which generally amounted to learning to recite religious text s (Havnevik 1990:50-51).22 In “The Founding of the first Sherpa Nunnery, and the Problem of ‘Women’ as an Analytic Category,” Sherry Ortner argues th at a gender-based analysis should not ignore analysis based on structural inequalities which pertain to both men and women. This “big man bias,” Ortner writes, “prevents us from seeing the degree to which many men 22 Reciting and reading are separate domains of learning in Tibetan culture. Monks and nuns sent to monastic communities learn to recite religious texts, bu t they often must travel to institutions of higher education to learn to read with understanding.


34 are as disadvantaged as women with respect to property, marriage, and the like” (1983:125). Regarding access to scholastic education in Tibetan Buddhist history, most monasteries did not offer any higher schola stic learning. Even after the revival of scholasticism caused by the ri me movement, only a small percentage of the monks who belonged to any tradition pursued a scho lastic education which went beyond mere memorization of texts and the perf ormance of religious rituals. Within rural communities in Tibet and its border regions, there was little difference in access to higher scholastic education for any Buddhist practitioner, regardless of biological sex. Monks who lived in monasteries in rural areas would travel to larger training monasteries to pursue schola stic education. The difference in access to education between monks and nuns was that nuns did not receive higher scholastic education from these institutions. Among mo nks from rural communities, only the elite traveled to these institutions of higher le arning, and only the intellectual elite among these monks pursued scholastic education. Tenzin Pema talked to me about a lo sar (lo gsar)23 custom in her village when the monks would debate for the larger community: In our village [at the time of lo sar ] we have early morning and we make special food and eat. And we put prayer flags on the top our house. Then we have special thing to do: eat, then we go to the nunnery, then also horse race. After that the monks can debate at the monastery. At that time we thought, this is only monk and no nun do philosophy thing. 23 Lo sar (lo gsar) is the Tibetan New Year. The Tibetan calendar is luni-solar, and in Tibetan there are different words for the Tibetan month— p da (bod zla)—and the month of the international calander— ci da (spyi zla). There is regional variation in when lo sar (lo gsar) is celebrated, but most Tibetans celebrate the “Royal New Year”— ky p lo sar (rgyal po’I lo gsar)—which takes place on the first day of the first month, usually in February (Tournadre 2003:340-341).


35 These monks in Tenzin Pema’s village travel led to Tibet to learn debate because there were no opportunities to higher philosophica l studies in her village. Tenzin Pema and Tenzin Drlma both attended Tashi Chling Nunnery, and the head nuns at this nunnery had also been to Tibet to train in one of th e larger monastic institutions. However, these head nuns did not learn anything in Tibe t beyond the performance of rituals. The Jamyang Chling nuns are from small, farming villages in the Himalayan border regions where there is very little economic differentiation. Nearly all of the village residents are either farmers or herders. In one formal interview, Yangchen Wangmo compared the lives of monastics to th e farmer’s life in her village in Zangskar: Yangchen Wangmo: Most of times we stay with our parents. Then looking after for them, looking after brother, parents. Li ke it’s similar to farmer in Zangskar— nuns and monks. JK: Nuns and monks are similar to farmers? Yangchen Wangmo: Yeah, similar farmers. It’s very difficult. Therefore, we come to here. Several sources mention that nuns in Tibet and in the Himalayan border areas have done agricultural labor while the monks did not because monasteries were better supported by the lay community (Havnevik 1990, Grimshaw 1992, Tsomo 1999, van Ede 2000). However, it is important to note that Yangchen Wangmo mentions both nuns and monks as having lifestyles similar to farmers in her village. Very little is known about the lives of Tibetan Buddhist nuns and female practitioners in Tibet’s history. Most liter ature written about Tibetan “monastics” only discusses the lives of monks and institutions for monks, and because women in Tibetan history have largely been illiterate, hardly any surviving texts were authored by women.


36 In “The Woman Illusion?: Research into the Lives of Spiritually Accomplished Women Leaders of the 11th and 12th Centuries,” Da n Martin writes that Tibetan Buddhist religious practitioners most often belonged to esoteric orders with little public exposure. For many of them, recognition of sp iritual realization and religious leadership may have been the result of fam ily connections (2005:80-81). In Tibetan Buddhist Nuns: History, Cultural Norms and Social Reality Anna Havnevik also mentions recognition of Tibetan Buddhist women by association: “W hen a woman, whether nun or laywoman, was chosen as the consort of a respected la ma, she, too, became highly respected in society” (1990:50). It seems clear that Tibetan Buddhist women practitioners throughout Tibet’s history have been limited to certain areas of religious practice, and recognition of remarkable women was also dependent upon socially -accepted avenues. Over dinner one evening early in my stay at Jamyang Chling, I asked Tenzin Desal why people choose the life of the monast ic as opposed to the life of a lay person. She explained, “Becoming a monk or a nun is considered to be less suffering.” This statement can be interpreted on both so teriological and mundane levels. From a religious point of view, becoming a monast ic is understood by Tibetan Buddhists to create merit for individuals and their families, which will aid in achieving a good rebirth. With respect to the social division of labor, monastics (at least ideally) do not participate in the physical labor associated with lay peop le’s lifestyles but instead spend their time studying the Dharma and performing religious rituals. With respect to societal gender roles, renouncing the life of a lay pers on means renouncing lay gender roles.


37 Gender trajectories for lay women in these remote areas meant that women often moved away from home to live in their husbands’ houses. In Ti betan societies, the eldest son usually inherits land from his pa rents and the eldest daughter receives a dowry of the mother’s jewelry—a “movable inheritance.” Yangchen Wangmo explained to me that it is customary for younger daughters to become nuns because they fulfill a social role in taking care of the parents and also because younger daughters receive no dowry: Yangchen Wangmo: Most of they in ou r custom, younger daughters become nun. Older sister is married, younger si ster is nun. Also younger brother is become monk in our Zangskar custom, yeah. JK: Do you know why the younger ones become nuns and monks? Yangchen Wangmo: Maybe the reason is they are looking after for parents, I think. Older is married, not looking afte r their parents, yeah. They’re looking after their children, their husband, thei r family. Then young one become nun or monk, then they looking after the parents. Reason this one I think—that is my idea. Then also, my mother have jewelry—a lot of jewelry. Then this all things give to my sister. The younger have no. Then just become nun [laughs]. These women are also susceptible to the dangers of pregnancy. In “Change in Consciousness: Women’s Religious Identity in Himalayan Buddhist Cultures,” Karma Lekshe Tsomo writes of the dangers of pregnancy in these Himalayan areas: “Vulnerability to pregnancy is a liability for all women in pre-contraceptive societies, and entails great health risks due to inad equate medical faci lities” (1999:174). The division of labor between men and women in the Himalayan border regions has been changing in recent years due to the closing of the border with Tibet and the larger processes of globalization. These changes have sometimes resulted in women assuming a larger share of the division of labor. In “Crisis as Opportunity: Nuns and


38 Cultural Change in the Spiti Valley,” Margaret Coberly writes of the impact of recent economic changes on division of labor: the influence of globalizing forces have led to Spiti’s subsistent agricultural economy develo ping into a cash economy, which has had a significant impact on Spiti’s social structur e and cultural values. Coberly writes, “As men migrate down to the Indian cities in search of work, the formerly male-dominated community leadership positions in Spiti’s villages are increasingly being assumed by women. This change allows women to fulfill a la rger role in the politics of the region, but since it adds to the sum of their many othe r proscribed duties, political freedoms have not necessarily given women greater po wer or social fr eedom” (2004:194). During the 1970s and 1980s when the now senior nuns at Jamyang Chling first became nuns, Tibetan nuns had no t yet participated in scholastic studies in Tibet, the Himalayan border regions, or in the Indian exile communities. All of my informants mentioned that they had no idea that th ey would eventually learn philosophy and debate when they became nuns. Tenzin Lhamo recounted to me her early reasons for becoming a nun and contrasted her life now at Jamyang Chling with what she knew about the life of a nun then: When I became a nun, at that time in my village there was only one nun. She is my same village, yeah. So I just saw he r wearing robes and like this. So when I saw her, I feel maybe I also become a nun. But I don’t know about nun’s life and about the study. I just thought when we become a nun, we just do Tara puja24— that’s all. But no study like this, yeah. Wh en I join here and I came here, I know a nun’s life. It’s like a school. 24 Tara is the female deity in Tibetan Buddhism who vowed to become enlightened in the body of a woman. Both monks and nuns in Tibetan monasterie s and nunneries chant Tara puja every day.


39 Among the eight nuns I interviewed at Jamyang Chling, Tenzin Drlma was unique in being forced to become a nun by her parents against her own wishes. Only one of my informants became a nun agains t her family’s wishes; Tenzin Yongten’s parents were no longer living when she decided that she wanted to become a nun, but her older siblings did not want her to make that choice. Only one daughter should become a nun in Kinnauri culture, she expl ained to me, and one of her sisters had already chosen a nun’s life. Three of my nun informants mentione d their village customs for younger daughters to become nuns, who are then responsible for taking care of their parents in old age. My research suggests the idea that the custom of younger daughters becoming nuns, though it may be common, is not al ways the case; among the seven nuns for whom I have kinship charts, all but one are younger daughters with at least two older siblings. Tenzin Yongten was the youngest of eight children, and her oldest sibling was the sister who became a nun. Tenzin Drlkar’ s older sister was also a nun, and Tenzin Pema was the first of six children, and no ne of her siblings were monks or nuns. All the nuns I interviewed compared the liv es of lay people and monastics when they talked about their reasons for becoming nuns. They specified that the lives of lay people involve more physical labor and have more unhappiness. Tenz in Drlma told me that her parents insisted that the life of a nun is easier than the life of a laywoman: “They tell me, if you become a nun, nun life is easy. Then you know Buddhadharma very well, then easy life and you chance to study Buddhism. Like this, they tell. If you get married, then very difficult for you. Then very problems come.” Tenzin Yongten


40 explained her impressions of the “comfortable” life of a nun compared to the lives of lay people while recounting an early experience of nuns who came to her house to perform puja: Many, many nuns and monks coming into my home. Then they are prayer, very nice prayer. Then I though t: Oh, nuns and monks is very good life: they are prayer; they are eating very good; they are only staying; they are not working. I thought, this is very comfortable. Then I thought, maybe I become a nun. Then I decide myself. Among my informants who maintained that becoming a nun was their own decision, all emphasized their childhood dissatisfaction with the life of a lay person along with describing initial encounters with a nun or group of nuns in their villages who made good impressions on them. When these Himalayan women arrived in McLeod Ganj, Karma Lekshe Tsomo arranged for a student of the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics to teach the nuns Tibetan grammar and for a monk to teach them Buddhi st philosophy. The contrast between rote memorization of prayers and understandi ng the “profound meaning” of Buddhist philosophy, which comes specifically from a scholastic education, was a theme clearly represented in all of the interviews. Tenzin Drlma, like many of the nuns at Jamyang Chling, contrasted the lifestyles of nuns in Dharamsala and in her village at the time when she became a nun: “Before nun is not have chance to study Buddhist philosophy. Only puja.” When talking about the situat ion of nuns’ education now in Dharamsala, Tenzin Lhamo said: “The most important thin g [is] to study, yeah. To study philosophy like this…we have to know the real meaning. The real point, the main point. It’s the most important.” Yangchen Wangmo also talked about the difference between study


41 opportunities for men and women in Dh aramsala and in her village: “[Study opportunities for monks and nuns are] the same now these days. It’s very good chance female have. Not different. But here yeah, in this society. But in our village it’s very remote area. It’s very difficult for wo men. It’s not chance study like men.” Susan Rogers proposes a model for the cross-cultural measurement of women’s status, and she maintains that the nature of sexual differentiation has two aspects, the behavioral and the ideological. Behavioral di fferentiation refers to participation of the sexes in different societal roles while ideo logical differentiation refers to the sexes valuing different kinds of activities or vi ewing themselves as fundamentally different from each other (Rogers in Havnevik 1990: 128). Roger’s mo del, though overly simplistic, is useful for pointing out ho w the Jamyang Chling nuns understand their status as Buddhist women in relation to the education they have received; the nuns understand that there used to be a “behav ioral differentiation” between the sexes when women were not given access to a scholastic education.25 However, there is no “ideological differentiation” between the sexes; the nuns always understood scholasticism to be the highest form of relig ious practice, and they consider themselves capable of scholasticism. In Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children, the narrator writes about the return journey of his grandfather to hi s hometown after spending years studying Western medicine in Germany: “Now, returnin g, he saw through travelled eyes. Instead 25 As I have mentioned, most monks did not pursue scholastic education. However, there was still a “behavioral differentiation” because, as Tenzin Pema pointed out when she recounted the monks debating tournaments at lo sar, debate was nonetheless seen as an activity restricted to monks.


42 of the beauty of the tiny valley circled by giant teeth, he noticed the narrowness, the proximity of the horizon; and felt sad, to be at home and feel so utterly enclosed. He also felt – inexplicably – as though the ol d place resented his educated, stethoscoped return. Beneath the winter ice, it had been coldly neutral, but now there was no doubt; the years in Germany had returned him to a hostile environment” (Rushdie 2008:5-6). The difference between how Rushdie’s ch aracter understands his environment upon return to his home and how the nuns at Jamyang Chling talk about differences between life in Dharamsala and life in their v illages is that Rushdie’s character exhibits an ideological change, to employ Roger’s model, in which his understanding of the world, his values, and his goals are now differe nt from having lived abroad and contrast against the worldview of his earlier life. The Jamyang Chling nuns, on the other hand, do not exhibit this kind of change because they left their villages precisely be cause there were no op portunities to study higher scholastic education there. In “O f Birds and Wings: Tibetan Nuns and their Encounters with Knowledge,” Yolanda van Ede writes of visiting a Tibetan nunnery in Nepal in 1992 and becoming acquainted with the resident nuns. During subsequent visits to the nunnery, van Ede learned that several of the young nuns had “run away” from the nunnery, despite social pressures to stay, because the nunnery did not offer an educational program of study. These nuns had le ft to join a nunnery in Mysore, India, where they could learn to read and study religious texts (2000:202). The senior nuns at Jamyang Chling were similarly innovators in their communities, being some of the first nuns to leave their villages pursuing study programs in other parts of India.


43 Yangchen Wangmo explained to me how sh e has changed as a result of receiving a scholastic education: “Before we study the Dharma but we didn’t know how is the profound Buddhist philosophy. Just we read the books and that is enough. Now it’s not enough.” Although Yangchen Wangmo said that nuns who receive an education are no longer content to do “only puja,” this still does not exemplify an ideological change; there is no question about which is the high er form of study—philosophical study or performing puja with no understanding of the deeper meaning—only a difference in how content they are to perform rituals without engaging in deeper philosophical study. Anna Grimshaw, who lived in a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in Zangskar before the Indian authorities permitted visi tors in the area, reflects in Servants of the Buddha on how she perceived the vocations of nuns in the nunnery where she lived: “I still perceived these women through the eyes of the monastery. All my reading about Buddhism and my experiences in Dharamsala had reinforced a perspective which places nuns at the margins of spiritual life. They we re regarded as uneducated in the Buddhist scriptures and incapable of undertaking es oteric meditative practices” (1992:41). Grimshaw’s use of “the eyes of the monast ery” reflects the understanding that the higher studies of monks and yogis are fundame ntally more important than the work of nuns. Grimshaw disagrees with this view, whic h places the menial activities of nuns “at the margins of spiritual life”; she criticizes th e arrogance of the scholastic elite and finds personal satisfaction in participat ing in the nuns’ manual labor. Grimshaw’s understanding does not represent the views of the nuns at Jamyang Chling, however, for whom understanding th e “deeper meaning” of the teachings is


44 “the most important thing.” For these nuns, be ing restricted to rote memorization, the performance of rituals, and physical labo r without higher scholastic education does place nuns “at the margins of spiritual life”; when I asked Jamyang Chling nuns whether studying the Buddha’s teachings or implementing those teachings in practice was more important, the nuns unanimously sa id that practice was more important. However, the nuns emphasized that practice is dependent upon study. As Tenzin Pema told me: “Practice is more important, but [if] we don’t have study, then how do we practice? What kind of practice [do] we do? So first, study is very important. Without study, we can’t practice. What kind of prac tice? We don’t know anything about the Buddhadharma. They go both together.” Tibetan monasteries and lay communities traditionally existed together in a symbiotic fashion. Monasteries provided ritu al services for the lay communities. Support for the monasteries came from endowm ents of food and supplies or from sharecroppers who worked on the monasterie s’ fields. Receiving this support depended on the monks’ discipline in maintaining a proper monastic decorum, which served as a symbolic representation of the Buddhist renunciate ideal (Dreyfus 2003:35). In “The Body of a Nun: Nunhood and Gender in Cont emporary Amdo,” Charlene Makley writes, “That orientation [of the monastic], as we ll as the commitment to refrain from nonvirtuous behavior, speech and thought, were the moral bases for the monastic community’s ability to serve as a ‘field of merit’ for the laity” (2005:271). Nunneries were far fewer in number th an monasteries, and they were, in comparison, economically insignificant inst itutions (Tucci 1970:160). In Grimshaw’s


45 experience living at Julichang nunnery in Za ngskar, the nuns occupied the roles of lay sharecroppers, working in the fields belonging to the monastery and, in turn, receiving a share of the produce. Gutschow writes from her fieldwork experience, “While Zangskar monasteries are supported by sharecroppe rs and endowments, most nunneries are either landless or forced to till their small land holdings by themselves. The nunneries do not receive grain tithes, but are supported ma inly by voluntary do nations” (2000:224). Although becoming a nun was an alternativ e to married life which is associated with suffering, the nun’s life is not always the “comfortable” life which Tenzin Yongten talked about when she thought nuns only did puja and did not participate in lay people’s work. Nuns did not represent the same “field of merit” as the monks did and therefore often could not support themselves thro ugh lay donations. One Tibetan proverb addresses the societal trajectori es of Tibetan men and women: bn de dro sa gar r/chi mo dro sa n r ,26 meaning, “The place where a young monk goes is a monastery/The place where a young girl goes is her [n ew husband’s] home” (Mackley 2005:262). This proverb does not mention the social trajec tory of female renunc iates, however, who often stayed in their parents’ houses. Because Tibetan Buddhist nunneries have not been supported by the lay community in th e way the monks’ institutions have been supported, many nuns have taken the role of a household servant, caring for their elderly parents and the children of their brot hers and sisters, and doing agricultural labor in the families’ fields. 26 (ban de ‘dro sa sgar red/byis mo ‘dro sa gnas red).


46 When Tenzin Drlma and Tenzin Pema first became nuns in their villages, the only opportunities for nuns to study religio us texts and learn to perform rituals was during a two-month interim period between harvesting and planting in the winter. This was the only time during the year when nuns in the surrounding villages lived at the nunnery; otherwise, the nuns stayed at home, did household chores, and worked in the fields. In an article published in Out of the Shadows: Socially Engaged Buddhist Women ,27 one Jamyang Chling nun wrote about e ducational hardships also faced by Zangskari nuns: “Buddhist nuns are respected as monastics and as Sangha, but due to lack of proper religious facilities available at the old existing nunneries, nuns are often seen as field laborers for their families a nd relatives instead of studying and devoting themselves to the proper practice of the Dharma” (Tsomo 2006:11). Karma Lekshe Tsomo is the founder of both Jamyang Ch ling institute and Jamyang Foundation, a nonprofit organization which provides study prog rams for nuns in six different locations in Zangskar, Spiti, and Kinnaur. She spoke to me of the continuing difficulty in these study programs which aim to provide nuns with religious education: I have a lot of difficulty with the projec ts up in the mountains where the nuns are staying in the village where their familie s live. The families often call them to work in the home and in the field. And th is is a huge challenge. When we start projects in a place, we always call a meeting of the local villagers—we try to— and especially the parents of the girls who are becoming nuns. And we say, “Do you agree to allow your daughter to co me here and stay, and do you promise not to call her out and disturb her studies?” And they all promise, but then later they do it anyway. So that’s really hard When I go there, they all stay in the monastery, right? But then when I leave, I hear from the English teachers and other travelers that they’re down working in the fields, which is not allowed for monastics. 27 Here I cite the editor instead of the author of the article in order to help protect the confidentiality of the particular nun.


47 Traditionally in both India and Tibet, as well as in other Buddhist cultures, the defining feature of a monastic is the renunciati on of family life, taking formal monastic vows, shaving one’s head, donning monastic ro bes, and “leaving home.” Dreyfus writes that “Leaving the family is described as “going forth” ( rab byung, pravrajy )—that is, abandoning the life of the household, which is involved with the world and with sexual reproduction (itself connected with aging a nd dying), to enter the homeless life, the life of those who have freed themselves from passions such as attachment and aversion, which are the roots of suffering” (2003:33). That Tibetan Buddhist nuns have historic ally occupied spaces within the home rather than in nunneries is linguistically demonstrated. Makley writes that the difference between a khyim pa (khyim pa), a householder, and a person who has “gone forth” is a transformation marked by monastic dress as well as linguistic (use of honorific speech register) and non-linguis tic (bowing, etc.) deference practices (2005:273). I maintain that Tibe tan Buddhist nuns have occupied an ambiguous status in Buddhism’s history as somewhere in-between the monastic and lay roles; while Tibetan nuns have shaved their heads and taken vows they were often not ever fully able to “leave home.” The Tibetan language has an elaborate system of registers which are used in polite speech and reflect hierarchy and desc ent, and registers are expressed through personal pronouns, names, verbs, auxilia ries, and even adjectives and adverbs (Tournadre 2003:446). she sa (zhe sa), the honorific regist er, is used for people of superior or equal social standing and employ s both honorific words for the other person


48 and humilific words for oneself in conversation. k ky ma (skad dkyus ma), the ordinary register, is used when talking with a person of inferior status, and this register is often used in everyday speech among social equals. One aspect of polite speech is the use of kinship terms among strangers and acquaintances which designate hierarchy and de scent. For example, the word for father or mother could be used to address any man or woman who is about the age of the speaker’s parents. Linguistically, older brot hers and sisters are set apart from younger ones, and in polite speech, any individual wh o is older than the speaker but not old enough to be the age of the speaker’s parents may be called a cha (a lca), “older sister,” or jo jo (co cog), “older brother.” The Tibetan word for “monk”— thra pa (grwa pa)—literally means “scholar” or “student.” The most common word used to call a monk is ku sho (sku zhog), or its literary form, ku shab (sku zhabs). ku (sku) is the honorific word for “body,” and shab (zhabs), in this context, means “venerable ” or “honorable.” The most common word for “nun” in Tibetan is also the word used for “paternal aunt”— a ni (a ne). cho mo (co mo) is also used for “nun” in th e Himalayan border regions and means “lord” or “venerable.” The word ge ma (dge ma), is used in the northeastern part of the Tibetan province of Kham (Havnevik 1990:44). ge means “virtue,” and ma is a suffix for a female. One source (Martin 2005) mentions the word ma jo (ma jo) used also for nuns. The Tibetan Himalayan Digital Library’s entry of ma jo indicates that the etymology of this term is uncertain, but it may be a word used for “abbess” or a female term for la ma (bla ma) (entry for “ma jo,”, a ccessed March 20, 2009). There are also other


49 honorific words used to address nuns such as ch la (chos lags), “one who practices the Dharma,” and tsn ma (btsun ma), “queen,” or “reverend” (entry for “bstun ma,”, accessed March 20, 2009). The most common word for “nun”— a ni —stands out as strange among the other terms used for monastics because it is a kinship term. Makley writes about the use of kinship terms for monastics: “Normally approp riate kin terms are usually eliminated in everyday speech when people re fer to monks and nuns. A monk or nun is thus no longer a “brother”, “sister”, “son”, “daughter”, but “ani” or “akhu” (literally “aunt” and “uncle”), kin terms which encode respect en titled to older relatives” (2005:273). Makley writes that in her fieldwork, she was corre cted repeatedly by her informants if she referred to someone’s younger sibling who was a monk or nun using kinship terms which are usually used for younger siblings: “T hey would insist that the sibling, even if younger than them, was ‘my akhu’ or ‘my an i’” (2005:274). Therefore, when a person becomes a monk or nun, a linguistically identifi ed change in hierarchical status within a household is practiced. It is interesting to note that in Makley’s fieldwork the word a khu “paternal uncle,” is used for monks in the same way that a ni is used for nuns. Nowhere else in my research have I seen the term a khu used to denote monks, a nd I have also never heard it used in conversation refe rring to monks. The entry for a khu in the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Dictionary designates the word as meaning paternal uncle but also defines the word as “a polite way of addressing a lama or notable in Amdo” (entry for “a khu,”, accessed March 20, 2009).


50 The appearance of a khu being used for monks may reflect a historical use of the term which retains its meaning only in Am do, or its usage may reflect a regional particularity. If this particular use of a khu does reflect a usage of the word which has died out in most areas of Tibet, using a khu for monastics may have died out because boys who became monks usually did not ha ve to stay in the household. Because monasteries were comparativ ely well-funded economically, monks left home to join monastic communities. No longer living in ho useholds, they did not refer to each other as “uncle” in the monasteries. It would also be understandable if this term fell out of usage because monks had possibilities for upward mobility within monasteries, and for this reason they would be referred to using a higher honorific register than “a khu.”28 Karma Lekshe Tsomo spoke to me about her own research on why a ni came to be used for nuns: And they [the nuns] would live in their family’s home and cook and clean and take care of the children, and then in the wintertime the family would give them some tsampa and then they could go off and do a few months of retreat, and the kids called them “auntie,” and it stuck. That’s as far as I can see from my research. Nunneries, in contrast with the monasteries, were far fewer in number and poorer than monasteries in Tibet and Tibet’s border re gions. Much more often than monks, nuns were confined to living at home where the address “a ni” became commonplace. Even the term cho mo may be taken from a household usage of the term cho wo (co bo), literally meaning “lord.” In Tibetan Civilization R.A. Stein writes, “The eldest brother is 28 I have found no documented evidence to explain the usage of a khu among Tibetan monastics throughout Tibet’s history. Theref ore, this hypothesis is me rely my own speculation. The logic of my reasoning comes from several Tibetan grammar lessons, in which my colloquial Tibetan teacher, Nicolas Tournadre, talked about Tibetan words or pronunciatio ns which are now regional but used to be widely used.


51 also set apart from the other brothers. The word that denotes him ( a-jo or jo-jo ) also means ‘father’. It is a respectful term whose primary meaning is ‘lord’ ( jo-bo ; feminine jo-mo ), or head of the family: a child sometimes calls his father pha-jo ‘father-lord’” (Stein 1972:95). Therefore, the use of the word cho mo used for nuns might also be derived from a kinship term which designates a hierarchically superior status within the household. Mackley writes of monastic and lay ge nder roles in her fieldwork experience: “Monasticism in Labrang was a third gender because it was a passage to a cultural status with its own social functions that was crucia lly designed by altered relationships to sex and sexuality. This passage was marked by rituals and the performance of a kind of monastic androgyny, that is, the adoption of a generic monastic costume that eschewed the emblems of gendered lay statuses—hair and hairstyles, ornaments and gendered dress” (2005:273). Makley writes that the “thi rd gender” of the monastic represented upward social mobility for women because it represented a form of gender-crossing: “As such, it represented upward social mobility, and thus it has historically been considered to be a socially possible or unde rstandable move that was nonetheless more vulnerable to failure than th at of monkhood” (2005:275). The ambiguous status of female renuncia tes in Tibetan Buddhism reflects their ambiguous gender role within Tibetan societie s. Biological sex and gender roles are in consort for Tibetan lay women, and becoming a nun represents a separation of gender and sex because they no longer have the social obligation to fulfill the roles of wife and mother. Because nuns have been considered to be a lesser “field of merit” to support in


52 the symbiotic relationship of lay and renunc iate communities, nuns have not been able to conform to the monastic ideal and therefore have oftentimes remained khyim pa serving a different social function within the household. The ambiguous category of a ni represents a linguistically recognized ge nder role for women who gave up the gender roles of lay life but were not able to fully co nform to the “third gender” of the monastic who has “left home.” My ethnographic data i ndicates that being born female continues to be regarded as a “low birth” for social reasons. However, the Jamyang Chling nuns, who are among the first Tibetan Buddhist nuns to receive a scholastic education, understand access to that education as the mo st important measure of social status.


53 Chapter Three: Practice as Habituation I will give away without a sense of loss My body and my resources As well as all my virtue from the past, present, and future For the welfare of all living beings ( ntideva in Tsong-kha-pa vol. 2, 2004:119). In The World of the Gift, Jacques T. Godbout describes the gift of organ donation as a “learned spontaneity”; intermediaries between donors and re cipients ensure the transmission of the gift, yet donors talk about the act of donating as “responding reflexively” rather than a rationally wagered decision. In this chapter, I present Tibetan Buddhism as a gift system in the modern world where religious practice is a form of “learned spontaneity” involving habituation to the gift ideal. While organ donation is an individual act which occurs in a relatively shor t period of time, the gift system of Tibetan Buddhism applies to social exchange in its en tirety and involves habituation across many lifetimes. At the heart of this Tibetan Buddhist gift system is the notion of bodhicitta, the aspiration to enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. I present both “experience-near” and “experience-distant”29 explanations for how this intention of bodhicitta is deliberately cultivated through habi tuation, which involves letting go of bad habits and cultivating good habits. Marcel Mauss was the first theorist to write about the gift. In The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, Mauss describes the gift as a form of social 29 In “On the Nature of Anthropological Understanding,” Clifford Geertz writes of “experience-near” and “experience-distant” concepts: “An experience-near co ncepts is, roughly, one wh ich someone – a patient, a subject, in our case an informant – might himself naturally and effortlessly use to define what he or his fellows see, feel, think, imagine, and so on, and wh ich he would readily understand when similarly applied by others. An experience-distant conc ept is one which specialists of one so rt or another – an analyst, an experimenter, an ethnographer, even a priest or an ideologist – employs to forward their scientific, philosophical, or practical aims” (1984:124).


54 solidarity in archaic societies, which promoted social security. According to Mauss, no gift is free or disinterested because all gift s are motivated by the desire for return. He describes the gift as a “total prestation” system, in which there is an obligation to give, receive, and reciprocate: “We intend in th is book to isolate one important set of phenomena: namely, prestations which are in theory voluntary, disinterested and spontaneous, but are in fact obligatory and in terested. The form usually taken is that of the gift generously offered; but the accomp anying behavior is formal pretence and social deception, while the transaction itself is based on obligation and economic selfinterest” (1967:1). Writing about the gift in the modern world, Godbout contrasts utilitarian motives with the motivation of the gift, whic h he defines by altruism. He contends that the gift’s altruistic motives cannot be reduc ed to the desire for economic benefit or power: “Such altruism can always be interp reted by the modern spirit as one more avenue to pleasure for the individual. But, at the very least, egoism that finds its pleasures in altruism is very different from the crude, prim ary egoism whose universality the modern ethos takes for granted” (1998:7). Godbout writes that the gift in the modern world is characterized by anonymity between givers and receivers, freedom to give, disinterestedness of givers non-mercantile debt and return, and spontaneity in the act of giving. While Mauss described the gift in archaic societies as mediated by networks of personal affinity, Godbout writes that the modern gift involves anonymity—the gift between strangers. Benevolent organization s founded on volunteer work, for example,


55 provide services most frequently to stranger s, and their services are offered to society as a whole. Godbout writes that “religio ns, Christianity especially, have always encouraged this sort of gift. The ‘love of the stranger’ is an essential tenet of Christianity, and the charitable gift is never restricted only to those near and dear. On the contrary, one’s neighbor is held to be all of humanity” (1998:77). The gift offered by benevolent organizati ons also differs from social exchange mandated by the state because these organizations provide service freely with no expectation of reciprocity. Godbout writes, “If there is no disinterested gift, there is still disinterestedness within the gift, in the sense that the gift is often given without thought of return. That is the most obvious differe nce between the gift and the state” (1998:96). The anonymous quality of social exchange mandated and mediated by the state differs from the gift’s anonymity; the legal requirement to pay taxes, for example, contrasts with the freedom associated with the gift. When individuals take initiative in serving, there is a freeing quality associated with the gift’s debt: “Liberation may also be achieved through a voluntary state of indebtedness” (Godbout 1998:50). Volunt eer workers and organ donors are two examples Godbout uses to explain this qualit y of the gift’s debt. As Godbout observes, “Volunteer workers experience a feeling of obligation towards the people they are helping, but also insist that pleasure is one of the prime motivating factors for their actions” (1998:74). About organ donors he writes, “The donor has gone beyond the stage of the spool and assumes the risk of lo sing. The gift is the transcendence of the


56 experience of loss. The grea ter the pleasure in giving the smaller the obligation imposed by the gift” (1998:183). Godbout defines mercantile exchange as a means-to-an-end relationship, where individuals are only interested in receivin g. This “accountism” thrives on mercantile equivalence, where elements of exchange are rendered for their worth value and then “paid off.” The gift, on the other hand, is a reverse of this system of “accountism” and allows individuals to “give without keepin g score.” Godbout maintains, “equivalence represents the death of the gift. It is a way to ‘put to an end’ the chain of the gift, to strip it of that tension which is its dyna mic. By the same token, the absence of equilibrium spells the end of a mercantile exchan ge” (1998:179). What the giver receives from the gift transaction is also different from the returns of mercantile exchange. The insistence of volunteer workers in that they receive more than they give “may seem strange in th e light of volunteer activity that has long been associated with the charitable gift and unpaid work; where there is, strictly speaking, no return. But this is only so in accounting or mercantile terms: there is no material return” (Godbout 1998:75). The joys volunteers receive from giving and the organ donor’s transcendence of an experien ce of loss are examples of nonmaterial returns. The interests, debt, and returns of the gift therefore do not conform to social exchange of the economic market. Godbout describes the spontaneity of the gi ft in two ways: first, spontaneity is defined by voluntariness, which contrasts with mercantile exchange and the state: “These forms of circulation of goods and services [of gift exchange] operate outside the


57 marketplace and independent of state redistribution; in other words they are completely voluntary and spontaneous” (G odbout 1998:62). Second, Godbout defines spontaneity as an absence of calculation and rationality: “The gift calls into question the utilitarian practice of calculating ‘pluses’ and ‘minuses.’ Doing so assumes that for a decision to be truly ‘human’ or ‘civiliz ed,’ it must be rational” (1998:94). Organ donation is an example of exchange which seems to initially represent a rationally-wagered, calculated act: interm ediaries between the donor and recipient ensure the transmission of the gift by convin cing individuals to do nate. Yet organ donors do not describe the actual act of donation as a wagered decision but rather insist that they “respond reflexively” (Etzioni in Godbo ut 1998:90). Therefore, Godbout argues, “decision” does not seem to characterize th is exchange: “We should make a distinction between choice and decision, and reserve the latter term for choices people make when they adopt a rational deliberative stance, weighing drawbacks and advantages” (Godbout 1998:90). He defines this quality of gift-giving in organ donation as a “learned spontaneity.” “An analysis of the gift calls into question the notion of difference between ‘them’ and ‘us,’” writes Godbout (1998:216) In mercantile exchange, motivation is characterized by satisfying one’s own want s without concern for the wants of others, while the motivation in gift exchange sees these two wants as inextricably connected or the same. It is within this understanding of the contrast between the motivation of the gift and the motivation of non-gift exchange that the religious practice of the Jamyang Chling nuns, as Mah y na Buddhist practitioners, can be understood as a gift system.


58 In Introduction to Tantra: The Transformation of Desire Lama Thubten Yeshe writes, “Shakyamuni Buddha referred to this condition of repeated dissatisfaction as samsara—a Sanskrit term meaning ‘to circle ,’—and prescribed many different methods for liberating ourselves from it. In the most well-known of his teachings the source of all our problems and disappointments is said to be ignorantly produced desire itself. Liberation, or nirvana, is achieved by comp letely uprooting all such craving desire from our heart” (2001:8, emphasis added). In this formulation of the causes of samsaric existence, the second of the Four Noble Truths explains that duhkha arises from desire, craving, and attachment associated with misconception about the nature of the self. Desires associated with this misconception are considered to be kle a a Sanskrit word meaning “disturbing emotions.” Yet the motivation of the bodhisattva, wh o desires to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all beings, is not considered kle a. Rather, “ignorantly produced desire” is symptomatic of the sickness, while the cause for liberation is described as inextricably connected to the welfare of all other se ntient beings. The practice of a Mah y na Buddhist involves generating the pure motivation of the bodhisattva, and this motivation is understood as the cause for ultimate happiness and liberation for others as well as the individual. In The World of Tibetan Buddhism: An Overview of Its Philosophy and Practice, The Dalai Lama states, “Thus, we find that kindness and a good heart form the underlying foundation for our success in this life, our progress on the spiritual path, and our fulfillment of our ultimate aspiration, the attainment of full enlightenment” (1995:65).


59 During my first visit to Jamyang Chling, Tenzin Drlma told me she wanted to write about the path of the bodhisattva in her life story: The person who has generated bodhicitta is a bodhisattva, and the practice of a bodhisattva is the practice of the six perf ections. In order to become enlightened, one must do three things: have renunci ation, develop bodhicitta, and understand right view. Attaining enlightenment is impossible if we only practice renunciation and bodhicitta; all three are necessary. Understanding the Buddhist teachings is not difficult. However, putting these teachi ngs into practice is the difficult part. In Tibetan Buddhism, having renunciation, developing bodhicitta, and understanding right view (the correct understanding of em ptiness) are called the “three principle aspects of the path.”30 I maintain that right view prov ides the philosophical basis which underlies this gift system. The bodhisattva is th e giver in this gift system, who generates bodhicitta for the sake of all sentient bein gs. Religious practice involves renouncing “worldly” pursuits, which are not in accord with this gift system. The third principle aspect of the Mah y na path pertains to the correct view of emptiness. This doctrine asserts that all th ings are “empty,” or devoid of, inherent existence or “existence from its own side” (in Tibetan, rang zhin rang bzhin). Tenzin Desal spoke to me of a M dhyamika understanding of emptiness by differentiating between inherent existence and conventional existence: “I am diffe rent from my mind, but I do not exist independently from my mind. My body is part of me, but my body is not me. And my mind is not me. I am there, ul timately empty of inherent existence. But yes, conventionally, I eat, I sleep, I cry, whatever.” 30 These principle aspects of the path are prerequisites for tantra in Tibetan Buddhism, and they are also described as pertaining to the persons of three levels of capacity. The three levels of capacity depend on the quality of the motivation of the practitioner. The in itial level refers to the person who wishes to attain a good rebirth, the intermediate level refers to the person who wishes for person al liberation from cyclic existence, and the highest level refers to the person who is motivated to become enlightened for the sake of all beings (Sonam Rinchen 1999: 141).


60 As the conversation with Tenzin Desal progressed, she talked about the transformation which follows a correct understanding of reality: Tenzin Desal: We cannot rea lly point to the mind. If we point it out somewhere, that is our ignorance, our self-grasp ing, because we cannot know the very ultimate reality of things. That shows that we see things as if they exist independently. JK: We perceive things as they exist independently? Tenzin Desal: We don’t really perceive—get it right. It’s making this distinction that is not there. In reality, everythi ng is connected to each other. Without everything connected to each other, noth ing exists. I can’t really point, “me is here.” When we point to anything as bein g totally disconnected to us, we make a compete misconception. We can start very simply, talking about a table, but this is actually really important. We are checki ng for the reality. We can then apply it to ourselves. We get stressed—it is beca use we don’t know this reality. If we know this reality, there is no point in getting angry, disappointed. If we know the reality, we would never make a mistake. Because of that we make an enemy. Who is “we”? And who are “them”? Everyo ne is “we.” There is no “they are there.” It’s kind of simple. As Tenzin Desal articulated, “perceiving” pr esupposes a subject and an object, when it is not possible to separate oneself from others. Understanding this truth allows practitioners to habituate themselves to the wa y things actually exist: “Everyone is ‘we.’ There is no ‘they are there.’” Generating bodhicitta involves developing the qualities of the giver in this Tibetan Buddhist gift system. Tenzin Desal explained to me that practicing tantra without having developed bodhicitta is “like a bird with only one wing”: You need to get ready with that [training in the sutra] before you enter the tantric path. You have to accumulate a lot of merit. Tantra without bodhicitta is like a bird with only one wing. You need special skills to meditate on emptiness. If you don’t have enough bodhicitta, in stead of getting full-enlightenment you will get arhatship.


61 This process of developing bodhicitta involv es establishing equanimity, which is an unbiased attitude toward all sentient beings, and then either developing affection for all living beings as loveable or developing great compassion for them (Sonam Rinchen 2000:91). Tenzin Drlma talked to me about developing bodhicitta and practicing equanimity in a conversation in Gharoh. Sh e told me, “If I wake up in the morning and think, ‘This is a good day. Life is very precious. Develop bodhicitta’—very important. Bodhicitta is thinking of others, not just oneself. The mind becomes very narrow if you only think about oneself. If you do not think in this way, the whole day will be wasted.” As she continued, she gave me a lesson on treating all people with equanimity: There are three kinds of people—friend, enemy and someone who is indifferent to us. If we think in this way, we are sad if our friend is sick. We don’t care if the person indifferent to us is sick. And if our enemy is sick, we are happy. But this understanding [of the three types of people ] is all in our mind. There are many lifetimes and this person who is my enem y was my mother in a past life. Over many lifetimes, they are all the same. But it is very difficult to practice in this way because it is not our experience in this life. Godbout writes that among benevolent organizations which involve giving between strangers, “there is a constant tende ncy, as we have seen, to narrow this gap [between strangers] and to personalize the relationship” (1998:72). In this Mah y na gift system, habituating oneself to the gift involves transforming the relationship one has with an enemy and an indifferent person into what is understood as the most personal relationship between two people—t he relationship between a mother and her child. In Tibetan Buddhism, the role of a mother is considered the prototype for compassion, and this understanding esta blishes the nonequivalence of exchange;


62 because all sentient beings have been every pe rson’s mother in a past life, practitioners constantly strive to repay this kindness wh ich has been given to them. One Tibetan proverb also describes the nonequivalence of exchange: “Even if we were to carry our parents on our backs for the rest of our lives, we would not be able to repay their kindness.” Renunciation in Buddhism is developing the wish to leave cyclic existence. Lama Thubten Yeshe writes that “The Tibetan term generally translated as ‘renunciation’ has the literal meaning of ‘definite emergence.’ It indicates a deep, heartfelt decision definitely to emerge from the repeated fr ustrations and disappointments of ordinary life” (Yeshe 2001:41). Renunciation involves gi ving up the pursuit of ordinary, “worldly” pleasures and attachments, which only provid e satisfaction within the present lifetime. Geshe Sonam Rinchen states, “Letting go of our preoccupation with the things of this life involves giving up the eight worldly conc erns, which in short depends on overcoming attachment to food, clothing, and reputatio n” (1999:50). “Worldly” concerns represent the antithesis of the gift. An interaction with Yanchen Wangmo demonstrated the aim to condition oneself in a way which releases attachment to worldly concerns and to “definitely emerge” from these concerns. I was drinking afternoon tea on the balcony with several of the Jamyang Chling nuns, and Yangchen Wa ngmo pointed to a red hair tie on my wrist and said that it was very nice.31 I took it off my wrist a nd put it on hers, telling her that she could have it. She tried to give it ba ck to me, saying “No, no.” When I insisted 31 I doubt that she knew it was for tying back hair an d assume that she liked it because it was the color red, which is the color of monastic robes.


63 that she keep it, she stated, “I am a very greedy nun.” She also tran slated a comment by Lobsang Ngawang for me: “She says that I have attachment to it.” The next day I explained the situation to Tenzin Shenpen, who told me, “In the Vin ya it says you should never say you like something with the motivation that you want it.” The gift in this Tibetan Buddhist gift system is between strangers; it is offered to all sentient beings. It is a free gift because individuals choose to enter into this religious path and can leave at any time. The gift is not motivated by mercantile interests; individuals enter into this religious path because they want to achieve enlightenment rather than for economic gain. The returns of the gift are nonmaterial; the ultimate return is complete enlightenment. Where this Tibetan Buddhist gift system differs from Godbout’s characterization of the gift in the modern world is in Godbout’s second definition of spontaneity—in his insistence that the gift is antithetical to calculation and rationality. Rationality is the defining feature of scholasticism, and this scholastic system of social exchange appeals to compassion wh ich is “rationally established”; practitioners understand through reasoning and habituation that ultimate benefit for oneself is dependent upon developing the pure mo tivation of the bodhisattva. In the Tibetan Buddhist scholastic tradition, having compassion and a calm mind is understood as a sign of intelligence which follows from correct reasoning. In the first of two public teachings of the Dalai Lama which I attended durin g my second stay in McLeod Ganj, the Dalai Lama was instructing us on “The Middling Stages of Meditation” by Kamalashila. As he spoke in Tibetan, I listened to the English translation on my


64 portable radio. My scribbled transcriptions of his talk describe the compassion of bodhicitta as “rationally established”: The root of enlightenment is compassion which gives rise to bodhicitta. There are two components of bodhicitta: concer n of others’ welfare and aspiring for Buddhahood. The first serves as a cause. Becoming fully enlightened oneself can help others. That kind of bodhicitta, as you ca n see, is rationally established. It is not selfish; it has a strong aspiration for fulfilling the welfare of others. Therefore, it is understood that compa ssion naturally results from the correct understanding of reality. In my fieldwork, the Jamyang Chling nuns did not talk about Buddhist practice using the rhetoric of “spontaneity” or “responding reflexively.” Rather, Buddhist practice was a realm of “familiarization,” “training,” and “habit,” where one strives to let go of negative habits and cultivate positive ones: religious practice involves habituating oneself to that gift ideal. A conversation with Lobsang Ngawang, the only Jamyang Chling nun from Tibet, pointed out the role of Buddhist training to transform one’s mind. I had been accompanying Lobsang Ngawang every morning to walk the kora (skor ba), which is the clockwise circumambulation through the park and around the main temple complex and the Dalai Lama’s residence. We had congen ial conversations on these morning walks, which were complicated by the fact that I could only understand about 20% of what she was saying; she spoke in Tibetan with a thick Kham accent and knew only a handful of English words. I had been hoping to interview Lobsang Ngawang, though I knew a translator would be needed. One evening over dinner, Lobsang Ngawang asked me what questions


65 I would ask in the interview, and Tenzin De sal did an on-the-spot translation for us. I told Lobsang Ngawang that I wanted to kn ow where she was from, why she became a nun, and why it was good to practice the Dharma. Tenzin Desal translated Lobsang Ngawang’s response: “It [Dharma practice] w ill benefit you at death.” The conversation between the two nuns continued for a few mi nutes until Tenzin Desal translated again for me: “She also used the word ‘ch’ [bco s] which sounds like the word for ‘Dharma’ but it is a verb. It is similar to ‘so’ [the ve rb ‘to make’], but it means ‘to make your mind.’ It means ‘to make your mind free from dist urbing emotions.’ We make dinner and so forth, and here we also make our own mind.” One afternoon in Gharoh, Tenzin Desal explained to me the narrow and broad meanings of gom (sgom), which is generally transl ated as “meditation.” The narrow meaning of gom she told me, refers to a meditation session in either of the two kinds of meditation described in Tibetan Buddhism— shi n (zhi gnas), translated as “calm abiding” or “single-pointed stabilization,” and lhag thong (lhag thong) which is analytical or “insight” meditation.32 The broad understanding of gom simply means “familiarization,” she explained. “You can ge t familiar with anything—to get to know it and to get used to it.” In a conversation a few days later, I asked Tenzin Desal what the practice of a Mah y na Buddhist is. She replied: Tenzin Desal: Training your mind. Prac tice patience, concentration, humble. To be compassionate. Step by step we can improve our mind—mental, physical, and verbal behavior. We need to improve the way we are speaking, thinking, walking. Improve the three doors: l (lus), ngag (ngag), yi (yid).33 32 These meditations are common to Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions, though the content of the insight differs. 33 Body, speech, and mind.


66 JK: When you are reading from your books and reciting mantras, are you meditating? Tenzin Desal: Yes. Meditation means fam iliarize ourselves with whatever we are doing. From our mouth, we say the pr ayer. Mind—thought on meaning of the text. Body—sit humbly and respectfully. All three you have to turn into positive. There are some people who can mediate while sleeping, for sure. “Experience-near” explanations of the role of gom in Tibetan Buddhist practice explicated in Tsong-kha-pa’s34 lam rim chen mo (lam rim chen mo), The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlighenment, further describe gom as familiarization which results from applying the teachings received from a teacher and conditioning oneself to those teachings. Tsong-kh-pa writes of gom as the third of she rab sum (shes rab gsum), the “three wisdoms,” which describe the accumulation of wisdom through three successive processes: the first of the three wisdoms is th (thos), meaning “hearing,” or “study”; the second wisdom is sam (bsam), meaning “thinking,” or “reflection”; and the third wisdom is gom The systematic progression of accumulati ng wisdom involves first studying with a teacher who is knowledgeable in the practice: th involves learning and habituating oneself through intellectual knowledge to th e words and concepts given to the student by the teacher. The content of th becomes the subject of sam in which a practitioner subjects these concepts to constant analys is and gains certainty through analytical 34 Tsong-kha-pa was born in 1357 in the Tibetan province of Amdo. He stressed the study of Indian Buddhist texts and importance of combining mona sticism with scholastic training. Tsong-kha-pa continued the scholastic trend that had started wi th the Ka-dam school, a nd he established Gandn monastery, the first of the three monastic seats (Dreyf us 2003:26). Though there is little evidence that he saw himself as a reformer (2003:342), Tsong-kha-pa is usually understood as the founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. His lam rim chen mo is an erudite and systematic synthesis of the entire Buddhist path, which he organized from the Indian Buddhist sources.


67 reflection. The content of sam then becomes the subject for gom (Tsong-kha-pa vol. 1, 2000:110) The goal of accumulating wisdom throug h study, reflection and meditation is that eventually the content of sam will disappear and the practitioner will have a direct, unmediated, nonanalytical cognition of emptiness. Under the subsection “Refuting Miscon ceptions About Meditation” of the lam rim chen mo Tsong-kha-pa quotes two other comment aries in order to further explain this concept of gom as a type of conditioning resulting from sustained analysis: Therefore, understand “meditation” as it is explained in Dharmamitra’s Clear Words Commentary (Prasphuta-pad ) : “Meditating” is making the mind take on the state or condition of the object of meditation. For example, “meditating on compassion” and “meditating on faith” mean that the mind must be made to develop thes e qualities. Because of this, even the great translators sometimes use the term “path of meditation,” and at other times use the term “conditioning,” as in the phrase from Maitreya’s Ornament for Clear Knowledge, “the paths of seeing and conditioning.” Conditioning and meditation are synonymous. Furthermore, Venerable Maitreya says: As for the branch of certain differentiation, The path of seeing, and the path of meditation, It is repeated reflection, compre hension, and definite discernment That constitute the path of meditation. Maitreya says that repeated reflec tion, comprehension, and definite discernment constitute the path of meditation for a Mah y na noble being. In light of this, it is ridiculous to claim that meditation and sustained analysis are contradictory (vol. 1, 2000:111). As it is explained by Tsong-kha-pa, re ligious practice therefore involves the accumulation of the three wisdoms of th sam and gom and gom can be translated as “familiarization,” or “conditioning.” Dreyfus writes of the central role of di scipline in Buddhist practice: “Our desires compel us to perform actions that we know to be bad. In or der to remedy this weakness, we need to develop the ability to differentiate between mere compulsions


68 and the inclinations we want to encour age because we judge them to be good. Such ability requires training to strengthen the necessary habits ” (2003:63, emphasis added). The Jamyang Chling nuns seemed to live in a world of habits ; they talked about good habits, bad habits, cultivating habits, and freeing their minds from the grasp of habits. There were even habits which surrounded th e use of the various Tibetan words for “habit.” The nuns frequently used the English word “habit” in conversations with me. While “habit” in English has no particular bad or good connotations, during my fieldwork I learned that there are two different ways to talk about habits in Tibetan, one of them pertaining to good habits and the other pert aining to bad habits. Looking back at my field notes and interviews, in some cases it is clear whether the English word “habit” was used in a particularly good or bad way. For example, Tenzin Drlma spoke with me about the effect of habits on one’s mind in an informal conversation at Gharoh: Mind is very wide if we know Dharma. If we don’t know Dharma—narrow mind. These days many people narrow mind. Th ey are anger; they make decisions to kill themselves. It is very important to have knowledge about Buddhism. One day you have problem, then it is very difficult. Also getting old. At this time if they are not generous mind, condition is very ba d. If I become older, at that time if my family will not give food, if I don’ t know Dharma, then very unhappy. If I know Dharma, I know this is about my past life. I can have compassion if they do something wrong because I know cause a nd effect. Later, they will collect their karma. They will have results of karma from past lives. Because we know about karma and past lives we can meet the situation with compassion. Mind is like a stone [she makes a fist] if we become co mfortable in habits. I will die in 60 years. Death is getting closer and closer—become more afraid. Their mind also changes. Why do we collect bad ka rma? We must help other people. In this situation, “habits” are understood as bad because they make the mind narrow and stone-like.


69 Successive conversations with Tenzin Desal about the difference between the Tibetan words sem (sems) and nying (snying) illustrated a neutral use of the term “habits.” Early in my fieldwork, I asked Tenzin Desal if she had been talking about the Tibetan word sem or nying when she told me that gom means to become familiar with the mind.35 She told me that “ sems means mind, familiar means khom [khoms], heart means nying .” During my colloquial Tibetan class the previous summer, I had been told that Tibetans generally point to their chests when they talk about sems rather than to their heads, as most Westerners do when they talk about the mind I wanted to test this question on Tenzin Desal, so I asked her where the sems is located. From her giddy response I immediately knew that I had falle n susceptible to an obvious Buddhist joke. “Can you pinpoint it ?” she asked me with anticipation. I told her that in the West people usually point to their head, and as I said this, I pointed to my head. “It is your forehead! ” Tenzin Desal exclaimed, and she broke into he r characteristic explosive laughter, which I would come to know very well over the course of my fieldwork. Two months later, Tenzin Desal and I we re talking in her room at Tara Guest House. She was wearing a fleece sweater, wh ich she zipped up to cover the bottom half of her face in the cold winter air. I told he r that by looking only at her forehead, I could not distinguish her from any other monk or nun. Tenzin Desal t ook this comment and continued our conversation which had started months ago: “Is my forehead me? Ok, we are debating” she said playfully. “Are my ha nds me? What if I cut them off? We are 35 There are several words in Tibetan which can a ll be translated as “min d” or “consciousness”: sem (sems), yi (yid), nam she (rnam shes), and she pa (shes pa). nying (snying) generally means “heart” or “essence” but can also be translated as “mind.” When asked, some of the nuns had difficulty describing the difference between sems and nying.


70 people of aggregates. We can hear, we ca n see, we have consciousness,” she said. Tenzin Desal laughed when I again pointed to my head as she said the word “consciousness”: “Is your consciousness here ?” she asked. Remembering the trap I fell into months ago, I was not goin g to make that same mistake: “No, it’s just my habit to point here,” I replied.36 Her response indicated that I had passed her test: “Ok. If you ask me where it is, it is my habit to point here [she pointed to her chest] for consciousness and here [she pointed to her head] for memory.” I also heard the nuns use the English word “imprints,” which are dispositions or “residues of the mind” which carry on into one’s next life. For example, Janine once asked Tenzin Desal if she was a Buddhist from birth. Tenzin Desal replied, “Why not? We have some imprints of compassion as babies.” The English word “imprints” corresponds to the Tibetan word bag chag (bag chags). In Tibetan, bag means “feeling” or “state of mind” (entry for “bag,” http://www.t, accessed April 21, 2009), and chags is an involuntary or uncontrollable verb form me aning “to do,” “to be,” or “to become.”37 These dispositions are neutral, but they can be developed in positive or negative ways. In a formal interview, Tenzin She npen explained to me the meaning of bag chags as she talked about the circumstances in which she became a nun. Though she was living in Dharamsala when she made the deci sion, Tenzin Shenpen’s mother wanted her to spend some time at home in Germany before she took the novice vows. When Tenzin 36 This conversation took place late in my fieldwork. From my earlier interactions with the nuns who used the word “habit” frequently in conversation, I had also started using the word in conversation. I appealed to “habit” in this circumstance spec ifically because it seemed like a cu lturally meaningful term to them and also because I thought it would “get me off the hook”—It did. 37 In Tibetan, verbs are categorized as either controlla ble or uncontrollable actions. For example, “to see” is an uncontrollable verb while “to look at” is a controllable verb. The controllable form of chag is che (byed).


71 Shenpen came home, she started a relationsh ip again with her high school boyfriend and decided that becoming a nun was not for her. However, she had already made the decision to go back to Dharamsala and help out at the library at Tushita Meditation Center. When she came back to Dharamsala however, Tenzin Shenpen took novice ordination within the month. I asked Tenzin Shenpen what made he r change her mind: Tenzin Shenpen: Well, it was like, when I went home there were very strong imprints. You know, when they talk about im prints? It just all came back, as if I had never left. But when I came back [to Dharamsala] again, everything that had happened here all came back very clearly. So it was al most as if I had not gone back to Germany. So it was like, in this environment I was this, in this environment I was something else. It was that strong. That’s why after that I made a point of not going home for th ree years—because I was so scared. JK: What do they say about imprints? Tenzin Shenpen: Imprints means…like ever y time you do something it leaves a residue in your mind, right? It leaves something there. It’s called an imprint because it’s like an imprint in the snow. It’s sometimes called predisposition or something. It’s like if you do something—yo u paint in this lifetime, and you use it in a constructive way, you’re likely to pa int really well in the next lifetime. If you’re a painter and you’re really good at painting, and you’ve studied it a lot and you don’t use it to harm someon e—because the ability can be reversed otherwise. Then in your next life, yo u know…Why do some kids, you know, like musicians have an early talent for certain things? These are all imprints. Tibetans explain everything with imprints in that wa y. Or you’re able to pick up a language very easily. Whatever it is, it’s all imprin ts. So whatever we do now, it’s not lost. Whatever we do leaves a residue. It’s lik e, a butterfly moving his wings can have some influence on so many things, right? The Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Di ctionary defines the compound word bag chag as “karmic (traces, residues, impressions) unconscious (inclinations, dispositions, habituations, propensities, tendencies, predis positions), past expe riences, experience potentialities (inveterate, habitual, basic, unc onscious), tendencies, experiential traces, habitual working of ignorance, experiential ly initiated potentialities of experience”


72 (entry for “bag chags,” http://www.thdl.o rg, accessed April 21, 2009). From Tenzin Shenpen’s explanation of the painter or mu sician, these karmic residues can manifest themselves within or across lifetimes if they ar e put to constructive use. If they are used in harmful ways, “the ability can be reversed.” Therefore, although “imprints” describes any habitual latency, it is good to encourag e good imprints and let go of bad imprints from a religious perspective. On another occasion talking with Tenzin Desal, I learned the difference between the Tibetan words gom shi (goms gshis), meaning “habit,” and gya lang (sgyag slang), meaning “bad habit.” Tenzin Desal had taught me these words after an instance when I had asked her to speak more slowly because her spoken Tibetan was too quick for me to understand. “ng gya lang re,” she told me (“It ’s my bad habit”). Over the course of my fieldwork, I noticed that the nuns used gya lang often when referring to themselves but gom shi when they were talking about the habits of other people. On one occasion while I was staying in Gharoh, an Indian man had come to the nunnery early in the morning and was yelling loud enough to be heard all over the grounds: “I want to speak to Mr. Tenzil! [H e misspoke the name ‘Tenzin.’]” Later that day when Tenzin Pema and I were walking to the bus stop to travel back to Dharamsala, she pointed to the fields to her left and told me that the Indian man lived in that direction. I told Tenzin Pema, “khong k ch en po re” (“He was very loud”). “khong gi gom shi re,” she told me (“It’s his habit”). Because I had just recently learned the two different words for “habit” in Tibetan, I was pleased to have the opportunity to use my new vocabulary: “khong gi gya lang re,” I said (“It’s his bad habit ). Tenzin Pema laughed


73 at my comment, but she did not use the word gya lang to refer to the Indian man. In general, gya lang was used when Jamyang Chling nuns spoke of themselves—having a habit of eating too much, for example—but when I complained to the nuns about the young monks next door who had a habit of staring at me outside on the balcony during meal times, I always got the response “They are not bad. It’s just their gom shi .” There is a well-known Tibetan thang ka (thang ka)38 painting depicting the nine stages of shi n which lead up to the practice of lhag thong The painting shows a monk walking the path of meditation with an elephant, which represents the monk’s mind, and a monkey, which represents distraction. The monk holds an axe and a rope in his hands, which represent vigilance and mindful ness. The mind is completely untamed in the early stages of meditation. The elephant is colored blue, representing dullness, and the monk chases after his mind, which is following the monkey. Throughout the different stages of meditation, the monk be comes closer to his mind and the elephant changes from blue to white, indicating that the monk is overcoming dullness. When he reaches the seventh stage of meditation, the monk no longer holds the axe of vigilance or the rope of mindfulness; his meditative po wers are strong enough that he does not need them to maintain stability in meditation. His meditation arises with ease (and, one could say, spontaneity). During the eighth stage the monk walks in front and the elephant follows obediently. In the ninth and final stage, the monk is sitting in meditation with the elephant by his side. 38 A traditional scroll painting.


74 Figure 3 After the monk has completed the stages of shi n he begins the path of lhag thong indicated by the rainbow path which exte nds into the sky. Riding on top of his mind, the achievement of the nine stages of shi n becomes the vehicle for attaining higher stages of realization. The monk uses his mind to accomplish the wisdom of insight achieved in analytical meditation. The accomplishment of insight is represented by the monk holding the sword of wisdom, wh ich cuts through false views. The role of religious training in Tibetan Buddhism is th erefore described as conditioning practiced


75 through shi n and lhag thong until the qualities of these meditations manifest effortlessly. In his explanation of three “primal ontological categories,” philosopher Charles Pierce provides concepts for an “experiencedistant” explanation for the cultivation of habit in relation to the gift. Pierce’s th ree categories are firstness, secondness, and thirdness. Firstness is a quality of being whic h is not in contrast to something else: Imagine, if you please, a consciousness in which there is no comparison, no relation, no recognized multiplicity (since parts would be other than the whole), no change, no imagination of any modifica tion of what is positively there, no reflection—nothing but a simple positive character. Such a consciousness might be just an odor, say a smell of attar; or it might be one infinite dead ache; it might be the hearing of a piercing eternal whistle. In short, any simple and positive quality of feeling would be something which our description fits that it is such as it is quite regardless of anythi ng else (Pierce in Desjarlais 1997:129). Robert Desjarlais writes that the attribut es of Pierce’s category of firstness are “freshness, presentness, immediacy, newness, originality, freedom, spontaneity; it has no unity and no parts” (1997:129). Seco ndness, on the other hand, requires two elements of interaction. It is a category of effort, dyadic tension, and opposition (1997:129). Thirdness refers to a category in which th e dyadic structure of secondness is brought into a higher form of relationality. This category is characterized by habit, purpose, reasonableness, regularity, order, and is a moral dimension (1997:130). Given Godbout’s classification of differen t types of social exchange, the gift is characterized by the freshness, immediacy, and spontaneity of firstness. Non-gift social exchange, on the other hand, is characterize d by secondness in which exchange involves oppositional wants. Cultivating the pure motivation of the bodhisattva involves developing positive habits of body, speech and mind and letting go of negative habits.


76 Thirdness therefore involves adding another element of relationality—habituation—in order to bring about the category of firstne ss. Through habituation, the gift element of social exchange arises effortlessly, or sponta neously. Given this formulation, calculation and habit are not antithetical to the gift but rather are the apparatus by which practitioners are conditioned to the gift’s form of social exchange. In formal and informal interviews, Jamy ang Chling nuns spoke of a difference in the quality of interaction among Buddhists in Dharamsala and the quality of interaction when they go home to their villages. One af ternoon talking over lunch, I asked Tenzin Drlma if she talks to her family often. She told me that she talks on the phone with her family, but not very often: “They always tell me about news—good and bad things. I don’t like this kind of talk.” In a formal interview, I asked Yangchen Wangmo who are the people she feels closest to. She responded, “Our teachers I am always thinking is very kind. Then also our classmate. We stay together almost twen ty years. It’s very important—then our sisters and brothers. We go to holidays some days and talking about other things. Not talking about Dharma Not much good for me, yeah.” Tenzin Yongten similarly compared life in Dharamsala to life in her village: I am very good karma here. Then I go to winter vacation in my village, and there people are all talking with me: “Whe n did you come here? We have this suffering. We are very difficult. My daught er is not good, my son is not good. My health is not good. They are doing wrong. ” Then I am coming suffering [laughs]. Really! I stay in my village and here, very different. This feeling is very different— really. This quality of the life of lay people de scribes Pierce’s notion of secondness; suffering is a function of outside forces acting on the person, where people suffer when they are ill and do not get what they want. In contrast, the Dalai Lama was always talked


77 about as the prototype example for enlighten ed behavior in the midst of difficult circumstances. In a formal interview, Tenzin Drlma told me that practicing the Dharma improves the mind, and she used the Dalai Lama as an example for enlightened behavior in relation to the Tibetan-Chinese conflict: If His Holiness don’t know Dharma very well, he become crazy. Like this time, very difficult time. Chinese come Tibet, then no freedom. Sometimes fighting, problem come. He is good. He is, ho w to say…Buddhist monk and Buddhist student—good student. Then he know Dharma very well. He pr actice everything. Then—never mind! People is fighting and everything, more problem come, but not unhappy. Training the mind, then mind is very strong. If he not practice Dharma, then he become very unhappy. A significant part of my fieldwork was spent trying to understand how the Jamyang Chling nuns talked about Buddhist pr actice. I found that practice was a realm of “familiarization,” “imprints,” and “habit.” Buddhist practice is distinguished from the “learned spontaneity” of organ donation a nd other examples presented by Godbout in that the process of habituating oneself to the gift ideal is a very long process involving many lifetimes. Buddhist practice involves cult ivating positive “imprints,” which carry on into future lives. These positive habits will eventually manifest themselves with ease, effortlessly. The behavior of the Dalai Lama was understood as the ultimate role model for enlightened behavior, and his behavior exemplifies this Buddhist gift system. One evening in Tenzin Desal’s room, she spoke of an interview she had recently seen with the Dalai Lama. In the interview, the repo rter had asked the Dalai Lama whether he thought that anyone was plotting to kill him: “His Holiness thought really carefully and said…‘Who would do it? I have no enemie s.’” Recalling this comment, Tenzin Desal broke out into her infectious laughter.


78 Figure 4 Figure 5


79 Figure 6 Figure 7


80 Figure 8 Figure 9


81 Figure 10 Figure 11


82 Figure 12 Figure 13


83 Figure 14


84 Chapter Four: Emotion Management This chapter presents emotion as a commodity of Tibetan Buddhist gift exchange, where feeling functions as a clue to indicate the strength or weakness of one’s religious practice. The Mah y na Buddhist notion of “skillful means” provides a model for appropriate emotional behavior; action is based in bodhicitta but appears in various forms—sometimes wrathful—to meet th e needs of sentient beings. At Jamyang Chling, “being emotional” in general was considered inappropriate, while appropriate emotion was based in nonattachment a nd compassion. In socially-accepted circumstances, however, it was understood that the display of emotion should be different from the underlying intent. I presen t an incident in which I mistook a heated argument for a Tibetan Buddhist debate as an attempt to utilize a socially-accepted display of emotion in a circumstance when it was not acceptable to be emotional. The words “feeling,” “emotion,” “experie nce,” “subjectivity,” “selfhood,” and “personhood” have sometimes been used in anthropological and philosophical discourse to evoke a “language of inwardness.” In Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity Charles Taylor writes, “In our languages of self-understanding, the opposition ‘inside-outside’ plays an importan t role. We think of our thoughts, ideas, or feelings as being ‘within’ us, while the obje cts in the world which these mental states bear on are ‘without’. Or else we think of our capacities or potentialities as ‘inner’, awaiting the development which will manifest them or realize them in the public world” (Taylor 1992:111). In hi s introduction to The Anthropology of Experience, Edward M.


85 Bruner states the assumption which ties “experience” to notions of visibility, individuality, immediacy, and authenticity: “What comes first is experience” (1986:4). Yet anthropological theory also provid es tools for exploring how these “self understandings” are culturally constitu ted. Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of doxa provides a model for questioning the unquestioned: “Bec ause the subjective necessity and selfevidence of the commonsense world are valid ated by the objective consensus on the sense of the world, what is essential goes without saying because it comes without saying ” (1994:163, emphasis in original). For Clifford Geertz, “Human thought is consummately social: social in its origins, social in its functions, social in its forms, social in its applications. At base, thinking is a public activity” (1973:360). Exploring the management of emotion as an element of social exchange brings emotion into a realm of discourse where “private” and “pub lic” are not discrete categories. In The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling Arlie Russell Hochschild writes about emotion as a commodi ty of social exchange: “In psychological ‘bowing,’ feeling rules provide a baselin e for exchange” (1983:76-77). Hochschild studied the commoditization of emotion among Delta Airlines flight attendants and other occupations which involve face-to-face contact with customers. The management of emotion can involve both “surfa ce acting,” in which workers act as if they had a feeling and “deep acting,” in which workers directly or indirectly exhort feeling. Hochschild specifies, “I use the term emotional labor to mean the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display; emotional labor is sold for a wage and therefore has exchange value I use the synonymous terms emotion


86 work or emotion management to refer to these same acts done in a private context where they have use value” (1983:7). A ppropriate and inappropriate emotions constitute “feeling rules,” which correspond to payment or mispayment of what is due in social exchange (1983:83). I will use “emotional labor” to refer to mercantile exchange and “emotion management” to refer to gift exchange. Wh en emotion is a commodity of mercantile exchange, feeling is an exploitative tool of the institutional establishment. Hochschild states that “emotional labor” poses a threat to the worker’s sense of self: “the worker can become estranged or alienated from an aspect of self…that is used to the work” (1983:7). She maintains that the difficulties associated with habituating oneself to “feeling rules” result in employees losing ei ther the signal function of feeling or the signal function of display ( 1983:17). In the first circumstance the “feeling rules” used in the workplace become “naturalized” to the point where these rules frame the employees’ personal lives as well as their pr ofessional lives. In the second circumstance, employees cannot bring themselves to produc e the commodity which is required of the work—the “authentic” smile, for example.39 Hochschild states that the danger for i ndividuals who employ “emotional labor” lies in becoming the role that they play in the workforce (1983:195). In contrast to this 39 An effective strategy for employers to maximize thei r own profits is to feign a gift system of exchange by insisting that the company’s wants also reflect the employees’ wants. A quote Hochschild uses from a Delta Airlines Recurrent Training instructor describes this strategy. The instructor told a room of trainees: “Dealing with difficult passengers is pa rt of the job. It makes us angr y sometimes. And anger is part of stress. So that’s why I’d like to talk to you about be ing angry. I’m not saying yo u should do this [work on your anger] for Delta Airlines. I’m saying you should do it for the passengers. I’m saying do it for yourselves ” (Hochschild 1983: 113, brackets and emphasis in original). According to this instructor, the company’s wants reflect everybody’s wants—the employer, the customers, and the employee.


87 mercantile form of exchange, individuals pa rticipate in the “emotion management” of gift exchange because they ultimately want to become the role they are playing when they utilize “deep acting.” Among Jamyang Chling nuns, “emotion management” involves the habituation of feeling to the gi ft ideal and has soteriological use value. “Feeling rules” at the nunnery distinguish emotion which is the result of “worldly” concerns from emotion which is th e result of religious training. Hochschild states, “Feeling as it sponta neously emerges acts for better or worse as a clue. It filters out evidence about the self-relevance of what we see, recall, or fantasize” (1983:28). Emotion provides clues to one’s own assumptions about the world. Hochschild writes that “feeling is the essential clue that a certain viewpoint, even though it may need frequent adjustment, is alive and well” (1983:30). She contends that the displays of others’ feelings also provid e useful clues in inferring their viewpoints (1983:30). I argue that among the Jamyang Ch ling nuns, the self-relevance of feeling pertains to soteriological pursuits, where em otion is a clue to the strength or weakness of one’s religious practice. Tenzin Shenpen talked to me about cust oms associated with nonattachment in Tibetan society in a conversation early in my fieldwork. She told me, “In the West it is rude if you don’t open a pres ent and comment on it in front of the person. Here, you are not supposed to have attachment to it, and so you put it aside as if you don’t care about it.” Later in the conversation Tenzin She npen talked about the avoidance of talking about emotions in Tibetan culture: “In the West, people talk about their emotions and work through them. Here, the emotional is never mentioned. Certain emotions are


88 acceptable, other emotions are not acceptab le. For example, when someone dies [in Tibetan society], you say to the other person, ‘D on’t cry!’ but it really means, ‘I hope you get better.’” Nearly all Tibetans are Buddhists, and th is cultural custom of not displaying emotion and being nonattached directly relates to religious habituation.40 In this Tibetan Buddhist scholastic tradition, “being emotiona l” in general was considered irrational and an indication of “worldly” preoccupations or not properly integrating the Buddhist teachings. Nonattachment and compassion we re considered appropriate because they were understood to be based in rationality. The Jamyang Chling nuns talked about the times when they left home to join nunneries as an emotional time, though they of ten laughed at themselves or each other when recounting their emotional reactions. For example, one evening in Gharoh, a younger nun came into the room which Tenzin Desal, Tenzin Pema and I shared to talk and have dinner with us. She was thirteen ye ars old and from Sikkim, a small, ethnically Tibetan state in the northeastern part of India. The young nun told me she had been living at Jamyang Chling for two years and that she liked staying at the nunnery very much. I asked her if she missed her family, and she told me that she does from time to time. When she asked me if I cry sometimes because I miss my family, Tenzin Desal and Tenzin Pema broke into boisterous laughter, as if the thought of crying because one has 40 These comments indicate that “fee ling rules” associated with religio us training and “feeling rules” which reflect Tibetan culture in general are intertwined in Tibetan society. My own time spent in the field was not sufficient for me to gain an understanding of how the Jamyang nuns distinguished between these two categories of “feeling rules,” if at all. I believe th at I would need to spend a significant amount of time living among the nuns to gain real insight into this distinction.


89 left one’s family were ridiculo us. In my formal interviews with the senior nuns, however, many of them admitted to having cried wh en they left home to join nunneries. Tenzin Drlkar told me that she became sick when she first moved to Dharamsala because she missed her life as a nomad so much. In the Himalayan border regions, religious life is a mix of Buddhism a nd other local religious beliefs and customs. Three of the nuns told me about their local village gods called yl lha, who have magical powers and take care of individual villages. Villagers ask the yl lha when they want something—a good harvest, for example. The yl lha have special shrines in the villages, and one villager is usually assigned to take care of the shrine. Tenzin Drlkar told me that when she came to Dharamsala, she became very sick because the yl lha from her village was thinking of her and wanted her to come back. I had asked Tenzin Drlkar how her life was different when she came to Dharamsala: Tenzin Drlkar: Very different. When I liv ed here I didn’t know Tibetan, I didn’t know Hindi. When I lived here, I thought, why I coming here? Very difficult for my life. I’m always thinking [about] my fr iend [in my village]. All my friend in the nomad. My friend is all my same age, all gi rls. All my friends is the girls and stay in the mountain. And we always stay together, yeah. Morning to night and working together. I really miss my friend. Then I thought, why I’m coming here? At that time I didn’t know Hindi and Tibetan. If I now go to back I really want to go back. But that time I didn’t know anything. I must stay. Then when I’m asleep in my dream, all my friends [appeared in my dreams], always. Then also sheep. You know sheep? And goat. Yeah, always in dream. Because I always stay with there. Then after one month I am very sick Then I went to high lama. Then high lama, then he said, in my village we have something… yl lha. He’s in our village, we some have some there. At that time I re spect, really respect. Then he or she, I don’t know, they thinking me, I think. JK: They were thinking of you? Tenzin Drlkar: Yeah. [At that time I thou ght] I must to go back. Then I am doing puja, yeah, doing prayer for them [the yl lha ]. Then after a few days, ok.


90 All of the nuns who talked to me about yl lha in their villages emphasized that these gods are still in samsara; although yl lha have magical powers, they are not liberated from cyclic existence. The nuns co ntrasted preoccupation with these worldly gods who can only benefit a person within a single lifetime with the teachings of the Buddhadharma, which are important across lifetimes. This difference in being preoccupied with worldly matters and imme rsing oneself in Dharma practice also reflected Tenzin Drlkar’s emotional life. As she mentioned, her emotional difficulty when she first came to Dharamsala was due to her village yl lha thinking of her. This sickness was remedied, however, by doing Buddhist prayer. Lobsang Ngawang was considered by all the other nuns to be hot-tempered. She was the only nun who was from Tibet, a nd she was from the province of Kham.41 The other nuns talked about her moods as being i rrational. As Tenzin Desal told me: “Her moods change very quickly for no reason.” Another evening, Tenzin Desal criticized Lobsang Ngawang’s emotions concerning the Tibetan-Chinese issue. She told me, “Even if you are not a Tibetan you can be involved. I am not a Tibetan, but I feel something. But we have to be smart. Some people get so emotions Then they say, ‘We will be liberated!’ and they don’t have any idea about the real facts.” This criticism of Lobsang Ngawang’s “i rrational” emotions contrasted greatly with Tenzin Desal’s playful mannerisms with me after I had cried one day in her room while watching The Unwinking Gaze a documentary about the Dalai Lama. During the movie, the Dalai Lama was meeting with a gr oup of Tibetan refugees who had recently 41 Tibetans from Kham are generally considered among other groups of Tibetans to be very aggressive.


91 arrived from Tibet. An old man from the gro up of refugees told the Dalai Lama that he only had a few days to live. The Dalai Lama told the old man that everybody must die, and he instructed the man in how to visualize oneself emerging from the head at the moment of death and merging with one’s guru. The Dalai Lama told the man to “pray that you are reborn somewhere close to me, and I will pray for the same.” Tenzin Desal and I were eating lunch while watching th e film. When she looked over and saw me crying, Tenzin Desal burst into laughter. “Eat your food!” she told me, and she gave me a friendly shove. For the entire week after this incident, Tenzin Desal talked about how I was “so cute.” She goaded me, asking, “What did the Dalai Lama say to the old man?” and persisted until I answered the question. I sugge sted to Tenzin Desal that she probably never cried. “No, sometimes I cry quite ea sily,” she admitted. “There is a movie I watched yesterday which made me cr y.” The documentary was titled Leaving Fear Behind. It was made by a Tibetan man name d Dhondup Wangchen who interviewed rural Tibetans from the eastern parts of Tibet before the Olympic Games in China. Tenzin Desal and I watched the documentary to gether that day, and she showed me the part where she had cried. At this part in the documentary, Dhondup Wangchen was showing a group of elderly Tibetans a recent video of the Dalai Lama, at which point the Tibetans got up from their seats and prostrat ed to the television screen. Although the Jamyang Chling nuns generally regarded sh owing emotion as inappropriate, these interactions with Tenzin Desal indicate that it is acceptable to be emotionally moved by the presence of the Dalai Lama.


92 In Mah y na Buddhism, the bodhisattva is the archetype for appropriate action. Bodhisattvas do not always appear as compa ssionate, however, and instead may appear in wrathful forms. The word thab (thabs) in Tibetan (up ya in Sanskrit) can be translated as “method,” “means,” or “skillful means” a nd refers to the diverse methods employed Figure 15 by buddhas and bodhisattvas to help sentie nt beings reach enlightenment. Williams writes of the advanced bodhisattva: “being selfless he turns over all his stock of merit, the result of his many virtuous deeds, for the benefit of others. He develops ‘skillin-means’ (or ‘skillful means’ – up ya ), the ability to adapt himself and his teachings to


93 the level of his hearers, without attachment to any particular doctrine or formula being necessarily applicable in a ll cases” (1989:51). Mahakala is a prototype example of a being who employs “skillful means”; he is a wrathful manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion (see Figure 15). The notion of “skillful means” provides a way of talking about an apparent disparity between the underlying intention of bodhisattvas and their varied appearances in the world. Two circumstances in my fieldwork indicated socially-acceptable circumstances in which cultivating appropri ate emotion required the display of emotion to be different from the underlying intent. The first was in philosophical debate, where it was socially acceptable to utilize aggre ssion. The second was an incident in which I was receiving unwanted romantic attention from the trul ku the reincarnate lama who was living at Jamyang Chling. This circumst ance necessitated the display of anger in response to this socially unacceptable situation. I had never seen Tibetan Buddhist philosophi cal debate until I went to Gharoh to help the senior Jamyang Chling nuns prepar e for the tournament. In the days leading up to the tournament, most of the nuns sp ent long hours cutting grass by hand and sickle while Tenzin Desal and I prepared a new computer room to provide the nuns with internet access. One morning a few days late r, I was studying Tibetan when I heard the nuns begin to chant outside my door in the co urtyard. I thought it was strange that they were chanting morning puja outside instead of in the assembly hall. The chanting ended and I continued to study Tibetan, but the no ise outside my room gradually grew louder, making it more difficult for me to concentr ate. It sounded like a playground with people

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94 yelling and clapping hands. I finally had to put my text book down to see what the commotion was. The nuns were on the lawn debating in pairs. I was immediately struck by the stylization of Tibetan philosophical debate, which seemed to encourage aggressiveness in the body language of the different debate roles. Challengers stood over defenders, Figure 16 who sat on cushions on the ground in the characteristic “humble” position. When a challenger proposed a question, she stepped forward with the left foot and slapped her

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95 left hand with the right.42 Challengers held their treng wa (phreng ba), or prayer beads, on the left arm. When they slapped their hands together, the challengers grabbed the beads with their right hand and wrapped the beads again around their left elbow. After debating in pairs, the nuns broke into groups according to school class. In these larger groups, two defenders sat on the ground responding to the questions, and onlookers gathered around the debate, listeni ng intently. Sometime s a Geshe teacher helped the debaters by prompting their answ ers. Other times the teachers challenged the nuns directly, jumping into a debate themse lves. In larger groups, the stylization of Figure 17 42 I noticed that nuns almost always did this clapping gesture whenever they talked about debate. In fact, as I learned myself over the course of my fieldwor k, it was difficult to talk about debate without performing this gesture.

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96 the debate became more apparent as the challengers posed questions, recited quotes from texts, clapped hands, and egge d the defenders on all in unison. As the debates progressed, the nuns became more physically, vocally, and emotionally involved in the spectacle; chal lengers towered over the defenders as if scolding a small child, yelling at the defende rs and occasionally shoving each other. When the challengers yelled and clapped in uni son, it sounded like an army narrowing in on its target. The end of the debates wa s the most aggressive time, when the challengers closed in on their argument a nd the defenders often had difficulty giving prompt answers. I was astonished to watch the fervor with which these nuns, who were usually too shy to speak with me, utilized aggressiveness in philosophical debate. One evening during the debate tournament weeks later, Tenz in Drlma taught me that the display of aggressiveness is an important part of the learning process, though the nuns should ideally be nonattached to the display. Tenz in Drlma and I were walking back to our rooms from the assembly hall after an evenin g debate. We talked about one particular challenger from Nepal who had been very aggr essive in the debate. “khong dro lang re,” I said (“She was angry”). “No khong dro lang ,” Tenzin Drlma insisted. “If we are standing like this [she makes a shy gesture], we don’t improve. If we are this way [she makes a fist] we can learn. The nuns who ar e that way improve intelligence.” Then as we left each other’s company to go to our rooms, she told me, “Well, maybe khong dro lang but it’s a good kind.”

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97 Hochschild writes that emotion is a way of knowing about the world. She writes about a television sports ne wscaster who was talking about a women’s tennis match: “He had seen a women tennis player miss a sh ot (it was a net ball), redden in the face, stamp her foot, and spank the net with her racket. From this he inferred that the woman ‘really wants to win’” (1983:31). As Tenzin Drlma told me, the display of emotion in philosophical debate indicates to others that the nun wants to learn. The strength of the debater was talked about in relation to her bodily movements. In a conversation when Tenzin Shenpen and I were talking about the aggressiveness of some debaters, she told me, “The really good deba ters I know are actually slower and more rhythmic in their movements. They are very clear. They want to make sure they are understood. The whole point is to have a dialogue.” After I had been living at Tara Guest Hous e for a month and a half, I confided in two of the nuns that I was receiving unwanted attention from the trul ku who was living at the nunnery. The trul ku was my age.43 He lived on my floor and spent a lot of time on the balcony outside my window. On the first day that he and I talked, I had just come back from spending time in Gharoh. The trul ku came and knocked on my window to tell me that I had left my window open and the nunnery’s cat had come into my room while I was gone. A couple of days later, we had ou r first conversation after I came outside to the balcony to ask him a questio n about Tibetan vocabulary. I treated him as an informant from whom I could get a different perspective on Tibetan monastic culture. He asked me que stions about where I was from and why I 43 In Tibetan society, a person is counted as one year old when they are born. Therefore, although the trul ku and I were both 23, he was actually a year younger than me.

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98 wanted to learn Tibetan, and I asked him abou t what it was like to be a monk and how it was different from being a nun. Weeks later, Te nzin Shenpen told me that this had been my cultural mistake: Tibetan men and wo men do not talk about the differences between men and women with each other. If a man and a woman talk about these things, it means that they are romantically in terested in each othe r. I was completely unaware of the cultural rule, and I was co nfused and very uncomfortable when he invited me to watch a movie with him. My refusals of the trul ku ’s offers did not deter him from continuing to pursue me, however. In the next weeks, I unsuccessfully tried to avoid the trul ku who seemed to be always waiting outside my window to talk to me. He continued to ask me for dates and left chocolate on my window sill. I finally co nfided in Tenzin Drlma and Tenzin Drlkar about the situation. Tenzin Drlkar told me, “You must be very firm with him because sometimes when people are nice, they think that you like it.” Tenzin Drlma agreed: “Be strong with him [she makes a fist], but there is no anger from your side.” A week later, Tenzin Drlma asked me if the situation had gotten better with the trul ku I told her that I had angrily shut the curtains when he came to my window that day. As I told her of the situation, I pant omimed my “angry” demeanor in closing the curtains. Just as I did this, the nunnery’s c ook walked into the room and asked Tenzin Drlma what had happened. “bu ku chung c hung,” said Tenzin Drlma (It was a small child). Then Tenzin Drlma told me: “Don’t tell the other nuns. He is only staying for a few months. If he stayed for a long time —different. But he will leave after a few

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99 months. Don’t tell the other nuns. He is famous. Otherwise he will be shamed.”44 This socially unacceptable circumstance of a rein carnate lama being romantically interested in me necessitated a display of anger wh ile being unattached to that emotion. Displaying emotion concerning the issues of earning a Geshe degree or becoming fully-ordained nuns, on the othe r hand, was unacceptable because it was understood to be an indication of “wor ldly” preoccupations. The nuns understood showing emotion concerning the issue of earn ing Geshe degrees to be a reflection of pride and arrogance. Tenzin Drlma told me that having a famous name can produce conditions which make Dharma pr actice more difficult: “If we have very famous name, it is very dangerous to practice Dharma. If a person has a famous name, they are proud and have anger. We have to be very careful. If we do not have a name, [this circumstance is] better to prac tice Dharma.” In my formal interview with Tenzin Desal, she defined the word “Geshe” and talked ab out the dangers of pursuing a Geshe degree in order to gain fame: Geshe: the word itself means “spiritual teac her,” or “spiritual friends.” It doesn’t mean like a piece of paper. It doesn’t mean like become fame. It doesn’t mean like become worldly dharma. It’s not at all, really. We need to understand that. No matter if someone else is using the na me as kind of getting oneself famous or not. Fame: we don’t need fame [laughs]. I mean, if you kept focusing on getting the fame, sometime it can cause onesel f to be arrogant, you know, which we need to rid of, right? We do have Tibeta n, Westerner, or many [people] who do this kind of thing. 44 This is an instance in which the “feeling rules” clea rly apply to Tibetan culture in general and not to Tibetan Buddhism; Tibetan culture is frequently talked about as a “culture of shame.”

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100 Several of the nuns talked with me about the importance of earning a “natural Geshe degree,” which would be a reflection of thei r religious training and not dependent upon receiving the certificate of Geshe. One evening in Gharoh, Tenzin Desal talked with me about the speech the Karmapa had given earlier that day when he attended the debates. The Karmapa had talked about a feminist book which he had re ad and disliked. The Karmapa had said that the Buddha gave equal opportunities to all, but some people do not understand what it means to provide for both males and female s. “These feminists,” said Tenzin Desal, “they mix it with something spiritual. They ge t really emotional and talk about ‘rights.’ ‘Rights’ means what? What ‘rights’? [laughs] We need to think about it, you know.” Tenzin Desal then talked about the issue of bhikshuni ordination for Tibetan Buddhist nuns: “The feminist movement has a lot that would be relevant, but if someone thinks, ‘If I can’t get bhikshuni, I can’t get enlightenmen t,’ it’s totally untrue. Lay people can do these things. You need to understand what th e Buddha’s teaching is. If I am breaking rules, it is my responsibility.” I argue that another incident in which I mistook a heated argument for a debate demonstrates an attempt to utilize the bodily gestures of debate in a circumstance when it was not acceptable to be emotional. It took me over a month to figure out exactly what happened that day; showing strong emotion in Tibetan society is considered completely unacceptable a nd embarrassing, and the nuns were not forthcoming about what had happened. One evening after dinner, I was leaving the kitchen to return to my room when I sudde nly heard yelling coming from the room next

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101 door to the kitchen. I was very worried be cause I had never heard the senior nuns be aggressive at all (I had only seen the young er nuns in Gharoh debating). I did not even recognize whose voices they were. When I p eeked into the room from under the cloth door hanging, I saw Tenzin Drlma sitting on her bed, and she did the characteristic clap which is used by challengers in debate. I thought to myself that these nuns must be debating, and I went back to my room for the night. Two days later, Tenzin Shenpen told me over dinner, “I’m sure you heard what happened two nights ago on the roof.” I to ld Tenzin Shenpen that I had thought the nuns were debating. She said, “Well, they were doing it in debate style.” She told me that she, Tenzin Drlma and Tenzin Pema had been having a heated argument. “They were just reacting to things and being emot ional. Not debating anymore. You should see her [Tenzin Drlma] when she’s debating. She stamps her foot on the floor so loud. If you are on the floor below, you wonder if it will come crashing down!” In this Tibetan Buddhist gift system, fee ling is a commodity of gift exchange and has soteriological use. The bodhisattva’s “skillful means” provides a model for appropriate emotion; bodhisattvas appear in the world in various ways for the liberation of all sentient beings. The habituation of emotion among the Jamyang Chling nuns means that some circumstances provide socia lly acceptable reasons to display emotion and others do not. These “feeling rules” determine what is considered payment or mispayment of what is due in social exchange.

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102 Chapter Five: Plans for the Future There seems to be a common misunders tanding among some scholars that Tibetan Buddhist monks are against introducing full ordination in order to prevent nuns from the fulfillment of thei r spiritual practice. I believe many scholars have not understood the specif ic concerns Tibetan nuns have. They describe those nuns who have concerns about, or do not wish to take, Bhikshuni ordination as “passive” and “uneducated .” Furthermore, some scholars might think that Tibetan monks and nuns do not enjoy cooperative, respectful relationships with each other and that monks tend to disempower nuns. I do not believe these assertions describe the dive rse dynamics and complicated issues at play (Tenzin Desal in “Bhikshuni ordi nation: a Tibetan nun’s perspective”). In Tibetan, jam yang (‘jam dbyangs), the shortened form of jam p yang (‘jam dpal dbyangs), is the name for Maju r the bodhisattva of wisdom. When I asked Karma Lekshe Tsomo why she decided to consecrate the nunnery with the name “Jamyang,” she told me, “Well, Ja myang, of course, means Maju r and Maju r represents learning. And that’s what we meant to do, so I th ought that was the appropriate thing.” Twenty years after arri ving in McLeod Ganj, the Jamyang Chling nuns have learned Tibetan and completed nearly all of the required topics studied in a Geshe program. They cannot take the Geshe ex am at this time, however, because they are not fully-ordained nuns. The Geshe monastic curriculum involves studying the shung ka p nga (gzhung bka’ pod lnga), the “five major texts”: lo gic is studied first, followed by Praj paramit M dhyamika, Vinaya, and Abhidharma (Sopa 19 83:34). Tibetan monast ics traditionally have studied tantra after they have finish ing this curriculum and have earned Geshe degrees. The Jamyang Chling nuns, though th ey do not have Geshe degrees, have been given permission to study tantra at the Inst itute of Buddhist Dialectics while they wait

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103 for a decision to be made by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration and a group of Vinaya masters in the Tibetan community concerning the procedures for nuns to earn Geshe degrees. The nuns have studied all the topics of these “five major texts” except for the Vinaya rules which pertain to fullyordained nuns. There is considerable contro versy within the Tibetan community as to whether nuns should be given the opportuni ty to take full ordination, whether they should take the Geshe exam without having studied the Vinaya rules for fully-ordained nuns, or whether they will neither take the Geshe ex am nor become bhikshunis. The Vinaya texts outline the Pratimoksha rules, the ethical guidelines for Buddhist monastics which were passed down or ally from the Buddha to disciples. After the Buddha died, eighteen different Vinaya ordination lineages developed according to geographical and doctrinal differences. Today on ly three of these Vinaya schools are still in existence: the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya, wh ich is practiced in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, the M lasarv stiv da Vinaya, which is practiced in Tibet (now in India by Tibetans), Mongolia, and Bhutan, and the Vinaya school of the P li canon, which is followed by non-Mah y na Buddhists in Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Of these three Vinaya schools, only the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya has an unbroken bhikshuni lineage today. Bhikshunis who were ordained in the M lasarv stiv da Vinaya lineage apparently did not make journey from India to Tibet in order to be able to transmit the lineage to Tibet. Historical reco rds indicate Tibetan Vinaya masters such as Panchen Shakya Chokden (1428-1507) init iated a system of imparting bhikshuni

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104 ordination in Tibet from a sangha which co mprised only bhikshus. Th is practice was met with opposition, however, and these ordina tions were later determined as not in accordance with Vinaya rules (Vinaya mast ers of the Buddhist countries 2006: accessed April 13, 2009). The present concern regarding bhikshuni or dination for Tibetan nuns is whether the M lasarv stiv da bhikshuni ordination can be reestablished in accordance with scriptural authority. In 2005, the Dalai La ma asked a group of Western Tibetan Buddhist nuns who have taken full ordination in the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya lineage to form a committee to discuss the options for reestab lishing the bhikshuni ordination for Tibetan Buddhist nuns.45 In “Research Regarding the Lineage of Bhiksun Ordination,” this committee maintained that there are two op tions for establishing the full bhikshuni ordination which are in accordance with the M lasarv stiv da Vinaya: the ordination could take place in a “single sangha” method with M lasarv stiv da bhikshus alone, or it could take place with a “dual sangha” of Dharmaguptaka bhikshunis and M lasarv stiv da bhikshus.46 (Committee of Western Bhikshunis 2006: accessed April 13, 2009). 45 The Committee of Western Bhiksh unis consists of the Venerable Bh ikshunis Tenzin Palmo, Pema Chodron, Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Thubten Chodron, Jampa Tsedroen, and Ngawang Dolma. 46 See “A Tibetan Precedent for Multi-tradition Ordinati on: Support for Giving Bhikshuni Ordination with a Dual Sangha of Mulasarvastivada Bhikshus and Dharmaguptaka Bhikshunis” by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron for a fascinating argument in favor of the dual sangha method. In this paper, Thubten Chodron writes that the ordination and activities of Bhik shu Lachen Gongpa Rabsel, who restored the bhikshu lineage in Tibet after the widespread persecution of Buddhism during the reign of King Langdarma provides precedents for ordination by a sangha consisting of member s of different Vinaya lineages and adjustment of Vinaya ordination procedures in re asonable circumstances. This lineage, known as the “Lower Tibet Vinaya” tradition, is the lineage of the Gelug and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism today (Chodron 2007: accessed April 13, 2009).

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105 In 2006, the research committee for bhi kshuni ordination under the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration released a statement regarding the status of establishing the bhi kshuni ordination in accordance with the M lasarv stiv da Vinaya. The committee stated that neither the single sangha method nor the dual sangha options contradicted the M lasarv stiv da Vinaya. Nonetheless, the committee maintained that “we need a de cisive opinion from a body of Tibetan Vinaya masters as to whether this accords with the Mulasarvastivada vinaya” (Department of Religion and Culture of th e Central Tibetan Administration 2006: accessed April 13, 2009). The Dalai Lama has publicly demonstrated his support for the establishment of the bhikshuni ordination on several occasi ons. In 2007 at the First International Congress on Buddhist Women’s Role in the Sangha in Hamburg, Germany, the Dalai Lama stated, “Full ordination for women will enable women to pursue wholeheartedly their own spiritual development through lear ning, contemplating, and meditating [the “three wisdoms”], and also enhance their capa cities to benefit society through research, teaching, counseling, and other activities to help extend the life of the Buddhadharma” (Gyatso 2007: accessed April 13, 2009). The Dalai Lama has emphasized that the decision to establish the bhikshuni ordination cannot be made by one person alone, and acceptance of the bhikshuni sangha in the larger community is more important than official government recognition. Several m eetings among Tibetan Vinaya masters have been held in recent years to discuss the subject of bhiks huni ordination, and none of these meetings have been able to produce “a decisive opinion” about whether a dual-

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106 sangha or single-sangha method for estab lishing the bhikshuni lineage would be in accordance with the M lasarv stiv da Vinaya. The reason for this lack of a “decisive opinion” seems to be that M lasarv stiv da Vinaya scriptural passages contra dict each other concerning methods establishing bhikshuni ordination. Certain Vi naya textual references state that women can receive full ordination from a bhikshu sangha if the required number of bhikshunis does not exist in the area, though this proc edure would entail a minor infraction of vows for the bhikshus who perform the ceremony (V inaya masters of the Buddhist countries 2006: accessed April 13, 2009). Other Vinaya mast ers maintain that this system violates Vinaya texts such as the Root Sutra of Mona stic Discipline and the Extensive Elucidation of Vinayamulasutra (Vinaya masters of the Buddhist countries 2006: accessed April 13, 2009). The Vinaya masters also have reserv ations about establishing the bhikshuni ordination with a dual sangha because th ey question the validity of the Vinaya transmission in the Dharmaguptaka lineage (Chodron “The Present Status,” accessed April 13, 2009). The Dalai Lama has stated publicly th at the Tibetan Buddhist nuns who have taken ordination in the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya tradition are recognized as being fullyordained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Most of the women who have taken this ordination have been Tibetan Buddhist nuns from Western countries, and the ordination has taken place with a sangha of bhikshus and bhikshunis from the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya lineage. A paper wri tten as a result of the 2006 seminar of

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107 Vinaya masters organized by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration states: Many nuns from different parts of the world have received the bhikshuni vows and precepts of ordination in those co untries. Several Tibetan nuns residing in the exile community have been offered sp ecial invitations to visit those counties to receive bhikshuni ordination, but even though pa trons have offered financial support, only a few have chosen to go a nd receive the ordination. Until now, no Tibetan nun has received bhikshuni ordination on her own initiative (Vinaya masters of the Buddhist traditions 2006, accessed Ap ril 13, 2009). When I asked the Jamyang Chling nuns if they consider taking full ordination, they emphasized the difficulties for Tibetan nuns to become ordained in the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya lineage. In the pa per Tenzin Desal wrote in 2007 when she attended the 2007 conference in Hamburg, she explained: As the Dharpagupta Bhikshuni lineage did not spread in Tibet and the Himalayan region, I think it would be difficult for the Bhikshus and Bhikshunis of Dharmagupta lineage to ordain Tibetan nuns without critically analyzing the lineage and cultural situation thorough ly. While there is no doubt that the Dharmagupta lineage is a valid Buddhist tr adition, most Tibetan nuns I’ve spoken with favour practicing the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya. It is often not easy to spread traditions to cultures and nations wh ere it has not previously existed. This statement accords with my ethnographi c research; the Jamyang Chling nuns told me uniformly that they do not want to take ordination in the Dharmaguptaka lineage. Many of the Jamyang Chling nuns told me they would want to take ordination from the M lasarv stiv da lineage if this was made possible. Tsewang Khandro said: Before in Buddha’s life he gave ordinati on. Full ordination he give. Many nuns they got bhikshuni ordination. And he pass away, Buddha. Maybe 100, 200, 300 years ago bhikshuni vows [were] lost, yeah. Lost. Tibetan monks and high lamas, they taught us [that] they have no bhi kshuni vows. Also His Holiness Dalai Lama tell us, very difficult for bhikshuni vows: “If [we] have bhikshuni vows, then no problem, I give for you. I am looking [f or the] bhikshuni vows in the old text books, the Buddha’s vows. If we have good vows, then I give you. Now I have not

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108 found. If I found, then I give you.” If His Holiness Dalai Lama give us bhikshuni vows, then we are very happy and we get bhikshuni also. In formal interviews, the nuns all mentioned that Buddhist scholars and high lamas from the Department of Religious and Cultural A ffairs of the Central Tibetan Administration are now researching to see if the Buddhist te xts state a possibility for nuns to take full ordination when there are no bhikshuni nuns present. Although Tibetan Buddhist nuns who have received ordination in the Dharmaguptaka lineage are officially recogniz ed within the Tibetan tradition, Tenzin Drlkar told me that the larger Tibetan comm unity still does not fully accept ordination from this lineage. She mentioned that the Jamyang Chling nuns do not want bhikshuni ordination “because until now no bhikshuni [in the Tibetan tradition]. The nuns [are] saying, if Dalai Lama give bhikshuni ordination, they want. Then otherwise, if you go to Taiwan, very difficult in Tibetan comm unity. Because they now not accept.” This concern echoes the statements of the Dalai Lama, who maintains that wider acceptance within the Tibetan community is the most important qualification for introducing bhikshuni ordination. The Su mmary Report of the 2007 International Congress on the Women’s Role in the Sangha states, “Those [Tibetan] nuns present at the congress preferred bhikshuni ordination by a single sangha comprising of only Mulasarvastivada bhikshus” (Berzin 2007: acce ssed April 13, 2009). I believe that the nuns’ desire for acceptance in the Tibe tan monastic community, as well as the difficulties associated with introducing a foreign Vinaya tradition to the Tibetan community, also reflect the Tibetan Buddhist nuns’ preference for establishing the bhikshuni lineage in a single sangha method.

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109 At present there has not been a decisi on made regarding the procedures by which the nuns will take the Geshe exam. There are four ranks of Geshe, which traditionally correspond to the kind of examin ation that candidates undergo. In order to receive the two lower Geshe titles, the do ram (rdo rams) and the ling se (gling bsre or gling seb), the candidate would be examined only within his own monastery, which is one out of the three “monastic seats,” or Tibetan Buddhist scholastic training universities. To receive the tshog ram (tshogs ram) Geshe title, a candidate traditionally would be examined by two of the three monastic seats. To receive the highest Geshe title of lha ram (lha rams), the candidate must be ex amined by all three monastic seats (Dreyfus 2003:255). Because it was decided that the nuns and monks would not debate together, the nuns will not be examined in these monastic universities. The Jamyang Chling nuns told me nuns from each of the nunneries with Geshe programs in India and Nepal would convene and debate with ea ch other for their own Geshe exam. After the five major texts have been thoroughly studied, monks traditionally have reviewed their studies for five or six years before taking their final lha ram Geshe exam. During this time the monks wait for their turn to participate in the exam and also raise money for the feast which they must offer to their regional houses and monasteries. I asked Tenzin Drlkar if there are steps which are being taken to make it possible for nuns to earn Geshe degrees: Tenzin Drlkar: Now we not sure if we get or not, yeah. Dalai Lama told, “You have to study, finish all the things, then we will check.” Then we have to make all the rules—how can we do like that. Until now we didn’t know. JK: Make rules about…

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110 Tenzin Drlkar: Geshe degree—how to get. First twenty years already finished. Then all review six years. Then one is big examination—very big examination. After that, they become Geshe. Now we [t he nuns] have no rules. Now we didn’t know. They already—monks in south India—they already have rules. Therefore, it has not yet been decided whether these years of review will be necessary for the nuns. Only a certain number of Geshe exams take place each year in the monastic universities. Karma Lekshe Tsomo told me that monks must review for several years after finishing their studies partly because they have to wait for their turn to debate and also because they have to find sponsors to pay for an offering of food to their monastery, which amounts to about $5,000. The nunneries will not debate at these monastic universities, however. If the Jamy ang Chling nuns did make an offering of food, it would only be to the small group of senior nuns at Tara Guest House. The costs of this meal would be very manageable. Th e nuns therefore told me that their Geshe exams may take place in the next year or two. When I sat with Tenzin Drlma in her r oom during my first visit to McLeod Ganj and we collaborated on writing her life story, she told me that the Dalai Lama described what nuns should do when they finish their studies. I wrote down these options in Tenzin Drlma’s story: After we study philosophy, we can reflect on these teachings for ourselves and understand what is virtuous and what is nonv irtuous. After this, we can start to meditate. As a nun, there are three things that are important for me to do. The most important thing is meditation. The second most important thing is to teach others Buddhadharma, and the third most important thing is to serve my community. These things are very difficult to do. I will first try to meditate, but if this is too difficult I will try to teach B uddhadharma. If this is also not possible, I will live my life to serve my community, but I am sure that I will do one of these three.

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111 These three options represent the highest forms of service of a religious practitioner in this gift system, none of which depend on receiving the title of Geshe or becoming a bhikshuni. That day, Tenzin Drlma told me that although some people believe that meditation is not a service to others, it is actually the highest form of service to learn how to have a calm mind. Most of the Jamyang Chling nuns told me that when they finish their studies, they will go back to their villages and help establish education programs for nuns who would not otherwise have the opportunity to receive this education. These other two options of teac hing and serving one’s community are also great gifts in this Tibetan Buddhist philosophy of social exchange.

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116 Tsong-kha-pa 2004 The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, vol. 1. Joshua W.C. Cutler and Guy Newland, eds. The Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee, trans. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications 2004 The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, vol. 2. Joshua W.C. Cutler and Guy Newland, eds. The Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee, trans. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications. Tucci, Giuseppe 1970 Religions of Tibet. Geoffrey Samu el, trans. Berkeley: University of California Press. van Ede, Yolanda 2000 Of Birds and Wings: Tibetan Nuns and their Encounters with Knowledge. In Innovative Buddhist Women: Swimming Against the Stream. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, ed. Pp. 201-211. Ri chmond: Curzon Press. Vinaya masters of the Buddhist countries 2006 A Seminar to be Organized by the Department and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration. Topic: Whether or not there is a way to give bhikshui ( dge slong ma ) ordination to Tibetan nuns ( rab byung bstun ma ) in accordance with the vinaya of the Mulasarvastivada tradition that flourished in Tibet, the tradition practiced in Nala nda Buddhist University in India. Chok Tenzin Monlam, trans. Electronic Document, ddhistNunsMonasticLife/agenda_ for_the_seminar.pdf, acce ssed April 13, 2009. Williams, Paul 1989 Mah y na Buddhism: The doctrinal founda tions. Routledge: London. Yeshe, Lama Thubten 2001 Introduction to Tantra: The Transf ormation of Desire. Boston: Wisdom Publications.