Dharma Kings and Queens in Tibet

Letters of Advice to Monarchs on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier in the Late Premodern Period

Jann Ronis, Lecturer, East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley

Thursday, November 06, 2014
3:00 PM - 4:30 PM
10383 Bunche Hall

Program on Central Asia Tibetan Studies Lecture

Originating almost at the dawn of Buddhist literature, epistles composed by monks for their royal patrons are found across Buddhist Asia. Nāgārjuna’s Ratnāvalī (The Jewel Garland) and Suhṛlleka (Letter to a Friend; both second century C.E.) are the most well known and influential of such writings from Buddhist India but dozens more are still extant. Tibetan lamas wrote epistles for centuries and many of these works represent important works of Buddhist social thought and can serve as historical documents to researchers. In this presentation I will examine a trilogy of epistles composed in the late eighteenth century by a Tibetan lama to the royal family of the kingdom of Degé in eastern Tibet, located in present-day Sichuan Province. The lama in question in this presentation was the highly regarded author and visionary Jikmé Lingpa (1730-1798) and this trilogy of epistles includes one each to the king, queen, and crown prince. I will analyze arguments made in these works for particular religious activities, role models, and values against the polemical contexts of eighteenth century debates in Tibet over the relative merits of lay and ordained kings and Sino-Tibetan relations at the time. Emphasis will be placed on the epistle to the queen as letters to royal women are rare in the historical archive and are under-documented in scholarship. Her name was Tsewang Lhamo and she ascended the throne in 1790 after the early death of her husband and ruled Degé for approximately 20 years, passing on the throne to the crown prince a few years before her death in 1812. Tsewang Lhamo’s epistle is exceptional for its emphatic assertions that as both a layperson and woman she was fully capable of enlightenment and liberatory governance. This talk will appeal to those interested in Tibetan history in an Inner asian context, gender in Buddhism, Buddhist statecraft, and Tibetan literature.


Sponsor(s): Center for Buddhist Studies, Center for Chinese Studies, Asia Pacific Center, Program on Central Asia