Academic journal article Journal of Global Buddhism

The Family and Legacy of the Early Northern Treasure Tradition

Academic journal article Journal of Global Buddhism

The Family and Legacy of the Early Northern Treasure Tradition

Article excerpt

In the context of Tibetan Buddhism, the authority and effectiveness of each religious tradition are maintained through careful preservation of lineage. As a result, Tibetan religious historiography tends to focus on the individuals who are the common spiritual ancestors of each of the major traditions. The histories of the treasure traditions likewise feature those individuals who revealed the scriptural wealth that gives each lineage its unique character. Nevertheless, when the historiographic sources are observed more closely, it is evident that these individuals depended upon many others for their successes. This article contributes to the study of the development of the Tibetan Treasure Traditions by drawing focused attention to the families that founded and maintained the Northern Treasure Tradition through its formative years (14 th-15th c.).1 Early biographies of the lineage patriarchs are employed to produce a complex map of the familial associations that link the early patriarchs of this Nyingmapa trad ition. Analysis of this network of relationships not only sheds light on the connections between religious authority and family in this lineage but also gives voice to the unsung women and men whose contributions can be found within the biog raphies of the celebrated patriarchs. This article concludes with an analysis of the first recorded case of reincarnation within the leadership of the Northern Treasure Tradition and thus contributes to the ongoing study of the rise of incarnate lamas within the Nyingmap a treasure traditions.2

The Historiography of the Northern Treasure Tradition

At the foundation of the Northern Treasure Tradition is a collection of tantric scriptures that were unearthed like buried treasures at Mount Trazang in Western Tibet by the visionary master Gödem Truchen (1337-1409).3 During the seventeenth century when large-scale monasticism was developing within the Nyingmapa Order, the patriarchs of the tradition established Dorjé Drak Monastery in Central Tibet. The Northern Treasure constituted the backbone of the ritual platform of this monastic institution. The historiographies of the Northern Treasure Tradition that were written after the establishment of Dorjé Drak Monastery by luminaries such as the F ifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682), Pema Trinlé (1641-1717), and Guru Trashi (b. 18th c.) emphasize the manner in which the tradition was founded and transported to central Tibet by Gödem Truchen and his incarnations.4 As a result, the Northern Treasure Tradition is best known for its association with Dorjé Drak Monastery, which was founded and maintained by Gödem Truchen's successive incarnations (see Table 1).

All later historical sources feature this connection betwe en the treasure tradition, Dorjé Drak monastery, and the successive incarnations of the original treasure revealer.5 Based on these sources alone, one might conclude that this was a monastic tradition guided by the reincarnations of Gödem Truchen from the very beginning. To the contrary, the early Northern Treasure Tradition consisted of a small group of householder lineages that tended to privilege family relationships, rather than serial incarnation, in matters of succession. 6 The historiographic goal of this article is therefore to use sources authored during the fifteenth century to present an account of the early history of the Northern Treasure Tradition that highlights the web of relationships that created and nurtured the lineage through the first ce ntury of its

This study is grounded in two biographical texts written before the patriarchs of the Northern Treasure Tradition relocated to central Tibet and founded Dorjé Drak Monastery. T he Ray of Sunlight is the earliest known biography of Gödem Truchen.7 This hagiographic text was written by Nyima Zangpo, a patriarch of the Sé clan, in the early fifteenth century. The author presents himself as a direct disciple of Gödem Truchen and implies that he and his Sé clansmen are the rightful inheritors of the lineage's rel igious authority. …

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