Academic journal article Journal of Global Buddhism

The Childhood of Dorjé Sangwatsel (B. 1814) and the Theme of the Deficient Parent in Tibetan Hagiography

Academic journal article Journal of Global Buddhism

The Childhood of Dorjé Sangwatsel (B. 1814) and the Theme of the Deficient Parent in Tibetan Hagiography

Article excerpt

Positive portrayals of the parents1 of Buddhist masters frequently adorn the pages of Tibetan hagiographies.2 The prominent nineteenth-century Buddhist master Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé (1813-1899) compliments his mother for becoming his spiritual friend, leading him to "enter the door of Buddhism" and freeing him from "entrapment in the life of a householder in samsara" ( Barron and Ko?-sprul Blo-gros-mtha'-yas, 2003: 14). Tsangnyön Heruka (1452-1507), the biographer of the translator Marpa Chökyi Lodrö (1012-1097), the inaugurator of Tibet's Kagyü lineage, credits Marpa's father for encouraging his stubborn and short -tempered child3 to study Buddhism (Gtsa ?-smyon He-ru-ka, 1995: 5-6). Tibetan Buddhist masters, who are themselves born into lineages of Buddhist practitioners and clerics, may abundantly recall-in highly positive terms-their religious education as children at the feet of their biological fathers or uncles. Chöying Dorjé (1772-1838), a teacher of the Bara Kagyü tradition, reflects on the Buddhist teachings taught to him in child hood by his father, who he thanks for introducing him to the Dharma, and for his kindness as a teacher.4

Like biological parents, monastic guardians may be similarly remembered in such loving and benevolent terms. Indeed, categories of "parent" and "teacher" can often be blurred in Tibetan monastic life writing. This is not only because biological parents or relatives are themselves frequently also teachers, especially in father-son/uncle-nephew teaching lineages, but also because the protagonists of Tibetan life writing have often been raised, from early ages, within monasteries -a communal existence patterned, in many ways, along family lines.5 Chögyel Dorjé (1789-1859), a Nyingma lineage master, recalls the deep attachment he developed toward his kind lama, who the former saw in the form of the Buddhist deity of compassion, Avalokitesvara (Chos rgyal rdo rje, 1975: 24 -26). Chögyam Trungpa (1939-1987), a major figure in the dissemination of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, fondly remembers one of his mai n childhood tutors as "almost a father" to him (Trungpa, 1985: 47). While revealing almost nothing about his biological father, Losel Tengyong (b. 1804), a Buddhist monk from Shalu Monastery, profusely reflects on the virtues and influence of his main chil dhood lama, whose death poetically "scorched" the protagonist's heart in "flames of suffering" (Blo gsal bstan skyong, 1971b: 509).

Effusive praises of the guardians of children in monasteries are certainly not unique to Tibetan hag iography. Losel Tengyong's verses on his departed lama (1971b: 509) closely resemble the Frankish monk Walafrid Strabo's (808 -849) poem on the passing of his monastic teacher, who the monk recalls he loved as a father (Quinn, 1989: 78 -79). The life story of Hugh of Avalon (1135/1140-1200), the French Carthusian monk and bishop of Lincoln (in England), recalls his "almost motherly affection" toward his monks (McLaughlin, 2004: 56). The biographer of English abbot Aelred of Rievaulx (1110 -1167) writes that the latter's dying words to his monks were, "I love you as earnestly as a mother does her sons" (ibid.). The point has been made in studies of Christian hagiography that narratives of adoration between clerics and child monks may certainly reflect a desire to "praise the centrality of the relationship of master to student" (Quinn, 1989: 79). The same objective is certainly shared in the many cases in which monastic mentors are praised as esteemed guardians of children in Tibetan monastic life writing.

But not all life stories of Tibetan masters praise the biological parents or childhood monastic mentors of their protagonists; the autobiography of Dorjé Sangwatsel (b. 1814), a lama from the Kongpo region of Tibet, is an example of a narrative in which the protagonist's early-life guardians are deficient in some respect (Rdo rje gsang ba rtsal, 1974). 6 This article focuses on the autobiography's overwhelmingly negative descriptions of the author's childhood guardians, which I encountered while reading the text for a different purpose7 and which provided the impetus for the present study. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.