UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Restoring a lost lineage : reinventing the Karma Kagyu scholastic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism in-exile post-1959 Gurung, Chulthim


In both popular and academic discourse, Karma Kagyu Tibetan Buddhism is known for its meditation practices and sometime is considered anti-scholastic. However, I claim that the Karma Kagyu does have a historical scholastic lineage and that the Sixteenth Karmapa attempted to revive it during the twentieth century. This thesis is a critical analysis of the Karma Kagyu scholastic tradition from the medieval period to the present day. Throughout I adhere to the cross-cultural and comparative concept of “scholasticism” as defined by José Cabezón, and khepa as discussed by Sakya Pandita (1182-1251). Khepa (mkhas pa) is a crucial but ambiguous Tibetan term that includes meanings of “scholarship” and “scholasticism.” The history of the Karma Kagyu scholastic tradition can be broken into three periods: an early period of invention, a middle period of decline and loss, and a recent period of revitalization. The Third Karmapa (1303-1339) established a formal academic tradition during the fourteenth century and this tradition declined by the seventeenth century under the rule of the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682). This decline was a result of the Tibetan Civil War between the Ü and Tsang regions of central Tibet and was perpetuated by a hegemonic Buddhist sectarian ideology that suppressed non-Geluk scholastics. This history explains why there are so few Karma Kagyu scholars and monastic institutes, or shédra, in-exile post-1959. It also highlights the work of the Sixteenth Karmapa (1924-1981) to restore the Karma Kagyu scholastic tradition and hybridize it with modern curricula and educational institutions during this same period but itself began to decline in 1993, negatively influenced by both the Seventeenth Karmapa succession controversy and a strong antagonism between Karma Kagyu monasticism and scholasticism. This latter tension is embodied by the difficult relations between Rumtek Monastery and Rumtek Shédra. My analysis of the Sixteenth Karmpa’s efforts to revive the scholastic tradition in-exile rely to some extent on a positive understanding of the theoretical framework of The Invention of Tradition (1983) by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger in which “invention” is not a deceptive act but a creative hybrid of old and new.

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