Becoming Indian : a study of the life of the 16-17th century Tibetan Lama, Tāranātha Thesis uri icon


  • "This thesis is a study of the Tibetan polymath Tāranātha (1575-1634) who is known in the Tibetan Buddhist world mainly through his reputation as a historian and as a proponent of the gzhan stong view of ultimate reality. The focus of the present study is not however on these aspects of Tāranātha at all. In fact it challenges them as being the hallmarks by which he should be remembered. Instead it demonstrates that Tāranātha, like many other Tibetan prelates, worked hard at creating a literary image of himself which would give him something unique in the Tibetan world. This strategy was nothing new, such activities having been part of the religious world for centuries. What made Tāranātha unique was his connections to the Indian world through his many meetings with visiting Indian siddhas and pandits. These many encounters were integrated into Tāranātha's autobiography, the Liberation Account of the Wanderer, Tāranātha and his Secret Liberation Accounts to reinforce the series of what he regarded as his many previous incarnations in India. The thesis demonstrates how this gave Tāranātha both a lauded past in India and a 'marketable' present in Tibet as inheritor of the latest tantric technologies from India. The thesis seeks primarily to humanize Tāranātha and to allow us to see the manner in which he worked in the real world rather than the version usually recorded for posterity in most hagiographic writing. As my main source I use both Tāranātha's autobiography and his Secret Liberation Accounts as well as a variety of his other texts.

publication date

  • 2009