Dazzling Displays and Hidden Departures: Bodhisattva Pedagogy as Performance in the Biographies of Two Twentieth Century Tibetan Buddhist Masters
Dazzling Displays and Hidden Departures: Bodhisattva Pedagogy as Performance in the Biographies of Two Twentieth Century Tibetan Buddhist Masters
This article, part of a special issue on pedagogy and performance in Tibetan Buddhism, explores two closely-related yet apparently opposite Tibetan repertoires of virtuoso Buddhist mastery as sites of performative pedagogy. One of these modes of Buddhist mastery is connected with the ideal virtuoso
figure of the yogic siddha, or druptop (Tib. grub thob), and with remarkable manifestations of yogic prowess (what are sometimes called yogic "miracles" in English). The other mode is connected w让h the ideal of renunciation, and the Tibetan Buddhist virtuoso figure of the renunciant hermit-wanderer, or
chatralwa (Tib. bya bral ba). In Indic and Tibetan literature, both of these repertoires of Buddhist mastery are classically associated with a bodhisattva's teaching activity in the world, and with a bodhisattva's use of many kinds of skillful means (Skt. upaya; Tib. thabs) to develop individuals
on the Buddhist path. (A bodhisattva, in Mahayana Buddhist terms, is someone who has vowed to achieve Buddhahood to benefit others.) I explore how these related modes of virtuoso pedagogical performance emerge in oral and textual life stories of two notable twentieth-century Tibetan masters. These modes of virtuoso Buddhist pedagogy and Tibetan ways of talking about them challenge our understandings of what 让 means to "perform" and what 让 means to "renounce," w让h renunciation emerging as a guarantor of the genuineness of someone's altruism.
Keywords: Tibetan Buddhism; pedagogy; performance; renunciation; yogic power; bodhisattva; 20th century
The year is 1956. A man is leaving a teaching job in secret, to resume a life of anonymity, intentional poverty, and wandering. The setting is Srinigar, in what is now the Indian state of Jammu-Kashmirz near the lake famous for its beauty. Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen is tallz thinz bearded, wearing thick glasses, nearing sixty. Just a few years after this scene, he will become famous as a teacher of Buddhism, Sanskr 让 and Tibetan litera ture to the
Fourteen th Dalai Lama, among many ot hers. But at this time, he is little known, a humble figure, wearing threadbare red wool robes that are too short for him. Khunu Lama has been invited to Srinigar to teach Sanskr让 to the Nineteenth Kushok Bakula Rinpoche (1917-2003), a leading Buddhist reincarnate lama
from Ladakh and a prominent figure in midcentury Himalayan politics. Bakula Rinpoche is so busy with governmental duties as the new Minister of Jammu-Kashmir that he almost never has time for his sessions with Khunu Lama. Instead/ a young Ladakhi civil servant, Tashi Rabgias (b. 1927), an aspiring poet and scholar himself, becomes the beneficiary of Khunu Lama's learning. Fifty years later, when I meet him in 2004, Tashi Rabgias says of Khunu Lama, "It becomes a very rare chance in onezs life, to see such a great teacher."
But the renuncian t Khunu Lama is rest less in the lovely bungalow by the lake, w 让h the minister who never has time to study, and he decides to leave, with no notice or fanfare. The young Tashi Rabgias is most upset. This is a startling breach of protocol that he dreads having to explain to Minister
Bakula. And personally, he does not want to lose his teacher. He pleads with Khunu Lama to stay. Finally in despair, Tashi Rabgias blurts out to Khunu Lama, "Sir, if you do like this 辻 will be ... just like escaping, just like running away." He recalls being horrified at his own rudeness. But in his recollection, Khunu Lama simply nods, and says, "Yes. Yes,让 is like this. I have always been escaping/'1
It is the mid 1930s. Two men meet in a meditation cave on a steep mountainside in Central Tibet, and make a deep impression on one another. The meditation cave is located above Drikung Tilz the main monastery of the Drikung Kagyii tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. It is the long-time residence of Drikung Amgon Rinpoche, an early twentieth century yogic master still venerated today by Drikung Kagyii practitioners in Tibet and the Himalayan region. Amgon Rinpoche wears his hair in long dreadlocks, marking his special status as a tantric yogin. He wears threadbare robes, similar, but not identical, to those of a monk. He is already famous for his unconventionality. This has led some of his neighbors at the monastery to try to throw him outz accusing him of being crazy. He is much beloved by the monastery's leader, who defends him with the words, "If you expel him, then I too will leave/'2
One day, he receives a visitor whose origins lie far away, on the other side of the Himalayas, in what is now India. His vis让or is the same Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen we have just met, but in this scene Khunu Lama is some twenty years younger, though already following a lifestyle of intentional wandering, and beginning to be known for his scholarship and Buddhist practice. When they meet, Amgon Rinpoche impresses Khunu Lamaz first by pushing back the rock walls of his cave with his hand to make a bigger space, and then by serving Khunu Lama tea and molasses sugar that are inexhaustible, never running out. Here is the account of their meeting from the most recent Tibetan religious biography of Amgon Rinpoche:
As it happened that when the famous Kinnauri scholar-adept, the great Tenzin Gyaltsen [[[Khunu Lama]]], came to Central Tibet from Kham, he went to Drikung for pilgrimage and to meet Amgon Rinpoche. The door of Amgon Rinpoche's place was so tiny that only he himself could fit inside, so Amgon Rinpoche widened itz by pushing back the rock. After which, then saying, "Oh, my dear Dharma brother has arrived !zz Amgon Rinpoche delightedly inv让ed Khunu Rinpoche inside.
Offering tea from a tiny little teapot, Amgon Rinpoche kept pouring tea that never ran out. And Amgon Rinpoche gave Khunu Lama a lump of molasses sugar, which was also inexhaustible. So, by these methods, Amgon Rinpoche having tot ally enraptured his mind, Khunu Lama said, "The appearance of a grea t mahasiddha [great yogic master] like this even in this degenerate time is greatly amazing7' and praised him again and again. (Dkon mchog rgya mtsho Ra se zla ba, pp. 57-58)
Buddhis t philosophers and med Dators in many histo rical periods and cultural settings have used vocabularies of illusion, costume, display, and magic show一all terms intimately connected to notions of performance一as languages for communicating Buddhist insights about the nature of reality and
1 Tashi Rabgias, interview 2004, Leh, Ladakh (see Appendix A); interview in English. Tashi Rabgias is one of Ladakh's senior literary eminences. Also working for Bakula Rinpoche at that time was K. Angrup, a young scholar from Lahaul, India who also became Khunu Lama's student and later his main libetan-language biographer.
2 Dordzin Rinpoche, interview, Dehradun, India, 2013, interview in Tibetan (all translations from Tibetan here and following are my own unless otherwise indicated.)
the dangers of delusion. Buddhist thinkers use such vocabularies of performance both to evoke the misleading quality of ordinary perceptions of self and phenomena, and to teach their transcendence.3
This article, part of a special issue of Religions on pedagogy and performance in Tibetan Buddhism, draws on the category of performance as an analytic lens for reflecting on Buddhist modes of exercising or transmitting mastery on the Buddhist path. In this article, I examine performative pedagogies and pedagogical performances attributed to two notable twentieth century Tibetan Buddhist masters, Drikung Drubwang Amgon Konchok Lodro Rinpoche (zBri gung grub dbang a mgon dkon mchog bio gros rin po chez late nineteenth century to 1945, hereafter referred to as Amgon Rinpoche), and Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen (Khu nu
bla ma bstan Zdzin rgyal mtshanz 1895-1977). I ask how each man's distinctive style of Buddhist virtuosity raises questions about what "performance" might mean in the con text of Buddhis t teaching. In particular, I explore the interplay between those aspects of Amgon's and Khunu Lama's activities that Tibetan narrators and commentators frame as natural or spontaneous, and those they frame as intentional.
Drikung Amgon Rinpoche was an important early twentieth century Tibetan yogic practitioner in the Drikung Kagyii lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He lived most of his Ufe in retreat, in a cave hermitage on the mountainside above the main Drikung Kagyii monastery of Drikung Til in Central Tibet, about 150 kilometers outside Lhasa.4 5 6 Obscure in his early years, he eventually came to be quite widely known, revered by
prominent Lhasa aristocrats and by ordinary people in the Drikung region, even drawing students from as far away as Eastern Tibet, at that time a journey of weeks or months away. Most famously, following the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama in 1933z the powerful and often controversial Regent of Tibet, Reting Rinpoche Thubten Jampel Yeshe Gyaltsen (Rwa sgreng rin po che thub bstan zjam dpal ye shes rgyal mtshanz 1911-1947) sought out Amgon Rinpoche to
request his help in locating the child who would be recognized as the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. In 2004, a leading present-day Drikung intellectual, Khenpo Konchok Gyatso (Mkhan po dkon mchog rgya mtshoz b. 1969z who also writes under the pen name Ra se zla ba or Ra se dkon mchog rgya mtsho), published a substantial religious biography or namtar (Tib. mam thar) of Amgon Rinpoche. This publication gives a sense of Amgon's ongoing relevance and interest for contemporary Drikung Kagyu community members, who recall him as a great yogic master of the pre-1959 period (Dkon mchog rgya mtsho Ra se zla ba).56
Khunu Lama, on the other hand, was from the outskirts of geographic Tibet, from the Indo-Tibetan border region called Kinnaur (Tib. Khu nu) which is now within the present-day Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Although Khunu Lama had some connections to the Drikung Kagyii lineage,
3 Although space does not permit full consideration here, we might note that Buddhist philosophers from a range of Buddhist traditions understand identity and selfhood as processual, impermanent, and socially constituted, in ways that resonate with moves by European and American thinkers like Judith Butler to understand identity as performative (Butler 1988).
4 The Kagyii school is one of the four main branches of Tibetan Buddhism active today. The Driktmg Kagyii is one of the leading Kagyii lineages surviving into the present. Drikung Til Monastery (zBri gung mthil dgon pa) was founded in Central Tibet in 1179 by Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon (Skyob pa 'jig rten gsum mgon, 1143-217), the progenitor of the Drikung tradition (Gruber 2010; Dkon mchog rgya mtsho Ra se zla ba). Relatedly see (Kapstein 1998).
5 Elite scholars and med让ators and older people from the Drikung region tend to be those most familiar with Amgon Rinpoche's life. For an overview of the issues involved in translating the Tibetan term mam thar, see for instance (Jacoby 2014; Quintman 2013; Gyatso 1998; Willis 1995).
6 The 2004 biography is based in part on a previous 1996 biography ("Bri gung pa chos "byor 1996). The 2004 biography incorporates an exceptional number of oral interviews collected by Konchok Gyatso and others, and is one of my main sources for discussing Amgon Rinpoche's life here. I supplement textual sources with oral accotmts shared with me by leading Drikung scholars at the Drikung Kagyii Institute in Dehradtm, India and in New York City,
between 2013-2016. The Drikung scholar-practitioners whose incisive interpretations I engage with here are: the senior yogic retreat master Dordzin Drupon Dondrup Palden Rinpoche (Rdor 'dzin sgrub dpon don grub dpal ldan rin po che; hereafter Dordzin Rinpoche); Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen (Mkhan chen nyi ma rgyal mtshan, b. 1976), a principle of the Kagyu Monastic College in Dehradtm, India; and Karma Rinchen (Karma rin chen, b. 1980), a lay scholar-practitioner educated in dassic Driktmg monastic and yogic curricula, who currently lives in New York City. These three thinkers are elite scholar-practitioners; for
reasons of length I do not explore perspectives of other kinds of audiences here. For a valuable alternative methodology see (Sihle 2013, pp. 215-21). For further discussion of Amgon Rinpoche's activities and themes related to those explored here, see (Pitkin 2016). A brief but relevant discussion of Amgon also appears in (DiValerio 2015, pp. 226-27).
he was famously ecumenical in his religious affiliations, seeking out relationships with Buddhist teachers from a wide range of lineages and schools, including Nyingmaz Drukpa Kagyuz Sakyaz and Geluk, among others.7 Khunu Lama left his birthplace in Kinnaur as a young man, and traveled widely during the first half of his adult life in Sikkim, Central Tibet and Eastern Tibet, from 1914 through the 1930s. During this time, he met Amgon Rinpoche. By the early 1940sz Khunu Lama had left Tibet and returned to India, where he lived for the remainder of his life, until his death in 1977.8
Like Amgon Rinpoche, Khunu Lama also was little known in his early life. He gradually became more famous, both as a teacher to Himalayan people (especially in his home region of Kinnaur) and also among Tibetans, who began to arrive in India as refugees in the years after 1959z when the newly-established People's Republic of China consolidated its takeover of Tibet. Through his teaching activ让ies, Khunu Lama played a role in maintaining the continuity of Tibetan Buddhism in exile after 1959. Eventually, Khunu Lama became a teacher of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, which brought Khunu Lama to much wider attention. Many Tibetan Buddhist teachers who are prominent today studied with Khunu Lama in India or Nepal, as did several of the first groups of
westerners to ordain in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The Dalai Lama continues to mention Khunu Lama in public teachings and publications, so that Khunu Lama, like Amgon Rinpoche, is remembered as a great master of the recen t past.9
During the course of ten years of research on Khunu Lama's life (2004-2014), and four years of research on Amgon Rinpoche (2012-2016), I met with Tibetan monastic scholars, former students of both menz and Buddhist practitioners from communities connected with them. These experts shared and analyzed textual
and oral narratives abou11hem w让h me. Throughout our conversations, these scholars and practitioners highlighted ways in which both men are remembered as bodhisattvas. (A bodhisattva, in Mahayana Buddhist terms, is someone who has vowed to actualize the Buddhist path for the sake of others, in order to bring
all beings to Buddhahood; such a person represents the ideal Mahayana practitioner.) By understanding Amgon Rinpoche and Khunu Lama as compassionate and powerful bodhisattvas, people in communities that remember them articulate an interpretive framework in which even their most surprising actions become
legible and meaningful, following a common pattern in Tibetan accounts of life stories of Buddhist masters. (For instance (Gyatso 1998; Quintman 2013; Patml Rinpoche/Padmakara Translation Group 1994; Shantideva 1997)). I argue that by using performance as a lens to explore differences and complementarities in stories about these two individuals, we can enrich our thinking about the figure of the bodhisattva in Tibetan Buddhist narratives more generally. In particular, I suggest that the category of performance brings into view subtle narrative tensions surrounding the forms of power that bodhisattva figures may exercise.
2. Pedagogies of Absence and Presence
The vignettes with which this essay began highlight differences in how these two figures are remembered. The opening anecdote, my paraphrase of the oral account told to me in 2004 by Tashi Rabgias, describes a man quietly slipping away from a teaching job, hardly most people's conventional notion of performance/' Khunu Lama is introduced as a famous teacher of Buddhism and Sanskrit. But Tashi Rabgias does not focus on his teaching; rather, he focuses on Khunu Lama's departure, his "escape." He emphasizes that Khunu Lama is "always" leaving, that he leaves without warning,
7 On issues related to whether the Tibetan term for //non-sectarian// ri me (ris med) is appropriate for Khunu Lama see (Gardner 2006; Pitkin 2009, 2011).
8 My main sources for Khunu Lamazs life here are my own interviews with Khunu Lamazs surviving students, primarily done between 2004-2014, and Tibetan textual accounts by three of his former students, K. Angrup (Angrup 1989,2005), Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche (Khetsun Sangpo n.d.), and Driktmg Lamchen
Gyalpo Rinpoche (Lamchen Gyalpo 2011). Works on or connected to Khtmu Lama's life in western languages include (Dodin 1997; LaMacchia 2008; Manshardt 2004, 2008; Sparham 1999). On Khunu Lamazs dates and the challenges of precisely dating his activities, see (Pitkin 2009; Angrup 1989, 2005; Dodin 1997; Lamchen Gyalpo 2011; Khetsun Sangpo n.d.; Manshardt 2004; Sparham 1999).
9 For instance, (Dalai Lama 1994).
in secret, and that his departure cannot be stopped. This scene dramatizes a key aspect of Khunu Lama's famed renunciation, namely his avoidance of honors, prominent teaching positions, salaries, and fixed places of residence. In this story, we see (or we think we see) Khunu Lama leaving a devoted student, stepping out of the limelight, away from view, against a student's protests. By framing this anecdote as a narrative of his teacher's departure, Tashi Rabgias here highlights Khunu Lama's absence.
In contrast, the second scene, in which Khunu Lama meets Amgon Rinpoche, focuses on what I will call performative presence. This quality of presence is intimately bound up with the relational and pedagogical qualities of Amgon's yogic displays. Presence here implies being with another person, potentially in multiple ways. On one level, Amgon's and Khunu Lama's physical presence together and their interaction w让h each other are \dtal to the encounter that
occurs. Khunu Lama and Amgon Rinpoche see and touch one another. They meet in person, face to face. (Indeed, this quality of face-to-face presence in their interaction will appear again as central, in a second version of the story of their meeting that I discuss at the end of this essay). When Amgon Rinpoche in this scene performs what English speakers sometimes call miracles,10 he is both revealing to Khunu Lama something about himself and
his own yogic attainments, and at the same time he is also engaging w让h Khunu Lama as an honored fellow practitioner. Khunu Lama for his part participates with his own presence: he enters into the yogically enlarged cave, enjoys the tea and sugar, and responds to these experiences with expressions of awez
pleasure, and apparently, faith. His presence as w让ness and participant is necessary for Amgon Rinpoche's yogic performance to be fully realized. Taken together, the narrative contrasts between the two brief scenes with which this article began reflect broader differences in how the activities of
these two men are presented in oral and textual sources. Amgon Rinpoche's life and activities are remembered in ways that emphasize his dramatic and dazzling displays of yogic power. Textual biographies and oral accounts describe Amgon's yogic displays in great detail. Stories of these displays are
perhaps the most frequently told stories about him. His most recent textual biography, from 2004, is filled with such accounts (Dkon mchog rgya mtsho Ra se zla ba). Amgon tells the future, exposes criminals through his clairvoyance, and brings hot Tibetan dumplings on foot all the way from the distant city of
Lhasa to the monastery of Drikung Til in the space of an afternoon, to dazzle disbelieving young monks or other vis让ors (for instance, (Dkon mchog rgya mtsho Ra se zla ba, pp. 29-31)). Amgon's most famous public role, as advisor and sometime teacher of the powerful Regent Reting Rinpoche, is described in
oral and textual accounts as directly hinging on Amgon's yogic powers. His clairvoyance is described as having particularly awed Retingz and as having made Amgon a v让al resource for locating the newly reincarnated Fourteenth Dalai Lama.
Khunu Lamaz on the other hand, has become most famous for his ascetic, /zbeggarz/ persona as a wandering chatralwa (Tib. bya bral ba) renunciant-hermit,11 and as a "hidden yogin" (Tib. sbas pa'i mat "byor pa), a practitioner who makes no show of his or her practice or accomplishments.12 He is memorialized in ways that highlight his practice of literally concealing himself through a lifestyle of constant departures and wandering, of refusing any honors that might lead to public recognition,
10 I largely avoid the term "miracle" in this article as a translation for various kinds of yogic display and displays of realization, because of the imperfect fit between the implications of the English term and the ways that Tibetan Buddhists analyze forms of yogic display. I discuss these issues in more detail in (Pitkin 2016) and briefly in what follows. The drawback of not using "miracle" is the lack of another equally broad English term to refer to
the range of displays of Buddhist powers discussed in Buddhist texts. I use the terms "yogic display" and display of realization" most frequently in what follows, and o任er additional analysis of the semantic fields involved below. For in depth treatment of these and related issues in Indic materials, see (Fiordalis 2008, 2010, 2013,2014), and (Clough 2010; Gethin2011; Gomez 2010; Pranke 2010; Scheible 2010). Fiordalis in (Fiordalis 2010,2014) o任ers
important comments on modernist and rationalist contexts for critiques of the term "miracle." I discuss several of these issues further in (Pitkin 2016).
11 On the chatralwa ideal, see (Patrul Rinpoche/Padmakara Translation Group 1994; Pitkin 2009; Pitkin).
12 Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, himself a student of Khunu Lama, specified that Khunu Lama should be understood as a "hidden yogin." Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche interview 2010.
and of living in extremely impoverished, obscure, and often non-Tibetan surroundings. Although his students and biographers very occasionally describe him as demonstrating clairvoyance and other yogic abilities, for the most part, narratives about Khunu Lama's life rarely mention any yogic displays. Stories
about him instead strongly emphasize his renunciation and "hiddenness," through a recurring vocabulary of poverty, separation and absence. In the words of Tulku Pema Wangyal, himself a student of Khunu Lama, "He had hardly anything, you know? He had what he was wearing, that's all he had, nothing else ... And whatever people offer him ... he used to leave it under his bed and the next person who comes, he gives them away ... And he used to say that zIn the past,
people used to go do retreat in the mountains. These days we should not go to the mountains, because the mountain is a very touristic place/ And as he lived in Benares [[[Varanasi]]], hardly anybody knew him ... and he was very, very quiet/'13 Textual biographies and oral stories about him describe him as "always escaping/' in Tashi Rabgiasz words’ or as being 1 让erally hard for his disciples to find. These stories are often framed in poignan11erms that
emphasize the emotional dimensions of renunciation, discomfort searching, and longing. Khunu Lama and Amgon Rinpoche thus appear to be memorialized today as embodying opposite modes of Buddhist virtuosity: presence versus absence, display versus concealment, the power of yogic virtuosity versus the power of renunciation. Indeed, at first glance, it may appear that Khunu Lama in some sense avoids performing, while Amgon Rinpoche embraces 让.
Yet narratives of their activities are in fact deeply complementary, particularly when viewed through the lens of performance. As I will argue, both men are virtuosic performers of both presence and absence. Khunu Lama's renunciation, foregrounding absence and concealment as it apparently does, can nevertheless be understood as a dramatic, pedagogical performance. Amgon Rinpoche's exuberant display of yogic powers, on the other hand, turns out to incorporate multiple levels of renunciatory absence.
3. The Buddhist Pedagogies of Khunu Lama and Amgon Rinpoche: Performing Renunciation and Yogic Power
In thinking about Khunu Lama's and Amgon Rinpoche's styles of Buddhist pedagogy,让 is in fact the similarities in how they are said to have behaved that make them especially interesting to think about together. Both Khunu Lama and Amgon Rinpoche were committed to lifelong forms of Buddhist practice centered on renunciation. For each of them, this involved leaving behind lay household and family life, as well as abandoning many of the trappings of conventional
Buddhist monastic "success." They are both remembered as displaying virtuosic levels of the Tibetan chatralwa ideal of hermitic renunciant practice: dressing in ragged clothes, eating the simplest food」iving in caves or unfurnished rooms, declining or avoiding money, comfort, honors, and lavish donations, and eschewing most forms of fame or public attention. Both men also are remembered as disregarding social conventions, from politeness to
institutional rules. They are remembered as speaking bluntly (and sometimes rudely) to all they metz no matter how powerful, and for showing a strong preference for poor and uneducated people over aristocrats and poetical leaders, though in fact both men eventually counted powerful people among their disciples.
The 2004 religious biography of Amgon Rinpoche, for instance, recounts a series of humorous exchanges between Amgon and Reting Rinpoche, occurring when the latter comes to request Amgon's assistance in divining the location of the newly incarnated Fourteenth Dalai Lama. Reting, whose regency was marked by conflict and controversy, ultimately fell from power and died in prison. He appears in Amgon's biography as a grand but ambiguous figure, a Buddhist hierarch who has become enmeshed in worldly power w让h 让s attendant spiritual and political risks. In several episodes in the biography, we see Amgon teasing Reting about his worldly status. In one scene, Amgon
Tulku Pema Wangyal interview 2005.
comments on Reting's ostentatious retinue, remarking that the "king" of Tibet has arrived (ironic, since Reting is merely the Regent), and saying that his cave is too small for the retinue to enter (Dkon mchog rgya mtsho Ra se zla baz p. 68.). When Reting asks what he can offer Amgon that Amgon needs or would like, Amgon replies that he will only accept "loose tea as black as ants' feet" (ja 'bu grog ma'i rkang pa "dra po nag hrug hrug de "dra) (Dkon mchog rgya mtsho Ra se zla baz pp. 68-69; Pitkin 2016). Itzs not clear what kind of tea this isz except that it sounds both funny (and fancy), and difficult to find, perhaps hinting to Reting that there are gifts he cannot bestow. Amgon presents himself as a renunciant practitioner who does not need material things,
while subtly tweaking Retingz in theory also a renunciantz for his accumulation of wealth. One gets a sense both of Amgon's renunciation in practical terms (living in a tiny cavez refusing valuable gifts) and of his unconventional, humorous style of critiquing powerful people. Khunu Lama, in an episode that has certain structural parallels to the story just told about Amgon, is himself described as initially refusing a visit from the Fourteenth Dalai Lama at his small room in Varanasi:
[[[His Holiness]] Dalai Lama] came to meet Negi Lama [[[Khunu Rinpoche]]] accompanied by his personal secretary only. At that time Negi Lama was just recovering
from a serious illness and was still feeling very weak ... He was also very poor and his only property was the old torn-up blanket he was wrapped in in his empty cell … When he was informed by the private secretary who the vis让or was, he objected that he wore no appropriate clothing and had no chair for His Holiness to s让 on. He claimed not to be able to receive him under such conditions. As the Dalai Lama insisted on speaking with him they both remained standing and had a talk. (Dodin 1997, p. 90)14
Here, the powerful visitor is a much more unambiguously positive figure than Reting appears to be. In fact, Khunu Lama went on to form an extremely warm and close teaching relationship with the Dalai Lama. However, the radical impoverishment of Khunu Lama's circumstances (no suitable clothing, only a torn blanket, no chair) and the humor implied in refusing to receive an important vis让or because one is too humble resonates w让h the humor and style of Amgon in the previous narrative.
Another similarity between the two men is the fact that although both Amgon Rinpoche and Khunu Lama spent much of their lives in and around major Tibetan Buddhist monastic institutions, neither took the vows of full monastic ordination. Instead, they were both practitioners of non-celibate tantric forms of Tibetan Buddhist practice.15 16 Both were also sometimes criticized or looked down upon as crazy, poor, and strange by people following a more conventional
monastic or household path. They are remembered as fitting the valorized Tibetan Buddhist convention of unconventionality/ acting in ways resonant with the ideal of the mad yogin or lama nyonpa (Tib. bla ma smyon pa), a style of practitioner whose seemingly unconventional behavior is an expression of his or her yogic transcendence of all conventional conceptuality."
Turning in more detail now to Khunu Lama, textual and oral narratives about him pay particular attention to his renunciant practice. He is remembered for his intense and often unconventional modes of renunciation, such as the ways in which he often dispensed w让h the ordinary trappings of Tibetan
14 Do din's important 1997 article on Khunu Lama is based on the oral recollections of Khunu Lama's Kinnauri disciple Sangngak Tenzin (Gsang sngags bstan Mzin), who is the narrator of this story.
15 On the ngakpa (Tib. ngags pa) ideal see (Jacoby 2014; Jacoby and Terrone 2009). Several people described Amgon Rinpoche as a ngakpa when explaining his style of practice (Dordzin Rinpoche interview 2013; Karma Rinchen interview 2014). Khunu Lama's case is more complex, since students from different points in his life perceived him di任erently. Several former students report that Khunu Lama himself said he never took full monastic ordination, although he did take novice vows; some students report that this was specifically in order to practice tantra (Pitkin 2009).
16 On the lama nyonpa ideal see (Ardussi and Epstein 1975; DiValerio 2015; Quintman 2013; Larsson 2012; Stearns 2007). The /zmad yogin" or "crazy lama/z is closely connected to the chatralwa beggar-hermit ideal type. Chatralwa-style renunciation of fame and social rewards can often be linked to dramatically unconventional behavior as I discuss in (Pitkin 2009; Pitkin). I consider the significance of these ideal types for Khunu Lamazs and Amgon Rinpoche's styles of performance further below.
Buddhism, his unusual dress, his disengagement from Tibetan Buddhis11'辻ual, and his frequent choice of non-Tibetan or non-Buddhist companions. His renunciation is presented as virtuosic in multiple senses of that term, w让h a dramatic quality that lends itself to storytelling.
I have already noted his frequent, at times nearly constant travel. Wandering is an important dimension of his renunciation, a literal abandonment of home or fixed abode. It is also an important aspect of his hiddennessz making him hard to find and distancing him from positions of renown or worldly "success." Khunu Lama also practiced other forms of renunciation, including radically limiting his own material possessions, and in the latter part of his life in India, choosing dwelling places that were often located in non-Tibetan or Himalayan and non-Buddhist social spaces.17
Perhaps the most striking example of these aspects of his renunciation is his ascetic lifestyle in an unfurnished single room in Varanasi, in a Hindu ashram called Tekra Math. This room, in a highly unusual location for a Tibetan Buddhist master, was his home for many years in India during the second half of his life, at times when he was not traveling. It is the location in which the above encounter w让h the Dalai Lama took place. Khunu Lama was hosted at Tekra Math because one of the ashram's leaders was his former Sanskr让 classmate, who had become a close friend. All the disciples who met Khunu Lama there mention the extraordinary circumstances and discomfort of this place, and the radical minimalism with which Khunu Lama lived there (Angrup 1989z 2005; Dodin 1997; Manshardt 2004; Pitkin 2009).
Stories of Khunu Lama's ascetic existence in Varanasi support the interpretation, offered by many former students, that his residence there served as an intentional, quasi yogic exercise.18 Khunu Lama's student and main Tibetan-language biographer K. Angrupz for instance, recalled Khunu Lama's room at Tekra Math as unbearably hot for much of the year, and full of mosquitoes, because the windows and door had no glass. The lack of glass also meant that during
the rains, water would collect on the floor of the room. The space lacked even basic furnishings like chairs, and had no running water or toilet facility. Angrup described how Khunu Lama would go downstairs and out to a pump in the street to get water in his cupped hands when he needed a drink. According to Angrup, he asked Khunu Lama why the latter did not get a pitcher and a cup to keep in his room. Angrup said that Khunu Lama replied, "First you get one cup and a pitcher. Then you need another cup in case you have a visitor. Then you need a third cup in case someone else comes. And thatzs how possessions accumulate/'19
Khunu Lama was likewise said to dress in unusual, socially ambiguous and (for some Tibetans) low-status ways that made him hard to identify as a Tibetan Buddhist teacher or scholar. Sometimes Khunu Lama is described as wearing a long, ragged red wool Himalayan layman's robe, looking "like a beggar" in the words of several former students.20 Elsewhere he is described as wearing the yellow clothes of a sadhu, a Hindu renunciant, an unusual choice for a Tibetan Buddhist master. Khunu Lama is described by his students as walking in the evenings by the Ganges in Varanasi, debating philosophy with Hindu and Jain scholars and renunciants (another unconventional activity). In his sadhu robes, he is described as blending in with the other Indian renunciants by the river (Angrup 1989, 2005; Dodin 1997; Lamchen Gyalpo 2011; Pitkin 2009; Pitkin; Sparham 1999).21
Whether Indic or Tibetan in style, his clothing emerges in stories as an expression both of his practice of disengagement from possessions, and his renunciation of fame and social status. His ragged and often low-status clothing (beggar-likez not recognizably Tibetan, not recognizably monastic) often
17 An important dimension of Khunu Lamazs willingness to live in non-Tibetan and non-Buddhist spaces in India was his own identity as a Kinnauri, a person from a region on the Himalayan border between Tibet and India, culturally distinct from both. Space limits discussion of this dynamic here; but see (Pitkin 2009, 2011).
18 K. Angrup interview 2004; Geshe Yeshe Tapgyes, interview 2004; Trulku Pema Wangyal interview 2005; Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche interview 2010. (Dodin 1997; Lamchen Gyalpo 2011; Pitkin 2009; Pitkin).
19 K. Angrup interview 2004; Angrup spoke in English.
20 Trulku Pema Wangyal interview 2005; Sem Trinley Ongmo interview 2004.
21 K. Angrup interview 2004.
seems to have served as another form of concealment, making him hard to identify as a great Tibetan Buddhist practitioner.22 Because of this, there are many stories from his later years in India in the 1960s and 1970s of his being ignored or looked down upon initially, and his qualities as a great teacher not being recognized by people in the Tibetan community. Often a turning point in such stories is when people w让nessed the Dalai Lama's reverence for him. Oral narratives describe how when individuals or groups of people saw the Dalai Lama prostrate to Khunu Lama and greet him with devotion, then, in the words of one former student, People began to line up for three hours to see him/'23
Across these various accounts, one gets a visual impression of mingled concealment and an almost performative disguise. Khunu Lama makes his special qualities as a Buddhist master hard to seez just as he seems to have often literally made himself hard for disciples to find. Yet this ironically makes him stand out vividly in our mental image of him, as he does in students' recollections. Khunu Lama's practice of renunciation (his unusual clothes and companions, his bare, hot mosqu让o-infested room, without even a cup to drink from) emerges as almost flamboyant in these narratives, indeed as a kind of performance. We encounter a drama of concealment, a visible display of simplicity.
To point this out is by no means to suggest that Khunu Lama's practice of renunciation was not sincere or factual (i.e.z that it was "just an act" or "just a story/' although these questions themselves require the vocabulary of performance in an interesting way). Rather, by bringing the lens of performance to
bear on how Khunu Lama's activities are remembered, we can see his renunciation as a social and pedagogical act, as well as a personal and inward one. When seen as a kind of performance, aimed in some sense at others as well as at himself, renunciation appears explic让ly as an aspect of his teaching, an interpersonal form of performative pedagogy, contra the popular western interpretation that renunciation involves leaving sociability behind.24
At the same time, Khunu Lama's practice of self-concealment and frequent departure highlights the potential challenges such renunciatory pedagogy can pose for students: students long for himz miss himz search for himz but he is often difficult to find. Khunu Lama's performative pedagogy of renunciation thus has a double edge: he models for students what a practice of renunciation (in Tibetan accounts the essential bedrock of the Buddhist path) can look like.
But at the same time, this performance of renunciation risks making Khunu Lama invisible and unfindablez and thus unavailable to students. Amgon Rinpoche, for his part, was also an austere renunciant, living in a style very close to Khunu Lama's. Amgon is described as also avoiding honors and donations (as when he humorously rejects the lavish donations Reting Rinpoche tries to offer), and as eating the most minimal food, wearing threadbare
clothes, sometimes even appearing mad in his disregard for convention. He spent most of his Ufe in retreat in a mountain cavez near the main bustle of Drikung Til monastery, but slightly removed from it. He did not conceal himself by traveling or living in unusual places like Khunu Lama. Rather, he
concealed himself by remaining still, hidden in retreat. While his oral and textual biographies are filled with vivid stories of his startling, dramatic displays of yogic power, he nevertheless is presented throughout the narratives as someone who avoided fame and attention for their own sake. A number of
his yogic displays occurred where only a few people (sometimes even just one person) could witness them, such as when he delighted Khunu Lama with the inexhaustible tea and sugar. There are stories about him sometimes swearing witnesses to secrecy, although at other times his yogic power is described as manifesting in highly public ways, such as in his clairvoyant interactions with Reting and his retinue, or in the much-loved stories of him bringing fresh, hot momos
22 Drukpa Trulku interview 2006, interviewed by David Jackson. Interview shared by David Jackson, personal communication.
23 Among others, Mrs. Namgyel Taklha interview 2004; Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006; Khenpo Sonam lopgyal interview 2006 (the source of the quote).
24 On the complex rhetorics of renunciation and the many contexts of sociality in which Buddhists have practiced it, see for instance (Schopen 1997;
(mog mog, Tibetan dumplings) from Lhasa to Drikung, making the long journey in a mere few hours (Dkon mchog rgya mtsho Ra se zla ba, pp. 68-71).25 One of Amgon's most dazzling displays of yogic power highlights his seclusion, concealment, and rejection of fame, while also flagging the performative
drama of his yogic activity. While in retreat in his cave, one day Amgon Rinpoche is said to have astonished the disciple who acted as his retreat attendant by saying that he would go on pilgrimage the following day to the sacred mountain of Tsari, (one of the major mountain pilgrimages in the Tibetan Buddhist world and a long journey from Drikung Til). The disciple was startled, given the great distance involved and the fact that Amgon did not seem to
be making any preparations to leave the cave where he was in retreat. When the disciple brought Amgon water and supplies a day later, there above the door of the meditation cave was a fresh, green bamboo shoot. Amgon explained that he had just brought it back from Tsari after doing the pilgrimage, and had planted it. (The Drikung retreat master Dordzin Rinpoche who told me this narrative in 2013 mentioned that people said the plant remained growing there
until very recently). Amgon is described as having sworn the amazed and awed disciple to secrecy, saying, "Don't tell anyone this until after Izm dead." Oral and textual accounts say that people from Drikung who were already on the Tsari pilgrimage that day (having gone there in the ordinary way), reported seeing Amgon on various parts of the mountain while they were walking.26
In this episode, which appears in both textual and oral sources, audiences encounter the extraordinary extent of Amgon's yogic capacities in a context that is both extremely private, and yet also involves a kind of going out into the world. Amgon Rinpoche is secluded in retreat in his cave hermitage. One might expect narratives focused on his absence and w让hdrawal to emerge, similar to those about Khunu Lama. But instead, in this episode Amgon journeys yogically
far out side the cave. He is seen by others on the mountain. He brings back the living bamboo shoot as dazzling proof of his journey for his disciple (and perhaps others) at Drikung Til.
This would seem to be a dramatic performance of yogic power, a bursting of the conventional parameters of his renunciant seclusion and a display of his extraordinary capacities. To travel all the way to Tsari in one night, to complete one of the arduous mountain circumambulation routes, and to return the
next day with plants from Tsari that do not normally grow in the Drikung region suggests that Amgon has mastered the remarkable yogic accomplishments of rapid locomotion and "making what is near far and far near/7 (Gethin 2011) Yet in the story, Amgon swears his disciple to secrecy during Amgon's own
lifetime. This seems to return this dramatic yogic performance of outwardness and presence to the realm of the hidden and secluded. I suggest that the moment in the story where Amgon swears his disciple to secrecy is significant, (and forms part of a narrative pattern that occurs in
other accounts of Tibetan masters as well).27 Swearing his disciple to secrecy allows Amgon to perform an extraordinary yogic act (one which marks the high level of his meditative attainment), while also maintaining a certain distance from that act, both in his interactions w让h this particular disciple, and w
让hin the structure of the narrative. That is to say, by acting in such a way as to lim让 the public awareness of his remarkable feat, Amgon renounces the fame and attention that such a feat would normally bring. One could say in Buddhist terms that this story shows him giving up the ego satisfactions and
attachments of being publicly known as a powerful yogin. The story of his trip to Tsari now circulates widely, and forms part of Amgon's posthumous identity as a great yogic master. Yet Amgon's dual role in the story, as both the enacter of an extraordinary yogic deed and as the concealer of it,
narratively signals to audiences his non-egocentric, and therefore in Buddhist terms, his moral relationship to the drama and performativity 25 Also note discussion in (DiValerio 2015, pp. 226-27).
26 Dordzin Rinpoche interview 2013; this episode is also recounted, with slight differences of emphasis, in (Dkon mchog rgya mtsho Ra se zla ba, pp. 51-52).
27 See for instance (Stearns 2007); see also relatedly (Fiordalis 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014; Gethin 2011; Gomez 2010) on issues of concealment and display of Buddhist powers in earlier Pali and Sanskrit sources.
of his own yogic power.28 The combined performance and concealment of his yogic act is explained by Tibetan narrators and commentators as reflecting Amgon's liberated state (in the Buddhist sense), his authenticity, and his trustworthiness.29
The moment at which Amgon swears his disciple to secrecy may thus itself also be seen as a kind of performance ——not with the pejorative implication that it is "fake," but in the sense that this display of secrecy too is a part of Amgon's pedagogy. Swearing his disciple to secrecy functions as a dramatic
expression of Amgon's non-grasping and non-manipulative relationship to his own extraordinary yogic capacities. In this sense, we might say that Amgon performatively models an ideal, non-grasping attitude toward yogic power for the benefit of the disciple, and for the story's future audiences. By doing so, Amgon also reveals what Tibetan exegetes describe as the fundamentally spontaneous, rather than calculated, nature of his own remarkable deeds.
Indeed, contemporary Drikung scholars with whom I discussed narratives about Amgon and his life explicitly highlighted this spontaneous, uncontrived quality of Amgon's yogic interventions, and linked this spontaneity to Amgon's authenticity as an enlightened master. They emphasized that Amgon's activities should be understood not as intentional, planned exercises of an "ordinary" kind of yogic power, but rather as naturally-arising manifestations
of his enlightened realization. (I engage here in particular with the penetrating exegetical and philosophical approaches of the three Driking scholars who also recounted many of the oral narratives of Amgdnzs life that I discuss. These three exegetes are the yogic retreat master Dordzin Rinpoche, Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen, who is one of the principals of the Drikung Kagyii Monastic College in Dehradun, and the New York-based lay scholar-practitioner Karma Rinchen.)30 31 32 33
These Drikung experts explained that in order to understand the Tsari episode and other accounts of Amgon's activities, an audience or reader must distinguish between various kinds of Buddhist super power, in particular between "ordinary" forms of power, and the one extraordinary77 power, which is
Buddhist enlightenment. The kind of yogic power with which Tibetan audiences tend to be most familiar is called ngodrup, which might be translated as "yogic accomplishment" or "attainment" (Skt. siddhi, Tib. dngos grub)?1 Tibetan exegetes, following mainstream Indic and Tibetan Buddhist treatises, explain that ngodrup abilities are produced as a predictable side effect of concentration meditation or tantric practice. Unlike the accounts of miracles
in western religious contexts, the Tibetan scholars with whom I have discussed ngodrup state that ngodrup do not represent a suspension of the laws of nature or of rationality; rather, they can be analyzed in the logical terms of cause and effect, even if they are often qtdte startling or dramatically exciting for bystanders32,33.
Importantly, ngodrup yogic powers, extraordinary as they may seem to witnesses, are generally classified in Tibetan texts and oral exegesis as "ordinary" (Tib. thun mong) in a soteriological sense. They are a side effect of certain meditative practices, but they are not (or at least should not be for Buddhists) the point of those practices. The only non-ordinary yogic power in this sense is
28 Note the resonances with the stance of personal humility so important in many mam thar accotmts of Tibetan masters. See for instance (Gyatso 1998; Jacoby 2014).
29 Dordzin Rinpoche interview 2013; Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen interview 2013; Karma Rinchen interview 2014.
30 See note 8 above. I discuss the complex perspectives of these three experts in greater detail in (Pitkin 2016), and offer only a brief distillation of their comments here as relevant to the themes of this artide.
31 Buddhist communities and texts have categorized yogic powers and superknowledges in a range of ways that have changed over time. See (Fiordalis 2008, 2010, 2013,2014; Gethin 2011; Pranke 2010; Gomez 2010). Space constraints limit my focus here to these specific Tibetan accounts. An important future topic would be a detailed analysis of the history of Tibetan taxonomies of yogic power in relation to Indic sources.
32 In this statement, I follow the perspective of Khenpo Kunga Sherab based on personal communication; see (Fiordalis 2010, 2014) for an important alternate perspective. See also my discussion of the connection to modernity and secularism in (Pitkin 2016).
33 The most common Tibetan taxonomy of ngodrup are the sets of eight 'mundane' (thun mong) ngodrup, which are 'mundane' in the sense of different from the supreme siddhi of Buddhahood. Dung dkar 1981:755 (Dung dkar bio bzang 'phrin las 2002), gives a standard list: eye potion, swift-feet, sword, travels to terrestrial realms, magic pills, travels to celestial realms, invisibility, essence extract, ("mig sman/rkang mgyogs/ral gri/sa "og/ril bu/mkhar sp-yod/mi snang ba/bcud len").
Buddhahood, also called "the supreme yogic attainment7' (Tib. mchoggi dngos grub). It is this supreme form of yogic power—enlightenment itself一that should be the goal of the Buddhist path.
An advanced Buddhist practitioner canz if she or he chooses, display ngodrup powers in front of others, or use them for worldly or Buddhist goals. In addition, an enlightened individual can manifest the supreme yogic power of enlightenment in displays that disciples or potential disciples can witness. This second type of display, which reveals Buddhist enlightenment, is referred to by the Drikung scholars I spoke with as /zsupreme miraculous power" or
supreme miraculous display77 (mchog gi rdzu "phrul; hereafter dzuntrul for short; this term in Tibetan generally translates the Sanskrit term rddhi). See (Fiordalis 2008, 2010,2013, 2014; Gethin 2011; Gomez 2010严 Dordzin Rinpoche, Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen, and Karma Rinchen described dzuntrul as enlightenment simply mardfesting. Thus, in the interpretation of these scholars, although Amgon Rinpoche appears to be displaying "ordinary" yogic abilities, i.e.z ngodrup, he is not. Rather, he is displaying his enlightened awareness, by displaying dzuntrul.
Dordzin Rinpoche, Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen, and Karma Rinchen all distinguished between ngodrup and dzuntrul in terms of intentionality and spontaneity. In their analyses, ngodrup, in the sense of intentional displays or deployments of "ordinary" yogic abilities, run the risk of manipulation. Ordinary ngodrup and related kinds of powers deriving from Buddhis t med Native and yogic practice are powerful, and often highly dramatic. But precisely because they are
so dramatic, so exciting, and superficially so similar to the illusions and magic shows of theatrical performers and charlatans, ngodrup veer toward the dangerous terr让ory of (mis)using the power of Buddhist practices to control others. Tibetan religious literature is rife with stories of powerful yogins who used their yogic abilities to harm enemies, win battles, and otherwise advance what appear to be worldly agendas.34 35 Such yogic interventions are
troublingly ambiguous, and often seem to render the general category of ngodrup suspect. As the Drikung scholars I spoke with and many other Tibetan sources explain, from a soteriological perspective, "ordinary" kinds of yogic powers are frequently classified as a distraction from the real goal, which is Buddhahood itself. The display of yogic powers is often criticized in Indian and
Tibetan canonical sources, as when Buddha Sakyamuni criticizes or forbids attachment to or displays of such powers on the part of Buddhist monastics See (Fiordalis 2010; Gethin 2011). One reason given for this is that there is said to be nothing inherently Buddhist about yogic display; practitioners of various meditation systems can expect to develop parallel abilities (and of course, skilled illusionists and other kinds of theatrical performers can often
simulate some of the "special effects/7 so to speak). For this reason, displays of yogic power are sometimes described in Indic sources and by Tibetan exegetes as counterproductive when used to encourage people to practice Buddhism.36 The dramatic quality of ngodrup displays may only increase the skepticism of those who are already skeptics一a Buddhist yogin may simply look like all the other (potentially fraudulent) performers out there.
Conversely/ for credulous people, the faith that is inspired in them by ngodrup displays is likely to be of a naive and superficial kind. Dzuntrul, by contrast, are understood to be expressions of true insight into the nature of reality, the natural manifestation of an enlightened state. Thus, they can be truly beneficial to others. Drikung exegetes I spoke with framed dzuntrul as having a completely altruistic orientation, entirely responsive
34 Rdzu "phrul can also translate the Sanskrit term pratihan/a. On rddhi and some ways of classifying rddhi and related terms abhijna and vidya in Indic sources, as well as on ambiguity and slippage of these terms in Sanskr让 and Pali materials. Note the ambiguity of the term rdzu 'phrul in Tibetan in other contexts, where it can connote illusion or deceit (Gomez 2010); (Barstow 2013).
35 However, it should be remembered that Tibetan adepts who are criticized in some sources as misusing their yogic powers are valorized in other sources, often those composed by their disciples, as acting for profound enlightened purposes ordinary audiences cannot discern; the context of interpretation remains crucial. See for instance (Yamamoto 2012; Cuevas 2015; Sperling 2001). 36 Although see (Fiordalis 2008) for discussion of the complex role of forms of Buddhist power in conversion narratives in Indic canonical sources.
to othersz needs. As Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen explained to me, dzuntrul manifest spontaneously, in an interactive way, through an interpersonal encounter between an enlightened teacher and his or her disciples or potential disciples with their particular karmic predispositions and needs.37 This responsiveness sets dzuntrul apart from the potentially manipulative power embodied in ngodrup.
Seen in this wa% Amgon's displays of dzuntrul emerge in narratives about him as literally drawn out of him by the situations of those he encounters. He is often depicted as using his yogic abilities, especially his clairvoyance, in a highly individualized way to teach those around him, w让h different interventions for different kinds of people. For instance, when Amgon interacts with the powerful Reting Rinpoche, Amgon is said to deliver a cryptic speech, describing Reting as like the golden arrow on top of a flag of victory, which will one day fall off and land on the ground. For audiences in the
present day (and perhaps at the time), the metaphor of the fallen golden arrow is a dear reference to Reting's coming downfall. Audiences may know that Reting not only fell from power, but ultimately died in prison, apparently assassinated. Amgon seems to be drawing on his clairvoyance to warn Reting, and he communicates his insight using a range of images (victory flags, gold, arrows) a ruler might respond to, though in this instance Reting does not seem to heed him.38
In other episodes, students do respond. Dordzin Rinpoche recounted for me a moving story of a time when Amgon Rinpoche was approached by a distraught mother, whose son had recently been bom w让h a cleft palate (a disfiguring cond让ion, effectively incurable in mid-twentieth century Tibet, which often
drastically limited a person's marriage and other life choices). Amgon Rinpoche assured the mother that though her son was burdened by the liability of this facial disfigurement he would in fact grow to be the best and most influential of all her children, taking solic让ous care of her in her old age and restoring their family's name. The mother is described as deeply reassured (and Dordzin Rinpoche noted that in fact the son in question did grow up to be a
prominent man).39 In another narrative, one recorded in the 2004 namtar, Amgon Rinpoche is shown transforming beer offered by a bon vivant disciple into pure water and then back to beer again (but beer with a special and delicious taste), thus inspiring the beer-loving disciple toward faith (Dkon mchog rgya mtsho Ra se zla ba, p. 43). In each of these examples and a host of others, Amgon's dzuntrul manifest interpersonally and address a particular disciple's
individual situation. The beer-lover is drawn toward Buddhist practice and devotion to Amgon through beerz the distraught mother connects with Amgon through his insights about her child. Even the powerful Regent Reting is offered a kind of personalized clairvoyant instruction, and although the namtar text and oral accounts do not show him specifically heeding Amgon's predictions of downfall, the overall message of the narratives is that Reting does
develop faith in Amgon. Across all these cases and many others, Drikung commentators particularly emphasize the responsiveness and interactive quality of Amgon's pedagogy of dzuntrul display.40
4. Bodhisattva Pedagogy]
To consider in more depth how Amgon's performative pedagogy of yogic display intersects with Khunu Lama's pedagogical performance of renunciation, I turn now to the central Mahayana ideal of the bodhisattva, which helps to link together the forgoing themes. Tibetan exegetes and audiences describe both Khunu Lama and Amgon Rinpoche as embodying the bodhisattva ideal. Indeed, much of Khunu Lama's present-day fame comes from the fact that the current Dalai Lama and other prominent Tibetan figures speak of him publicly as being a modern-day exemplar of this ideal.41 Likewise, when explaining to me how to interpret accounts of Amgon's yogic power, Dordzin
37 Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen interview 2013; discussed in greater detail in (Pitkin 2016).
38 Dordzin Rinpoche interview 2013; also see (Dkon mchog rgya mtsho Ra se zla ba, p. 68 and 任).
39 Dordzin Rinpoche interview 2013.
40 Dordzin Rinpoche interview 2013; Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen interview 2013; Karma Rinchen 2014.
41 For example, (Dalai Lama 1994); Tulku Pema Wangyal interview 2005; Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok interview 2005.
Rinpoche, Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen and Karma Rinchen each separately emphasized Amgon's identity as an individual who has actualized the bodhisattva path.42 Tibetan Buddhists at many times and places have framed their understanding of the Buddhist path around the Mahayana ideal of the compassionate, skillful
bodhisattva. In prayers, devotional texts, r让uals, yogic exercises and inspired poetry, Buddhists across the Himalayan region locate themselves, their own Buddhist teachers, and their teachers' teachers as practitioners on the bodhisattva path. According to classic Indian Mahayana presentations that are central for Tibetan Buddhists, bodhisattvas pursue the enlightened state of Buddhahood because of their altruistic wish to free all beings from suffering
by also placing them in Buddhahood. Bodhisattvas in this sense are understood to exemplify compassionate altruism, together with meditative prowess and wisdom. In their efforts to lead other beings to Buddhahood, bodhisattvas also exemplify what we might call a liberating pedagogy, the "skillful means" (Skt. upaya; Tib. thabs) that is central to theories of teaching, conflict resolution, and interp re tation across forms of Buddhism in Tibe t and elsewhere.
Tibetan exegetes describe bodhisattva pedagogy as potentially taking many forms. A bodhisattva's skillful interventions might range from meeting basic material needs of suffering beings, to teaching ethics and med Nation to individuals beginning the Buddhis t path, to advanced yogic feats of reading
others' minds, discerning the future, and skillfully engaging with troubled individuals based on these supermundane forms of knowledge.43 Bodhisattvas can thus be dazzlingly visible in their extraordinary teaching methods, which can include displays of yogic power that some observers would call miraculous. Or bodhisattvas can be humble, even potentially hidden figures, hard to observe in the midst of their ordinariness.
Since bodhisattvas' skillful repertoires of teaching techniques include acting as role models, Tibetan authors sometimes suggest that bodhisattvas may visibly enact their own practice of the Buddhist path to enlightenment specifically to show other practitioners how it is done. Biographers sometimes highlight their ordinariness, their "just like us" progress through difficult obstacles to realization, framing their struggles and achievements as an
ideal to be emulated. Many narratives about the beloved eleventh century Tibetan saint Milarepa, for example, and indeed about the historical Buddha, take this form (Quintman 2013). On the other hand, other narrators within the same Tibetan Buddhist biographical framework may depict enlightened masters as enacting the Buddhist path with an emphasis on “acting," suggesting that from the perspective of the master, there is ultimately no path or achievement
(paraphrasing the words of the Heart Sutra), but only the spontaneous unfolding of a realization which is already present. According to non-dualistic Mahayana ways of understanding the core Buddhist principles of interdependence and selflessness, an enlightened being's enlightenment is not in an ontological sense separate from any previous un-enlightened state.44 From this latter perspective, even the practice of the Buddhist path itself has a
performative quality for an already-enlightened individual, who engages in its stages as a pedagogical display for the sake of others. As we can see here, the term bodhisattva has a certain ambiguity. A bodhisattva can be an ordinary human being who has committed to the bodhisattva path through taking vows and is working through the stages of Buddhist practice. Or a bodhisattva may be an enlightened being who has already perfected the result of the Buddhist path. In that latter sense, the term bodhisattva can also refer to a supermundane, cosmic Buddha figure personifying an aspect of enlightenment. According to Tibetan interpretations, these cosmic figures may themselves enact human life stories and narratives of
42 Dordzin Rinpoche interview 2013; Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen interview 2013; Karma Rinchen 2014.
43 For instance (Patrul Rinpoche/Padmakara Translation Group 1994; Shantideva 1997; Dalai Lama 1994).
44 This raises a complex set of philosophical debates, which for reasons of space I cannot explore here. See for example (Makransky 1997; Patrul Rinpoche/Padmakara Translation Group 1994; Stearns 2007; Thakchoe and Garfield 2007; Thurman 1991).
enlightenment by incarnating as human masters. The Dalai Lamas, for instance, are understood in this way to be incarnations of the cosmic enlightened figure Avalokiteshvaraz who personifies compassion.
In the case of all of these kinds of bodhisattva figures, both mundane and supermundane, Buddhist scholars in the Tibetan context analyze their teaching activities as profoundly intersubjective:45 Since bodhisattvas should be by definition altruistic (or at least committed to altruism as a goal), and
therefore free of private selfish agendas, they should in theory act responsively to the needs of those they are trying to help. This quality of responsiveness increases as a bodhisattva approaches Buddhahood. Stated in more technical Buddhist philosophical terms, as an individual approaches Buddhist enlightenment, she exhausts her own karmic trajectories, and acts purely as a result of the force of her prior bodhisattva vow to benefit beings,
becoming at the level of skillful means (as distinguished from wisdom) an entity of purely spontaneous and perfectly skillful responsiveness. Or to express the same idea in more emotional and psychological terms, an enlightened individual is no longer trying to get anything private for themselves out of any situation. Rather, such an individual is infinitely available to benefit others in need of teaching (even if the specific interventions of such an
enlightened being may not please unenlightened people around them in the short term, who have no way to fully evaluate their actions.) If one thinks of the bodhisattva as fundamentally a teacher figure, then such a bodhisattva teacher should respond skillfully and individually to the unique needs of each of her students. Andz in fact, in the Tibetan Buddhist context, individuals are always encouraged to think of their own teachers as bodhisattvas, or to be more precise, as Buddhas who have reached the culmination of the bodhisattva path.
Tibetan accounts of compassionate bodhisattvas, whether understood as human teachers or enlightened beings, are deeply influenced by these Mahayana perspectives. This is especially true for the key concepts of intention and spontaneity. If an ideal bodhisattva is infinitely skillful, in the sense of
infinitely responsive to each unique disciple or potential disciple, then a quality of spontaneity would seem to be built into the bodhisattva's repertoire. On the other hand, a bodhisattva's spontaneity in meeting others' needs emerges within the context of a very powerful set of intentions, both the bodhisattva's overarching prior intention to benefit others, expressed as a vowz and her immediate intention to help the person in front of her. While
from a Tibetan Buddhist point of view this is not a form of selfish intentionality, these are decisive intentions nonetheless.46 Tibetan Buddhist intellectual traditions possess a rich and detailed vocabulary for thinking about the intentionality and power of advanced Buddhist practitioners, bodhisattvas, and Buddhas. Building on earlier Indian taxonomies, Tibetan exegetes map a four-fold repertoire of enlightened activity (Tib.
"phrin las mam bzhi) enacted by Buddhas for the benefit of others, or ritually and imaginatively engaged in by practitioners on the bodhisattva path. In this schema, the four kinds of enlightened activity are pacifying (Tib. zhi ba), enriching (Tib. rgyas pa), magnetizing or mastering (Tib. dbang ba), and destroying or wrathful (Tib. drag po). These activities include pacifying threats to human flourishing, such as conflicts and sickness; increasing positive circumstances like health, virtue and auspiciousness; charismatically and powerfully guiding people and non-human beings; and forcefully subduing those who would do harm. Perhaps it is not surprising that the authors Donald Lopez Jr and Steven Rockefeller refer to this list, somewhat provocatively, as the "four political activities/' (Lopez and Rockefeller 1987).
Tibetan intellectual and popular trad让ions acknowledge the power of advanced practitioners w让h enthusiasm and awe, but also with ambivalence. Tibetan authors and commentators often ask, directly
45 Here and in what follows, I am especially guided by the exegetical approach of the already- mentioned Drikung scholar Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen, together with the comments of another leading Driktmg scholar and teacher, Khenchen Konchok Gyaltsen, based on interview conversations and personal
communications in 2004 and 2013. This emphasis on responsiveness and intersubjectivity is a mainstream and standard feature of Tibetan presentations of the bodhisattva's role (Dalai Lama 1994; Pitkin 2016; Pitkin; Shantideva 1997; Thondup 1996; Patrul Rinpoche/Padmakara Translation Group 1994; Gyatso 1998). I am indebted to Holly Gayley for the term "intersubjective."
I am grateful to Dominique Townsend for this observation or by implication, whether expressions of power can risk becoming manipulative. Might the above accounting of the four activities be used to rationalize domination, for instance 讦 a powerful king or general is also understood as a bodhisattva? (Cuevas 2015; Mills 2012; Sperling 2001; Yamamoto 2012) Tibetan Buddhist stories about venerated masters often grapple with these anxieties, addressing in their accounts longstanding Tibetan concerns about power, manipulation, and fraud.
Ambivalence about and contestation of the mundane and supermundane powers of Buddhist leaders and advanced practitioners is a recurring theme of Tibetan religious life, from an early historical period.47 These concerns form the backdrop against which Tibetan religious virtuosi must prove themselves and
establish credibility (Gyatso 1998; Gardner 2006; Stearns 2007; Jacoby 2014; DiValerio 2015; Yamamoto 2012). Tibetan Buddhist visionaries, authors and audiences from multiple historical periods give shrewd and sophisticated attention to critiquing fraud, manipulation, and exploitation, often through the use of humor and mockery. Examples are too numerous to list in full, but readers might note sharp comments about wealthy religious hierarchs who are
Buddhists in name only in the life stories of Milarepa (Quintman 2013) and Tangtong Gyalpo (Stearns 2007). Janet Gyatso describes the intense pressure felt by the eighteenth century visionary Jigme Lingpa to legitimate himself as a treasure-revealer (Tib. gter ston) in a climate of suspicion (Gyatso 1998). Sarah Jacoby describes similar pressures to demonstrate authenticity and refute accusations of fraud or manipulation in the case of the twentieth century woman visionary Sera Khandro (Jacoby 2014).
Interestingly, such concerns are sometimes framed in international academic or journalistic literature as "modem," "western" or "Chinese" critiques of what is presumed to be Tibetan religious naivete or theocratic orthodoxy.48 This is a mistake. The examples introduced above all complicate these prejudices, challenging presentations of Tibetans and Tibetan societies as naively credulous, while also challenging views of Tibet as always peaceful or nonviolent.
The English term "performance" further illuminates Tibetan concerns about Buddhist mastersz powers. Performances can be spontaneous, with both performer and audience experiencing them as authentic and natural. Nevertheless, the term performance77 also carries a strong implication of intentionality, where extensive preparation and training is required. This can have negative connotations, such as implying artifice. Here the term performance can refer
precisely to what is not natural, what is calculated so as to produce an effect, what is "only an act." This disquieting polysemic semantic field is not unique to the English performance. Buddhist authors across multiple hist orical periods and linguistic set tings have used performance-related t erms as metaphors for the delusory or illusion-like qual辻ies of our ordinary experience of ourselves and the world around us. Buddhist authors also use the vocabulary of misleading performance to describe the manipulative actions of yogins who deploy their powers or religious status deceptively, coercively, or to enrich themselves. This association of performance with fakery and with delusion or ignorance marks performance as something two-edged and potentially problematic, both in Buddhist analysis, in non-Buddhist Indic literatures, and in western scholarship.49
Tibetan and more general Buddhist concerns about artifice, illusion, delusion, and manipulation inform the context for engaging with stories about masters like Amgon Rinpoche and Khunu Lama. Stories about their bodhisattva repertoires of liberating pedagogy respond to Tibetan anxieties about the dangers of powerful intentions in the hands of powerful people. In this context, spontaneity and the idea of the bodhisattva's responsiveness to the needs of others emerge as crucial proof of authenticity. Spontaneity (rather than predetermined intention) and responsiveness to the needs of 47 See for instance the dynamics analyzed in (Dalton 2011; Gyatso 1998; Kapstein 2000); the contested accotmts discussed in (Cuevas 2015; Yamamoto 2012).
48 For instance, the issues raised in (Aris 1989). (King 1999; Lopez 1998) discuss some of these dynamics; relatedly see (McMahan 2008; Gyatso 2011; Tuttle 2005). (Asad 2003; Bubandt and van Beek 2012) raise important related issues.
49 In relation to this see (Aris 1989; Pollock 2011, 2016; Shulman 2012; Strong 2007).
students (rather than enacting one's own egocentric agenda) appear as the hallmarks of true, selfless and thus morally pure bodhisattva activity. Considered from this point of view, one way to understand how Khunu Lama and Amgon Rinpoche are remembered is to say that Khunu Lama is shown as a practitioner of exceptional renunciation, who is personally concerned to avoid even a trace of manipulation or the dominating exercise of power over others. He is therefore shown as a hidden yoginz one whose bodhisattva pedagogy of concealment refuses all (morally and psychologically treacherous) performance or display. Amgon Rinpoche, by contrast, is remembered as ebulliently performative in his yogic displays, embracing a bodhisattva style we could call a pedagogy of the visible, even a pedagogy of the dramatic. Wt his pedagogy is also viewed as pure and moral by biographers and commentators,
specifically because they interpret it as entirely spontaneous and altruistically responsive to the needs of others, rather than calculating or egocentric. This interpretation of Amgon's pedagogy of yogic display as spontaneous and altruistic is connected to Amgon's invocation of secrecy and his own intensive practices of renunciation. It is also grounded in the framing of his extraordinary activ让ies as dzuntrul rather t han ngodrup.50
A further way to think about Khunu Lama and Amgon Rinpoche's life stories is to correlate them with two different ways of understanding bodhisattva activity: bodhisattvas performing in order to model Buddhist practices for their disciples, and bodhisattvas spontaneously displaying enlightened qualities in order to benefit their disciples. Khunu Lama's biographers have tended to emphasize his intensive practice of the bodhisattva path as an ideal to be
emulated, a model to inspire others. Accounts of his life thus pay dose attention to his extraordinary care in practicing renunciation and scholarship, both of which Khunu Lama is said to have raised to a virtuosic level. Both of these are forms of activity carrying some sense of effort; they are practices, rather than results, and they suggest a framework of self-cultivation.
Stories about Amgon Rinpoche, on the other hand, tend to emphasis his spontaneity, the irrepressible expression, as it were, of his enlightened relationship with reality in the intersubjective context of engaging other people. His spontaneity results in extraordinary displays that teach by showing
what enlightenment looks like, and by thus inspiring genuine (as opposed to naive) faith. While early chapters of the 2004 biography of Amgon Rinpoche do discuss the meditative practices through which he is said to have reached realization, especially his practice of the tradition called Mahamudra or Great Seal, his oral biographers and the 2004 biography highlight his later years as a teacher, when he teaches by manifesting enlightened qualities. The Tibetan scholars with whom I have discussed narratives of Amgon's life describe him as thus showing the fruits of the Buddhist path, rather than the stages of the path.51
In this sense, Amgon is seen as displaying what Buddhahood is like through his yogic performances. Amgon Rinpoche's yogic displays are not presented by the scholars I spoke with as forms of self-cultivation in the ordinary sense, although they do result from his previous med Nation practice. His yogic displays are instead framed as a welling-up of his direct perception of reality, as well as of his compassion for others. That is to say, Amgon Rinpoche's yogic displays function explic让ly as sources of Buddhist inspiration for audiences, rather than as detailed guides to Buddhist practice.52 Following the interpretive lead of Drikung scholars like Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen, we might say that Amgon is shown using his yogic performances as part of a pedagogy of faith, one that inspires audiences to believe in and aspire to the results of the path for themselves.53
50 Dordzin Rinpoche interview 2013; Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen interview 2013.
51 Dordzin Rinpoche and Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen, interviews 2013.
52 Dordzin Rinpoche and Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen, interviews 2013. I discuss the role of faith vis a vis Amgon's yogic displays in detail in (Pitkin 2016).
53 Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen explicitly connects Amgon Rinpoche's yogic displays to the need and capacity of the disciples for faith. Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen interview 2013, personal communication 2016. See also (Pitkin 2016).
5. Final Scene
In 2013, I had the opportunity to talk at length with Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen about his knowledge of both Khunu Lama and Amgon Rinpoche. At that timez he told me another version of the meeting between the two men, an oral account told to him by a close relative who had been a disciple of both. In this version of the story of their meeting, the two men make what is called in Tibetan a religious connection7' (Tib. chos zbrel).
According to this oral narrative, Khunu Lama visits Amgon Rinpoche in his meditation cave. Amgon Rinpoche offers Khunu Lama the inexhaustible tea and sugar, thus delighting Khunu Lama with his realization and enlightened qualities. Then Khunu Lama asks Amgon Rinpoche 讦 he will bestow on Khunu Lama the Buddhist transmission of an important meditation practice from the Drikung Kagyu trad让ion, the very trad让ion in which Amgon Rinpoche practices, to make a
religious teacher-student connection between them. Amgon Rinpoche gets up from his seat and walks around Khunu Lama. He does not read a text or perform anything one might ordinarily identify as a ritual; he leaves undone anything that might conventionally constitute a form of religious transmission. Instead, Amgon touches Khunu Lama with his own face, cheek to cheek, forehead to forehead, nose to nose. Then he says, "That's 让.”54
For ever after that, Khunu Lama is said to have told people, "Oh yesz I received that Drikung Kagyu transmission from Amgon Rinpoche—not w让h words, but with the meaning/'55
In this final scene, we see the multiple levels on which both men might be called renunciantsz not only the parallel ways in which each is remembered as abandoning possessions, status, comfortable clothing and food, but also the way that they both are remembered as renouncing religious status and r让ual, as well as renouncing ordinary unenlightened perception. I would argue that we find a special genre of pedagogical bodhisattva performance in this scene. This
is a performance of renouncing all conventionality, including religious ritual conventions. It is equally a performance that also enacts, expresses, and transmits the state of enlightenment, spontaneously, in the context of an intimate human relationship. One might further speculate that renunciation like Amgon's and Khunu Lama's in these stories acts as a protection against accusations that one is using
one's power and charisma for some kind of personal gain or political project. After all, both renunciation and displays of yogic power are on some level about power一they enhance an individual's charisma, and display that charisma. And as we have already noted, the pleasure, power, efficacy and (from a Mahayana soteriological perspective) necessity of bodhisattva performances is often tempered in Tibetan narratives by the sense that ordinary worldly
agendas can render bodhisattva power deeply problematic. Indeed, that might be one way to understand the figure of Reting Rinpoche in Amgon's oral and textual biographies. His role in Amgon's biographies may be to show the potential for ordinary kinds of political power and success to go awry, even for high ranking Buddhist figures. It would be an overstatement to
say Reting is a literary foil for Amgon. But the moral and narrative ambiguity with which he is presented—the prestige his visits and gifts confer, contras ted with his fallibility and the conflicts he is known to be embroiled in——highlight the complexities of exercising power in an intentional way. The ambiguity of such a figure clarifies the stakes for Tibetan audiences of framing bodhisattva power, bodhisattva pedagogy, and bodhisattva performances as
spontaneous, altruistic, and free from selfish agendas. Legitimate bodhisattva pedagogy must be powerful and world shaping, yet free of manipulation.56 In this context, renunciation as a practice takes on immense moral and narrative weight. Renunciation acts as a guarantor of the genuineness of someone's altruism. Leg让imation in a Tibetan
54 Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen, interview 2013.
55 Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen, interview 2013.
56 Of course, for Retingzs own disciples and community; these events and their interpretation can be framed quite differently.
Buddhist context of audience suspicion may even require certain practices or displays of renunciation, which demonstrate that one is not seeking one's own power or fame. The quality of renunciation that Amgon Rinpoche displays in the special transmission scene above, and which disciples so frequently describe Khunu Lama as displaying thus functions as a crucial mark of leg让imacy.57
In narratives of Amgon Rinpoche's and Khunu Lama's lives, we see an interplay between disciplined virtuosic renunciation and dramatic virtuosic yogic display between hidden concealment and flamboyant visibility. Renunciation and yogic display are not separate in these two Tibetan Buddhist
exemplifications of bodhisattva activity. Hiding and making visible are not opposing pedagogical strategies, but are rather two complementary aspects of a continuous emancipatory performance, one that is both meticulously cultivated and responsively spontaneous, disciplined and free, concealed and dazzling. Acknowledgments: This research received generous support from the Social Science Research Council, the Fulbright-Hays Foundation, and a Blakemore-Freeman
Fellowship. I thank Kalsang Wangdu for his insightful research assistance. I am grateful to the Drikung Kagyii scholars who shared their expertise with me, especially H.H. Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche, Khenchen Konchok Gyaltsen, Dordzin Rinpoche, Khenchen Nyima Gyaltsen, Karma Namgyalz and the Direc tor and staff of the Drikung Kagyii Ins titute in Dehradunz India. I am indebted to the many students of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen who shared their recollections with
me. In particular, I am grateful to Khunu Lama's main Tibetan-language biographers, the late K. Angrup, the late Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche, and Drikung Lamchen Gyalpo Rinpoche, and to western-language scholars of Khunu Lama's life and related topics, especially Gareth Sparham, Jurgen Manshardt, Thierry Dodin, Linda LaMacchia, and David Jackson. These scholars exemplify the virtues of scholarship and generosity Khunu Lama himself was said to prize. I am
particularly indebted to Tashi Tsering of the Amnye Machen Inst让ute, whose extraordinary erudition and support made the research presented here possible. All errors are my own.
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