Delivering the Lotus-Born: Historiography in the Tibetan Renaissance

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Delivering the Lotus-Born: Historiography in the Tibetan Renaissance

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Title: Delivering the Lotus-Born: Historiography in the Tibetan Renaissance
Author: Hirshberg, Daniel
Citation: Hirshberg, Daniel. 2012. Delivering the Lotus-Born: Historiography in the Tibetan Renaissance. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Traditionally recognized as the first of the great Buddhist treasure revealers, Nyang-rel Nyima Özer (1124-1192) historiographically reconstructed the Imperium into a golden age of Tibetan Buddhism. An analysis of his two early biographies demonstrates that he was among the first to recall an unbroken series of preincarnations in real historical time, which was a crucial link that led to the ascension of concatenated reincarnates like the Karmapas and Dalai Lamas. For Nyang-rel, his past life as emperor Tri Song-détsen (d. 800) provided the teleological karmic basis for his life as a finder of the old texts and relics deemed "treasure." According to his biographies and the two narratives that are attributed to him, Nyang-rel’s treasures were uniformly material objects extracted via quite mundane methods, though the discovery of old manuscripts seems to have been only an initial step in a process of compilation, redaction and composition that resulted in their reintroduction. Allegedly among these treasures was the first complete biography of the eighth-century Tantrika, Padmasambhava, which later became renowned as The Copper Palace. Much of this narrative was incorporated into the history of Buddhism entitled Flower Nectar: The Essence of Honey that is also attributed to Nyang-rel. Based on a comparative analysis of available recensions, however, I propose three hypotheses as equally viable alternatives to what has been asserted concerning the composition of these two texts. First, Nyang-rel did not consider his biography of Padmasambhava to be a treasure, but the tradition later manufactured a recovery narrative and accompanying title that promoted it as such. Second, Nyang-rel did not compile the Flower Nectar history. Third, based on oral, textual and mnemonic fragments, Nyang-rel produced a narrative of Tri Song-détsen and Padmasambhava that others developed into The Copper Palace and Flower Nectar. In sum, Nyang-rel was a progenitor of some of the most definitive aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, yet these very innovations ensured that he would be eclipsed by later adepts who, in adopting his claims and methods, revealed new iterations of his scriptures and narratives. He thus remains one of the most influential yet unsung figures of the Tibetan renaissance.
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