To See a Mountain: Writing, Place, and Vision in Tibetan Pilgrimage Literature
Hartmann, Catherine Anne
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CitationHartmann, Catherine Anne. 2020. To See a Mountain: Writing, Place, and Vision in Tibetan Pilgrimage Literature. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractBuddhist thought diagnoses human suffering as the result of a fundamental misperception of reality. As such, Buddhists have developed practices that aim to replace or improve ordinary ways of seeing the world. In Tibet, one such practice is pilgrimage to holy mountains. This dissertation explores this application of the Buddhist project to restructure perceptual experience.
Tibetan pilgrimage is structured around the idea that the holy mountain is actually a wondrous palace for an enlightened deity. Of course, most people do not typically see it in that way, but the goal for pilgrims is to learn to see the mountain as a sacred palace through the transformation of their perception. This project asks how Tibetan texts attempted to transform perception, and explores the role of poetic language, as well as the physical landscape itself, in doing so. The project engages a number of different types of pilgrimage texts—songs and letters of advice for pilgrims, founding narratives of pilgrimage mountains, polemics about the nature of pilgrimage, pilgrimage guides to specific holy places, and a pilgrim diary—which span a time period from 1200 to the 1950s. In each case, it asks how these works approach the problem of training people to see the holy place’s theoretically invisible wonders.
This dissertation argues that Tibetan pilgrimage texts treat perception as an active process that is malleable and subject to reframing and reinterpretation, and that they develop techniques whereby the pilgrim works with the material world in order to transform perception. Such techniques, which I refer to as “practices of seeing,” include specialized forms of reading the landscape for signs, practices of writing and reading, and an imaginative juxtaposition of physical and idealized landscapes. These practices facilitate what I call “co-seeing,” a state in which the pilgrim sees the site in two ways at once; that is, they see it in one way with their ordinary perception and in another quite different way in their mind’s eye. Practices of seeing thereby help the pilgrim to elide the gap between ordinary perception and extraordinary vision, thus creating the conditions for potentially transformative religious experiences.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365929
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