Renaissance Man From Amdo: the Life and Scholarship of the Eighteenth-Century Amdo Scholar Sum Pa Mkhan Po Ye Shes Dpal ’Byor (1704-1788)
AbstractThis dissertation examines the new cultural developments in eighteenth-century northeastern Tibet, also known as Amdo, by looking into the life story of a preeminent monk-scholar, Sum pa Mkhan po Ye shes dpal ’byor (1708-1788).
In the first part, this study corroborates what has only been sensed by previous scholarship, that is, the rising importance of Amdo in Tibetan cultural history. This is done by quantification of the cultural development using geostatistical data analysis regarding three main cultural phenomena: reincarnations, monasteries, and literary production. In the second part, the study sheds light on the qualitative aspects of each phenomenon with a case study on Sum pa Mkhan po’s autobiographies. His accounts reveal that Amdo’s incarnation institution was not a simple copy of the Tibetan convention, but a process of unique development from a clan-based institution to an ideal form thanks to efforts of improvement by local agencies. For the scholarly development, Sum pa Mkhan po’s frequent contacts with people in Amdo and Inner Mongolia formed a new set of interests in knowledge that has practical functions for the people who invited him, as he adapted his pre-obtained Buddhism-centered knowledge to a commoner’s aim on practical uses. For the monastic connections, Sum pa Mkhan po’s abbacies demonstrate the on-going competition between local powers and new religious authorities, and this led him to have a deeper level of interactions with extra-Amdo regions such as Inner Mongolia. By forming connections based on bestowals of tantric initiations, Sum pa Mkhan po contributed to a revival of Buddhist infrastructure among southern and central Inner Mongolian people, without losing his identity of being an “Amdo” lama.
This study is the first investigation to clearly show that Sum pa Mkhan po’s autobiographies uniquely manifest the detailed features of the late pre-modern development of Tibetan culture in which the Amdo region played its important role. Sum pa Mkhan po was in the larger stream of the cultural movement that can be called “Amdo Renaissance,” by inheriting the traditional Tibetan culture, but developing and disseminating it with his own initiatives and abilities.
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