Literature and the Moral Life: Reading the Early Biography of the Tibetan Queen Yeshe Tsogyal
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CitationAngowski, Elizabeth. 2019. Literature and the Moral Life: Reading the Early Biography of the Tibetan Queen Yeshe Tsogyal. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractIn two parts, this dissertation offers a study and readings of the Life Story of Yeshé Tsogyal, a fourteenth-century hagiography of an eighth-century woman regarded as the matron saint of Tibet. Focusing on Yeshé Tsogyal's figurations in historiographical and hagiographical literature, I situate my study of this work, likely the earliest full-length version of her life story, amid ongoing questions in the study of religion about how scholars might best view and analyze works of literature like biographies, especially when historicizing the religious figure at the center of an account proves difficult at best.
In my readings, I advocate a hermeneutical approach that engages the Life of Yeshé Tsogyal's self-understanding as a work that is both an authentic terma (gter ma), that is, a "treasure text" or "revealed scripture," and a namtar (rnam thar), here understood to be a narrative of an individual's pursuit of spiritual realization. Following a consideration of the work's genre, I examine two of its dominant literary features: intertextuality and dialogue. Through its use of intertextuality, I suggest that the Life seeks to cultivate a reader who is ever eager to find more—more information, but above all, further significance—in the text. The reader who reads intertextually is apt to gain both facility and comfort with the work, and even, ideally, the ability to see the work as persistently relevant to their own life. Through its use of dialogue, I find that the story works to familiarize the reader with Yeshé Tsogyal in ways that extend beyond the capacities of diegesis alone. For its dialogic qualities both among texts and between persons, I understand the Life of Yeshé Tsogyal to be a work of literature that seeks not only to account for the spiritual progress of Yeshé Tsogyal, but also to enliven her amid the religious landscapes of Tibet and Bhutan.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029522
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