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Monks’ Tales: Geshe Rabten and Lobsang Gyatso

  • Laurie Hovell McMillin

Abstract

In the popular imagination, the figure of the Tibetan monk most frequently signifies “Tibetan.” It is the monk who often concerns Bogle,Turner,Waddell, and Kipling, the monk who bears much of valued Buddhist knowledge. It is the monk Western audiences have encountered in the dancing, chanting, and sand-mandala-making troupes of Tibetans who travel the United States. And even though the percentage of males who became monks inTibet before 1959 was around 10 percent and is significantly smaller now, monks and former monks make up almost half of the list ofTibetan autobiographies in English. Two prominent examples are Geshe Rabten’s The Life and Teaching of Geshe Rabten: A Tibetan Lamas Search for Truth and Lobsang Gyatso’s Memoirs of a Tibetan Lama. Both texts relate the childhood and education of monks within the Gelukpa monastic system. Both demonstrate adherence to Tibetan biographical and autobiographical conventions. Both subjects find personal significance in the life of Milarepa, the eleventh-century ascetic and cultural hero. Both tell the tales of exiled lamas who collected a number of Western adherents. And both are produced with the prodding and assistance of white, English-speaking disciples. But they are quite different stories. While Lobsang Gyatso goes on for some 300 pages, Geshe Rabten stops at 119.

Keywords

Life Story Evil Spirit Spiritual Development Buddhist Tradition Home Village 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Gareth Sparham, “Introduction,” Memoirs of a Tibetan Lama (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1998), p. 7.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Geshe Rabten, The Life and Teaching of Geshe Rabten: A Tibetan Lamas Search for Truth (London: Allen and Unwin, 1980), p. 54. Subsequent citations are noted by page number in the text.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    The Dalai Lama, “Foreword,” The Life and Teaching of Geshe Rabten: A Tibetan Lamas Search for Truth (London:Allen and Unwin, 1980), no page number.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    B. Alan Wallace, “Preface,” The Life and Teaching of Geshe Rabten: A Tibetan Lamas Search for Truth (London: Allen and Unwin, 1980), no page number.“Geshe” is a title that denotes an advanced degree within the Geluk tradition.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    James Olney, “Autobiography and the Cultural Moment,” A utobiography: E ssays T heoretical and C ritical (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), p. 25.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    See Stephen Batchelor, “Letting Daylight into Magic: The Life and Times of Dorje Shugden,” and Donald S. Lopez, Jr., “Two Sides of the Same God,” Tricycle, Spring 1998, pp. 60–66 and 67–82 respectively, and Georges Dreyfus,“The Shuk-den Affair: History and Nature of a Quarrel,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 21:2 (1998), pp. 227–270.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Lobsang Gyatso, Memoirs of a Lama (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1998), p. 11. Subsequent citations are noted by page number in the text.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Janet Gyatso, A pparitions of the S elf.• T he S ecret A utobiographies of a T ibetan V isionary (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), p. 105.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    Ibid., p. 111.Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    Tenzin Gyatso, Ethicsfor a New Millennium (NewYork: Riverhead, 1999), p. 188.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    See Richard Gombrich and Gananath Obeyesekere, Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (London: Gordon Fraser, 1978), p. 8.Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 19.Google Scholar

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© Laurie Hovell McMillin 2001

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  • Laurie Hovell McMillin

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