New Age Namtars: Tibetan Autobiographies in English

  • Laurie Hovell McMillin


In the fall of 1995, I arranged a visit of Tibetan monks to Kenyon College, where I was teaching at the time. Like many such traveling groups, the monks of Drepung Loseling monastery offered American audiences sounds of their famous overtone chanting, glimpses of folk and religious dances, and a sample of Gelukpa forms of philosophical debate. Four monks stayed with my family for several nights. Their visit also happened to coincide with the playoff games for the World Series, and the Cleveland team my husband T. S. and I were cheering for was in the running. After the monks’ performance of “Sacred Music, Sacred Dance” before an admiring crowd, the monks,T. S. and I settled in front of the TV for the game. None of the monks knew the rules of baseball, and they were eager to learn. Only one of them, Geshe Damdul, was fluent in English, so with him as translator and my little knowledge of Tibetan, T. S. and I set out to explain the baseball’s intricacies. The monks were familiar with cricket and soccer, so many comparisons were made among those games. And they learned fast: what a “ball” is; why a foul tip is not a third strike; why you can run past first base after a hit but cannot overrun second or third. The quiet monk they called “Elvis” because of his grown-out sideburns sat with his legs tucked under him on the couch.


Life Story Title Page Real Person Western Representation Western Reader 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 6.
    Janet Gyatso, A pparitions of the S elf.• The S ecret A utobiographies of a Tibetan V isionary (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), p. 111.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    For English versions of these namtars, see Lobsang P. Lhalunpa’s The Life of Milarepa (NewYork: Arkana, 1979), Keith Dowman’s The Divine Madman: The Sublime Life and Songs of Drupka Kunley (Dawn Horse: Middletown, Calif., 1980), Dowman’s Sky Dancer: The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1996), and Janice Willis’s Enlightened Beings: Life Storiesfrom the Ganden Oral Tradition (Boston:Wisdom, 1994). The phrase “full liberation” is from Willis.Google Scholar
  3. 12.
    Georges Gusdorf, “Conditions and Limits of Autobiography,” trans. and ed. James Olney, in Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, ed. Olney (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), p. 30.Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    Philippe Lejeune, “The Autobiographical Pact,” On Autobiography, ed. Paul John Eakin, trans. Katherine Leary (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1989), p. 4.Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    Palden Gyatso, “Prologue,” Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk (NewYork: Grove Press, 1997), no page number.Google Scholar
  6. 16.
    Dawa Norbu, Red Star over Tibet (NewYork: Ebony, 1987).Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    Jamyang Sakya and Julie Emery, P rincess in the L and of S nows: T he L ife of Jamyang S akya in T ibet (Boston: Shambala), p. xi.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    Heinrich Harrer, “Preface,” Tibet is My Country: Autobiography of Thubten Jigme Norbu, Brother of the Dalai Lama as told to Heinrich Harrer (London: Wisdom, 1986), p. 18.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    DorjeYudonYuthok, House of the Turquoise Roof, trans. and ed. Michael Harlin (Ithaca, Snow Lion, 1990, [revised 1995]), p. 16.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    Exceptions to this include Dawa Norbu’s Red Star Over Tibet in which he presents himself as a secular intellectual (New York: Envoy, 1987) and Melvyn Goldstein, William Siebenschuh, and Tashi Tsering, The Struggle for a Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashi Tsering, (NewYork: M. E. Sharpe, 1997).Google Scholar
  11. 23.
    Jetsun Pema with Gilles van Grasdorff, T ibet: M y S tory, A n A utobiography (Boston: Element, 1997), p. 217.Google Scholar
  12. 26.
    Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 200.Google Scholar
  13. 27.
    Ibid., p. 201.Google Scholar
  14. 28.
    George Bogle, Ms. Eur. E226/18. See Clements Markham, Narratives of the Mission of George Bogle to Tibet and of the Journey of Thomas Manning to Lhasa (New Delhi: Manjusri, 1971 [1876]), p. 95.Google Scholar
  15. 30.
    See Johannes Fabian’s Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object (NewYork: Columbia University Press, 1983).Google Scholar
  16. 31.
    Orville Schell, Virtual Tibet: Searchingfor Shangri-La From the Himalayas to Hollywood (NewYork: Metropolitan, 2000), p. 78.Google Scholar
  17. 32.
    Sandy Johnson, The Book of Tibetan Elders: Life Stories and Wisdom from the Great Spiritual Masters of Tibet (NewYork: Riverhead, 1996), p. 5. See also Peter Gold’s Navajo and Tibetan Sacred Wisdom: The Circle of Spirit (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1994).Google Scholar
  18. 35.
    Robert Thurman, Essential Tibetan Buddhism (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1995), p. 10; Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, p. 200.Google Scholar
  19. 51.
    P. Christiaan Klieger, Tibetan Nationalism: The Role of Patronage in the Accomplishment of a National Identity (Meerut [[ndia]: Archana, 1992), p. 19.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Laurie Hovell McMillin 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laurie Hovell McMillin

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations