Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Secrets of the Vajra Body: Dngos po'i gnas lugs and the Apotheosis of the Body in the work of Rgyal ba Yang dgon pa
by Miller, Willa Blythe, Ph.D., Harvard University, 2013, 358; 3567003
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation looks at an attempt in Buddhist history to theorize the role and status of the body as the prime focus of soteriological discourse. It studies a text titled Explanation of the Hidden Vajra Body (Rdo rje lus kyi sbas bshad), composed by Yang dgon pa Rgyal mtshan dpal (1213-1258). This work, drawing on a wide range of canonical tantric Buddhist scriptures and Indic and Tibetan commentaries, lays out in detail a Buddhist theory of embodiment that brings together the worldly realities of the body with their enlightened transformation. This dissertation analyzes the ways Yang dgon pa theorizes the body as the essential ground of the salvific path, and endeavors to provide a thematic guide to his rich and complex discussion of what the body is and does, from a tantric perspective. The thesis parses a key term, dngos po'i gnas lugs, that Yang dgon pa uses as an organizing principle in Explanation of the Hidden. If taken literally, the term means something like "the nature of things" or "the nature of material substance," but Yang dgon pa deployed the term specifically to refer to the nature of the human psychophysical organism, in its ordinary state. By way of this term, Yang dgon pa argues that the body itself makes enlightenment possible. In the course of this thesis, I consider the prior history of this category as it was gradually developed by a series of Bka' brgyud writers until it reached Yang dgon pa. Then, in light of this category, I explore Yang dgon pa's own vision of embodiment. This vision, I argue, reflects an attempt to refocus soteriological attention on the power of the body, over and above the mind, as the salient basis for non-dual knowing. Finally, I reflect upon the lasting contributions of Yang dgon pa's conception of the body to the ongoing exploration of such topics in the history of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist soteriology, as well as upon why some of the more radical elements of his thinking seem to have been eliminated in subsequent generations of his lineage.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gyatso, Janet
Commitee: Monius, Anne, van der Kuijp, Leonard
School: Harvard University
Department: Religion
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 74/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religion, Religious history, Religion, Philosophy, Asian Studies
Keywords: Body, Buddhism, Esoteric Buddhism, Tantra, Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism
Publication Number: 3567003
ISBN: 978-1-303-18625-7
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