Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Substance and Sense: Objects of Power in the Life, Writings, and Legacy of the Tibetan Ritual Master Sog bzlog pa Blo gros rgyal mtshan
by Gentry, James Duncan, Ph.D., Harvard University, 2014, 562; 3626633
Abstract (Summary)

This thesis is a reflection upon objects of power and their roles in the lives of people through the lens of a single case example: power objects as they appear throughout the narrative, philosophical, and ritual writings of the Tibetan Buddhist ritual specialist Sog bzlog pa Blo gros rgyal mtshan (1552-1624) and his milieu. This study explores their discourse on power objects specifically for what it reveals about how human interactions with certain kinds of objects encourage the flow of power and charisma between them, and what the implications of these person-object transitions were for issues of identity, agency, and authority on the personal, institutional, and state registers in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Tibet.

My investigation of Sog bzlog pa's discourse on power objects shows how the genres of narrative, philosophy, and liturgy are related around such objects, each presenting them from a slightly different perspective. I illustrate how narratives depict power objects as central to the identity of Sog bzlog pa and his circle, mediating relations that are in turn social, political, religious, aesthetic, and economic in tone, and contributing to the authority of the persons involved. This flow of power between persons and objects, I demonstrate further, is connected to tensions over the sources of transformational power as rooted in either objects, or in the people instrumental in their ritual treatment or use. I show how this tension between objective and subjective power plays out in Sog bzlog pa's philosophical speculations about power objects and in his rituals featuring them. I also trace the persistence of this discourse after Sog bzlog pa's death in the seventeenth-century state-building activities of Tibet and Sikkim, and in the present day identity of Sikkim's Buddhist population. Power objects emerge as hybrid subject-object mediators, which variously embody, channel, and direct the flow of power and authority between persons, objects, communities, institutions, and the state, as they flow across boundaries and bind these in their tracks. Finally, I illustrate how this discourse of power objects both complicates and extends contemporary theoretical reflections on the relationships between objects, actions, persons, and meanings.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gyatso, Janet
Commitee: Hallisey, Charles, Monius, Anne, van der Kuijp, Leonard
School: Harvard University
Department: Religion
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 75/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religious history, History, Asian Studies
Keywords: Buddhism, Material culture, Philosophy, Ritual, State, Tibet
Publication Number: 3626633
ISBN: 9781321016505
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