Fall 2017 Events:

Each semester the UVA Tibet Center hosts several internationally renown scholars, researchers, organizers, and other experts to speak on Tibet’s past, present, and future. Additional Tibet-related events from around the university are also posted here.

Wednesday, September 27th at 5pm, Nau Hall 211

Holly Gayley presented the lecture “The Nectar of a Lotus: Epistolary Intimacy in the Love Letters of a Buddhist Tantric Couple” as part of the East Asia Center Fall Lecture Series.

Namtrul Rinpoche (1944–2011) and Khandro Tāre Lhamo (1938–2002), courtesy of Holly Gayley.

“Lotus juice, when longing to enjoy the nectar: / Hey you, the bee! Oh, if you circle, bliss!” So writes Khandro Tāre Lhamo to her beloved Namtrul Rinpoche in a playful evocation of the tantric rite of sexual union in folksy terms. This lecture explores the epistolary courtship of a contemporary tantric couple from the eastern Tibetan region of Golok. Khandro Tāre Lhamo (1938–2002) and Namtrul Rinpoche (1944–2011) exchanged a series of fifty-six letters, almost entirely in verse, between 1978 and 80, synthesizing their prophetic vision to revitalize Buddhism in the wake of the Cultural Revolution with effusive declarations of personal affection. How is love expressed between Buddhist visionaries in an explicitly tantric context? What styles of Tibetan verse are marshaled to convey the nuanced range of erotic and affective sentiments? How did this couple interweave the prophetic and personal elements of their emergent partnership at a crucial moment of modern Tibetan history? To address these questions, Holly Gayley traces the development of epistolary intimacy in this unique archive of Tibetan letters through past live recollections, tantric innuendos, images of fertility, and the couple’s vision to “heal the damage of degenerate times” through the revelation of treasures (gter ma), teachings and relics traced to the advent of Buddhism in Tibet.

Holly Gayley is Associate Professor of Buddhism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research explores Buddhist literature in contemporary Tibet with attention to themes of gender, Tibetan identity, ethics, and Buddhist modernism. She is author of Love Letters from Golok: A Tantric Couple in Modern Tibet (Columbia University Press, 2016) and several articles about a recent ethical reform movement spawned by cleric-scholars at Larung Buddhist Academy, published in Journal of Buddhist Ethics, Himalaya Journal, Contemporary Buddhism, and Journal of Religious Ethics.


Friday, October 20th at 3:15pm, Monroe Hall 110

Nicole Willock presented “Lineages of the Literary: Poetics, Buddhist Practice, and the Cultural Revolution” as part of the East Asia Center Fall Lecture Series.

In the aftermath of 20 years of socio-political repression, “the Three Great Scholars afterthe Cultural Revolution”—Tséten Zhapdrung (1910-1985), Dungkar Lozang Trinlé (1927-1997), and Mugé Samten (1914-1993)emerged as university professors and Buddhist leaders to ensure the survival and continuation of Tibetan literary culture in China. For this talk, Nicole will focus on how Mugé Samten and Tséten Zhapdrung adapted the literary genres of spiritual autobiography (rnam thar), songs of realization (mgur), and poetics (snyan ngag) to remember the horrors of the Cultural Revolution as an opportunity to advance spiritually. Their writings challenge us to rethink assumptions about Tibetan Buddhist subjects and moral agency in modern China.

Nicole Willock is Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Old Dominion University, and a 2017 Research Fellow of the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies.


Friday, October 27th at 3:15pm, Monroe Hall 110 (please note updated room #)

Brandon Dotson spoke on “A Strange Gift and Its Stranger Beneficiaries: 1,650 Sutras Copied for the Tibetan Emperor Conserved in the Stein Collection of the British Library” as part of the East Asia Center Fall Lecture Series, and co-sponsored by the Tibet Center.

Bundles of scrolls from the Stein Collection, courtesy Brandon Dotson.

In 826 over one hundred mostly Chinese scribes and editors in Dunhuang’s temple scriptoria were ordered to produce thousands of copies of the Aparimitāyurnāma-Mahāyānasūtra in both Tibetan and Chinese. The assembling of the scrolls, the accounting of paper, the paying and punishing of scribes and editors, and the editors’ corrections to the scribes’ handiwork all form a part of this massive and unwieldy project that stretched over decades. Although the sutras were designated as a gift for the Tibetan emperor, it is unclear whether they were all completed before his death in 841, and whether he in fact received them. Deposited in Cave 17 at some point before its sealing in the early 11th century, over a thousand of these sutras eventually fell into the hands of the British-Hungarian archeologist and explorer Marc Aurel Stein in 1907. From 1909 until the present day numerous conservators and curators in London have left their marks on the sutras in the form of site numbers, pressmarks, and foliation. Most dramatically, conservators transformed the format of the sutras from rolls into bound booklets for ease of storage. The physical evidence of the sutras themselves, from colophons to conservators’ notes, reveals a strangely inverted symmetry between the ninth-century production a gift for the emperor and twentieth-and-twenty-first century documentation of a gift from an explorer.

Brandon Dotson is an associate professor of Buddhist Studies at Georgetown University. He did his graduate training at Oxford University (2007), and has worked and taught at Oxford, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich. He has worked extensively on Tibetan Dunhuang manuscripts, including Tibet’s first historical records, legal texts, and ritual texts. Dotson is currently researching early Tibetan dice divination in the context of the Buddhist assimilation of Tibetan rituals, cosmologies, and narratives from the 9th to the 11th centuries.

Thursday, November 9th at 4:00 pm, Nau Hall 101

Georges Dreyfus presented “Meditation and Phenomenology,”  examining how meditation can contribute to the phenomenological project of describing consciousness from a first person  perspective. His talk was part of the Contemplative Sciences Center Speaker Series.

Georges argues that meditation is particularly helpful in helping subjects to dis-identify with their thoughts and emotions and hence supports the bracketing of the ordinary attitude recommended byHusserl. He further argues that once understood in this way, meditation and phenomenology can work hand in hand to provide better descriptions of consciousness in general and of its liminal state in particular. Georges will also examine the qualms of skeptics, such as Dennett, who reject the idea of describing consciousness from a first person perspective. Georges suggests that although the introspective insights provided by meditation may not provide the basis for a spectacular new science of the mind, they can help in the phenomenological project of describing consciousness by finding putative invariant of mental states.

Georges B.J. Dreyfus is the Jackson Professor of Religion at Williams College, Massachusetts. In 1985 he was the first Westerner to receive the Geshe Lharampa degree, the highest degree available within the Tibetan scholastic tradition, and is an alumnus UVA’s Religious Studies program (PhD, 1991). His current research interests include theories of consciousness, the nature of attention, and perception and concept formation, as well as the points of intersect between Indian Buddhist philosophy and fusion philosophy.


Tuesday, December 5th at 4:00 pm, Nau Hall 342

Gerald Roche will present his current research in a talk entitled “New Views of Tibet’s Linguistic Diversity.”

Photo of Tibetan Plateau, (c) Jan Reurink.

Research on Tibet’s linguistic diversity in the West dates back to at least the mid-nineteenth century. However, a surge in descriptive and documentary linguistics in the twenty-first century has radically altered our understanding of Tibet’s rich and complex linguistic ecology. This presentation will provide an overview of this emerging picture of Tibet as a cradle of linguistic diversity in the heart of Asia. The talk will have two main aims. The first is to present a synthesis of recent linguistic research in Tibet, thus providing some basic background information on how many languages are spoken in Tibet, where, and by whom. The second aim of the talk is to present some new findings about language endangerment in Tibet, and the social, political, and historical processes underlying that endangerment. Taken together, these two aspects of the presentation will provide a new view on Tibet’s linguistic diversity, demonstrating that it is not only much richer than previously thought, but also more fragile.   

Gerald Roche is an anthropologist and currently serves as the ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow at The University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute. Previously a post-doctoral research fellow at Uppsala University’s Hugo Valentin Centre, Gerald completed his doctorate in Asian Studies at Griffith University and lived on the northeast Tibetan Plateau for eight years. Among his various educational and cultural initiatives, Gerald collaborated in the creation of the world’s largest online archive of oral traditions from the Tibetan Plateau.