2014/ 2015

Lewis Doney

The Foundations and Transformations of Tibetan Buddhist Historiography

Tri Songdetsen

Lewis Doney works in the field of early Tibetan Buddhist historiography. He received his BA (Religious Studies 2002) from Lancaster University and his MA and PhD (Study of Religions 2004 and 2011) from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. His thesis charts the metamorphosis of kingship ideals in Tibetan histories between the 8th and the 12th century, through the prism of representations of the Tibetan emperor, Tri Songdetsen (742–c.800 CE). At LMU Munich, as Postdoctoral Researcher in the group “Kingship and Religion in Tibet,” he has recently completed a work entitled “The Zangs gling ma: The First Padmasambhava Biography” for the series Monumenta Tibetica Historica (Andiast: IITBS). It outlines the recensional tradition of the earliest full-length biography of Tri Songdetsen’s supposed tantric master, Padmasambhava. Doney also co-taught courses on Old Tibetan, the imperial-period inscriptions of the eighth and ninth centuries, and biographical and historical sources on Padmasambhava while at LMU. Among his current research interests are the influence of foreign literary topoi on early Tibetan narrative and the interaction between text and image in media ranging from 8th-century inscriptions up to the depiction of Tibet in comics and contemporary art.

The Foundations and Transformations of Tibetan Buddhist Historiography

The past has always held great power in Tibet. The blueprint for pre-modern Tibet’s religio-political identity was first laid down in the enduring historical narratives of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries. My research project carries out the first text-critical study of two of these highly influential works, the Zangs gling ma and sBa bzhed, identifying their precursors and charting the later process of their textual revision in Tibet.

New discoveries related to these texts afford the opportunity to revisit their important narratives, based on not only new sources but also a fresh theoretically backed approach to Tibetan textual studies. Applying the insights of thinkers in the Philosophy of History and Literary Studies, I shall plot the redaction of these historiographical works through the centuries, and the resultant transformation in the image of the culture heroes that they depict, Tri Songdetsen and Padmasambhava.

Comparing the earliest attested recensions of each work to their later redactions will uncover both the cultural motivations for editing received texts and the growing hegemony of Buddhist value systems in Tibet. This project will thereby enable a re-evaluation of traditional historiography and national identity in early Tibetan Buddhist literature.