Dreaming the Great Brahmin: Tibetan Traditions of a Buddhist Poet Saint

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Dreaming the Great Brahmin explores the creation and recreation of Buddhist saints through narratives, poetry, art, ritual, and even dream visions. The first comprehensive cultural and literary history of the well-known Indian Buddhist poet saint Saraha, known as the Great Brahmin, this book argues that we should view Saraha not as the founder of a tradition, but rather as its product. Kurtis Schaeffer shows how images, tales, and teachings of Saraha were transmitted, transformed, and created by members of diverse Buddhist traditions in Tibet, India, Nepal, and Mongolia. The result is that there is not one Great Brahmin, but many. More broadly, Schaeffer argues that the immense importance of saints for Buddhism is best understood by looking at the creative adaptations of such figures that perpetuated their fame, for it is there that these saints come to life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a splendid contribution to the growing body of materials about Saraha and his famed treasury of tantric songs with a special focus on the Tibetan creation, and recreation, of both over the centuries. Schaeffer examines both in the larger contexts of Tibetan literature, history and aesthetics, tracing the development of the figure of Saraha and his esoteric poetry in Tibetan narratives, ritual cycles, visions, iconography, and polemical debate. He reveals Saraha's famous anthology, The Treasury of Doha, to be a rich, creative and fluid communal tradition that had an organic life in Tibet, rather than a static composition with origins lost in an Indian past. This wonderful blend of the social analysis, aesthetics, and translation is an important work for Tibetan, Buddhist, and Tantric studies."—David Germano, University of Virginia

"The Indian mystical poet Saraha is one of the most influential, compelling, and elusive figures in the history of tantric Buddhism, and Kurtis Schaeffer's Dreaming the Great Brahmin takes scholarship on the great adept a quantum leap past anything published before. Resisting yet another futile search for the historical Saraha, Schaeffer draws on a wide range of little-studied texts to show that, whatever the Indian origins of Saraha's legend and songs, most of what we know of him actually emerged from medieval Tibet, in response to uniquely Tibetan religious, social, and literary concerns. Erudite, well written, and intellectually challenging, Dreaming the Great Brahmin will be required reading for serious students of Indian and Tibetan tantric Buddhism for many years to come." —Roger R. Jackson, translator of Tantric Treasures: Three Collections of Mystical Verse from Buddhist India

"Kurtis Schaeffer has set before us a feast of Saraha lore, demonstrating the Tibetans' continued fascination with the person and the songs of the Great Brahmin. In this excellent book, Schaeffer details the polysemic stature of Saraha in Tibetan literature: as the source of religious inspiration, as the vehicle for art, as the field of contested symbols, and as the basis for elaborate hermeneutics. His critical treatment of the Saraha literature shows how Tibetans continued to redefine Saraha, so that he became a saint for all seasons."—Ronald M. Davidson, author of Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195173734
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/1/2004
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Kurtis R. Schaeffer is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. He is the author of Himalayan Hermitess: The Life of a Tibetan Buddhist Nun (OUP, 2003).

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Table of Contents

Introduction : stories and songs of the Great Brahmin Saraha 3
Pt. I Traditions of Saraha in Tibet
1 Tales of the Great Brahmin 13
2 Meeting the Great Brahmin in rituals, paintings, and dreams 35
3 Contesting the Great Brahmin : Saraha as abbot and adept 49
Pt. II Traditions of Saraha's songs in Tibet
4 Bringing the Treasury of Doha verses to Tibet 59
5 Commentary and controversy on the Treasury of Doha verses in Tibet 71
6 Creating the Treasury of Doha verses 79
7 Recreating the Treasury of Doha verses 101
Pt. III The Treasury of Doha verses and Ornamental flower for the Dohas
Introduction to the commentary 123
Ornamental flower for the Dohas 129
Epilogue : in praise of the Great Brahmin 175
App. 1 Compositional features in the anthologies of Phadampa Sangye 179
App. 2 Adepts in the anthologies of Phadampa Sangye 183
App. 3 Outline of Ling Repa's commentary on the Treasury of Doha verses 187
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