I specialize in teaching alternative histories of Tibet focused on gender and Buddhist cultures outside the monastery. These are ideal subjects to deconstruct student’s assumptions about Buddhism because study of subaltern communities requires a context-sensitive approach to reading religious texts. Because Buddhist Studies necessitates a cross-cultural encounter, I consider my classroom a training ground where students learn productive methods to encounter the unfamiliar.

My goal is to facilitate a view of Tibet as a diverse, complex, and changing world with contradicting configurations and re-configurations of Buddhist philosophy and praxis. My orientation towards alterities emphasizes grappling with complexities and contingencies. Thus, students leave my classroom with the training necessary to respond with context sensitive insights in the face of the polarizations that currently dominate their social and political landscape. This is the very motivation behind my teaching. Beyond the content of any course itself, my goal is to equip students with diversity skills developed via engagement with alterity and the encounters with radical otherness that religious studies so naturally provides.

Courses Based On My Research

Sex and Gender in Buddhism

“Sex and Gender in Buddhism,” investigates women, masculinities, and sexuality as constructed in Buddhist narratives. The challenge of this course is its cross-cultural nature, therefore the course begins with Gandhi’s Introduction to Postcolonial Theory. The goal is to escort the class beyond mere critique to understanding the contingencies, in Foucault’s sense, upon which social constructions of gender depend. The quarter follows a sequence of three topics. First is the subject of masculinities and fundamental principles of early Buddhist theory of persons, using Bull of a Man’s Buddhist masculinities text by Powers and McClellan’s TransAm, an Abhidharma focused text which introduces the notion of bodies as landscapes for interpreting society. The second of the three main topics is women in Buddhism. After studying the complex history surrounding women’s monastic ordination and concepts of gender in Mahayana, primary texts are read to investigate theories of gender in Tibetan Tantra. These readings feature narratives of Tibetan consorts including ninth century protagonist, Yeshe Tsogyal, as well as Machig Labdron (1055-1149), Sera Khandro (1892-1940) and Tare Lhamo (1938-2003). The final section covers homosexuality, third gender, and transgender.

The point I want students to take away from this course is that Buddhism is neither as egalitarian nor as sexist as they might assume but that gender in Buddhism is a complex, varied, and contingent construct embedded in a matrix of Buddhist doctrines and local social concerns. This course brings to light the latest scholarship in the emerging field of gender and Buddhism.

Tibet’s Great Perfection

“Tibet’s Great Perfection,” which covers one of the most important Tantric movements in Tibet. It examines the intellectual history of Tibet’s Great Perfection (rdzogs chen) in terms of its contemplative and philosophical literature from the eleventh to eighteenth centuries. Assigned readings investigate key debates in the development of contemplative curricula and its philosophical infrastructure with its distinctive positive ontology. The primary texts to be read are by two major interpreters who shaped this movement, the first is Longchenpa (1308-1364), his Treasury of Words and Meanings and selections from The Seminal Heart of the Dakini (13th-14th century). The second is Jigme Lingpa (1730–1798) studied via his Yeshe Lama, which outlines Great Perfection praxis. For secondary scholarship, the texts are Germano’s Architecture and Absence in the Secret Tantric History of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen) and Van Schaik’s Approaching the Great Perfection. These readings give a sense of development of this movement in terms of two landmark periods in the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. They also point to the role of scriptural revelation in negotiating between complicated Tantric ritual programs and spontaneous meditations. Students take on the surprisingly difficult task of writing a definition of Tibetan meditation for each week of study in the quarter. These definitions are developed collaboratively in small groups and debated throughout the quarter.

The take away for this course is a sense of the matrix of ritual and philosophy within which Great Perfection contemplative culture was situated. This course fosters discussions on the history of what ‘meditation,’ meant in Tibetan contexts, ranging from sorcery, sexuality and philosophical contemplations to sonic and somatic praxis. It complements a Religious Studies curriculum by contributing a specialized study of Tibetan philosophical and contemplative literature for students interested in Tantra and East Asia.

Death and Post Death in Tibetan Buddhism

“Death & Post Death in Tibetan Buddhism” analyzes the rich subject of Tibetan eschatology, its history, philosophy, and praxis. It represents an effort to codify and establish control amidst the trauma of rupture and terminal diagnosis. “Death & Post Death in Tibetan Buddhism” draws on the literature of funerary Great Perfection. These are the sources that Karma gling pa (1326-1386) synthesized into what became known as the famous work, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which was an object of attention for Timothy Leary and Carl Jung. The course begins with a video of two different types of Tibetan funerals I filmed and a free-writing assignment to explain the meaning behind the ritual activities depicted. This serves as an introduction to Tibetan ritual as a semiotic system. The course includes three main subjects. The first is the background of Tibetan mortuary practice in context of karma, life-span theory and historical development of the bardo paradigm. The second subject is the array of rituals concerning death including meditating on death in Severance (chod), prognostication and ransoming. The third topic is techniques for dying, including the ethics of corpse disposal and post-death praxis. Primary texts to be read includes selections from The Four Seminal Hearts of Longchenpa (1308-1364) and selections from his sources in The Seventeen Tantras. For secondary texts, Gouin’s Tibetan Rituals of Death and Cuevas’s Hidden History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead are studied. The course ends with an ethnographic assignment to interview Tibetans about the death of a family member or teacher. I have a rich network of Tibetans available for these interviews in person or online.

The main learning objective of this course is that funerary rituals facilitate a sense of liminality and resilience which serve as the crux of identity and embodiment in contemplative culture. “Death & Post Death in Tibetan Buddhism” promotes a greater understanding of Buddhism as seen from outside the monastery, in funerary rituals enacted by non-celibate yogins, healers and oracles.

Other Courses

Tibetan Buddhism
Colloquial Tibetan
Classical Tibetan
Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion

Buddhism, Gender & Sexuality
Buddhist Meditation in the Contemporary World
Buddhist Philosophy
Introduction to Buddhism
Introduction to East Asian Religions
Buddhism in America
Women in Chinese Religions
Death & Post Death in Tibetan Buddhism  

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