|Published:||September 21, 2005|
How did a society on the edge of collapse and dominated by wandering bands of armed men give way to a vibrant Buddhist culture, led by yogins and scholars? Ronald M. Davidson explores how the translation and spread of esoteric Buddhist texts dramatically shaped Tibetan society and led to its rise as the center of Buddhist culture throughout Asia, replacing India as the perceived source of religious ideology and tradition.
During the Tibetan Renaissance (950-1200 C.E.), monks and yogins translated an enormous number of Indian Buddhist texts. They employed the evolving literature and practices of esoteric Buddhism as the basis to reconstruct Tibetan religious, cultural, and political institutions. Many translators achieved the de facto status of feudal lords and while not always loyal to their Buddhist vows, these figures helped solidify political power in the hands of religious authorities and began a process that led to the Dalai Lama's theocracy. Davidson's vivid portraits of the monks, priests, popular preachers, yogins, and aristocratic clans who changed Tibetan society and culture further enhance his perspectives on the tensions and transformations that characterized medieval Tibet.
"Ronald Davidson's Tibetan Renaissance marks a real rebirth for the study of Tibetan cultural history. Drawing on an extraordinary range of original sources, most of them previously unstudied, Davidson traces, in convincing detail, the peculiar blend of conservative monasticism, transgressive esotericism, and political and economic interest that characterized the formation of Tibetan Buddhist lineages and institutions."
- Matthew Kapstein, University of Chicago, author of Reason's Traces:
Identity and Interpretation in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Thought
"Davidson has illuminated the period of the Tibetan Renaissance for a modern audience with a brilliant scholarly study of rare clarity, originality, and wisdom. He deals with doctrine, ritual, institutions, and life narratives with equal insight and flair to build an intimate yet broad portrayal of one of the most fascinating periods of religious innovation and collective transformation in the history of the world.”
-David F. Germano, associate professor and director of the Tibetan and Himalayan
Digital Library, University of Virginia
RONALD M. DAVIDSON is a professor of religious studies at Fairfield University. He is the author of Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement and the coeditor (with Steven D. Goodman) of Tibetan Buddhism: Reason and Revelation.