Secularism, Purity, and the need for Unity: Learning from Srin, King Yeshe O, and Secular Leadership in Amdo Labrang

Over the last few months, conversations taking place on Tibetan social media consisted of topics regarding secular modernity, concepts of Tibetan purity, and by the seeming lack of interest in turning to lived Tibetan histories as a way to engage these topics. To be fair, I noticed some participants try to actually stress Tibetan histories to acknowledge that these topics are nothing new when viewed through our historical framework as a people, and also how these concerns can be engaged using our own historical knowledges as lessons. In agreement with these concerns, I’ve dug up an old essay from 2015 that looks at Tibetan histories across time, space, place, and figures that were dealing with notions of Pan-Tibetan identities and governmentalities, with the restructuring and mixture of old and new traditions, and with notions of the secular and the religious, all of which take place in different places and times…

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Decolonial & Intersectional Interventions against (Neo)Liberal Feminism: Reflections on Tibetan Feminisms

Luna Enriquez Drawing by Luna Enriquez

What is (neo)liberal feminism and what are its dangers? How can decolonial and intersectional theories and praxis counteract and refuse the cooption of feminism by neoliberal ideologies promoted by nationalist imperialist governmentalities? To address these questions, I engage the emergence of Tibetan feminism with neoliberal characteristics. This particular focus will allow me to animate my argument that (neo)liberal feminism’s focus on gender as an identity category fails to consider decolonization and intersectionality. Without such analytical considerations, feminism not only loses its liberatory potential as a praxis, but can become mobilized by nationalist imperialist governmentality to serve as the basis for racialized policies that target certain citizens within state purview and justify imperial occupations abroad. While neoliberalism feminism has been correctly assessed as a strain influenced by white feminism, it is wrong to assume that only white women practice neoliberal feminism. In fact, brown women practice it…

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Becoming Gyalyum Chemo: Engaging Diki Tsering & Her Gender Critiques


Diki Tsering is affectionately called Gyalyum Chenmo, meaning “the great mother,” by Tibetans across the world. She is remembered for being mother to the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. However, in addition to being the Dalai Lama’s mother, Tibetans continue to commemorate her for her dedicated service towards the Tibetan refugee collective in India who escaped China’s invasion. Alongside her eldest child, daughter Tsering Dolma, she managed one of the first nurseries for orphaned Tibetan refugee children in Dharamsala. This school, which was founded in 1960 and was called The Nursery for Tibetan Refugee Children, would later expand into different branches under its new name The Tibetan Children’s Village—one of the two important educational institution that would ensure the precarious lives of Tibetan children who had become refugees and orphans for the first time in India. Songs, events, and awards continue to be dedicated to her in recognition…

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Underestimated Sonam Peldren: A Nomad who was Dorje Pakmo


Sonam Peldren was a religious figure from fourteenth-century Tibet. She was the daughter of a nomad. She had no special status, nor had she been trained or recognized by religious authorities during her time alive. She was recorded as not having received formal education and being illiterate. Yet, following her death, she became recognized in her community as the emanation of Dorje Pakmo. Unlike Tare Lhamo, Sonam Peldren lacked the social standing through which she could affirm her religious identity. However, despite such lack in status, Sonam Peldren is affirmed following her death through the efforts of her spiritual community. The following is an analysis of Sonam Peldren’s gendered subjectivity through an engagement with Suzanne M. Bessenger’s Echoes of Enlightenment: The Life and Legacy of the Tibetan Saint Sonam Peldren (2016). I specifically engage chapters 1 and 2, “The Life of Sonam Peldren” and “Composing the Life…

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Samding Dorje Phagmo: The First Tibetan Woman to Begin her own Lineage

This is an analysis from Hildegard Diemberger’s book When a Woman Becomes a Religious Dynasty: The Samding Dorje Phagmo of Tibet (2014).


Samding Dorje Phagmo is the first lineage that was initiated and led by a Tibetan woman named Chokyi Dronma in fifteen century Tibet (2007: 1). This lineage continues to exist in present day Tibet. “She was listed among the highest-ranking reincarnation at the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama, and recognized by the Tibetan government and acknowledged by the Qing emperor” writes Hildegard Diemberger. Thus, engaging this historic figure becomes important in situating Tibetan religious approaches to gender.

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Tare Lhamo and Namtrul Rinpoche: Courtship & Healing in times of (Culture Revolution) Degeneration

KTL & NJP on Teaching Thrones

As discussed in previous chapters of Love Letters from Golok: A Tantric Couple in Modern Tibet, Holly Gayley stresses how Tare Lhamo and Namtrul Rinpoche saw their religious engagement and activities in tandem with reviving Tibetan Buddhist culture following the destruction of the Chinese-led Culture Revolution. In the following, I discuss chapter three, “Inseparable Companions: A Buddhist Courtship and Correspondence,” and four, “Emissaries of Padmasambhava” (2016). Before Tare Lhamo and Namtrul Rinpoche began their activities in reviving Tibetan Buddhism during the 1980s and 1990s together as a tantric couple, they began their official courtship by sending each other letters (56 letters to be exact) in the 1970s. Tare Lhamo initiated the correspondence by sending Namtrul Rinpoche the first letter in 1978 (116). These letters from the 1970s played a crucial role, argues Gayley, in shaping the couple’s future activities that came to fruition later. The following chapters engage these letters…

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The Exceptional Tare Lhamo: Transcending Gender Through Agentive Means

This is a chapter analysis from Holly Gayley’s Love Letters from Golok: A Tantric Couple in Modern Tibet (2016). Chapter one is titled “Daughter of Golok: Tare Lhamo’s Life and Context.” I wrote this chapter analysis and thought it would be useful to think with other Tibetans who are especially interested in considering gender in Tibetan Buddhism. This is a continuation of my project to engage historic female figures of Tibet. Tare Lhamo is especially interesting because she was born before China’s invasion of Tibet, she lived through the invasion, followed by Culture Revolution until its end, and was part of the religious cohort in Tibet who began reviving Tibetan Buddhism from the destruction of Culture Revolution. She becomes an important figure to consider when we think about different subjectivities of Tibetan women in Tibetan history. I hope you’ll find the following analysis useful and tempt you to read the book yourself.

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Familiar Heartbreaks: Review of McGranahan’s “Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War”


Carole McGranahan’s Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War is an ethnography of heartbreak (2010). A heartbreak that began with the loss of Tibet. Every time I read this book, I am reminded of people from my childhood who were of the generation that was raised in Tibet but later died in exile. The same people who would share stories of Tibet prior to its invasion. These stories often began with joy, but would end abruptly with sadness—a sadness I did not understand as a child, but was taught about and grew familiar with as I grew older. This sadness, heartbreak, is captured and historicized in this book. Central to the book are themes of histories, that McGranahan argues are “arrested.” However, these historical arrests are not permanent, instead, they are histories that await an eventual release (24). The histories that are put on arrest…

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Decolonizing Ethnographic ‘Responsibility’: Towards a Decolonized Praxis

This past weekend I presented the following paper at the 2016 University of Colorado Boulder Department of Anthropology Graduate Student Conference  titled “The Ethnographic Turn.”


As I ponder over the question, “What does it mean to be a responsible scholar? Responsible to whom, when, and why?” I am struck by how easy and difficult this question is for me to answer. Easy because I am a Native scholar doing work with my own community—I know to whom I am responsible and my community’s path towards self-determination is closely tied to my own liberation. Thus, the kinds of work I produce impact my community and myself directly, so the question of who I am responsible to is not a hard one for me to answer. However, working with the community with whom I’m from does not guarantee I will not produce works that Dor Bahadur Bista describes as “an insecure and…

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Tibetan Refugees & the Negotiation of Relatedness: Semi-Orphans of the 1960s & 1990s

How do refugees negotiate the terms of relatedness in the space of exile? Recent anthropological works on kinship have taken serious the modern construction of the state and how it has come to transform ways of conceiving relatedness (family) (McKinnon and Cannell 2013). Scholars like Povinielli have made criticisms that problematize European and modern notions of the genealogical grid (kinship) that privilege biological kinship (blood ties) and have become standardized and normalized under the construction of governmentality (2002). But what about refugees? In most cases, refugees are undocumented stateless persons who live in the precarious space of exile. In the eyes of their host nations, refugees do and do not exist. While they are deemed legally invisible, they have to operate under modern ideologies of the countries that host them. Under such conditions, refugee approaches to relatedness, operate both outside and alongside the genealogical grid that Povinelli critiques. In the…

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