“Tibet and Modernity” with Sperling, Venturi, & Vitali: What is Tibetan modernity?

On Saturday while surfing Facebook, I came across a video titled “Tibet and Modernity” posted by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA) in Dharamsala. I was immediately interested. The video contains the following description:

“Round-table discussions moderated by Prof. Elliot Sperling of Indiana University, participated by Dr. Federica Venturi of Indiana University and Dr. Roberto Vitali, an independent scholar from Italy at LTWA Conference Hall on 11th March 2016”

I’m currently in a graduate seminar titled “Modernities and Alterities,” taught by Dr. Carla Jones at the University of Colorado. The title of the video alone grabbed my attention since I’ve been thinking a lot about Tibet and modernity. The topic of modernity in reference to Tibet has been on my mind since I began my academic track as a MA student in 2011 (I’m now doing my PhD)—especially since Tibet has so often been narrated by the…

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Ayu Khandro, the Traveling Yogini of Kham

Yogini Ayu Khandro Yogini Ayu Khandro

Ayu Khandro was a highly regarded neljorma, yogini, in eastern Tibet, who was born in 1839 and died in 1953 at the age of hundred-and-fifteen. Unlike Sera Khandro, Ayu Khandro did not leave behind an autobiography. Instead, Namkhai Norbu, a highly recognized Dzogchen practioner who continues to teach throughout Asia and the West, composed a short biography of her life when he was sent by his teacher in 1951, at the age of fourteen, to receive the Vajra Yogini initiation from Ayu Khandro. In the following, I explore Ayu Khandro’s spiritual journey using gender as an analytical tool. Additionally, I use Serah Jacoby’s gendered reading of Sera Khandro’s autobiography, Love And Liberation: Autobiographical Writings of the Tibetan Buddhist Visionary Sera Khandro (2014), to supplement my reading of Ayu Khandro’s biography. The copy I am consulting is in Tultrim Allione’s Women of Wisdom, under the…

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How do we Tibetans create our own sense of Place? Why should it matter?

HH Karmapa performing Cham HH Karmapa performing Cham


How do Tibetans construct their own space and place, and what does cham have anything to do with this? While there are many socio-cultural ways in which Tibetans construct their own place, I focus my discussion on how Tibetans construct their own spaces through the masculine ritual practice of cham. Masculine because cham is performed by a cast of Tibetan Buddhist monks—and more recently by some nuns, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’ll be focusing on the men who have historically dominated this ritual. Among the many meanings accorded to cham, the ritual is a dance that reenacts the heroic story of Padmasambava (Guru Rinpoche) in Tibet, the popular Indian tantric teacher who came to Tibet, tamed all the deities of the Tibetan landscape and helped spread Buddhism across the Tibetan plateau. In addition to being a historic rendition of Padmasambava, cham…

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A Gendered Reading of the Life & Times of Yogini Sera Khandro: A Critical Review of Jacoby’s Love & Liberation

Sera Khandro

Sarah H. Jacoby’s Love And Liberation: Autobiographical Writings of the Tibetan Buddhist Visionary Sera Khandro (2014) is a close reading by Jacoby on the life and times of Sera Khandro, a renowned female terton (treasure revealer) famous throughout eastern Tibet. She was born in the central Tibetan city of Lhasa in 1881 and died in the eastern Tibetan region of Golok in 1940. On her chosen path toward spiritual enlightenment, Sera Khandro faced many difficulties due to the lowly status of women in the societies in which she interacted. Sera Khandro, who wrote her own namtar (religious autobiography), was an anomaly in a male dominated religious world, where mostly male practitioners authored their own namtars. In the societies in which Sera Khandro lived, she was the exception, not the rule. Due to such facts, Sera Khandro’s autobiography becomes an important historical text that deserves close analysis. Jacoby’s…

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When Tibetan Women ruled Tibet

In my attempt to engage more historic female figures in Tibetan history, I’ve decided to share a close reading of Janet Gyatso’s “Down with the Demoness: Reflections on a Feminine Ground in Tibet” (1987). Through an engagement with historic female figures in gendered histories of Tibet, I hope to find out more about Tibetan women and societies of our shared pasts and how we want to go about understanding our histories and ourselves in the present. This is also a continuation of a conversation I began with “On Being Tibetan and a(n) Intersectional Feminist,” to look deeper at Tibetan histories with gendered lens. I hope this close reading brings you the same excitement it brought me.

Srin Mo Srin Mo

Janet Gyatso’s “Down with the Demoness: Reflections on a Feminine Ground in Tibet,” is interested in analyzing both the myth and the gendered aspect of the demoness Srin (1987). According to…

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On Being Tibetan and a(n intersectional) Feminist

Painting by Liang Jun Yan Painting by Liang Jun Yan

Feminism isn’t about having to be a certain kind of “strong,” it’s about letting people have their own definitions of who they are and the rest of us accepting that instead of trying to get others to become “stronger” or “weaker” in accordance with how you (man or woman) want to imagine how women should be.

Tibetan women’s ideas and definitions need not have to be narrowed to put together what Tibetan women should be. Instead, we need to imagine a kind of feminism that empowers those that want to push the social boundaries, as well as accept those that are content.

What feminism means for each of us can change during one lifetime since we hardly ever remain the same individuals as we travel through time. In other words, the kind of Tibetan feminism I imagine isn’t about asking others to change or not…

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Dancing in New York

A few Lhakar Wednesdays ago, NY & NJ Lhakar team held one of the most (among many) fun celebratory event. According to their Facebook album, they wrote,

Gorshey night at heart of Jackson Heights. Teach by:-Loga La, Ngabod La, Thiley Namgyal La, Dawa Yangzom La, AND DJ by Tashi Sherpa La with his volunteer and equipment. Lead by Gompo Sakya La and Lodoe La, Every one had great Lhakar night!!

Jackson Heights, as you may all know from previous LD posts, is what a few of us folks call ‘Little Tibet’ due to the high number of Tibetans the place attracts.

Gorshey is a favorite among Tibetans, especially among elders (who always seem to be the ones starting it). The circle dance only has one requirement, to join in the circle (which can bloom to a huge size depending on participants) and dance, whether perfectly or imperfectly. It’s wonderful…

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The Unexpected Familiary: Finding Myself in the Kingdom of Lo (Mustang)

After two weeks in Boudha, Kathmandu, Nepal, I became bored. I was itching to get out. Several friends on Facebook suggested I check out Sherpa country or Mustang, and then I remembered my friend Tsering Lama. She had traveled to Lomanthang several years back and I remembered her mentioning how she had gone up to the border to see Tibet. I knew nothing about Mustang, apart from seeing a few documentaries, but I knew, like Tsering, I wanted to travel to Mustang so I could see Tibet. I knew seeing Tibet would be emotional, but what I didn’t expect was the emotion that the journey itself provoked.


Jomsom Jomsom area


In the articles and films I had read and seen before this journey, Mustang had always been explained by non-Mustangis as a distinct Himalayan territory with people who practiced Tibetan Buddhist culture but with a distinct Himalayan political and…

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Dharamsala Days Dharamsala Nights: A review


Many of my readers may remember that I wrote a piece called “Non-Refugee Refugees: Tibetans’ struggles for visibility in bureaucratic India,” on Lhakar Diaries last year. The subject of the essay concentrates on marital unions between Tibetans and westerners that offered some Tibetans possibilities of documents that could help them escape their precarious existence as, what I termed, “non-refugee refugees.” Sometime after that post, I began seeing several Facebook posts by expats living in Dharamsala for the self-published book Dharamsala Days Dharamsala Nights by Pauline MacDonald (a pseudonym). I was told by friends that the book was on the subject of newcomers in Dharamsala, including male newcomers’ relationships with female Injis. I was able to get my hands on a copy, but only just found the time to read it. Upon finishing the book, I couldn’t help but write an FB commentary on the sloppiness of MacDonald’s analysis…

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Conflict of Desires: Female Tibetan Leaders and Gender Advocacy

[This essay has been published on the UK collective HYSTERIA and the literary journal Muse India]

This is the longer version of the essay, “Gender Violence, Leadership, and the Modern Tibetan Woman,” that I presented on the 22nd of May with other Tibet and Buddhism scholars at a panel titled “Beyond Goddesses and Yoginis: Buddhism and Gender Across Asian Societies and Traditions” at the Berksire Conference on the History of Women. That essay was later published by the Tibetan Political Review  on their website on May 30th, 2014.


The last few decades has seen a rise in Tibetan women’s voices that has led to an increase in women’s leadership positions in the male dominated Tibetan state apparatus in exile—Central Tibetan Administrations (CTA)[1] and leading Tibetan NGOs in Dharamsala, India. This is in part due to the exile/diasporic Tibetan state apparatus’s longstanding cultivation/fostering in both its…

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