Himalayan Hermitess : The Life of a Tibetan Buddhist Nun Himalayan Buddhism have located much of the

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  • Himalayan Hermitess: The Life of a Tibetan

    Buddhist Nun



  • Himalayan Hermitess

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  • Himalayan Hermitess

    The Life of a Tibetan Buddhist Nun

    kurtis r. schaeffer

    1 2004

  • 1 Oxford New York Auckland Bangkok Buenos Aires Cape Town Chennai Dar es Salaam Delhi Hong Kong Istanbul Karachi Kolkata Kuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Mumbai Nairobi São Paulo Shanghai Taipei Tokyo Toronto

    Copyright � 2004 by Oxford University Press, Inc.

    Published by Oxford University Press, Inc. 198 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016


    Oxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press

    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Oxford University Press.

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Schaeffer, Kurtis R. Himalayan hermitess: the life of a Tibetan Buddhist nun / Kurtis R. Schaeffer. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-19-515298-0; 0-19-515299-9 (pbk.) 1. Orgyan Chokyi, 1675–1729. 2. Buddhist nuns—China—Tibet—Biography. 3. Tibet (China)—Religious life and customs. I. Title. BQ7950.O74S33 2004 294.3'923'092—dc21 2003012367

    9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

    Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper


  • Acknowledgments

    The initial research for this book was conducted in Kathmandu un- der the patronage of a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship in 1998–1999. Mi- chael Gill, Director of the Fulbright Kathmandu Office, was a gra- cious host. While in Kathmandu I had the good fortune to work at the Nepal Research Centre and benefit from the work of the Nepal- German Manuscript Preservation Project (NGMPP). Many of the manuscripts translated and studied here, including the Life of Or- gyan Chokyi itself, have been made available by the NGMPP. In par- ticular I would like to express my thanks to Klaus-Dieter Mathes, di- rector of the NGMPP from 1993 to 2001, for so generously offering his time and expertise to me. I would also like to acknowledge my debt to the work of Franz-Karl Ehrhard, director of the NGMPP from 1988 to 1993, whose groundbreaking essays on the history of Himalayan Buddhism have located much of the material used in this book upon the map of contemporary scholarly concern. Finally, I would like to thank Tenzin Norbu for painting the image of Or- gyan Chokyi that appears on the cover of this book, as well as Peter Moran for introducing me to Mr. Norbu’s work.

    Janet Gyatso first suggested that I translate the whole of Orgyan Chokyi’s Life. I thank her for encouraging me to undertake this proj- ect, for introducing me to issues of women and gender in Tibetan literature, and for reading drafts of the work on several occassions. A summer retreat on the banks of the Salmon River, Idaho, with my friends Keri Evans and Andy Klimek provided the perfect setting to draft a translation of the Life of Orgyan Chokyi. Susanne Mrozic read an early version of the essay that became this book and offered help- ful criticism and encouragement. E. Gene Smith has provided me with more advice than I can recount and more texts than I can read,

  • vi acknowledgments

    and for this I thank him. Leonard W. J. van der Kuijp mentored me for almost a decade, and although this book began after I left his presence, his voice continually rang in my ear as I wrote it. Russell T. McCutcheon has been a generous Chair and a great conversation partner. David Germano offered help- ful suggestion and literary references. Bryan J. Cuevas has talked with me about this book far more than he wanted to, but that is what friends are for. And if one’s friends also happen to be colleagues then all the better.

    Heather L. Swindler contributed to this book in ways so fundamental that it simply would not exist without her, as has my family in general. Himalayan Hermitess is dedicated to my mother Shirley A. P. Schaeffer, my father Philip R. Schaeffer, and to the loves of my life—my wife Heather and my daughter Ruby Marguerite.

  • Contents

    Introduction, 3

    Part I. The Buddhist Himalaya of Orgyan Chokyi

    1. The Religious World of the Hermitess, 15 Buddhism in Dolpo around the Year 1700, 15 Hard Times in Buddhist Himalaya, 19 The Career of Orgyan Tenzin, 23 The Trials of Tenzin Repa, 26 Lamas, Hermits, and Patrons, 31 Religious Women in Dolpo, 34

    2. The Life of the Hermitess, 45 The Life of Orgyan Chokyi, 46 Lives of Saints, Lives of Women, 49 Writing the Life of Orgyan Chokyi, 53 A Tibetan Folk Heroine, 59 An Indian Nun’s Fast, 62 A Female Mentor, 66

    3. Sorrow and Joy, 69 Sorrow and Society, 69 Tears of a Saint, 76 Tears of a Hermitess, 81 Joy and Solitude, 83

    4. Women, Men, Suffering, 91 Women and Samsara in Tibetan Lives, 91

  • viii contents

    Suffering Society, 96 Suffering Sexual Difference, 98

    5. Religious Practice, 105 Body, Speech, and Mind, 105 Fasting, 107 Pilgrimage, 110 Meditation, 113 Visions, 117 Relics, 123

    Part II. The Life of Orgyan Chokyi

    Introduction, 131

    One. Sufferings of Youth, 133

    Two. Herding Goats, 137

    Three. Herding Horses, 141

    Four. Looking at Mind, 147

    Five. Pilgrimage to Kathmandu, 155

    Six. In the Kitchen, 157

    Seven. Leaving the Bustle, 163

    Eight. Solitude and Joy, 169

    Nine. Religious Commitment, 175

    Ten. Death and Impermanence, 181

    Appendix: Characters in the Life of Orgyan Chokyi, 185

    Notes, 187

    Bibliography, 201

    Tibetan References, 201

    Other References, 206

    Index, 215

  • Himalayan Hermitess

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  • Introduction

    In 1961 anthropologist Corneille Jest was conducting fieldwork in Dolpo, the highland region of the Nepal Himalaya immediately west of Mustang, when a local Buddhist leader told him the tale of a cer- tain woman. Her name, the Tibetan-speaking Buddhist told the an- thropologist, was Ani Chokyi, “Chokyi the Nun.”1 She had lived an exceptional life, and her story was well known throughout Dolpo. “Her father,” said Jest’s informant, a revered Buddhist master known as Kagar Rinpoche, “was called Drangsong Phuntsok of the Sewa lineage, and was born in Zolung.”

    The informant continued, “He learned both Buddhist and Bonpo religious precepts. Her mother was of the Gyalmo lineage. Their daughter was born in Peson, and they first gave her the name Khyilong. At eleven years of age, her parents entrusted a small herd of goats to her. The first event that transformed her life then oc- curred: she had one goat whose kid was taken and eaten by an ea- gle. The goat cried out day and night; moved by its continual com- plaints, Chokyi sold the goat to an inhabitant of the lowland, who killed it for food. The young girl then herded dzomo, one of whom had a calf who was devoured by wolves. Then Chokyi tended a horse, but it died. Fleeing the valley, she went on pilgrimage to Kathmandu. She then returned to Dolpo, settled down at the temple of Dechen Palri, and stayed in meditation there. In spite of her con- templative life, she was repeatedly asked to marry. Chokyi stayed seven years at Nyimapuk in Lang, participating in the collective fast of the Great Nun Palmo. When she died, she remained in her pos- ture of contemplation for three days, and rainbows appeared over her head.”2

    Jest notes that a written biography of this Ani Chokyi was not

  • 4 himalayan hermitess

    available in the village where he conducted his research, though he was told that there was a copy at another temple. He did not hazard a guess as to when she might have lived, or how she became ensconced in local memory. For Jest, her story ended with this short tale of goats, marriage proposals, fasting, and rainbows—no more than a side note to his more contemporary observations.

    Four decades later it is possible to know something more of Ani Chokyi, for manuscripts of her life story are now available thanks to the joint efforts of the Nepalese and German governments in preserving texts from across the Nepal Himalaya.3 This book offers a study and complete translation of this woman’s tale, the Life of Orgyan Chokyi. It presents a sketch of the historical world in which she lived and the literary world in which she wrote, and it explores what may have led to the recounting of her tale in 1961, three centuries after her birth. In doing this it focuses particular attention on history, hagi- ography, and gender in a small border region of the Tibetan cultural world.

    Orgyan Chokyi, the Ani Chokyi of Jest’s account, was a nun and hermitess who lived, worked, and wrote in Dolpo during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Born in 1675 to a father with leprosy and a mother who did not want her, she died prematurely at the age of 55 when a wooden beam fell on her head during a ritual in 1729. Throughout her life she practiced meditation, herded goats, fasted alone and with her female companions, and traveled a good stretch of the Himalayas, from Mount Kailash to Kathmandu.

    Seen against a backdrop of the activities of religious women in Dolpo, Orgyan Chokyi’s life is probably not unique; women were involved in a variety of religious vocations in the medieval Nepal Himalaya. They w