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Wang, Meng (2020) The Life Of The 16th Karmapa, Rang Byung Rig Pa’i Rdo Rje: Transformation Of Tibetan Buddhism In Exile. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The 16th Karmapa, Rang byung rig pa’i rdo rje (1924–1981), was the head of the Karma bKa’ brgyud school of Tibetan Buddhism. He was one of the first Tibetan Buddhist leaders to preserve their tradition in exile and to make important contributions to the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism to the West. Despite the short period of time of his activity in the West through the three Dharma tours that he embarked on between 1974 and 1980, his school achieved the largest scale of expansion of Tibetan Buddhism by the 1980s with over 300 Dharma centres throughout the world. His activity shaped the early transformation of Tibetan Buddhism in exile. This study examines the Karmapa’s life with a particular focus on Tibetan agency in the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism to the West. The purpose is to frame the transmission as an intercultural exchange between the receiver and the transmitter, and thus to introduce balance to the current scholarship that privileges reception over transmission agency. By analysing the Tibetan and English language accounts of the Karmapa’s life, I argue that the transmission is far more complicated than a matter of Westernisation. The Karmapa emphasised traditional methods of propagation; his Western disciples perceived him in ways that are clearly consistent with the traditional values of the lineage. This attests to the effectiveness of his transmission of tradition. To understand this phenomenon, I explore in detail both the context of reception, i.e. the sociocultural conditions in the West that shaped the Western disciples’ interpretation of the lineage, and the Karmapa’s preservation and expansion strategies that bring his role as the transmitter to the centre stage.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Ulrich Pagel
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2021 13:38

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