About

My work abides at the intersections of the philosophical, historical and literary dimensions of Buddhist culture in Tibet. Most broadly, I am interested in the transmission and reception of Buddhist knowledge; how strategies of transmission — such as textual productions, visual and ritual media, doctrinal articulations, and auto/biographical narratives — have altered and/or empowered Buddhist discourses.

As a graduate student at CIIS in San Francisco, working with Steven Goodman, my studies focused on reading classical Buddhist Indian and Tibetan curricular texts. Influenced by the Buddhologist Herbert Guenther, via my advisor, much of my doctoral training drew from the commentarial literature of the Dzogchen and Mahamudra meditative traditions.

Though I’ve studied and conducted fieldwork throughout Asia and the Himalayan world since 1994, the most shapeshifting experience was the period of three years — from 2005 to 2008 — that I spent studying in a Buddhist monastery in the nomadic region of Amdo, far eastern Tibet. During that time, I studied closely with Khenpo Kunga Sherab Salje in the cultural domain of Golok, as well as with native scholars in Dzamthang and Ngawa. Much of my time during those years was spent reading zhentong philosophical and contemplative literature, and studying the history of the Jonangpa transmission lineages. This served as the basis for my dissertation on the zhentong masterpiece by Khenpo Sherab’s primary teacher and one of the great modern Jonangpa authors from Dzamthang, Khenpo Lodro Drakpa (1920-1975).

In 2004, friends and I, under the advisement of elder Jonangpa lamas, founded the nonprofit organization, Jonang Foundation. The foundation supports educational and cultural preservation initiatives on-the-ground in Tibet, promotes scholarship on the Jonang, and serves as an online resource for the Jonang tadition of Tibetan Buddhism. We have constructed a schoolhouse for several hundred nomad children, actively patron numerous primary and secondary schools throughout eastern Tibet, and publish Tibetan language texts that are distributed to Jonang monastic colleges. Our research currently focuses on documenting and mapping historic and contemporary sites of the Jonangpa across the Tibetan plateau, interlinking these sites with our database of Jonang master biographies and  gallery of artifacts. My  dear friend, the Jonangpa tulku Kunga Zangpo and I host a biannual summer pilgrimage to the power places of Tibet as a fundraiser for the foundation.

After completion of my doctoral work in Buddhist studies in 2007, when the duration of my extended stay in Golok was over, I took-up a scholar-in-residence position at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC). TBRC is an encyclopedic digital research library of Tibetan literature, founded by the legendary Tibetologist E. Gene Smith (1936-2010). From 2008 until his passing, I had the good fortune to be the only scholar to have a three-year apprenticeship under Gene, and his ways of training me in Tibetan literary knowledge and bibliographic research methods have deeply informed my own scholarship and mentoring.

Trained by Gene, I served as Head of the Department of Literary Research at TBRC until 2015, directing a core research team of scholars and a cohort of Harvard University graduate students to break new ground in Tibetan Buddhist studies and digital scholarship. Much of our work was to develop and enrich metadata access points within the TBRC library in order to advance research and scholarship about Tibetan literature. In so doing, we facilitated a synergetic coupling of scholarly inquiry with digital technology resources. Some of what we accomplished in the research department included the introduction of pioneering databases for Tibetan Buddhist textual transmissions as well as reincarnate and abbatial successions, building a dynamic digital research tool for visualizing historical geography, the Harvard Tibet WorldMap, and architecting a million-page repository of searchable Buddhist texts.

My own writing and translation focuses on the literary productions of marginalized transmission lineages of Buddhism in Tibet. I have written on the literary history of zhentong, and my forthcoming book is a study of the intellectual history of the Jonang Buddhist tradition. I am working on the writings of Taranatha (1575-1635), and translating the autobiography of one of his close disciples, the female adept Trinley Wangmo. Other areas of my research include Tibetan life writing, Shangpa lineage history, rare books and manuscript culture in Tibet, Dzogchen contemplative instructions, and poetics.