GUEST EDITOR: Religions Journal, Special Issue – “Pedagogy and Performance in Tibetan Buddhism”

With colleague Dr. Joshua Schapiro, Dr. Sheehy guest edited the special issue of the journal Religions on the topic, “Pedagogy and Performance in Tibetan Buddhism” Articles are Open Access and free to download.


This Special Issue explores a wide range of Tibetan Buddhist teaching practices, from the fourteenth century to the present, paying particular attention to the categories of “pedagogy” and “performativity.” The volume addresses, both Tibetans’ strategies for effective teaching, and their diverse approaches to displaying, concealing, and forming themselves as teachers.

Pedagogy has long been an interest of Buddhist scholars, particularly with respect to the ideal of “skillful means” (upāya kauśalya). Historical studies of Buddhist teaching techniques have addressed preaching practices (Mahinda Deegalle, Popularizing Buddhism, SUNY 2006), textbooks and teaching devices (Anne Blackburn, Buddhist Learning and Textual Practices in Eighteenth-Century Lankan Monastic Culture, Princeton 2001), and monastic curricula and debate (Georges Dreyfus, The Sound of Two Hands Clapping, University of California 2002). Questions of pedagogy have been of especially pressing interest for those reflecting on the creative adaptation of Buddhist forms for contemporary audiences. In one particularly insightful essay, the very idea of “pedagogy” is used to complicate our understanding of encounters between Buddhist teachings and “non-Asian consumers” at large (Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Pedagogy of Buddhism” 2003). This present Special Issue aspires to enrich these conversations by introducing as wide a variety of Tibetan pedagogical contexts as possible: from didactic narratives to biographies, from hostile confrontations to intimate guru-disciple transmissions, from monastic debates to public miracles, from teaching the body to denying that one is teaching anything at all.

A number of essays in this issue choose to consider how the idea of “performance” helps to clarify what is at stake in Tibetan pedagogy. The categories of “performance” and “performativity” have a long history in the Humanities and Social Sciences. As Catherine Bell efficiently summarizes in her entry on “Performance” in Critical Terms for Religious Studies (Chicago 1998), despite the popularity of the term, there is little uniformity in its usage. Scholars speak of performance with respect to ritual enactments and improvisations, illocutionary speech acts, verbal art, and the formation of subjectivities. Scholars of Tibetan culture have capitalized on this range of possibility: writing on the consequences of ritual performance on the distribution of power relations (Martin Mills, Identity, Ritual and State in Tibetan Buddhism, Routledge 2010), and on self-immolations as rhetorically-infused performances (John Whalen-Bridge, Tibet On Fire, Palgrave Macmillan 2015), for example. Scholars in this volume apply theories of performativity in diverse ways in order to bring to life the sophistication of Tibetan Buddhist pedagogical negotiations.

Dr. Michael Sheehy
Dr. Joshua Schapiro
Guest Editors


VIDEO: “Revival of the Bodong Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism: An Interview with Geshe Pema Dorjee”

Interview with Geshe Pema Dorjee about the history and revival of the Bodong tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Conducted by Tibet scholar Dr. Michael R. Sheehy at Wellesley College, February 2016. 

Interview Contents:

(1) Early Life in Bodong Village, Tibet
(2) History of the Bodong Tradition
(3) Life and Writings of Bodong Chokle Namgyal (1376-1451)
(4) Preserving the Distinct Aspects of the Bodong
(5) Women’s Reincarnation
(6) Current Revival and Humanitarian Work
(7) The New Generation of Bodong Special thanks to the Tibetan Buddhist Charitable Aid.


ARTICLE: “Variegations of Mind”

Rangjung Dorje’s Variegations of Mind: Ordinary Awareness and Pristine Awareness in Tibetan Buddhist Literature

Available for download via

A discussion on Tibetan Buddhist understandings about the nature of consciousness or “awareness.” An examination of a root psychological text composed by the Tibetan scholar and meditative adept, the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339) with reflections from its commentaries by Jamgon Kongtrul (1813-1922) and the Fifteenth Karmapa Khakyab Dorje (1871-1922).


Rimé Pilgrimage to Kham 2015

Across the Rimé Landscape

Pilgrimage to Kham, Eastern Tibet
July 29 — August 15, 2015
[18 Days]

A Cultural & Educational Travel Program Hosted by Jonang Foundation

Led by Michael Sheehy

Travel on pilgrimage to sites of the Rimé renaissance movement, to the heart of Vajrayana Buddhist revival, across the frontiers of the Kham region of eastern Tibet. Sparked in the Dege Kingdom during the latter half of the 19th century, the Rimé renaissance fused artistic, spiritual and intellectual traditions, and gave birth to a highly ecumenical approach to the Buddhist practice lineages in Tibet.

For itinerary and details, see the Kham Pilgrimage Page.





“An Ontology for the Digital Tibetan Book”

What happens when a Tibetan book is abstracted and reduced from its material form and cultural setting? How does the practice of digitizing transform the way that we think about and handle Tibetan books? Thinking through these and related questions, this paper examines current modes of representing and accessing the digital Tibetan book. We consider what tangible features, aesthetic and codicoligical information is lost in the transformation of a book into its digital version, the E. Gene Smith ontology of the Tibetan book, and how layers of data abstraction can be connected to enhance our knowledge about the book and book culture in Tibet. Querying the boundaries of the digital Tibetan book, we discuss the impact and potential of emerging research tools. Moving the book from being a cultural object to a semantic object, we examine the efficacy of searchable eTexts and how knowledge models enable us to construct and query encyclopedic data about the literary historiography of the book in Tibet.

Symposium on the Tibetan Book
The University of Virginia (UVA)
November 6-8, 2014




Shangpa Sites on Tibet Map

The Jonang Foundation has published the historical and active sites of the Shangpa Kagyu tradition on its online map. See the post, Shangpa Sites on Tibet Map.

Field work began on this project this past summer on the Jonang Foundation pilgrimage to central Tibet when we were able to locate several Shangpa sites. We hope to extend this research on and preservation of the Shangpa as an integral part of our ongoing work at the foundation.

Shangpa Sites, Tibet