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Buddhism: Tibet: Main

Last Updated: Sep 2, 2020 10:47 AM

Tibetan Buddhism is the form of Buddhism practiced in Tibet where it is the dominant religion. It is also found in the regions surrounding the Himalayas (such as Bhutan, Ladakh, and Sikkim), much of Chinese Central Asia, the Southern Siberian regions such as Tuva, as well as Mongolia. Tibetan Buddhism is a form of Mahayana Buddhism stemming from the latest stages of Indian Buddhism, and so forms part of the tantric Vajrayana tradition. However, it also includes native Tibetan developments and practices, including elements drawn from the indigenous Bön religion. In the pre-modern era, Tibetan Buddhism spread beyond Tibet primarily due to the influence of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), founded by Kublai Khan, which ruled China, Mongolia and parts of Siberia. In the modern era, it has spread outside of Asia due to the efforts of individuals in the Tibetan diaspora. Apart from classical Mahayana Buddhist practices such as the cultivation of the Six Perfections, Tibetan Buddhism also includes Tantric practices, such as deity yoga and the Six Dharmas of Naropa. The main language of scriptural study in this tradition is classical Tibetan. Tibetan Buddhism has four major schools, namely Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug. The Jonang is a smaller school, and the Rimé movement is a recent nonsectarian movement which cuts across the different schools. Each school is independent and has its own monastic institutions and leaders. Tibetan Buddhism is a form of Vajrayāna (Sanskrit: "diamond/thunderbolt vehicle"), guhyamantra (Sanskrit: "secret mantra"), affirming the views espoused in the texts known as the Buddhist tantras, which date from around the 7th century CE onwards. Tantra generally refers to forms of religious practice which emphasize the use of unique visualizations, ideas, symbols and rituals used to achieve inner transformation. The Vajrayana is seen by its adherents as the most rapid and most powerful vehicle for enlightenment because it contains many skillful means (upaya) and because it takes the effect (Buddhahood itself, or Buddha-nature) as the path (and hence is sometimes known as the "effect vehicle", phalayana). An important element of tantric practice are tantric deities and their mandalas. These deities come in peaceful (shiwa) and fierce (trowo) forms. Tantric texts also generally affirm the use of sense pleasures and other defilements in the context of tantric ritual as a path to enlightenment, as opposed to non-tantric Buddhism which affirms that one must renounce all sense pleasures. These practices are based on the theory of transformation which states that negative or sensual mental factors and physical actions can be cultivated and transformed in a ritual setting. As the Hevajra tantra states: "Those things by which evil men are bound, others turn into means and gain thereby release from the bonds of existence. By passion the world is bound, by passion too it is released, but by heretical Buddhists this practice of reversals is not known." Another element of the Tantras is their use of transgressive practices, such as the consumption of taboo substances such as alcohol, or the practice of sexual yoga. While in many cases these transgressions were interpreted only symbolically, in other cases they are practiced literally.*
 
On this page you can find the best resources for exploring scholarly perspectives on Tibetan Buddhism. Each book listed below is linked to WorldCat, where you can discover library holdings for that item in your region. Resources within the gallery box are arranged from the newest to the oldest publications, left to right. The area below the gallery highlights a few recent or especially notable works selected from the gallery above.
 
*Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Tibetan monks practice formal debating in Lhasa

Above: Tibetan monks practice formal debating in the courtyard of Sera Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet. Debate in the Tibetan tradition, not unlike disputatio in the cathedrals and universities of medieval Europe, follows a set of highly rigorous logical and theatrical protocols: syllogisms, verbal traps, and argumentative prestidigitation are punctuated and dramatized by highly codified postures and gestures intended to mimic physical combat between the disputants.
 
Image source: Flickr. Image author: Mondo79. Image license: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
 

General & Introductory

This book is the ideal starting point for students wishing to undertake a comprehensive study of Tibetan religion. This lively introduction covers the whole spectrum of Tibetan religious history, from early figures and the development of the old and new schools of Buddhism to the spread and influence of Tibetan Buddhism throughout the world. Geoffrey Samuel covers the key schools and traditions, as well as Bon, and bodies of textual material, including the writings of major lamas. He explores aspects such as the path to liberation through Sutra and Tantra teachings, philosophy, ethics, ritual, and issues of gender and national identity. Illustrated throughout, the book includes a chronology, glossary, pronunciation guide, summaries, discussion questions and recommendations for further reading to aid students' understanding and revision.

Childs Tibetan Diary cover artTibetan Diary: From Birth to Death and Beyond in a Himalayan Valley of Nepal by Geoff H. Childs. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004.

In this rich and deeply personal account of life in the highlands of Nepal, Childs chronicles the daily existence of a range of people, from venerated lamas to humble householders. Offering insights into the complex dynamics of the ethnically Tibetan enclave of Nubri, Childs provides a vivid and compelling portrait of the ebb and flow of life and death, of communal harmony and discord, and of personal conflicts and social resolutions. Part ethnography, part travelogue, and part biography, this is a one-of-a-kind book that conveys the tangled intricacies of a Tibetan society. The immensely readable and informative narrative incorporates contemporary observations as well as vignettes culled from first-person testaments including oral histories and autobiographies. Examining the tensions between cultural ideals and individual aspirations, he explores certain junctures in the course of life: for example, how the desire to attain religious knowledge or to secure a caretaker in old age contrasts with social expectations and familial obligation. The result is a vivid and unparalleled view of the quest for both spiritual meaning and mundane survival.

Samuel Civilized Shamans cover artCivilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies by Geoffrey Samuel. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993.

This book examines the nature and evolution of religion in Tibetan societies from the ninth century up to the Chinese occupation in 1950. Geoffrey Samuel argues that religion in these societies developed as a dynamic amalgam of strands of Indian Buddhism and the indigenous spirit-cults of Tibet. Samuel stresses the diversity of Tibetan societies, demonstrating that central Tibet, the Dalai Lama's government at Lhasa, and the great monastic institutions around Lhasa formed only a part of the context within which Tibetan Buddhism matured. Samuel identifies the two main orientations of this religion as clerical (primarily monastic) and shamanic (associated with Tantric yoga). The specific form that Buddhism has taken in Tibet is rooted in the pursuit of enlightenment by a minority of the people - lamas, monks, and yogins - and the desire for shamanic services (in quest of health, long life, and prosperity) by the majority. Shamanic traditions of achieving altered states of consciousness have been incorporated into Tantric Buddhism, which aims to communicate with Tantric deities through yoga. The author contends that this incorporation forms the basis for much of the Tibetan lamas' role in their society and that their subtle scholarship reflects the many ways in which they have reconciled the shamanic and clerical orientations. This book, the first full account of Tibetan Buddhism in two decades, ranges as no other study has over several disciplines and languages, incorporating historical and anthropological discussion. Viewing Tibetan Buddhism as one of the great spiritual and psychological achievements of humanity, Samuel analyzes a complex society that combines the literacy and rationality associated with centralized states with the shamanic processes more familiar among tribal peoples.

Sopa Cutting Through cover artCutting Through Appearances: The Practice and Theory of Tibetan Buddhism by Geshe Lhundup Sopa, ed. & trans. Jeffrey Hopkins. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 1989.

This book presents the practice and theory of Tibetan Buddhism. First is a meditation manual written by the Fourth Panchen Lama (1781–1852), based on Tsongkhapa's Three Principal Aspects of the Path, which covers the daily practice of Tibetan monks and yogis. It details how to properly conduct a meditation session that contains the entire scope of the Buddhist path. Next is the Presentation of Tenets, written by Gon-chok-jik-may-wang-bo. It covers Indian Buddhist schools, as viewed in Tibet, and provides a solid introduction to the Buddhist theory animating the practice. Topics include the two truths, consciousness, hindrances to enlightenment, paths to freedom, and fruits of practice.

Scholarly Perspectives on Tibet

Tibetan Buddhism teaches compassion toward all beings, a category that explicitly includes animals. Slaughtering animals is morally problematic at best and, at worst, completely incompatible with a religious lifestyle. Yet historically most Tibetans―both monastic and lay―have made meat a regular part of their diet. In this study of the place of vegetarianism within Tibetan religiosity, Geoffrey Barstow explores the tension between Buddhist ethics and Tibetan cultural norms to offer a novel perspective on the spiritual and social dimensions of meat eating. This book shows the centrality of vegetarianism to the cultural history of Tibet through specific ways in which nonreligious norms and ideals shaped religious beliefs and practices. Barstow offers a detailed analysis of the debates over meat eating and vegetarianism, from the first references to such a diet in the tenth century through the Chinese invasion in the 1950s. He discusses elements of Tibetan Buddhist thought―including monastic vows, the Buddhist call to compassion, and tantric antinomianism―that see meat eating as morally problematic. He then looks beyond religious attitudes to examine the cultural, economic, and environmental factors that oppose the Buddhist critique of meat, including Tibetan concepts of medicine and health, food scarcity, the display of wealth, and idealized male gender roles. Barstow argues that the issue of meat eating was influenced by a complex interplay of factors, with religious perspectives largely supporting vegetarianism while practical concerns and secular ideals pulled in the other direction. He concludes by addressing the surge in vegetarianism in contemporary Tibet in light of evolving notions of Tibetan identity and resistance against the central Chinese state.

Lopez Svatantrika cover artA Study of Svātantrika by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. Boulder, CO: Snow Lion Publications, 2016.

This book offers an extensive presentation of Svatantrika Madhyamika that analyzes debates central to Indian philosophy during the final development of Buddhist thought in India. Written by one of the leading scholars of Buddhism, it presents one of the most influential philosophical schools of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, sometimes called the Autonomous School. For historical reasons, this school's voice was muted, but its impact on the articulation of Buddhist views throughout the South Asian Buddhist world cannot be overestimated.

Ary Authorized Lives cover art Authorized Lives: Biography and the Early Formation of Geluk Identity by Elijah S. Ary. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2015.

In this book, Elijah Ary, former Geluk monk, recognized tulku, and Harvard-trained scholar, looks at various commonly accepted conceptions of Tsongkhapa's biography. He demonstrates how these conceptions evolved in the decades after his death. This is the first work devoted to early Geluk history and to the role of biographies in shifting established lineages. As the dominant tradition of Tibetan Buddhism that provides the intellectual backdrop for the Dalai Lama's teachings, the Geluk lineage traces its origins to the figure of Tsongkhapa Losang Drakpa (1357-1419). Gelukpas today believe Tsongkhapa is a manifestation of the bodhisattva Manjushri and revere him with his two heart disciples, Gyaltsap and Khedrup. But as Elijah Ary, a former Geluk monk and Harvard-trained scholar, points out, both of these conceptions of Tsongkhapa arose many decades after his death. Delving into the early Geluk biographical tradition, Ary follows the tracks of this evolution in the biographies of Tsongkhapa, Khedrup, and the influential early Geluk writer and reformer Jetsun Chokyi Gyaltsen.

 

Hatchell Naked Seeing cover artNaked Seeing: The Great Perfection, The Wheel of Time, and Visionary Buddhism in Renaissance Tibet by Christopher Hatchell. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Buddhism is in many ways a visual tradition, with its well-known practices of visualization, its visual arts, its epistemological writings that discuss the act of seeing, and its literature filled with images and metaphors of light. Some Buddhist traditions are also visionary, advocating practices by which meditators seek visions that arise before their eyes. This book investigates such practices in the context of two major esoteric traditions, the Wheel of Time (Kalacakra) and the Great Perfection (Dzogchen). Both of these experimented with sensory deprivation, and developed yogas involving long periods of dwelling in dark rooms or gazing at the open sky. These produced unusual experiences of seeing, which were used to pursue some of the classic Buddhist questions about appearances, emptiness, and the nature of reality. Along the way, these practices gave rise to provocative ideas and suggested that, rather than being apprehended through internal insight, religious truths might also be seen in the exterior world-realized through the gateway of the eyes. Christopher Hatchell presents the intellectual and literary histories of these practices, and also explores the meditative techniques and physiology that underlie their distinctive visionary experiences. The book also offers for the first time complete English translations of three major Tibetan texts on visionary practice.

Mullin Fourteen cover art The Fourteen Dalai Lamas: A Sacred Legacy of Reincarnation by Glenn H. Mullin. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers, 2013.

In this book, Mullin vividly brings to life the myth and succession of all fourteen Dalai Lamas in one volume for the first time. The book contains a chapter on each Dalai Lama; Mullin has also included characteristic excerpts from the Dalai Lamas' teachings, poetry, and other writings that illuminate the principles of Tibetan Buddhism expressed in their lives. The 14th Dalai Lama, spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetans in exile, is well-known, but the 600-year tradition to which he is heir is less familiar. From the birth of the first Dalai Lama in a cowshed in 1391, each subsequent Dalai Lama has been the reincarnation of his predecessor, choosing to take up the burdens of a human life for the benefit of the Tibetan people. For almost six centuries, the Dalai Lamas have served as the Tibetans' spiritual leader and have held secular power for almost half that time. All the Dalai Lamas are revered as incarnations of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist deity of compassion, but each has been a unique individual with different abilities and temperaments. Over the ages, various Dalai Lamas have been poets, statesmen, builders, philosophers; most have been disciplined monastics, but one was a lover of women. The potential of some was tragically lost when their lives were cut short, possibly the victims of political intrigue, while others lived long enough to shape entire eras of Tibetan history.

Dalton Taming cover artThe Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism by Jacob P. Dalton. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

This book examines mythic and ritual themes of violence, demon taming, and blood sacrifice in Tibetan Buddhism. Taking as its starting point Tibet’s so-called age of fragmentation (842 to 986 C.E.), the book draws on previously unstudied manuscripts discovered in the “library cave” near Dunhuang, on the old Silk Road. These ancient documents, it argues, demonstrate how this purportedly inactive period in Tibetan history was in fact crucial to the Tibetan assimilation of Buddhism, and particularly to the spread of violent themes from tantric Buddhism into Tibet at the local and the popular levels. Having shed light on this “dark age” of Tibetan history, the second half of the book turns to how, from the late tenth century onward, the period came to play a vital symbolic role in Tibet, as a violent historical “other” against which the Tibetan Buddhist tradition defined itself.

Tibetan Primary Texts in English Translation

Rolpai Dorje Beautiful cover artBeautiful Adornment of Mount Meru: A Presentation of Classical Indian Philosophy by Changkya Rölpai Dorjé, translated by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2019.

The most lucid and penetrating survey of classical Indian philosophy in the Tibetan language, Beautiful Adornment of Mount Meru by Changkya Rölpai Dorjé (1717–86) is a work of doxography, presenting the distinctive philosophical tenets of the Indian Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools in a systematic manner that ascends through increasingly more subtle views. It is a Tibetan corollary to contemporary histories of philosophy. Changkya’s work excels in particular in its treatment of the two Mahayana Buddhist schools, the Yogacara (here called the Vijñaptimatra) and the Madhyamaka. Beautiful Adornment is often praised for the clarity of its prose and its economical use of citations from Indian texts. The manageable size of Beautiful Adornment and, more importantly, its lucid literary style, made this work the classic source for the study of Indian thought, used by students the across Tibetan cultural sphere.

Maitreya Buddha Nature cover artBuddha Nature: The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra with Commentary by Arya Maitreya, translated by Rosemarie Fuchs. Boulder, CO: Snow Lion Publications, 2018.

This book offers the Buddha's definitive teachings on how we should understand the ground of enlightenment and the nature and qualities of buddhahood. All sentient beings, without exception, have buddha nature—the inherent purity and perfection of the mind, untouched by changing mental states. Thus there is neither any reason for conceit nor self-contempt. This is obscured by veils that are removable and do not touch the inherent purity and perfection of the nature of the mind. The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra, one of the “Five Treatises” said to have been dictated to Asanga by the Bodhisattva Maitreya, clarifies the nature and qualities of buddhahood.

Essential Jewel cover art The Essential Jewel of Holy Practice by Patrul Rinpoche, edited & translated by Jay L. Garfield & W. Emily McRae. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2017.

This book offers a vibrant philosophical and ethical poem by one of Tibet’s great spiritual masters. Patrul Rinpoche presents a complete view of the path of liberation from the perspectives of the Madhyamaka understanding of emptiness and the Mahayana ideal of compassionate care refracted through the Dzogchen perspective on experience, yielding a sophisticated philosophical approach to practice focusing on the cultivation of clear, open, luminous, empty awareness and of liberation leading to the transformation of one’s moral capacity and sensitivity.

 

van Schaik Spirit of Tibetan cover artThe Spirit of Tibetan Buddhism by Sam van Schaik. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.

A leading writer and researcher on Tibet, Sam van Schaik offers an accessible and authoritative introduction to Tibetan Buddhism by examining its key texts, from its origins in the eighth century to teachings practiced across the world today. In addition to demonstrating its richness and historical importance, van Schaik’s fresh translations of and introductions to each text provide a comprehensive overview of Tibetan Buddhism’s most popular teachings and concepts—including rebirth, compassion, mindfulness, tantric deities, and the graduated path—and discusses how each is put into practice. The book unfolds chronologically, conveying a sense of this thousand-year-old tradition’s progress and evolution. Under the spiritual leadership of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism has an estimated ten to twenty million adherents worldwide. Written for those new to the topic, but also useful to seasoned Buddhist practitioners and students, this much-needed anthological introduction provides the deepest understanding of the key writings currently available.

Jinpa Wisdom Kadam cover art Wisdom of the Kadam Masters, edited and translated by Thupten Jinpa. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2013.

The phrase "Kadam masters" evokes for many Tibetans a sense of a spiritual golden age--the image of a community of wise yet simple monks devoted to a life of mental cultivation. These eleventh- and twelfth-century masters were particularly famed for their pithy spiritual sayings that captured essential teachings in digestible bites. In these sayings one unmistakably detects a clear understanding of what comprises a truly happy life, one that is grounded in a deep concern for the welfare of others. Like the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Lao Tzu, or Rumi, the teachings contained in Wisdom of the Kadam Masters can be approached as a part of the wisdom heritage of mankind, representative of the long history of the long human quest to understand our existence and its meaning. This volume offers some of the most beloved teachings of the Tibetan tradition.

Pelden Nectar cover artThe Nectar of Manjushri's Speech: A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva by Kunzang Pelden, translated by Padmakara Translation Group. Boston: Shambhala, 2010.

The Bodhicharyavatara, or Way of the Bodhisattva, composed by the eighth-century Indian master Shantideva, has occupied an important place in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition throughout its history. It is a guide to cultivating the mind of enlightenment through generating the qualities of love, compassion, generosity, and patience. In this commentary, Kunzang Pelden has compiled the pith instructions of his teacher Patrul Rinpoche, the celebrated author of The Words of My Perfect Teacher.

Enshrined Manjushri with Monks and Deities, Cover of a Prajnaparamita (The Perfection of Wisdom) Sutra

Above: The bodhisattva Manjushri, enshrined with an array of monks and deities. This image, executed in opaque watercolor on a piece of wood and traced to central or western Tibet in the 15th c. CE, served as the cover for a sutra in the literature of the Prajnaparamita or "Perfection of Wisdom," one of the oldest and most significant traditions within Mahayana Buddhist thought.
 
Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Image author: Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Image license: Public domain.
 

Classical Tibetan Language & Literature

Kornman Epic of Gesar cover artThe Epic of Gesar of Ling, edited & translated by Robin Kornman et al. Boston: Shambhala, 2015.

This book contains the first and only English translation of the centuries-old Tibetan spiritual allegory of King Gesar, a tale on a par with The Arabian Nights or the King Arthur stories. For hundreds of years, versions of the Gesar of Ling epic have been sung by bards in Tibet, China, Central Asia, and across the eastern Silk Route. King Gesar, renowned throughout these areas, represents the ideal warrior. As a leader with his people's loyalty and trust, he conquers all their enemies and protects the peace. The example of King Gesar is also understood as a spiritual teaching. The "enemies" in the stories represent the emotional and psychological challenges that turn people toward greed, aggression, and envy and away from the true teachings of Buddhism. The epic of Gesar is the longest single piece of literature in the world canon, encompassing some 120 volumes; here the first three volumes are translated.

   

Bentor Classical Reader cover artA Classical Tibetan Reader: Selections from Renowned Works, edited by Yael Bentor. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2013.

This book answers a long-standing need for well chosen readings to accompany courses in classical Tibetan language. Professor Bentor has built her Tibetan reader out of time-tested selections from texts that she has worked with while teaching classical Tibetan over the past twenty years. She has assembled here a selection of Tibetan narratives, organized to introduce students of the language to complex material gradually, and to arm them with ample reference materials in the form of glossaries customized to individual readings. Instructors will find this reader an invaluable tool for preparing lesson plans and providing high-quality reading material to their students. Students, too, will find the selections contained in the reader engaging. Even novice readers of Tibetan will feel welcomed and encouraged.

 

Wangmo Prince and Zombie cover artThe Prince and the Zombie: Tibetan Tales of Karma by Tenzin Wangmo, edited & translated by Sherab Chödzin Kohn. Boston: Shambhala, 2015.

In this series of tales, a prince must capture and bring back to his country a zombie who is endowed with magical powers—but in order to succeed, he must keep himself from speaking even one word to the zombie. The zombie is wily, and during the long journey he recounts fascinating tales to the prince, who is carrying him in a sack on his back. Spellbound by the stories, the prince is drawn into making some comment on them. But the very moment he opens his mouth, the zombie escapes, and the prince has to go back to India to catch the zombie all over again—until the prince truly learns his lesson. These zombie stories, known as the Vetalapancavimsati in Sanskrit, are engrossing Buddhist teaching tales that originated in ancient India but have become popular in the Buddhist culture of Tibet and elsewhere.

Scholarly Perspectives on Nepal & Bhutan

If any anthropologist living today can illuminate our dim understanding of death’s enigma, it is Robert Desjarlais. With this book, Desjarlais provides an intimate, philosophical account of death and mourning practices among Hyolmo Buddhists, an ethnically Tibetan Buddhist people from Nepal. He studies the death preparations of the Hyolmo, their specific rituals of grieving, and the practices they use to heal the psychological trauma of loss. Desjarlais’s research marks a major advance in the ethnographic study of death, dying, and grief, one with broad implications. Ethnologically nuanced, beautifully written, and twenty-five years in the making, this work is an insightful study of how fundamental aspects of human existence—identity, memory, agency, longing, bodiliness—are enacted and eventually dissolved through social and communicative practices.

Grieve Retheorizing cover artRetheorizing Religion in Nepal by Gregory P. Grieve. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

This work is an engaging and thought-provoking study of Religion in South Asia, with important insights for the study of religion and culture more broadly conceived. Grieve uses ethnographic material as well as poststructuralist and postcolonialist approaches to critique and expand religious studies as a discipline. Gregory Price Grieve is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA. He has published articles in Numen, Culture, Theory and Critique, Journal of Material Religion, and Studies in Nepalese History and Society.

Phuntsho History cover artThe History of Bhutan by Karma Phuntsho. London: Penguin/Random House India, 2014.

In 2008, Bhutan emerged as the world's youngest democracy and crowned the world's youngest monarch. Today, it continues to enchant the rest of the world with its policy of Gross National Happiness and has become a popular travel destination. But despite its growing popularity and the rising scholarly interest in the country, Bhutan remains one of the most poorly studied places on earth. Karma Phuntsho's book combines both traditional perspectives and modern academic analysis and tells the full story of Bhutan for the first time in the English language. Primarily a historical account, it also includes substantive discussions of Bhutan's geography, culture and society to give readers an incisive introduction to the country.

Widdess Dapha cover artDāphā - Sacred Singing in a South Asian City: Music, Performance and Meaning in Bhaktapur, Nepal by Richard Widdess. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013.

Dāphā, or dāphā bhajan, is a genre of Hindu-Buddhist devotional singing, performed by male, non-professional musicians of the farmer and other castes belonging to the Newar ethnic group, in the towns and villages of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. The songs, their texts, and their characteristic responsorial performance-style represent an extension of pan-South Asian traditions of rāga- and tāla-based devotional song, but at the same time embody distinctive characteristics of Newar culture. This culture is of unique importance as an urban South Asian society in which many traditional models survive into the modern age. There are few book-length studies of non-classical vocal music in South Asia, and none of dāphā. Richard Widdess describes the music and musical practices of dāphā, accounts for their historical origins and later transformations, investigates links with other South Asian traditions, and describes a cultural world in which music is an integral part of everyday social and religious life. The book focusses particularly on the musical system and structures of dāphā, but aims to integrate their analysis with that of the cultural and historical context of the music.

A view of the Potala Palace in Lhasa

Above: The Potala Palace in Lhasa, likely the most recognizable architectural icon of Tibetan Buddhism, is a dzong-style fortress named after Mount Potalaka, the mythical abode of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.