Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - Build A Bridge to Benefit Beings: Pilgrimage, Trade, and Labour in the Life Stories of Tangtong Gyalpo

Saturday, July 7
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Casuarina, Lower Ground Floor

The authors who wrote stories about the yogin Tangtong Gyalpo (d. 1485) emphasized his role in easing transit for Tibetans along trade and pilgrimage routes, in a context where most roads led to Lhasa. With multiple bridges and ferries attributed to him, Tangtong Gyalpo appears in Tibetan hagiography as an early modern civil engineer, a heroic figure who received building requests from Buddhist deities in visions and then executed these projects across the Himalayan landscape. What the literature about Tangtong Gyalpo tells us, however, is also a story about the group labour necessary to produce and maintain the connections among trade and pilgrimage hubs. In particular, the early seventeenth century translator and descendent of Tangtong Gyalpo, Lochen Gyurmé Dechen (1540–1615), emphasized the processes of mining, fundraising, and construction in his 1609 life story about the yogin, often narrating vignettes of labour being performed by spirits and animals. Building on methods developed in Vinaya studies for understanding labour and craft in early Northwest Indian Buddhist communities, this paper investigates the intersection of pilgrimage, trade, and labour in early modern Tibetan literature about Tangtong Gyalpo, arguing that the hagiographic form has much to offer for understanding how certain Tibetan literati conceived of the work of religious practice and infrastructure during that period.

Annie Heckman

University of Toronto, Canada

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1 - Build A Bridge to Benefit Beings: Pilgrimage, Trade, and Labour in the Life Stories of Tangtong Gyalpo



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