An Asian philosophy of history and cultural heritage (July 2012 - August 2013)

As IIAS Research Fellow Dr. Ulrich Timme Kragh is conducting research for an Asian philosophy of history and cultural heritage. He works on formulating a new approach to writing text-based history, which combines studying a text's historical narrative with attention to the text's literary aspect of being an authored work as well as its philological aspect of being a material document. The approach is being employed to create a new model for South Asian localized literary history.

Tim is also the coordinator for IIAS' ongoing collaborative effort to promote a new discipline of Area Studies.

Anthology of female authored Buddhist text from the Swat Valley (July 2011 - July 2012)

From July 2011 - July 2012 Tim worked on an anthology containing introductions, English annotated translations, and Sanskrit/Tibetan text-editions of twelve Tantric Buddhist works composed by female masters from the Swat Valley in NW Pakistan during the 9th-11th centuries CE.

In Buddhist sources, the valley of Uḍḍiyāna became famous in the 8th-9th centuries and onwards as a land of ākiīs, a unique place with several great female Tantric masters. Located in the present-day Swat valley of NW Pakistan, Uḍḍiyāna was always a place with an influx of a great many new trends. The trade routes between India and Central Asia went through Uḍḍiyāna or the neighboring Indus valley. On the Peshāwar plain, immediately to the south of the valley, ran the trade route between India and the Middle East. Consequently, the area experienced diverse political cultures, in different periods including that of the Greeks, the Persians, the Indians, and the Huns. It is therefore not surprising that Uḍḍiyāna became a fertile ground for novel ideas and practices.

Following a period of Gandhāran Buddhist monasticism in the 1st to 5th centuries, the monastic culture was replaced after the destructive Central Asian Hun invasions in the 5th-6th centuries with a religious Tantric culture performed by yogins, yoginīs, and lay-people. It was in this new environment that Uḍḍiyāna gave rise to a number of female masters, four of whom became so well-known that their teachings were preserved through subsequent transmissions. The most famous of the female Uḍḍiyāna masters was Lakṣmī (also known as Lakṣmīṃkāra, 9th-10th centuries), a sister of and guru to King Indrabhūti/Indrabodhi. Lakṣmī was a highly learned master, who authored several important texts preserved in Sanskrit and/or Tibetan translation. One of her works was included in the major cycle of Tantric scriptures called Guhyādy-Aṣṭasiddhi-Sagraha (Grub pa sde bdun/brgyad) and her biography was also adopted in Abhayadattaśrī's stories of the 84 Mahāsiddhas.

A text of particular interest is Lakṣmī's Sahajasiddhipaddhati, "Guide to the Accomplishment of the Inborn". The Guide rejects Hindu and Buddhist practices involving outer worship or inner yogic energy-exercises, and instead expounds a form of meditation meant to let the practitioner rest directly in the enlightened nature of the mind. Notably, the text also contains a history of this teaching entailing short biographies of twelve Tantric masters associated with Uḍḍiyāna. These also cover the stories of four female teachers, including Lakṣmī's short autobiography, which are unique due to the extreme rarity of female masters and actual writings by female authors in medieval Buddhism.

Dr. Kragh has earlier published two articles on the topic of Lakṣmī's Guide. In the first paper (Indo-Iranian Journal 53, 2010, pp. 195-232), he established the history of how the Tibetan translation of the Guide was produced, which is the only extant source for the text. In the second article (Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 27.2, October 2011), he discussed Lakṣmī's gender role as presented in the Guide and her other writings in comparison with the ensuing male appropriation of her story.