Accepted Paper:

Sacred texts, speaking gifts: imaginative labour in the making and giving of Tibetan Buddhist texts  
Amy Binning (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper investigates the ways in which account-making is a critical practice in the creation and distribution of sacred Tibetan Buddhist texts. Sacred texts are often personified and understood as "speaking" objects, imaginative labour is essential in bringing these agentive objects to voice.

Paper long abstract:

Sacred texts have long been understood as embodiments of Buddha speech (gsung) in Tibetan Buddhism. This vocality is part of a wider personification of sacred Tibetan texts, which are routinely wrapped in robes, invited and carried from place to place, and prayed to directly (Diemberger). The personification of texts and their capacity to speak relies upon the diligent work of their human makers and keepers. In order to ensure the creation of a successful speaking text, makers must produce mobile, imaginative narrative accounts of the personified texts and their power.

Based on 16 months' recent fieldwork with a Nyingma Tibetan Buddhist community in Berkeley, California I will explore how these narrative accounts are creatively adapted. The printing of sacred texts is a central feature of this California community's work, and they distribute the finished products by the hundreds of thousands to the Tibetan monastic population in India. In so doing they have lifted Tibetan texts from their familiar sites of production and patronage and stretched them to fit new spaces. Their creation has moved from the hands of monastics and artisans, to those of American volunteers, often spiritual beginners. In the course of their work, the texts must be made "speak" at once to donors, sponsors, practitioners, to lay and monastic audiences across multiple countries. I suggest that for American practitioners to bring Tibetan Buddhist books to life and to voice in this new locale has required creative and imaginative labour, revealing new facets to the vocality of sacred texts.

Panel Cre05
Making accounts count: imagination, creativity, and (in)coherence