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Tom Troughton

Junior Research Fellow


Areas of interest

  • Narratives and No-self
  • Tibetan Buddhist Socio-political Agency
  • Religion and secularity (chos-srid)

Myth and narrative establishing nationality. Embodied compassion as secular rule

It has become apparent during this first part of the 21 st century that the modern is prey to extreme and fundamentalist ideologies, both religious and secular, which increasingly promote violence as a ‘restorative’ elimination of the other as a response to the traumatic, axial experience of differentiation and isolation. My research delves into how Tibetan listening to mythic narratives of compassion between the 11th and 17th centuries CE manifested in their a particular response to the trauma of an axial rupture into duality with the founding of the Tibetan Empire (Tib: bod)in the 6th century CE. Mahāyāna Buddhism, itself a response to the trauma of an Indian axial rupture into duality during the 6th-4th centuries BCE, was adopted as an aspect of government shortly after the founding of the Empire. This entailed the construction of ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ space within the Tibetan cultural sphere, but with the collapse of the Empire in the 9th century CE, the religious spaces were de-coupled from the previous secular boundaries. My research shows how Tibetan elites, as they attempted to re-establish a Tibetan state during the 11th-17th centuries CE, recaptured and reconfigured these Buddhist spaces were as particularly ‘Tibetan’ through the self-constructed “second dissemination” (Tib: phyi dar) of Buddhism.There were many strategies pursued, but I argue that a central aspect of this construction was myth-building around the figure of Chenrésik (Tib: spyan ras gzigs, Skt: Avalokiteśvara) in order to re-construct ‘who’ and ‘what’ notions of identity for individual people, for characteristically Buddhist institutions, and for the (becoming) Tibetan society in which those institutions were embedded. One key method was the retro-cognition of Songtsen Gampo, 6th-7th century CE Emperor of the Tibetan Central Asian Empire, as a manifestation of the Buddha of Compassion. A series of texts (e.g. bka'chems ka khol ma, ma ṇi bka' 'bum, and subsequent ‘mythic’, ‘historical’, and ‘biographical’ works) together these reveal the development the particular Tibetan solution (Tib: chos srid) to the trauma of secular – religious differentiation and isolation: ‘Recognition’ of their non-duality becomes a central feature of Tibetan Mahāyāna legitimation in both secular and religious spheres.


2008 - present

PhD Cancidate, School of Religious Studies, McGill University, Montreal


MA,School of Religious Studies, McGill University, Montreal