Echoes of Enlightenment: The Life and Legacy of Sonam Peldren

ISBN : 9780190225278

Suzanne M. Bessenger
308 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Aug 2016
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Echoes of Enlightenment: The Life and Legacy of Sonam Peldren explores the issues of gender and sainthood raised by the discovery of a previously unpublished "liberation story" of the fourteenth-century Tibetan female Buddhist practitioner Sonam Peldren. Born in 1328, Peldren spent most of her adult life living and traveling as a nomad in eastern Tibet until her death in 1372. Existing scholarship suggests that she was illiterate, lacking religious education, and unconnected to established religious institutions. That, and the fact that as a woman her claims of religious authority would have been constantly questioned, makes Sonam Peldren's overall success in legitimizing her claims of divine identity all the more remarkable. Today the site of her death is recognized as sacred by local residents. In this study, Suzanne Bessenger draws on the newly discovered biography of the saint, approaching it through several different lenses. Bessenger seeks to understand how the written record of the saint's life is shaped both by the specific hagiographical agendas of its multiple authors and by the dictates of the genres of Tibetan religious literature, including biography and poetry. She considers Peldren's enduring historical legacy as a fascinating piece of Tibetan history that reveals much about the social and textual machinations of saint production. Finally, she identifies Peldren as one of the earliest recorded instances of a historical Tibetan woman successfully using the uniquely Tibetan hermeneutic of deity emanation to achieve religious authority.


Chapter One: The Life of Sonam Peldren
Chapter Two: Composing the Life of Sonam Peldren
Chapter Three: The Religion of Sonam Peldren
Chapter Four: Low Birth but High Thought: Depictions of Gender and Female Bodies in the Life of Sonam Peldren
Chapter Five: The Posthumous Careers of Sonam Peldren
Appendix A: Outlines of Two Manuscripts of the Life of Sonam Peldren
Appendix B: Life Prayer of the Wisdom Dakini Sonam Peldren
Appendix C: Ya Nga Jamda Ganden Khacho Ling Nunnery and Its Surroundings
Appendix D: Mapping the Life and Death of Sonam Peldren

About the author: 

Suzanne M. Bessenger is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Randolph College. She received her PhD in History of Religions from the University of Virginia, and has lived and traveled extensively in China, India, and Nepal. Her research explores Tibetan Buddhist biographies, cults of saints, and conceptions of gender. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her family.

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