Overview for Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies
Civilized Shamans examines the nature and evolution of religion in Tibetan societies from the ninth century up to the Chinese occupation in 1950. Geoffrey Samuel argues that religion in these societies developed as a dynamic amalgam of strands of Indian Buddhism and the indigenous spirit-cults of Tibet. Samuel stresses the diversity of Tibetan societies, demonstrating that central Tibet, the Dalai Lama's government at Lhasa, and the great monastic institutions around Lhasa formed only a part of the context within which Tibetan Buddhism matured. Employing anthropological research, historical inquiry, rich interview material, and a deep understanding of religious texts, the author explores the relationship between Tibet's social and political institutions and the emergence of new modes of consciousness that characterize Tibetan Budddhist spirituality. Samuel identifies the two main orientations of this religion as clerical (primarily monastic) and Shamanic (associated with Trantric Yoga). The specific form, that Buddhism has taken in Tibet is rooted in the pursuit of enlightenment by a minority of the people-Lamas, Monks, and Yogins--and the desire for Shamanic services (in quest of health, long life, and prosperity) by the majority. Shamanic traditions of achieving altered states of consciousness have been incorporated into Tantric Buddhism, which aims to communicate with Tantric deities through Yoga. The author contends that this incorporation forms the basis for much of the Tibetan Lamas' role in their society and that their subtle scholarship reflects the many ways in which they have reconciled the Shamanic and clerical orientations. This book, the first full account of Tibetan Buddhism in two decades, ranges as no other study has over several disciplines and languages, incorporating historical and anthropological discussion. Viewing Tibetan Buddhism as one of the great spiritual and psychological achievements of humanity, Samuel analyzes a complex society that combines the literacy and rationality associated with centralized states with the Shamanic processes more familiar among tribal peoples.
Geoffrey Samuel (Author)
Geoffrey Samuel is Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Newcastle, NSW. His publications include Mind, Body and Culture and Civilized Shamans. He is also translator of Giuseppe Tucci's Religions of Tibet.