The Childhood of Dorjé Sangwatsel (b. 1814) and the Theme of the Deficient Parent in Tibetan Hagiography

Benjamin Wood


This article focuses on a set of childhood narratives in the autobiography of Dorjé Sangwatsel (b. 1814), a lama from southeastern Tibet. Looking in particular at his negative assessments of childhood guardians—including biological parents and early-life monastic mentors—this article explores the significance of deficient parenting narratives in Tibetan hagiography. After considering Dorjé Sangwatsel’s autobiographical recollections of his guardians, I situate his accounts in conjunction with several other thematically similar stories and suggest three ways in which parents are deficient in Tibetan hagiography: deficient as cruel, narrow-minded, and immoral. In so doing, I hope to expose an implication of Dorjé Sangwatsel’s reflections—namely, that stories of deficient parents versus awakened children help to fulfill Tibetan hagiography’s compulsion to demonstrate protagonists’ extraordinariness in each stage of life, childhood included. As such, the theme of the deficient parent, I suggest, functions as a literary strategy that potently exposes hagiographical exemplarity. 


Buddhism; hagiography; family; parents; guardians; children; childhood

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Copyright (c) 2015 Benjamin Wood

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