Toward a Geographic Biography: Mi la ras pa in the Tibetan Landscape

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Abstract

Few Tibetan figures have left an impression on the Himalayan landscape, both literary and geographic, as indelibly as Mi la ras pa (ca. 1028–1111), whose career as meditator and poet was punctuated by travel across the borderlands of southern Tibet. This essay will begin to address the defining role of place in Tibetan biographical literature by examining the intersections of text and terrain in the recording of an individual's life. In particular, this study examines sites of transformation in Mi la ras pa's biographical narratives, arguing for what might be called a geographic biography by examining the dialogical relationship between a life story recorded on paper and a life imprinted on the ground. It first considers the broad paradigms for landscaping the environment witnessed in Tibetan literature. It then examines ways in which the yogin's early biographical tradition treated the category of sacred place, creating increasingly detailed maps of the yogin's life, and how those maps were understood and reinterpreted. The paper concludes by addressing two specific modes of transformation in the life story — contested place and re-imagined place — exploring new geographies of consecration, dominion, and praxis.

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