The Dynamic Correlations of Religious and Musical Authority Constructed in Tibetan Buddhist Ritual Music: A Case Study of Rumtek Monastery

Event details

PhD Seminar

Date & time

Friday 02 November 2018


Australian Centre on China in the World Seminar Room A+B


Yanfang Liou


Yanfang Liou

My research considers what the main element enacts and these correlations among all the elements in Tibetan Buddhist rituals. These issues are discussed in a large context based on my study of historic literature, musical scores, and ritual manuals, and my field research including ritual performance in different communities and interview. The theories of Semiotics and performance are adopted to show how the symbolic system is constructed and deconstructed in Tibetan Buddhist rituals.

In the process of institutionalisation, the monk community was formed through textual performance, behavioral performance, and ritual performance to separate monks from laypeople. The authority of the monk community had been legitimized by the repeated and regulated performance. The rituals I discussed include group and individual rituals held by the monks in Rumtek Monastery and the ritual held by laypeople. The monk community is the dominant group in education about ritual, ritual music, and Buddhist philosophy. The musical and ritual authority of monks and the economic authority of laypeople support each other’s material life and spiritual life in the community. Body, speech, and mind are three vajras in Buddhism. The outer performance and the inner performance are constructed by signs and symbols in chanting music, instrumental music, and visualisation. I learned the ritual music, the outer performance, and unravelled the musical logic and patterns. The variety and richness of ritual music is the offering for deities. Moreover, combing the musical performance with the religious meanings in the ritual manuals, I discussed how the Buddhist doctrine embodies in musical performance. On the other hand, constructing the seeming reality in mind, the inner performance which is interdependent on references, is to deconstruct it. The process is the training to realize emptiness and the ultimate reality. In addition, rituals are also performed for karma and worldly wishes. However, the result may or may not meet the expectation. The answers of interviewees show the evaluation of efficacy is based on faith or karma. The emotion from the future possibility satisfies the practitioners and sponsors.

The logic of ritual and musical performance and the interviewees’ notion illustrate the main element in rituals is mind. The inner authority is Buddha nature which is everyone has the potential to attain enlightenment. Nevertheless, mind might be covered by impurities. Mind has to be purified and transformed in ritual performance. The outer performance and the inner performance are the methods operating with wisdom to transform mind and attain enlightenment.

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