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Love Letters from Golok


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Love Letters from Golok chronicles the courtship between two Buddhist tantric masters, Tare Lhamo (1938-2002) and Namtrul Rinpoche (1944-2011), and their passion for reinvigorating Buddhism in eastern Tibet during the post-Mao era. Holly Gayley retrieves the personal and prophetic dimensions of their courtship and its consummation in a twenty-year religious career that informs issues of gender and agency in Buddhism, cultural preservation among Tibetan communities, and alternative histories for minorities in China.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations Acknowledgments Note on Transliteration and Translation Introduction: Journey to Golok 1. Daughter of Golok: Tare Lhamo's Life and Context 2. Local Heroine: The Hagiography of Cultural Trauma 3. Inseparable Companions: A Buddhist Courtship and Correspondence 4. Emissaries of Padmasambhava: Tibetan Treasures and Healing Trauma 5. A Tantric Couple: The Hagiography of Cultural Revitalization Epilogue: The Legacy of a Tantric Couple Appendix A: Catalogue of the Letters of Namtrul Rinpoche Appendix B: Catalogue of the Letters of Tare Lhamo Abbreviations Notes Glossary of Tibetan Names Bibliography Index

About the Author

Holly Gayley is assistant professor of Buddhist studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her work has been published in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and Numen, with a forthcoming article in the History of Religions.


An extraordinary set of letters between a man and woman lie at the heart of this study of love, religious transcendence, and cultural trauma in post-Cultural Revolution Tibet. I know of no body of material that gives a more intricate picture of how Tibetan Tantric Buddhism could penetrate and transform worldly troubles and politics into the sublime aspirations of tantric vision. Gayley offers us an unparalleled view of 20th century Tibetan religion as it touched every aspect of human life. Plus an astonishing account of a female master whose romance with another master elevated them both into heroes for Eastern Tibet during most challenging times. -- Janet Gyatso, Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies, Harvard University Holly Gayley has that rarest of gifts, a scholar's eye and a story-teller's ear. Her book is filled with nuance and insight about the power of Tibetan cultural narratives of gendered spiritual prowess and the navigation of coded relationships. Never merely theoretical, Gayley grounds every observation in dynamic detail and a story-line compelling as any novel. -- Anne C. Klein, Professor Rice University and co-Founder, Dawn Mountain Author of Meeting the Great Bliss Queen, translator of Khetsun Sangpo's Strand of Jewels Gayley weaves together life writing, ethnography, and letters in an unprecedented fashion, and it pays off: her treatment of difficult primary sources - translated here for the first time - is inviting and engaging. Love Letters from Golok addresses issues of real and abiding concern in contemporary China. -- Kurtis R. Schaeffer, Professor of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at the University of Virginia and Chair of the Religious Studies department

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