Tri Songdetsen

Brandon Dotson

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:
Tri Songdetsen

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King Tri Songdetsen (b. 742–d. c. 800) was the monarch responsible for the official adoption of Buddhism as a state religion of Tibet under royal patronage. He founded Samyé Monastery, oversaw the ordination of Tibetans as Buddhist monks, and sponsored the translation of Buddhist texts. Like other Buddhist monarchs, Tri Songdetsen presided over the bureaucratization of the sangha and regulated the canon by ruling on what types of works could be translated and by attempting to standardize translation practices. King Tri Songdetsen also presided over the famous Council of Tibet, an effort to choose which form of Buddhism to royally endorse. In his time Tri Songdetsen was addressed as a sacred god-king but also as a bodhisattva, and Buddhist historians from the 12th century onward remember him as an incarnation of Mañjuśrī. Also in later tradition, and in particular among the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, Tri Songdetsen is linked inextricably with the first abbot of Samyé Monastery, Śantarakṣita, and above all with the Nyingma’s central figure, the yogi Padmasambhava. For historians of the Bön religion of Tibet, however, Tri Songdetsen is an apostate king who turned his back on Tibet’s traditional religion and ultimately persecuted Bön. Due largely to his lionization by Tibetan Buddhist historians but also due to royalist eulogies to his reign composed even before his death, Tri Songdetsen’s life can hardly be separated from the legends that surround him. (Some publications give the king’s name as Trisong Detsen or Trisong Deutsen. In fact, this is not a variant but an error of transcription: “Tri” is a title that was given to Prince Songdetsen upon his enthronement in 756; at his birth he was known only as “Songdetsen.” The “Deu” in “Deutsen” is a late folk etymology and is not common in early Tibetan sources. The manner in which secondary scholarship transcribes this name is thus a useful shibboleth for research: recent publications that use the form “Trisong De(u)tsen” should signal to the reader a lack of proper attention to historical detail, and they should be read with this in mind.)

Article.  8551 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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