Women and Wit in Tibetan Buddhist Literature

Followed by a reception and guest dinner at Wolfson College

This talk will consider women’s writing in Tibet, centering on the writings of one of the wittiest and most prolific female writers in Tibetan history, Sera Khandro Dewé Dorjé (1892–1940). Writing in the decades prior to the massive social and political turmoil of Tibet’s incorporation into the People’s Republic of China, Sera Khandro’s writings preserve sound bites of a distinctive Tibetan cultural and religious world. We will get a feeling of this world through listening to some key passages from Sera Khandro Dewé Dorjé’s autobiography (c. 1934) that shed light on the following pressing questions: What exactly do dogs and men have in common and why should we worry about it? In what way is a good wife like a golden bridle? Who lays down the law in the lama’s entourage? How do you get a lustful monk to behave? Hearing Sera Khandro’s responses to these questions not only demonstrates her verbal prowess, but it also prompts us to reflect on broader topics that are not at all funny such as sexual violence, Buddhist misogyny, and the complexity of female agency. Reading great Tibetan literature such as that written by Sera Khandro instructs us about historical topics relating to Tibetan culture and religion as much as it speaks directly and artfully to us about concerns very much alive today, that is if we can catch the wit in the first place, and then avoid losing it in the act of translation.