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2013 Master's Level Graduate Research Conference

Session I - Session II - Session III

Liberation from the State through Bodily Acts: The Dance of a Tibetan Lama in Exile

This paper focuses on the solo performance of ‘Cham by the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, a highly revered reincarnate lama of seventeen times, who currently resides in India as a refugee. His seemingly ironic act of dancing despite the wave of self-immolations sweeping across Tibetans upholds the Buddhist teachings of non-violence and lends weight to the significance of dance in the Tibetan ritual. ‘Cham, dictates a transcendental experience where both the act of dancing and observing is elevated beyond the senses to the point it liberates the mind. The notion of liberation has come to haunt Tibetans not only religiously but also politically as they struggle to define for themselves what it means to be liberated as a Buddhist and a Tibetan. They look up to their spiritual leaders as living Buddhas and in the case of the Karmapa, the emanation of the great bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara. Every action of the Karmapa thus speaks volume to the Tibetan communities living inside and outside of Tibet as well as his international devotees from all over the world. The significance of his performance extends beyond the mere act of appearing on stage; it carves a milestone in the history of the Kagyu lineage in Tibetan Buddhism as well as a political landmark for the Tibetan refugees living outside of Tibet. If people’s bodies are the finest scale of political space, it is the more important to address the primacy of the Tibetan bodies and what they are engaged in amidst their plight. By taking ‘Cham as the vantage point of a deeper inquiry into the Tibetan situation that continues to erupt beneath public attention, I hope to be reveal new insights into the relationship between body and the state through performance in a religious context.

Presenter: Shan Chuah (York University) -- schuah@yorku.ca
Topic: Dance - Panel
Location: Strasser Dance Studio, 152 Hartwell
Time: 9:30 am (Session I)

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