Buddhist Studies Forum
Ian MacCormack, Harvard University

The Untimeliness of Perfection: Moments of Reflection in a Tibetan Buddhist Government


Rulers of Tibet’s central government in the late seventeenth century drew on Buddhist cosmology to situate and celebrate their achievements. Often, such claims seem like direct descriptions of reality—statements of belief, or ideology. At times, however, we may also detect a critical self-awareness of the distance between those cosmic ideals and the world of experience. In this talk, I will introduce a few such moments from the prose and poetry of two of Tibet’s rulers: the fifth Dalai Lama and the Desi Sangyé Gyatso. I will discuss the underlying doctrines and their sources, acknowledge the practical contexts, and reflect more broadly on what we stand to learn from these Buddhist ideas for our own thinking about religion and politics.