Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Holly Gayley

Second Advisor

Jules Levinson

Third Advisor

Amelia Hall

Fourth Advisor

Greg Johnson


This thesis examines the role of translation and the formation of Vajrayāna Buddhist subjects in religious transmission through an analysis of the tantric Buddhist ritual practice, the Sādhana of Mahāmudrā (SOM). Reported to be revealed as a Mind treasure by the Tibetan reincarnate teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche while on retreat in Bhutan in 1968, and subsequently translated into English by Trungpa Rinpoche and his student Richard Arthure (1940- ), the SOM played an important role in the early process of the transnational transmission of Vajrayāna Buddhism to the ‘West.’ Nevertheless, after more than fifty years of practice by individuals and communities around the globe, the role of the SOM in this process has yet to be studied. Moreover, scholarship on the role of Vajrayāna rituals in contemporary religious transmission is also in its nascency. In this thesis, I aim to address this lacuna through a study of the revelation of this text, its strategic translation, and its role in the making of Vajrayāna Buddhist subjects. Given that the SOM emerged at a pivotal moment as Trungpa Rinpoche re-evaluated how to best teach the buddhadharma in the ‘West,’ I argue that its partially domesticating translation was a strategic means of inducting ‘Western’ students into a foreign ritual world. As such, I argue that the SOM was a skillful method to introduce ‘Western,’ non-Buddhist students to the Vajrayāna through an iterative process of ritual enactment and training in a subjectivity both described and prescribed within the text. As such, in this thesis I analyze the important role that the SOM played in the early formation of Vajrayāna subjectivities as Vajrayāna Buddhism came to North America and in preparing the ground for the later teachings that Trungpa Rinpoche would introduce to his students. This thesis informs my broader research question: how are new subjectivities created in the process of religious transmission across radically different cultural contexts? More generally, it contributes to emergent conversations around performativity in Buddhist ritual practice and will also prove relevant to those working on the intersection of ritual practice and religious transmission in other traditions.