Searching for the Body

Searching for the Body
In the early fifteenth century, two Tibetan monks debated how to transform the body ritually into a celestial palace inhabited by buddhas. The discussion between Ngorchen Künga Zangpo and Khédrupjé Gélek Pelzangpo concerned the mechanics of this tantric ritual practice, known as body mandala, as well as the most reliable sources to follow in performing it. As representatives of the Sakya and emerging Geluk traditions respectively, these authors spoke for communities of Buddhist practitioners vying for patronage and prestige in an evolving Tibetan scholastic culture. Their debate witnessed clashes between imagination and deception, continuity and rupture, and tradition and innovation.

Searching for the Body demonstrates the significance of the body mandala debate for understandings of Tibetan Buddhism as well as conversations on representation and embodiment occurring across the disciplines today. Rae Erin Dachille explores how Ngorchen and Khédrup used citational practice as a tool for making meaning, arguing that their texts reveal a deep connection between ritual mechanics and interpretive practice. She contends that this debate addresses strikingly contemporary issues surrounding interpretation, intertextuality, creativity, essentialism, and naturalness. Buddhist ideas about the construction of meaning and the body offer new ways of understanding representation, which Dachille illuminates in an epilogue that considers Glenn Ligon’s engagement with Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography. By placing Buddhist thought in dialogue with contemporary artistic practice and cultural critique, Searching for the Body offers vital new perspectives on the transformative potential of representations in defining and transcending the human.


Rae Erin Dachille


Columbia University Press



Publication date

1 Jan 2022 – 30 Nov 2022




Art and Culture
Gender and Identity


Global Asia (Asia and other parts of the World)