SOAS University of London

Tibetan Studies at SOAS

Tibetan Studies Outreach Lecture Series

A series of lectures and events related to Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism aimed at the general public.

This series of lectures and events proposes to bridge the gap which sometimes exists between the academic study of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism and the general or popular interest in these subjects among the public. These talks are frequently organised jointly between SOAS and other London based Tibet related charities and NGOs. 

Previous Events in this series

Tibet Foundation Day: Secret Temple of Tibet's Dalai Lamas

Ian Baker with performances from Ngawang Lodup and Chinese and Mongolian musicians

This event will coincide with Tibet Foundation's 30th Anniversary and will include a lecture from Ian Baker on the Secret Temple of Tibet's Dalai Lamas, as well as a variety of musicians from China, Mongolia and Tibet, including renowned singer Ngawang Lodup. Entry is free, and refreshments will be served.

20 November 2015, Russell Square: College Buildings, Khalili Lecture Theatre, 7:30 PM - 11:00 PM

Tibet's minority languages: mapping Tibet's linguistic diversity and its contemporary transformation

Dr Gerald Roche (Uppsala)

This talk will focus on Tibet's non-Tibetan minority languages. In addition to providing basic information about these languages, the talk examines the complex sociolinguistic context faced by their speakers as enclaves within larger Tibetan communities, inside the Chinese state, in an interconnected and globalized world. These languages are subject to several unexpected sociolinguistic trends. Some languages are thriving, while others are likely to disappear in the near future.

7 May 2015, Russell Square: College Buildings, G51, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

The current status of Tibetan Language Processing in China: from encoding to machine translation

Prof. Jiang Di (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

Tibetan language information processing involves three main domains: information technology (e.g. font encoding, language keyboards, etc.); resource collection and development (e.g. e-texts, e-dictionaries, OCR, etc.); and natural language processing (e.g lemmatization, sorting and retrieval, word segmentation and annotation/tagging, machine translation, etc.) This report will give a brief survey of these domains and their developments in China.

20 April 2015, 21/22 Russell Square, T102, 5:30 PM - 7:00 PM

The fortunes and misfortunes of the Tibetan army’s reforms during the first half of the 20th century (1895-1951)

Dr Alice Travers (CNRS)

The Tibetan army's expansion and reform was part of a modernisation programme undertaken by the 13th Dalai-lama. Troop numbers, organisation and equipment were improved in the context of Tibet’s de facto independence and increasing military threat to the east. Based on biographies, archives and interviews, this talk analyses the military reforms (recruitment, hierarchy, training, uniform, arms, ammunitions) in tandem with the political national and international context.

26 March 2015, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

Cloth cleansed in fire, animals with incombustible fur, and how it all comes together in India and Eurasia

Dr Péter-Dániel Szántó (Oxford)

This talk will eluciate the meaning of the Sanskrit word agniśauca (‘cleansed in/by fire’), which can denote a kind of cloth and a kind of small animal. However, one cannot identify the true referent by relying on Indic sources alone. Looking to China, Inner Asia, and Mediaeval Europe, a remarkable shared belief emerges: the cloth cleansed in fire and the fur of small animals are actually one and the same thing.

29 January 2015, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

Beyul: Hidden Valleys

Dr Fabian Sanders (Venice)

Scholars usually regard the sku-bla as a mountain deity, with differing views on whether this cult is a foreign import or central to Imperial Tibetan religion. A re-examination of the relevant passages shows that the sku-bla is a ceremony central to the ideology of sacral kingship in the Old Tibetan Empire. It created a bond of vassalage between the celebrant and the Tibetan emperor, and was performed by vassals of the emperor rather than the royal court itself.

27 November 2014, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

The Shugden Controversy and the 14th Dalai Lama


This panel discussion will address the controversy surrounding the propitiation of Dorje Shugden in the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. It will include presentations by traditional exponents of both sides of the controversy and by academic authorities. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

15 August 2014, Vernon Square, V211, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

The sku-bla and its cult

Nathan W. Hill

Scholars usually regard the sku-bla as a mountain deity, with differing views on whether this cult is a foreign import or central to Imperial Tibetan religion. A re-examination of the relevant passages shows that the sku-bla is a ceremony central to the ideology of sacral kingship in the Old Tibetan Empire. It created a bond of vassalage between the celebrant and the Tibetan emperor, and was performed by vassals of the emperor rather than the royal court itself.

12 June 2014, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

Nyepas: The three humors in Tibetan Medicine

Dr Rigzin Sangmo

According to traditional Tibetan medicine, health is determined by five elements (earth, water, fire, wind, space) and three humors (rlung 'wind', mkhris-pa 'bile' and bad-kan 'phlegm'). This talk will introduce the three humors and explain their composition and function in the regulation of health.

29 May 2014, Vernon Square, V211, 5:30 PM - 7:00 PM

An illustrated Introduction to the Pema Kathang, or 'Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava', as revealed in a series of twenty-six wall paintings from Mindrolling Stupa in India

Robert Beer

These twenty-six magnificent frescos appear on the ground floor of the world's largest stupa, the Great Stupa of Mindrolling in Dehra Dun, India. The interior frescos of the stupa were painted by a group of around two hundred thangka painters between 2000 and 2002. They were then meticulously photographed by Gabriel Berde from New York, who spent almost as long in digitally capturing all the painted imagery within this Great Stupa between 2008 and 2010.

24 April 2014, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

The Endurance of the Past in Modern Tibetan Literature

Lama Jabb

Existing research on modern Tibetan writing takes the 1980s as starting point. However, this interpretation ignores the styles, themes and concepts derived from Tibet’s rich and diverse oral traditions. This talk highlights this impact of the past on the present showing the influence of mgur, kāvya and oral poetry in the works of contemporary Tibetan poets.

20 March 2014, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

Between Buddhism and Science, Between Mind and Body

Prof Geoffrey Samuel

Since the late 19th century Buddhism has been seen as compatible with Western science. The Buddhist influence on the ecology movement has strengthened this perception. Yet the 'Buddhism' brought into relation with science has undergone rewriting under modernist influences, and critical aspects of Buddhist thought and practice are ignored. This lecture presents a different kind of dialogue, in which a Tibetan Buddhism confronts Western scientists and scholars on more equal terms.

5 December 2013, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

The Art of Thangkas: From Monastery to Museums, an Integrated Approach to Conservation and Display

Teresa Heady

This talk will cover basic uses of thangkas, their provenance and styles and how to make them. Concentrating at the on the preservation and conservation of thangkas as they relate to display and storage in museums. All of the talk will be from work carried out while teaching thangkas conservation workshops in Nepal and Tibet and how this helped make decisions for the display, storage and care of thangkas that are now housed in the different museum’s collections I have worked with.

14 November 2013, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

Padmasambhava: Different Aspects


This one-day conference, hosted jointly by SOAS and the London Shang Shung Institute, will explore different aspects of Padmasambhava.

14 September 2013, Vernon Square, V211, 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM

Tantric Arts and Crafts in Bhutan

Timea Tallian

Timea Tallian discusses her work in Bhutan as a conservation supervisor for artwork exhibited in the Ta Dzong Museum in Trongsa. This work involved the restoration of important ancient Buddhist artifacts and sacred objects from the Royal collection. 

9 May 2013, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

The Origins and Meaning of Om Manipadme Hum

Dr Alex Studholme

'Oṃ Maṇipadme Hūṃ' is first recorded the Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra, one of the first Buddhist books to arrive in Tibet, this work reflects an early stage of Buddhist tantrism in India.  The mantra reflects creative religious synthesis. Its meaning, “in the jewel-lotus” expresses a central symbol of Mahāyāna: rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitābha.

7 March 2013, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

Himalayan Ascetism and Mysticism

Dr Sondra Hausner (Oxford University)

This talk will describe contemporary South Asian sadhus, or ascetics, and consider whether they live up to the legendary roles that have been attributed to them.  Certainly their religious practices, or tapas, are modelled after those of the great mahasiddhas in Himalayan mythology, but being an ascetic in real life poses particular kinds of challenges.  Do all ascetics necessarily aspire towards mysticism -- and do all mystics practice an ascetic lifestyle?

28 February 2013, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

18th-20th century Mongolian Buddhist paintings and appliques

Zara Fleming

The most profound and long lasting influence on Mongolian art is that of Vajrayana Buddhism. This flourished for centuries under the patronage of the Khans, but in the 20th century it was all but annihilated under communism. This lecture explores this rich tradition of Buddhist art, identifying particular Mongolian characteristics in their thangkhas and appliques from the 18th to the 20th century.

31 January 2013, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

Theory and Practice of Urine Analysis in Tibetan Medicine

Dr Pema Dorjee

Urine is like a clear mirror. It reflects the state of health and makes it easier for a physician to understand the nature of a disease. Diseases of the vital organs can be understood more clearly from pulse reading while diseases of the vessel organs and hot and cold nature of a disease can be understood more accurately through urinalysis. 

6 December 2012, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

The Legends of the 84 Mahasiddhas of early Indian Buddhism

Robert Beer

The Mahasiddhas, literally the ‘Greatly Attained Ones’, lived in India between the 8th and 12th centuries and were the instigators of the highly esoteric Yoga Tantra systems that were finally transmitted into Tibet. The Mahasiddhas came from all walks of life, and the diversity of their often-outlandish legends reveals much about the different approaches to enlightenment.  Robert Beer gives this illustrated talk which will explore some of their pithy life stories.

15 November 2012, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

Consciousness and its transformation in Tibetan Buddhism

Dr Artur Przybyslawski (Jagiellonian University)
Tibetan Buddhist philosophy distinguishes four different kinds of consciousness, which can be philologically and philosophically analyzed in relationship to one another.8 November 2012, Vernon Square, V211, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

Women Lineage Holders in the Bonpo Tradition

Dmitry Ermakov

This talk treats female lineage-holders of Bönpo Dzogchen. These women came from all over Inner Asia, received Dzogchen teachings and became renown for spiritual accomplishment. Their instructions are said to have been recorded by the 8th century Bönpo master Lachen Drenpa Namkha. The last in this lineage, Chöza Bönmo, played a role in saving Bön teachings from the 8th century persecution under the Tibetan emperor Trisong Deutsen.

26 October 2012, 21/22 Russell Square, T102, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

A Critical Passage according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead

Elio Guarisco

The Tibetan Book of the Dead, attributed to Padmasambhava, the legendary eighth century figure who introduced Tantric Buddhism to Tibet, was 'rediscovered' by Karma Lingpa in the fourteenth century. From that time one, its renown spread throughout the Himalayan regions where The Tibetan Book of the Dead became the focus of funerary rites. The Book is aimed specifically at aiding the dying person in the critical passage from life to death.

4 October 2012, 21/22 Russell Square, T102, 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM

Indo-Tibetan Classical Learning according to Jamgon Kongtrul's Treasury of Knowledge

Dr Gyurme Dorje

This talk will examine the assimilation of four distinct disciplines of Indian origin, which have all contributed richly to the formation of the Indo-Tibetan cultural milieu: language, logic, art and astro-medical studies. Reference will be made to the key literary sources representing each of these genres, and their content will be summarised from the perspective of Jamgon Kongtrul’s 19th century Treasury of Knowledge (Shes bya kun khyab mdzod).

26 April 2012, Vernon Square, V211, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Female Tibetan Masters

Dr Paola Zamperini (Amherst)

This talk will present the lives of prominent female teachers in Tibetan Buddhism, in order to reconstruct the trajectories to realization that women undertook, often at high personal and societal cost. By utilizing biographical and autobiographical records, Professor Zamperini will analyze the narrative and social aspects of these women’s choice to privilege the Vajrayana path to enlightenment at the expense of more conventional and socially accepted lifestyles.

16 March 2012, Vernon Square, V211, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Nourishment for the Dead: Early Buddhist Funeral Rites in Tibet

Dr Martin Boord

Taking his cue from the dBa' bzhed chronicle of the Tibetan Imperial period, Martin Boord will look at some of the ways in which Buddhist funeral rites departed from previously established customs.  While the new system of imported Buddhism certainly introduced creative innovations in harmony with what had been done before, there were also conflicts of view concerning the spirits of the other world that gave rise to some amusing rivalries.

23 February 2012, Vernon Square, V211, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Termas and Tertons: Refreshing the Teachings

Dr Fabian Sanders (Venice)

In the Tibetan tradition, time is not linear. Time changes its intrinsic quality through the ages. Sentient beings living in the ups and downs of time have different problems and needs. In Tibet an unusual and unique feature has been developed in order for the Dharma to continue to be useful and effective in shifting times: Termas. This lecture presents various kinds of termas and the biographies of some of the most important terma discoverers.

27 January 2012, Vernon Square, V211, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Wrathful Deities and Their Symbolism

Robert Beer

This talk explores the iconography and symbolism of the Nyingma Dharmapalas depicted on ten murals of the Great Stupa of Mindrolling in Dehradun, India. These contemporary gold on black protector deity assemblies have only recently been photographically archived and these images have never been presented before.

15 December 2011, Vernon Square, V211, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

World Newah Convention


The First World Newah Convention concluded successfully on 31st of October with delegates from around the world participated in the convention. 

9 November 2011, Vernon Square, V211, 9:00 AM - 5:00 AM

Buddhism and a Sustainable World: Some Reflections

Prof. Geoffrey Samuel (Cardiff)
Buddhist thought through its stress on the mutual dependence of all phenomena contains resources that have been important for those working towards a more ecologically awareness. But Buddhist literature had relatively little explicit concern with environmental awareness, protection or sustainability. Nonetheless, the practice of Buddhist societies, particularly in Tibet and the Himalayas, did engage with environmental issues.7 October 2011, Russell Square: College Buildings, 116, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Padmasambhava from the early sources: a re-examination

Dr Robert Mayer (Oxford)

Padmasambhava became a densely mythologised figure in Tibetan literature. Modern scholarship has so far remained uncertain to what extent this tendency existed before the time of Nyang ral nyi ma’i ‘od zer (1124-1192). However, recently discovered evidence from the Dunhuang texts now strengthens the evidence for elements of the Padmasambhava cult existing within some circles of Tibetan Mahāyoga practitioners, more than a hundred years earlier.

12 May 2011, Vernon Square, V211, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

The teacher-student relationship in the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism

Tomek Lehnert

The Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism is referred to as the "lineage of oral transmission" because of its emphasis on the close relationship between teacher and student. In this lecture Tomek Lehnert will discuss the importance of the teacher-student relationship in practising the Buddhist path, drawing on his 20 years of experience of constant travel as Lama Ole's personal assistant, helping to establish Kagyu Buddhism in the west.

31 March 2011, Russell Square: College Buildings, Khalili lecture theatre, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Images of Tibet: Two presentations by photographers of contemporary Tibet

Ryan Pyle and Dianne Aigaki

At this event two leading photographers of contemporary Tibet present their work. Ryan Pyle in  'Development & Change in China's Tibet' demonstrates the remarkable pace of development and urbanization in contemporary Tibet. Dianne Aigaki in 'Dream of the Turquoise Bee' presents photos of Eastern Tibet's natural beauty and changing society. Ms. Aigaki's presentation also includes her botanical drawings of indigenous plants. 

23 February 2011, Russell Square: College Buildings, L67, 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Bhutanese Losar/New Year celebration: Norbu my beloved Yak

A screening of the film 'Norbu: My Beloved Yak' with a question and answer session and reception, in honour of the Buthanese new year. Cost is £20 (£15 concessions) at the door.  

5 February 2011, Russell Square: College Buildings, Khalili lecture theatre, 5:45 PM - 9:00 PM

Tibetan Oracles and Himalayan Shamans

Dr Fabian Sanders (Venice)

Dr. Sanders presents recent research in the field including attention to the religio-philosophical and cosmological background to Tibetan Oracles. He will also discuss some of its unique and distinguishing cultural characteristics. Finally Dr. Sanders will compare Oracles with the more common and widespread Himalayan phenomena generally labelled as 'Shamanism' highlighting differences and similarities.

21 January 2011, Vernon Square, V211, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

The Place of Ritual Dance in Tibetan Tantric Practice

Dr Cathy Cantwell (Oxford)

The lecture will review the contexts of Tibetan ritual dance.  In particular, the integration of the dance performance into tantric ritual practice will be delved into, with special focus on the structure of Major Practice Sessions (sgrub chen), with fieldwork examples from a Bhutanese monastery in Kalimpong, and a Tibetan exile monastery in Himachal Pradesh.

11 November 2010, Vernon Square, V111, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Leaving Fear Behind: Film screenings and Q&A


A screening of Leaving Fear Behind, a film by political prisoner Dhondup Wangchen, and Behind the Sea, a film profile of Dhondup’s wife Lhamo Tso. To be followed by a panel discussion and Q&As.

21 October 2010, Russell Square: College Buildings, Khalili Lecture Theatre, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Manjusrimitra's Primordial Experience

Khyentse Yeshi Namkhai

The speaker, Khyentse Yeshi Namkhai, will be discussing the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, particularly from the perspective of Manjusrimitra influence. 

7 October 2010, Vernon Square, V211, 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM