History and traditions of Buddhism featured in “Treasury of Lives”

A figure robed in traditional Tibetan dress with one shoulder and arm exposed is seated on a mat, his legs crossed, left hand in his lap, the palm turned upward in a meditative attitude.

Shakyamuni Buddha, shown with Tsongkhapa and primary disciples in the upper left corner. Below are protector deities.

Treasury of Lives, originally known as The Tibetan Lineages Project, is a biographical encyclopedia that collects historical biographies of deceased scholars, masters, and leaders in traditional Himalayan and Inner Asian society and culture from the 8th century to the present day. It is a collaboration of scholars from around the world, celebrating the history and inspiration recorded in the lives of women and men who studied, practiced, and taught Buddhism.

The database is growing and currently contains over 1,270 bios with over 1,000 as-yet unpublished drafts. It includes information on over 900 placenames, over 735 mapped cultural sites, and over 200 clans and families — written for the database by an expanding list of more than 124 contributors.

Resources include:

  • The Treasury of Lives dynamic map, continually updated to include monasteries, temples, schools, manor houses, lakes, and other features of cultural geography associated with the biographies on the site.
  • High quality, open-source maps of major regions of the Tibetan Plateau.
  • Custom maps using place records.
  • Paintings and sculpture from the Rubin Museum of Art.
  • Biographical timelines from across the centuries.
  • Custom timelines generated from information about individuals.
  • Custom data exports upon request to Treasury of Lives.
  • Photographs of historical people from textual and internet sources.
  • Letters and official documents associated with the bios.
  • Bibliographies, lesson plans, and syllabi for classroom use.

Of the fourteen religious traditions covered in the resource, the oldest is the Bon tradition, “said to be the indigenous religion of the Himalayan region, preserving beliefs and practices that predate the introduction of Buddhism.” The figures that populate these ancient traditions, along with their timelines, include:

  • Women — Female religious practitioners, teachers, and rulers whose influence was profound within their communities.
  • Treasure Revealers — Men and women who produced scripture or objects called treasure.
  • Translators — Historical persons engaged in translating Indic language sources (in Sanskrit and Bengali) into Tibetan.
  • Royalty — Members of families that controlled empires, kingdoms, or principalities.
  • Indian Masters — Men and women from Bengal, Kashmir, the Ganges Plain, and other regions the Tibetans considered “India.”
  • Incarnations — All incarnation lines where a biography of at least one member exists.
  • Government Officers — Mostly those connected to the Tibetan government. There were seven ranks of officials within the Ganden Podrang government with the Dalai Lama holding the first rank.
  • Doctors — Individuals with medical training who practiced healing arts appropriate for their time.
  • Clans — Ancestral clans believed to have descended from the Bodhisattva monkey and demoness of Tibet’s origin myth.
  • Artists — People engaged in the production of religious and secular paintings and sculpture.
  • Abbots — Heads of all the monasteries and associated colleges.

Please visit Treasury of Lives in the Library’s A-Z Databases list and learn more about the treasury of rich history and spiritual traditions of the nation of Tibet.

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