Shelly Bhoil of World Literature Today interviews Tenzin Dickie on OLD DEMONS, NEW DEITIES.

SHELLY BHOIL: You explain in the introduction to Old Demons, New Deities that fiction begins with desire, and desire is a non-Buddhist ideal that was demonized in old Tibet, which led to the delay of the organic evolution of Tibetan fiction. Can we say that the coming out of this first-ever collection of Tibetan stories in English signifies Tibetans’ disenchantment with religion?

TENZIN DICKIE: I do think that’s fair to say. Most Tibetan writers used to write about religion, about Buddhist philosophy and metaphysics and epistemology. They all pretty much came out of the monastic tradition and wrote about things that tradition cared about, which was emptiness and cessation of suffering and enlightenment and not love, honor, betrayal, redemption, and loss. The epic of Gesar and the Sixth Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso’s love poetry were the great exceptions. Otherwise, these were books about getting to nirvana and not about making an accommodation in samsara.

It was only later that the Buddhist religion lost its monopoly on Tibetan intellectual life. It would have been nice to get to make this change gradually and voluntarily, but we didn’t get to choose, and we were forced, which has left its scars on all of us. I think Tibetans are disenchanted with a great many things, not just religion. We are disenchanted with occupation, with assimilation, with exile, with diaspora, with politics, with religion. We are disenchanted with enchantment itself! You know, the Tibetan life-writing tradition has always been hagiographical rather than strictly biographical, which is one way of saying we have insisted on seeing the divine instead of the human, when actually it’s far more interesting and inspiring to see the human.

Read the full interview here.

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