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Nils Martin Wins Khyentse Foundation Award for Outstanding PhD Dissertation in Buddhist Studies

Nils Martin’s thesis assessment in 2022. From left: Charles Ramble, Charlotte Schmid, Nils Martin, Christian Luczanits, Emmanuelle Delqué-Količ, and Matthew Kapstein. Image courtesy of Khyentse Foundation

Khyentse Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by the revered Bhutanese lama, filmmaker, and author Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, announced that it has awarded this year’s Khyentse Foundation Award for Outstanding PhD Dissertation in Buddhist Studies for Europe to Nils Martin of the East Asian Civilizations Research Centre (CRCAO) in Paris.

“Martin’s dissertation, The Wanla Group of Monuments: 14th-Century Tibetan Buddhist Murals in Ladakh, prepared at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE) in Paris and defended in March 2022, is a masterful contribution to the history of art and of Buddhism in the Western Himalayas,” Khyentse Foundation said in an announcement shared with BDG. “It further provides a model of interdisciplinary research on painted monuments, combining an excellent command of iconography and stylistic conventions with archaeometric analysis, epigraphy, and a firsthand assessment of literary sources in classical Tibetan. As such, it represents an outstanding contribution to Buddhist studies.”

Khyentse Foundation presents the US$8,000 Award for Outstanding PhD Dissertation in Buddhist Studies to the authors of exceptional PhD dissertations during the previous two academic years. In order to qualify, the dissertation must be based on original research and should significantly advance understanding of the subject or Buddhist scriptures studied. The award is presented to scholars in Asia and Europe in alternate years.

Documentation of the ceiling of a gateway stupa in Nyoma, Ladakh, 2015. Image courtesy of Khyentse Foundation

“I am extremely honored and grateful to receive this award from the distinguished Khyentse Foundation. I would like to express my special thanks to the members of the jury for carefully examining my application and eventually selecting my dissertation, even more so since it lies outside the historic field of textual studies,” Martin observed. “This award comes as a significant recognition of research developed over a decade under the patient, insightful guidance of my supervisor Charles Ramble and my co-advisor Christian Luczanits, and along with the continuous support of my colleagues, friends, and family. It will contribute to publishing it in a form that can be more easily accessed by everyone, including the caretakers of the monuments it considers. At a threshold in my life, it also gives me confidence to pursue my career in academia.”

Khyentse Foundation was founded by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche in 2001 with the aim of promoting the Buddha’s teaching and supporting all traditions of Buddhist study and practice. The foundation’s activities include major text preservation and translation projects, support for monastic colleges in Asia, a worldwide scholarship and awards program, development of Buddhist studies at major universities, training and development for Buddhist teachers, and developing new modes of Dharma-inspired education for children.

“[Nils Martin’s] imposing four-volume dissertation totaling over 1,450 pages is the result of nine years of extensive research during which Martin, previously trained in art history at the prestigious École du Louvre in Paris, gained a solid knowledge of Buddhist studies and literary Tibetan and thoroughly documented some dozen sites—some of them endangered—during a sustained campaign of repeated, long-term fieldwork,” Khyentse Foundation said. “Having dated the sites to the 14th and early 15th centuries, and established their relative chronology—backed by a large sample of carbon-14 datings—[Martin] proposes that these monuments represent a coherent group built by a network of artists and patrons, presenting an iconography influenced by the eclectic teachings the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. In so doing, Martin also makes an important contribution to the understanding of a rather obscure page in the history of Ladakh. More broadly, the work contributes to renewing our current understanding of the importance of the Western Himalayas and of their connectedness to other regions of the Buddhist world. Martin, who is collaborating with prominent scholars working on the region, has already published extensive results that stem from his research on Ladakhi art and epigraphy. He is further encouraged to prepare his dissertation for publication as a monograph, to make his results more widely available and stimulate discussion in the field.”

Khyentse Foundation’s achievements over the last 20 years include more than 15 million pages of Buddhist texts preserved and made available online; education provided for the children of more than 1,000 families; support for Buddhist studies at more than 35 major universities through endowed chairs and professorships, graduate support, and the establishment of Buddhist studies centers; more than US$1 million in sponsorship for Buddhist teacher-training granted; sacred Buddhist texts translated into more than 15 languages, thanks to the efforts of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, the Kumarajiva Project, and the Khyentse Vision Project; over US$1.8 million in funding granted to uphold Buddhism in its mother countries, including grassroots partnerships to revitalize interest in Buddhism in India; more than 2,000 scholarships and awards in recognition of excellence in Buddhist study and practice; support for over 3,000 monks and nuns to maintain the tradition of Buddhist scholarship in a monastic setting; and more than 120 open-access Ashoka and Trisong grants distributed to support Dharma and well-being programs.

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. Image courtesy of KF

Born in Bhutan in 1961, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is the son of Thinley Norbu Rinpoche and was a close student of the Nyingma master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910–91). He is recognized as the third incarnation of the 19th century Tibetan terton Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–1892), founder of the Khyentse lineage, and the immediate incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (1893–1959). 

In addition to Khyentse Foundation, his projects include Siddhartha’s Intent, an international collective of Buddhist groups supporting Rinpoche’s Buddhadharma activities by organizing teachings and retreats, distributing and archiving recorded teachings, and transcribing, editing, and translating manuscripts and practice texts; 84000, a non-profit global initiative to translate the words of the Buddha and make them available to all; Lotus Outreach, which directs a range of projects to ensure the education, health, and safety of vulnerable women and children in the developing world; and Lhomon Society, which promotes sustainable development in Bhutan through education.

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Khyentse Foundation

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