Xiaonan Li and Lingfeng Tan Receive 2024 KF Award for Outstanding PhD Dissertation in Buddhist Studies

The 2024 Khyentse Foundation Award for Outstanding PhD Dissertation in Buddhist Studies for Asia is shared by two female scholars. Xiaonan Li of the School of Foreign Languages, Peking University, and Lingfeng Tan of the Buddha-Dharma Centre of Hong Kong were unanimously selected by the KF Dissertation Award Asia Committee as the winners of this year’s award for their PhD dissertations. The committee deemed both dissertations excellent and decided to award both scholars the prize.

Xiaonan’s dissertation, “Sanskrit and Tibetan Grammatical Literature: On the Vicissitudes of Nāmakāyādi or Ming gi tshogs la sogs pa,” based on primary sources in Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese, investigates how the concept of “nāma- (words), pada- (sentence), and vyañjana-kāya (collection of syllables)” in the Indic Abhidharma literature and the Lakāvatāra-sūtra developed into the linguistic theory of tshogs gsum (“three collections”) in Tibetan grammatical texts between the 9th and 18th centuries. Using the methodology of contact linguistics, Xiaonan examines the emergence, formation, maturation, and eventual enculturation of Tibetan linguistic theories concerning tshogs gsum. Her dissertation attempts to show how Buddhist scriptures and Sanskrit grammar influenced the formation of Tibetan linguistic theories, as well as how Tibetan linguists used various textual materials to refine and develop the theory of tshogs gsum.

Xiaonan Li and her late supervisor, Prof. Duan Qing.

The award committee was impressed by the research vision and the complexity of the data handled in Xiaonan’s dissertation. Her supervisor, Professor Saerji, remarked, “Li Xiaonan’s PhD thesis explores the historical interaction and exchange of grammatical theories between Sanskrit and Tibetan linguists. This topic covers fields such as Indology, Tibetology, and linguistics. It is a high-level work of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist philology. Although the author’s discussion focuses on philology, it also delves deeply into related Buddhist philosophy and doctrines, reflecting the author’s potential to become a true Buddhologist.”

Lingfeng’s dissertation, “The Doctrine of Pratītyasamutpāda in Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma: A Critical Study of the Section on Pratītyasamutpāda in Saṃghabhadra’s *Nyāyānusāra,” analyzes the Sarvāstivāda interpretation of conditioned co-arising (pratītyasamutpāda), based primarily on Saṃghabhadra’s *Nyāyānusāra and supplemented by related discussions in other Abhidharma texts. It examines the theory of conditioned co-arising from the aspects of ontology, epistemology, and causality in the doctrinal system of Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma. Her dissertation also collates the important materials on Sautrāntika theories and reconsiders Vasubandhu’s Sautrāntika position.

“Her PhD thesis provides a huge mass of valuable information from the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma tradition, much of which [is] made available for the first time in English (and for that matter in any European language),” said Venerable Professor KL Dhammajoti in his nomination letter. “Her scholarly discussion also covers many important and hitherto opaque textual materials, successfully elucidating not just Sarvāstivāda doctrines, but also those of the Dārṣṭāntika-Sautrāntikas and the early Yogācāras.”

Lingfeng Tan and her supervisor, Venerable Professor KL Dhammajoti.

Xiaonan shared her thoughts on receiving the award: “I am profoundly thankful to Khyentse Foundation for this prestigious award,” she said. “This honor inspires me to continue my research with renewed vigor and contribute meaningfully to the field of Sanskrit-Tibetan Buddhist philology. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my supervisors, Professor Duan Qing and Professor Saerji of Peking University. Although Professor Duan Qing passed away 3 years ago, her inspiring spirit and generous guidance continue to influence my work and life. Professor Saerji’s patience, selfless support, and invaluable assistance have been crucial in helping me complete my doctoral studies.”

Lingfeng expressed her gratitude to all the committee members: “This recognition means a lot to me and gives me the confidence to continue pursuing my research interests,” she said. She also thanked her supervisor, Venerable Professor KL Dhammajoti, for his guidance and support throughout her doctoral studies. “I firmly believe that Buddhism can help individuals gain a better comprehension of life and the world, provided they possess a proper understanding of the Buddhist teachings,” she added. “Inspired by Khyentse Foundation, I have come to understand that dedicating myself to Buddhist studies as a lifelong career is my way of contributing to the preservation and promotion of the Buddha’s wisdom.”

Congratulations to Xiaonan Li and Lingfeng Tan! We wish them all the best for their future endeavors in Buddhist studies and research.

The next round of nominations for the Khyentse Foundation Outstanding PhD Dissertation in Buddhist Studies award will be open from October 1 through December 31, 2024. Accredited institutions that offer PhD programs in Buddhist studies or religious studies in Europe, including the UK, are invited to nominate one dissertation completed during the academic years 2022–24. For full information, go to the KF awards page.

Featured image above: Xiaonan Li and her supervisor, Prof. Saerji.