BuddhistRoad Paper 1.6 "On the Margins: Between Beliefs and Doctrines within Tibetan-Ruled Dunhuang Scribal Culture"


Lewis Doney


This article explores the disparity between the Central Tibetan Buddhist doctrines espoused and spread by the Tibetan Empire (Tib. Bod chen po, ca. 7th c. to 842) and those of the multi-ethnic inhabitants of Dunhuang (敦煌) during the same period. It begins with the multi-ethnic background of the Tibetans themselves and how the Tibetan Empire maintained complex relations with those on its borders, as well as their Buddhism(s). It then unpacks the ‘self-presentation’ of Tri Songdétsen’s (742–ca. 800, Tib. Khri Srong lde brtsan) royal discourse (Tib. bka’ mchid) of doctrine and its spread throughout the Tibetan Empire by means of imperial machinery of state administration. The second half of the paper focuses on Tibetan-ruled Dunhuang (perhaps late 750s/early 760s, or 787, to 848) and evidence of the many different beliefs there not contained in Tri Songdétsen’s royal discourse. It looks at the Aparimitāyurnāmasūtra from the perspective not only of content but also of the evidence of scribal practice spread over its many copies from Mogao Cave 17, also known as the Library Cave (Chin. Cangjing dong 藏經洞). This view from the periphery suggests the variety of Buddhist beliefs not explicitly included in the royal discourse, as well as the varying perspectives on how the Tibetan emperors connect with them and some of the ways in which these influenced the margins of the Tibetan Empire after it fell in the mid-ninth century.



February 27, 2023


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