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The View from Dunhuang: Dharani Ritual Practice and Its Texts

Jacob Dalton- UC Berkeley

The Tibetan manuscripts from Dunhuang include a large number of copied dharanis, both sutras and spells. This paper will examine the content, the colophons, and the formats of these manuscripts and attempt to draw some broader conclusions about how dharanis were used by early Tibetan Buddhists living around Dunhuang, and what that might tell us about ritual developments in early medieval India. Accompanied by slides of the manuscripts under discussion, the paper will consider how Tibetans negotiated the magical power vs. semantic meanings of the dharani spells, transliterating some but translating others. It will then turn to the ritual uses of the manuscripts themselves. On the basis of the manuscripts' colophons and their physical format, it is clear that some were copied for apotropaic or merit-making purposes, while others served as personal liturgies for daily practice. The latter were often gathered into collections (dharani-samgraha), collections in which certain structural patterns may be discerned. Finally the paper will turn to the "ritual manuals" (vidhi) that often circulated alongside these dharani-sutras, to consider what the emergence of these manuals may tell us about ritual development in early medieval Indian Buddhism more generally.

ABOUT THE SPEAKER: Jacob Dalton holds a joint appointment in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies. A graduate of the University of Michigan, before moving to Berkeley, he worked as a researcher with the International Dunhuang Project at the British Library and taught at Yale.

A specialist in Tibetan Buddhist history, he is the author of a forthcoming study on violence and the formation of Tibetan Buddhism, and co-author of Tibetan Tantric Manuscripts from Dunhuang: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Stein Collection at the British Library (2006).

Thursday, April 01, 2010 | 7:30 pm — 9:00 pm
Building 260 - Room 113, Main Quad

Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford