The Precious Scroll of Incense Mountain is a popular Buddhist narrative in prosimetric form that was transmitted to Vietnam from China and reprinted in Hanoi with imperial sanction in 1772. The historical background of the Hanoi reprint demonstrates that this text had much higher status in Vietnam than in China. In Vietnam it was regarded as an authoritative Buddhist scripture. The case of the reprint of the Precious Scroll of Incense Mountain reveals the role of Buddhist monasteries as centers of woodblock printing in Vietnam, which still remains understudied in current research. The growth of printing of Buddhist works, which enjoyed the support of the court and officials in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, testifies to the popularity of Buddhism among the ruling elite during the Later Lê dynasty, when Confucianism was proclaimed the official ideology of the state.
In 1673 the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso (Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617–1682) composed The Wish-Fulfilling King (Yid bzhin dbang rgyal), a ritual manual for the worship of the seven buddhas of healing. In the first hundred years after its composition, the Fifth Dalai Lama’s ritual text was published in the original Tibetan in no less than five different woodblock editions. It had also been translated into Mongolian and Chinese and published in several woodblock editions in those languages. Most of these woodblock editions were produced by imperially sponsored Tibetan Buddhist temples in Beijing. The ritual described in the text was performed in monasteries and temples across central Tibet, Mongolia, and in Beijing. This article examines the history of this text, its transmission, and what those tells us about the culture of Tibetan Buddhist books in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, particularly as they relate to the Mayāyāna ‘cult of the book.’