In: Himalayan Languages and Linguistics


Nearly two dozen excavated Tibetan manuscripts from Dunhuang, Turfan, and Mazār Tāgh bear witness to the prevalence of a specific tradition of dice divination in Tibet. Largely dating to the ninth century, these manuscripts constitute a crucial part of the material culture of dice divination; another important part is the dice that are characteristic of this tradition. Known in Sanskrit as pāśaka-s, they are rectangular four-sided dice, and they have been found at archeological sites ranging from Mohenjo-Daro to Khotan to Egypt. From the first studies of early Tibetan dice divination texts inaugurated by A.H. Francke, scholars have emphasized the comparative and cross-cultural analysis of this method of divination. Such comparisons initially drew on the Runic Turkic Irq Bitiq, the Sanskrit Pāśakakevalī and the Bower Manuscript, and in more recent times have explored possible connections with Islamic traditions preserved in books known in Arabic as Kitāb al-Fāl and in Persian as Fāl-namāh and with Chinese traditions preserved among the Dunhuang manuscripts. The present contribution approaches this method of dice divination not through the mutable elements of poetics, and ideas of fate, luck, and fortune, which are open to adaptation to the social, aesthetic, and religious norms of various divining communities. Rather, it approaches this method of divination through a series of numbers that constitutes its “bones,” or defining elements. These include the four faces of a die; the symbols on each face; the number of oracular responses in a divination book; the order in which these are arranged; and the numerical probability of receiving a good, bad, or mixed divination. In the process of examining these numbers and comparing them across traditions, the analysis clarifies the relationship between certain traditions and offers some tentative remarks about transmission.

In: Glimpses of Tibetan Divination
The study of the rise and institutions of the Tibetan empire of the seventh to ninth centuries, and of the continuing development of Tibetan civilization during the obscure period that followed, have aroused growing interest among scholars of Inner Asia in recent decades. The six contributions presented here represent refinements in substance and method characterizing current work in this area. A chapter by Brandon Dotson provides a new perspective on law and divination under the empire, while the post-imperial international relations of the Tsong kha kingdom are analyzed by Bianca Horlemann. In “The History of the Cycle of Birth and Death”, Yoshiro Imaeda’s investigation of a Dunhuang narrative appears in a revised edition, in English for the first time. The problem of oral transmission in relation to the Tibetan Dunhuang texts is then taken up in the contribution of Sam van Schaik. In the final section, Matthew Kapstein and Carmen Meinert consider aspects of Chinese Buddhism in their relation to religious developments in Tibet.