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Patronage, Legitimation, Sacred Space, and Pilgrimage
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The ERC-funded research project BuddhistRoad aims to create a new framework to enable understanding of the complexities in the dynamics of cultural encounter and religious transfer in pre-modern Eastern Central Asia. Buddhism was one major factor in this exchange: for the first time the multi-layered relationships between the trans-regional Buddhist traditions (Chinese, Indian, Tibetan) and those based on local Buddhist cultures (Khotanese, Uyghur, Tangut, Khitan) will be explored in a systematic way. The first volume Buddhism in Central Asia (Part I): Patronage, Legitimation, Sacred Space, and Pilgrimage is based on the start-up conference held on May 23rd–25th, 2018, at CERES, Ruhr-Universität Bochum (Germany) and focuses on the first two of altogether six thematic topics to be dealt with in the project, namely on “patronage and legitimation strategy” as well as "sacred space and pilgrimage."


In this chapter Henrik H. Sørensen addresses the conflation of Chan and Esoteric Buddhism. Contrary to Song Dynasty projections on the evolution of Chan, Tang Dynasty Chan was a highly complex phenomenon with a multitude of lineages and local transformations and receiving the influence of other Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools. Based on a study of Dunhuang material, Sørensen ventures to reconstruct the first contact between early Chan and Esoteric Buddhism with the arrival of Indian masters such as Śubhākarasiṁha and Vajrabodhi in the early 8th century. 8th century Chan’s preoccupation with rituals connected to the ordination platform and the bestowment of Bodhisattva precepts (a topic which is analyzed from different angles is several papers of this volume) might have been influenced by this early contact with esoteric rituals. In continuation, Sørensen analyzes the Siddhaṃ Songs (a topic also dealt with in Chapter Two) and the spells and mantras used in meditation. The author suspects that some of the material, such as S.6958, might reflect a compilation of texts circulating among Buddhist practitioners in the Dunhuang area. In the second part of his paper, Sørensen shows that not only the “Northern” branch of Chán received influences of esoteric Buddhism but also adherents of Southern Chán.

In: Chán Buddhism in Dūnhuáng and Beyond
In: Journal of Chinese Philosophy


This chapter highlights the relationship between mainly elite donors in Dunhuang during the Guiyijun period of governance (851–1036?, 歸義軍, Return-to-Allegiance Army) and Esoteric Buddhism. I discuss this relationship on the basis of examples of both scroll paintings and wall paintings that feature inscriptions by those who had them made. I also show that the members of Dunhuang’s social and political elite,were particularly interested in the cults and practices associated with Esoteric Buddhism, especially those related to the various forms of Avalokiteśvara.

Open Access
In: Buddhism in Central Asia I


This chapter focuses on a manuscript from the Pelliot Collection featuring an Esoteric Buddhist meditation text from Dunhuang (P. 2649Vº, S. 6897Vº), the significance of which has, to some degree, been overlooked by current scholarship. The manuscript is undated, and the text itself does not have a title, which complicates an assessment of it and its context. However, its detailed and vivid instructions in meditation indicate it is a text that conveys mainstream Esoteric Buddhist beliefs and practices. Of great interest to the author is the fact that the entire process of meditation and visualisation is expressed as a sort of internal ritual of universal salvation. A fully annotated translation of the text is provided, as well as a critical edition of the Chinese text.

Open Access
In: Buddhism in Central Asia II


This essay focusses on the experience of Korean Sŏn (Chan) monks travelling to Tang China in search of the Buddhist teaching. Particular to Sŏn pilgrim-monks is the quest for ‘mind to mind transmission’, which necessitated the undertaking of a spiritual journey to China, hoping to encounter a master with the authority to transmit the teaching. Such encounters do not only cement the historical relationship between two individuals, they also serve as a proof that a given monk is capable of initiating his own (Korean) lineage of transmission. This essay presents an analysis of the salient features involved in this transmission process with a special attention to epigraphical writings.

Open Access
In: Buddhist Encounters and Identities Across East Asia