Dice and Gods on the Silk Road

Chinese Buddhist Dice Divination in Transcultural Context


What do dice and gods have in common? What is the relationship between dice divination and dice gambling? This interdisciplinary collaboration situates the tenth-century Chinese Buddhist “Divination of Maheśvara” within a deep Chinese backstory of divination with dice and numbers going back to at least the 4th century BCE. Simultaneously, the authors track this specific method of dice divination across the Silk Road and into ancient India through a detailed study of the material culture, poetics, and ritual processes of dice divination in Chinese, Tibetan, and Indian contexts. The result is an extended meditation on the unpredictable movements of gods, dice, divination books, and divination users across the various languages, cultures, and religions of the Silk Road.

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Brandon Dotson, D.Phil. (2007), University of Oxford, is an Associate Professor at Georgetown University. He has published various books and articles on early Tibet and on Dunhuang manuscripts, including The Old Tibetan Annals (VÖAW, 2009).
Constance A. Cook, Ph.D. (1990), University of California, Berkeley, is NIH Distinguished Professor at Lehigh University. She has published a number of books and articles on ancient China, including Ancestors, Kings, and the Dao (Harvard, 2017).
Zhao Lu, Ph.D. (2013), University of Pennsylvania, is Assistant Professor of Global China Studies at New York University Shanghai and Global Network Assistant Professor at New York University. He is the author of In Pursuit of the Great Peace (SUNY, 2019).
Preface and Acknowledgements
List of Figures and Tables

Introduction: Playing Dice with the Gods
 1 Meta-Divination
 2 Gambling with the Gods
 3 Dice Gaming and Dice Divination
 4 A Relational Network of Gods, Dice, Books, Divination Users, and Mantic Figures
 5 Outline of the Work

1 The Divination of Maheśvara
 1 The Manuscript
 2 Introducing the Divination of Maheśvara
 3 The Gods and Spirits in the Divination of Maheśvara
 4 Translation and Transcription of the Divination of Maheśvara

2 The Divination of Maheśvara and Chinese Numerical Trigram Divination
 1 Material Culture and Ritual Process in Chinese Numerical Trigram Texts
 2 Numerical Trigrams in the Stalk Divination and the Baoshan Divination Record
 3 The Empowered Draughtsmen Divination Method and the Sutra on the Divination of Good and Bad Karmic Retribution
 4 A Case Study in Transmission: The Tricks of Jing, the Duke of Zhou Divination Method, and the Guan Gongming Divination Method
 5 Poetry, Talismans, and Divination

3 The Divination of Maheśvara and Indic Dice Divination
 1 The Divination of Maheśvara and Two Other Tenth-Century Dunhuang Dice Divination Codices
 2 Ninth-Century Tibetan Dice Divination Texts from Dunhuang, Turfan, and Mazār Tāgh
 3 Sanskrit Dice Divination Texts from Kucha
 4 The Archeology and Mythology of Pāśaka Dice

Conclusions: Inheriting the Wind

Appendix: Divining with Sixteen Numerical Trigrams
It will be of interest primarily to Sinologists, Buddhologists, those who study processes of transmission and assimilation across the Silk Roads, and those who study divination.