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Asian Treasure Traditions: Comparative Reading Group

13th century thangka showing central figure of Padmasambhava, the central figure in later Tibetan treasure cult
The regions of East, South and Southeast Asia have developed a complex and interwoven knot of traditions that include the recovery of material treasure, textual revelations, the legitimisation of royal rulership through the discovery of symbolic objects, the burying of vases to enrich the earth etc. While there are indigenous components in these traditions, there are also important mutual influences. In particular, the treasure traditions in Tibet seem to draw heavily on Indian Buddhist and perhaps also more ancient Chinese Daoist traditions, while Indian nidhi and pātālā rites are also well attested within Chinese Buddhist texts.

These traditions have not been studied comparatively, and the exact degree and directions of the mutual influences are unclear. We hope to find an approach to deal with this problem in the course of the seminar.

  • 1 May (Monday Week 2), 17:00, Harrison Room, Merton College
    Ancestral sacrifice, ritual bronzes and the emergence of treasure texts in ancient China
    (Yegor Grebnev, Merton)
    In this talk, I will briefly discuss the unique cultural phenomenon of precious text-bearing bronzes emerging from the context of ancestral sacrifice and argue that they had profound influence on the shaping of the notion of treasure texts in ancient China.
  • Note: there is no meeting on 15 May (Monday Week 4)

  • 29 May (Monday Week 6), 17:00, Hawkins Room, Merton College
    How reliable is 14th century religious literature as an historical source for the earliest treasure tradition?
    (Robert Mayer, Oriental Institute)

    The Tibetan scenario is murkier and less certain than the Chinese, so that my talks probably should be as much oriented towards problematising existing scholarship as making any strong positive assertions of my own. Until now, almost all Tibetologists (with the exception of myself and Dan Martin, who was influenced by me,) have taken the 14th century works of O rgyan gling pa (1323-c.1360) as the main sources for understanding the early treasure tradition. I will discuss how O rgyan gling pa does indeed incorporate demonstrably old materials into his works, including ancient pillar inscriptions. But I will also also discuss how he changes the early texts to suit his contemporary agendas. Then I will tentatively examine O rgyan gling pa’s possible relation to Chinese ideas of treasure, a question first posed by Kapstein, after Kapstein had read Anna Seidel.

  • 12th century Daoist amulet formula to reveal the true appearance of departed souls
    12 June
    (Monday Week 8), 17:00, Fitzjames 2 Room, Merton College
    Treasure texts in early medieval religious communities in China
    (Yegor Grebnev, Merton)
    In this talk, I will attempt to trace how the notion of the treasure texts (and the accompanying rites of their transmission) evolved in China in the formative period of ca. 2-5th centuries AD. I will also attempt to trace the continuities with antiquity and the innovative developments of this period.

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