Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Buddhism at Berkeley

Enigma of an Absence: Buddhist Archaeology, Art, and Inscriptions in the Transit Zones of Xinjiang and Northern Pakistan (UC Berkeley)

Petroglyph of figures venerating a stūpa with offerings along with a Kharosṭhī inscription ("By Puśia, resident of Oṇi") from the 1st-2nd century C.E. on the upper Indus River in northern Pakistan at Chilas II

A network of passageways through the upper Indus region of northern Pakistan directly connected the Northern Route (uttarāpatha) of South Asia with branches of the so-called Silk Routes in the southern Tarim Basin of Xinjiang.

These capillary routes were instrumental in the cross-cultural transmission of Buddhism as well as commercial exchanges, migrations, diplomatic contacts, and military expeditions throughout the first millennium CE. However, the dearth of archaeological remains of Buddhist monasteries in Xinjiang before ca. 250 CE and in the upper Indus before the visit of Faxian shortly after 400 CE is enigmatic.

The late appearance of residential monasteries in the intermediate regions between Buddhist centers in the northwestern Indian subcontinent, western Central Asia, and China poses challenges to the standard model of point-to-point diffusion from South Asia to western Central Asia and along the silk routes of eastern Central Asia to East Asia.

In "Buddhism Across Boundaries: The Foreign Input" Erik Zürcher rejects the model of "contact expansion" as an insufficient explanation for the early phases of the establishment of Buddhism in China by drawing attention to the fact that the first Iranian and western Central Asian foreign monks and translators belonged to a Buddhist community in Loyang about a century before Buddhist monasteries appear in the Tarim Basin.
Zürcher develops an alternative model of "long-distance transmission" to account for hybrid forms of Later Han period Chinese Buddhism, which resulted from irregular contact with Buddhist cultures in western Central Asia and South Asia because the transit zone of Xinjiang did not have sufficient economic surpluses to support residential communities of monks and nuns until later periods.

This presentation will reassess the model of long-distance transmission and its application to Xinjiang and the Northern Areas of Pakistan by examining early Buddhist archaeology, art (including rock drawings), graffiti inscriptions, and other written documents. An attempt will be made to extend this model for the transmission of Buddhism to other areas of the Buddhist world. More>>

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