The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India

The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India

The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India

The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India


The Dalai Lama has said that Tibetans consider themselves "the child of Indian civilization" and that India is the "holy land" from whose sources the Tibetans have built their own civilization. What explains this powerful allegiance to India? InThe Holy Land Reborn¸ Toni Huber investigates how Tibetans have maintained a ritual relationship to India, particularly by way of pilgrimage, and what it means for them to consider India as their holy land. Focusing on the Tibetan creation and recreation of India as a destination, a landscape, and a kind of other, in both real and idealized terms, Huber explores how Tibetans have used the idea of India as a religious territory and a sacred geography in the development of their own religion and society. In a timely closing chapter, Huber also takes up the meaning of India for the Tibetans who live in exile in their Buddhist holy land. A major contribution to the study of Buddhism,The Holy Land Reborndescribes changes in Tibetan constructs of India over the centuries, ultimately challenging largely static views of the sacred geography of Buddhism in India.


Other cultures have recurringly used India as a foil to define their own
historical moments: to reassure or to doubt themselves.

—Sunil Khilnani

India through the Tibetan Looking Glass

One cold and overcast summer day during the mid-1980s, I visited the ruins of the great fifteenth-century monastic complex of Ganden in Central Tibet. It was there, at this spectacular 4,000-metre hilltop site, that I unexpectedly learned to consider India from an entirely new perspective. At a point along the famous pilgrimage path that encircles Ganden, I came upon a group of Tibetan pilgrims inspecting a deep crevice in a rock face. When I enquired of an elderly man among the group about the significance of this spot, he ventured with earnest that it was a natural portal or “door” leading to a long underground passage or tunnel. Whoever managed to enter this passage and travel along it, he said, would, with sufficient faith and perseverance, eventually emerge once again in India. And, he confidently assured me, the traveller would resurface at no lesser place than the Vajrāsana or “Adamantine Throne” at Bodh Gayā on the plains of India, at the precise spot where Buddhists believe that the Buddha attained his profound awakening some two and a half millennia ago. The Vajrāsana is considered the most potent of all Buddhist holy places, a site that traditionally minded Tibetans still maintain is the very “centre of the world.” The new information I was being offered intrigued me. I immediately began to imagine the journey through this underground, subcontinental passage and what it must be like to reemerge in oppressively hot and dusty premon-

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