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

By Toni Huber | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Buddhist Knowledge and Anachronism in Tibet

The White Gya is the great king of the southern direction.

—Imperial Tibetan pillar inscription, ca. 815


Introduction

Buddhist inhabitants of the Tibetan plateau have maintained religious contacts with India for more than a millennium, and for almost as long they have consistently defined India as the most important place in their universe. However, when we begin to consider how and why Tibetans first came to know and to value India both as the land of the Buddha and as the origin place of their religion and high culture, we often find ourselves faced with more questions than answers. The same is true when trying to plot the beginnings of the acquisition of direct, firsthand Tibetan knowledge about India, especially by way of religious journeys to the holy sites of the Buddha in the Middle Ganges region. Neither the dates and nature of the earliest Tibetan religious contacts with India nor the origins of Tibetan Buddhist pilgrimages there have ever been established with historical certainty, and they will likely remain elusive. We might well then ask, What can we hope to learn about Tibetans and India by investigating the first period of conversion to Buddhism in Tibet, which occurred during the age of the Tibetans' great Central Asian empire (early seventh to mid-ninth centuries)? And why is it important to begin our inquiries there?

In this chapter, I want to begin exploring the importance of the manner in which knowledge of India was acquired in Tibet and its consequences. I will point out that there is precious little reliable evidence which actually places Tibetans in India prior to the tenth century, and that there is thus a corresponding lack of evidence of accurate, firsthand knowledge about

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