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

By Toni Huber | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Journeying to the Centre of the World

When I was about to proceed to Nepal and India, I made the solemn vow
not to come back without seeing the Vajrāsana.
—Chag Lotsāwa, 1258


Introduction

The Tibetan emperors of the late eighth and early ninth centuries astutely followed the example set by many of their immediate neighbours and adopted Buddhism as a religion of court and state. However, their empire, with its later cosmopolitan character, its specif c focus upon Central Asia, and its multifarious but ambivalent preoccupation with China, was not an environment in which Tibetan travel southward to India flourished or was even particularly necessary. Yet, after the empire came to an end, the outward focus of certain Tibetan regions began to shift quite firmly toward South Asia. The postimperial period witnessed a devolution of centralized political authority and interests back into the hands of many minor, localized elites and territorialized clans in areas such as the far western and south-central zones of the Tibetan plateau. Some of these local elites followed the pattern of their imperial forebears and developed a renewed interest in Buddhism. It is indeed no coincidence that many of the earliest Tibetan Buddhist travellers to India came from or were sponsored by just such newly emerging local rulers and dynasties, often situated near the passes on the north side of the Himalayas which provided access to South Asia. In fact, the travel by these earliest Tibetan pilgrims to India in the form of visits to Buddhist sites and teachers eventually helped enable a major transformation in Tibetan civilization: the establishment of new and sophisticated forms of Tibetan culture and so-

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