Friday, January 31, 2014

A Few of Our Favourite Things: #13 Stephen F. Teiser

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News


Stephen F. Teiser teaches history of religions at Princeton University, where he is D.T. Suzuki Professor in Buddhist Studies and Director of the Program in East Asian Studies. He is interested in the interaction between Buddhism and indigenous Chinese traditions, brought into focus through the wealth of sūtras, non-canonical texts, and artistic evidence unearthed on the Silk Road. An updated edition of his 1994 book on concepts of hell (The Scripture on the Ten Kings and the Making of Purgatory in Medieval Chinese Buddhism) will soon be published in Chinese translation. His current research, tentatively entitled Curing with Karma, focuses on Buddhist liturgical manuscripts from Dunhuang.

His chosen item is Pelliot chinois 2583, a Chinese scroll from the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Stephen F. Teiser writes:

Pelliot chinois 2583 is a scroll composed of thirteen sheets of paper originally written one at a time. Each sheet was a liturgy accompanying a single ritual act of donation on behalf of Dunhuang’s nuns, monks, and laypeople. Some of the rites were intended for healing sickness; others were documents used in memorial observances or the distribution of nuns’ clothing after death. Most of the prayers are short, occupying less than half a sheet. The detail of the page shown here (verso, sheet 4) opens by listing the type and amount of items offered: 'One piece of purple hanging silk (crossed out and corrected: cotton), one set consisting of official robe and silk skirt, one silk side-buttoning blouse.' The next two lines contain the liturgy proper, explaining that a nun named Mingqian has been sick, dedicating the donation’s merit to her cure, and asking that chanting accompany the rite. The fourth line records the donor’s name, the date, and a benediction. The last line seems to be the signature of the monastic official responsible for the disposition of the gift, a monk Huiyan.

Both sides of this fourteen-foot long scroll are fascinating. The side now labeled verso by the Bibliothèque nationale was actually composed first, each sheet a written artifact of a ritual performance. The rites were undertaken on behalf of otherwise unknown local people during the period of Tibetan rule (786-848). The prayers provide refreshingly concrete, direct witness to the worries and hopes, the simple words and possessions of the performers. Later, someone collected all thirteen liturgies and pasted them end-to-end in scroll format, whose verso side (now labeled recto) was used for recording two more texts. The first, main text is a Chinese-language commentary authored by the most prolific bilingual monk at Dunhuang (Tibetan name: Gö Chödrup, Chinese name: Wu Facheng), on a Buddhist scripture on causality and the Four Noble Truths, The Rice Stalk Sūtra (Skt.: Śālistambhaka-sūtra). The second, shorter text on this side of the manuscript is a partial calendar for the year 821, written upside-down and beginning from the end of the manuscript. For each day the almanac lists reigning deities; correlates for cycles of weather, sun, and moon; types of activities deemed lucky or unlucky; and so on.

The ensemble of the scroll’s two sides makes this my favorite manuscript in the Dunhuang collection. The texts offer elaborations of core Buddhist teachings plus hemerological calculation of lucky and unlucky days, all constructed on the back side of humble liturgies transferring merit to nuns, monks, and laypeople.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Exhibition Extended until 24 February

Our exhibition Aurel Stein: A hundred years on at the Royal Geographical Society due to run until 14 February will now continue until 24 February 2014.

If you can't make it to the exhibition you can visit our online version and all the images are now available as a full catalogue on the IDP website.

Between 1900 and 1916 the archaeologist and scholar, Aurel Stein, led three expeditions to the Taklamakan and Lop Deserts of western China in search of the sand-buried settlements of the Silk Road. He excavated scores of sites and took over 5000 photographs. These photographs of ancient Silk Road settlements, stupas and forts in the Taklamakan Desert are shown alongside modern images and video taken on recent British Library expeditions to record the changes of the past century.

An exhibition by the British Library, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and the University of Nottingham. See related events at the RGS.

The exhibition is possible because of the support of:
The Arts and Humanities Research Council
Hahnemühle FineArt (UK)

Download the press release.

Monday 6 January – Monday 24 February
Weekdays: 10.00am–5.00pm
Saturdays: 10:00am–4:30pm
Admission Free

Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)
1 Kensington Gore
London SW7 2AR, UK
MAP

Details of IDP’s 20th Anniversary activities and events can be found on our programme page or downloaded as a PDF.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Few of Our Favourite Things: #12 Fan Jinshi

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News


Fan Jinshi is Director of the Dunhuang Academy in China. Her research interests are on Chinese Central Asia — known historically in China as ‘The Western Regions’. This is part of the ancient ‘Silk Road’ where trade and culture flourished and where diverse civilisations met. In the rich cultural legacy that remains in the region we can glimpse see the history of a thousand years of interaction between these civilisations. Buddhism had a far-reaching impact in its journey from India through Central Asia to China and East Asia. The Dunhuang Mogao caves are a direct result of this, showcasing this mix of cultures. Having been involved for many years with research on and protection of the caves, Professor Fan Jinshi has a strong interest in the cultural connections between Dunhuang and Central Asia.

Her chosen item is the painting 1919,0101,0.6.

Professor Fan Jinshi writes:

The painting has several interesting features. Firstly, the heads of the three younger disciples are very round with round faces and cute expressions. Second, the painting is very similar to murals found in Dunhuang Mogao Caves dating from the early Tang period. For example, the complex lingzhi mushroom (灵芝) design depicted on the canopy and the lotus seat is identical to that shown in the preaching scene on the east wall of Mogao Cave 329, dating to the early Tang. Third, the composition is very similar to the Pure Land and preaching scenes depicted in early Tang caves such as Mogao 321 and 329. This type of composition is thought to have originated from the preaching scene in the Sui-period Mogao Cave 390. These similarities indicate a close relationship between this piece and the murals of the same period at Dunhuang Mogao.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

IDP UK Server Maintenance: Thursday 23 January

The IDP UK server will be down for a short time in the morning of Thursday 23 January for essential maintenance. Our international IDP servers will continue to be available. We apologise for any inconvenience and thank you in advance for your patience. Follow idp_uk on Twitter for live updates.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Few of our Favourite Things: #11 Helen Persson

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News


Helen Persson has been at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, since 2001 and is curator of Chinese textiles and dress, in the Asian Department. Her first degree is in archaeology from the University of Stockholm and her second is in History of dress from the Courtauld of Institute, London.

Helen’s interest in Central Asia focus in particular on the exchange in textiles; in motifs and technologies during the first millenium and how the textiles can help us understand the societies where they were made and used. Her interests also include fashion and identity. She has lectured and published extensively on textiles from the Silk Road, among others Textiles from Dunhuang in UK Collections, edited by Zhao Feng (2007), and most recently on Chinese silks for the Mamluk market in a Centre for Textile Research publication (forthcoming).

Her chosen item is a hemp shoe found by Stein in the Limes watchtowers, north of Dunhuang.

Shoe, plain weave in hemp and hemp string, ca. 100 BCE – CE 100. LOAN:STEIN.344 (T.VI.b.i.009).
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
On loan from Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India

Helen Persson writes:

Well, I do like shoes and this peculiar looking and old shoe is very special. Although the shoe's original functions were practical and protective, there is a clear design element to it. The utilitarian everyday object has decorative features as well, showing human's desire to embellish even the simplest of artefacts. The shoe was discovered in a refuse heap, discarded most likely because of worn holes in the heel and the ball of the toes. The upper is made of two or more thicknesses of strong plain woven hemp or cotton, bound together by even rows of hemp string, producing a pattern of dots all over. The process of sewing two or more layers of materials together to make thicker padded material is like quilting and just as in quilting, the stitching has become both functional and decorative. A drawstring is threaded around the upper edge, which by a clever method of crossing near the instep restricts the size of the opening and draws up the slack of the fabric over the toes into a sort of point. This has created a curious profile of the shoe, like a horn. The thick sole has warp of hemp cord placed lengthways with weft of string plaited in a ‘wrapped-twined’ manner. Furthermore, the entire sole is covered with tight knots of string, which would have the effect of the hob-nailed military sandals of the Romans or the climbing nails in a modern boot. The knots would have made walking on the sand in the Taklamakan Desert much easier. This type of sole can also be seen in the footwear of the terracotta soldiers from Xi’an, showing that this sort of footwear is not a single occurrence but most likely had a long tradition. It would most likely have been worn as an outer shoe, i.e. over a thinner cloth shoe.

This shoe was recovered from the site known as the Limes Watchtowers, which actually include several different sites of fortified encampments north of Dunhuang in northwest China, along the edges of the Taklamakan Desert. They were designed to ensure the safe transit of goods across the area and served as a base for expansion into Central Asia. Within the towers Stein found an astounding range of artefacts, which provide a glimpse of garrison life and military operations under the Han empire, including bronze mirrors, coarse pottery, tools, leather armour, weapons, shoes, and clothing. Ancient documents included personal letters on silk and wood; military directives and supply lists; and treatises on a range of subjects, including medicine and astrology. This shoe was found at the garrison station named by Stein as T.VI.b, where many Chinese documents dating from 68-56 BCE were found – indicating that this artefact is among the oldest shoes in the V&A collection.

This shoe is one of my favourite Stein objects, as it is an everyday object which basic form is functional, but been created with ingenuity and some decorative elements. It contributes to the story of Central Asian life during the Han dynasty.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tibetan biographies of Zen Buddhist masters

The Tibetan version of The Masters and Disciples of the Laṅka School, a series of biographies of early Zen teachers is only found in a single Tibetan manuscript, IOL Tib J 710. The first biography is of Gunabhadra, the translator of the Laṅkāvatāra sūtra into Chinese. After him comes Bodhidharma, who brought the practice of Zen to China. This text is unique in not placing Bodhidharma at the head of the Zen lineage, as all later traditions did. After Bodhidharma, the text follows the lineage in China, through Huike, Sengcan and Daoxin. The last of these masters gives an instruction on how to do the “single practice concentration” which is quite different from later forms of Zen practice:

Virtuous men and women! If you want to enter the single practice concentration, reside in solitude, and abandon intellectual disturbances. Letting go of forms and features, think only of the features of a single buddha. Facing the buddha, sit up straight in the way that he does. If you graft together your mind with the characteristic of the single buddha in front of you, then within your mind you will be able to see all the buddhas of the past and future.
This Tibetan manuscript was probably written in the early ninth century. There are also manuscripts of the original Chinese from the Dunhuang cave, such as Pelliot chinois 3436. The Tibetan Zen Project, which was funded by the British Academy between 2010 and 2013 has now come to an end. One of the results of the project is the transliteration of all of the Tibetan Zen texts, which was done with the help of the Songtsen Library. These are now available on the IDP website.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Aurel Stein: A hundred years on

A small selection of images from our current exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society is available as a Pinterest board. The exhibition runs until February 14, 2014.

All of the images can be viewed in our online gallery.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Lecture: Aurel Stein and the discovery of the Silk Road

Letter from M. Aurel Stein to John Scott Keltie, Secretary of the RGS, from Endere dated 10 October 1906.
© RGS-IBG, CB7/Stein/10 Oct 1906.

To coincide with our exhibition Aurel Stein: A hundred years on Dr Susan Whitfield, director of IDP will give a talk as part of the Be Inspired series at the Royal Geographical Society on Monday 13 January 2.30pm–4.00pm. For further details see the RGS-IBG Be Inspired programme page.

A Few of Our Favourite Things: #10 Agnieszka Helman-Ważny

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Dr. Agnieszka Helman-Ważny (University of Hamburg, University of Arizona) is a paper scientist. Her main research area is the history of paper and books in Tibet and Central Asia, and the development of methods for their examination and conservation. Since 2005, she has studied the early history of paper in Central Asia and aimed to create a typology of paper based on a systematic study of manuscript collections found along the Silk Road. She detected a broad range of paper types for these early manuscripts written in Chinese, Tibetan and other languages. By using the technological and microscopic study of paper combined with codicological and textual information, her research undertaken in collaboration with the IDP team has aimed to explore the possibilities for dating this material and recovering the histories of its regional production and usage. Her chosen item is a Tibetan manuscript, IOL Tib J 308, written possibly with blood on fine quality paper.

Top: Detail of IOL Tib J 308.
Bottom: Rag paper composed of ramie and hemp fibres coloured with Herzberg stain in the manuscript IOL Tib J 308, observed in magnification OM 200x.

Agnieszka Helman-Ważny writes:

IOL Tib J 308 was primary selected for our research because of the unusual ink colour and the fine paper quality. The manuscript is typical of the Tibetan pothi book format: 9 x 43 cm with one string hole. The leaf proportions and string hole resemble Indian palm leaf books. The hole, with its abraded edges, suggests that the book was well used and that its leaves were string-joined. The Tibetologist Sam van Schaik describes the copying of the text on this manuscript as a meritorious activity associated with the achievement of a long life. During the 830s–840s, many hundreds of copies of this text were made at the behest of the Tibetan emperor; however, the present copy is different from these in format and writing style. The script in this manuscript is in a brown ink easily distinguished from black carbon-based inks. It is possible that the ink colour is evidence of the practice of writing with blood, which is also attested by results of Renate Nöller’s XRF and VIS spectroscopy examinations.

This manuscript's paper was produced from ramie and hemp derived from textile waste. It was made with a movable type of papermaking mould equipped with a bamboo sieve. Thus this paper represents laid, regular paper with a sieve print characterized by 16 laid lines in 3 cm; the laid lines are horizontal and parallel to the text. The exceptionally good quality of fibre struck my attention when I was looking at it under the microscope. My study confirmed that this simple manuscript without any fancy elements was written on paper made from high quality textiles. I could envision the raw materials beaten gently by hand during the papermaking process, to prevent shortening of the fibres. Those fibres visible on the photograph above are exceptionally long and well preserved.

This type of rag paper, made with one of the oldest papermaking techniques known and adapted later in Europe, has been found in the majority of manuscripts from Central Asia produced in the first millennium but hardly ever later. Thus this Tibetan manuscript, a common sutra, a scripture from the Buddha, was probably locally produced at Dunhuang with extreme sincerity and devotion. It makes me wonder what wish was laid bare by this person who wrote on such gently-made paper, possibly with the addition of his own blood. Unfortunately we will never know who was its creator…

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Online Exhibition: Aurel Stein: A hundred years on

Between 1900 and 1916 the archaeologist and scholar, Aurel Stein, led three expeditions to the Taklamakan and Lop Deserts of western China in search of the sand-buried settlements of the Silk Road. He excavated scores of sites and took over 5000 photographs. These photographs of ancient Silk Road settlements, stupas and forts in the Taklamakan Desert are shown alongside modern images and video taken on recent British Library expeditions to record the changes of the past century.

The exhibition is currently on display at the Royal Geographical Society and runs until 14 February but for those of you who are unable to visit an online gallery is available featuring all of the images.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Exhibition opens Today
Aurel Stein and the Silk Road: a hundred years on

Between 1900 and 1916 the archaeologist and scholar, Aurel Stein, led three expeditions to the Taklamakan and Lop Deserts of western China in search of the sand-buried settlements of the Silk Road. He excavated scores of sites and took over 5000 photographs. These photographs of ancient Silk Road settlements, stupas and forts in the Taklamakan Desert are shown alongside modern images and video taken on recent British Library expeditions to record the changes of the past century.

An exhibition by the British Library, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) and the University of Nottingham. See related events at the RGS.

The exhibition is possible because of the support of:
The Arts and Humanities Research Council
Hahnemühle FineArt (UK)

Download the press release.

Monday 6 January – Friday 14 February
Weekdays: 10.00am–5.00pm
Saturdays: 10:00am–4:30pm
Admission Free

Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)
1 Kensington Gore
London SW7 2AR, UK
MAP

Details of IDP’s 20th Anniversary activities and events can be found on our programme page or downloaded as a PDF.

An online version of the exhibition will be available on the IDP website shortly.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Few of Our Favourite Things: #9 Seishi Karashima

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News


Seishi Karashima has been a Professor of Sino-Indian Buddhist Philology at The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University, Tokyo, since 1997, where he has been carrying out philological research on early Mahāyāna scriptures and early Chinese Buddhist translations. He has published twelve books and more than a hundred articles on these themes, including: The Study of the Chinese Versions of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra –– in the light of the Sanskrit and Tibetan Versions; A Glossary of Dharmarakṣa’s Translation of the Lotus Sutra; A Glossary of Kumārajiva's Translation of the Lotus Sutra; A Glossary of Lokakṣema’s Translation of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā; A Critical Edition of Lokakṣema’s Translation of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā.

In the 1990s, he realised that the old Sanskrit manuscripts and fragments from Central Asia were indispensable sources for allowing scholars to draw nearer to the original features of early Mahāyāna scriptures and therefore, since then, he has been engaged in publishing photographs and transliterations of those manuscripts and fragments, now preserved at the British Library and Institute of Oriental Manuscripts in St. Petersburg. He has also been in the process of publishing a series of Buddhist Manuscripts from Central Asia: The British Library Sanskrit Fragments (BLSF) (2 vols. so far) and that of The St. Petersburg Sanskrit Fragments (StPSF) (in preparation) in collaboration with K. Wille, M. I. Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya and other scholars.

His chosen item is the Sanskrit manuscript IOL San 482.

Seishi Karashima writes:

The manuscript of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra (IOL San 482–515), or the Lotus Sutra, was discovered by Aurel Stein in Farhād-Bēg-Yailaki, near Khadalik, during his second expedition and is kept at present in the British Library. 35 folios, written on paper, are preserved. This incomplete manuscript, whose script is the Early Turkestan Brāhmī, type b, probably dates back to the fifth or sixth century AD. Both its language (Buddhist Sanskrit) and the content (from the eleventh to the beginning of the fifteenth chapter of the Lotus Sutra) also show its antiquity. Owing to its particular importance to the study of the Lotus Sutra, a black-and-white facsimile edition, though of very low quality, was published as early as 1949 in Japan, from which the late Prof. Hirofumi Toda made a transliteration.

When I saw the actual manuscript with my own eyes at the British Library in December 2004, I was struck by its beautiful calligraphy and its absolute clearness, which unfortunately the facsimile edition lacks. Thus, I decided to transliterate the manuscript anew by using newly-taken coloured photographs and, at the same time, persuaded our university to support IDP financially by digitising the entire collection of the Sanskrit manuscript fragments from Central Asia. I am happy to know that, now, this ten-year digitisation project has been completed.