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The Biographies of Priests in the Dunhuang Manuscripts

by Lemardelé Élise - published on

Principal Investigator : Sylvie Hureau

More than a century of research on the Dunhuang Manuscripts has resulted in significant progress in our understanding of Chinese Buddhism. The existence of texts otherwise missing in the printed canon — these either disappeared long ago or have different contents under headings that are identical to those in the printed versions — has made us reassess a wide range of subjects, such as the history of the diffusion of canonical texts, historiography, liturgy, the economy of monasteries and the history of the different Chinese schools of Buddhism, and the Chan school in particular. A few manuscripts (one or two dozen at most) contain accounts concerning the life of priests who are otherwise known to us from the official biographies recorded in the canon’s collections, under the title “Biographies of Eminent Priests” (Gaoseng Zuhan). These concern famous priests, like the magician Fotucheng, the great translator Kumārajīva, and his disciples Sengzhao and Sengrui, the pilgrim Faxian, as well as lesser known priests. Now, some accounts recorded in these manuscripts contain significant deviations from the official biographies. Sylvie Hureau proposes to focus on these manuscripts. What have they got to teach us about their structure, their content, their function, their use and the range of their dissemination? Did these accounts only circulate locally, in Dunhuang, at the time they were composed, or do they retain evidence of narratives that once competed with the official biographies? What do they contribute to our understanding of the history of Buddhism and the history of historiography?

Scientific output and planned activities Groupes de discussion et ateliers réguliers + une journée d’étude annuelle ; publication d’articles individuels dans des revues scientifiques et/ou une publication collective.