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Buddhist Economy in Medieval Inner Asia

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Directors : Étienne de la Vaissière (EHESS, CETOBAC), Éric Trombert (CNRS)

Permanent Members : Costantino Moretti (EPHE)

Associate Members : Pénélope Riboud (INALCO)

Post-Doctoral Members : C.J. Ching (Post-doctoral student from Marie Curie working with the Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, BBAW)

Collaborators : D.Durkin-Meisterernst (Turfanforschung, Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, BBAW), Nicolas Engel (Musée Cernuschi)
Partner Institutions : Centre for Turkish, Ottoman, Balkan and Central Asian Studies (CNRS-EHESS), Centre for Studies on East Asian Civilizations (CNRS-EPHE-Paris 7-Collège de France), Turfanforschung Centre of Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften

The work of G. Schopen has profoundly renewed our knowledge and understanding of Buddhist economic systems in Ancient and Medieval India. His works, namely Buddhist Monks and Business Matters (2004) and Figments and Fragments of Mahayana Buddhism in India (2005), based on Indian Tibetan and Chinese sources, has changed our understanding of the vinaya, the monastic rules, and the various schools of Buddhism. Particularly noteworthy is his focus on the casuistry prevailing in the management of “heavy goods” (land, methods of payment, etc.) in relation to the different schools of Buddhist thought : direct management of the community goods by the monks themselves, management of their own private goods, intervention of secular delegates, etc. This casuistry had important and diverse consequences on the local economy and hierarchy depending on the school. This particular project aims at extending this field of research to Central Asian sources and at taking advantage of the abundance of new sources available on the economic history of Buddhism in these regions that G. Schopen has not exploited. The research is intended as a tribute to J. Gernet’s work, Les aspects économiques du bouddhisme dans la société chinoise du Ve au Xe siècle (1956) (The Economic Aspects of Buddhism in Chinese Society from the 5th to the 10th century) that will be taken up and further developed thanks to newly available source material. Indeed, significant headway has been made in the analysis of the monastic community members’ conduct in the oases of Central Asia, largely owing to documents from Dunhuang and Turfan. The thirty thousand or so fragments that were found in the Turfan tombs and that have been progressively published since the 1980s have proved decisive in completing the Dunhuang collection of documents covering an earlier period. Ms Ching Chao-Jung’s recent thesis (Research on Secular Documents in Tocharian : Buddhist Economy and Society in the Kucha Region, EPHE, 2010, Jury : G.-J Pinault (thesis supervisor), D. Durkhin-Meisterernst, O. Hackstein, É. de la Vaissière, G. Schopen, É. Trombert, G. Zhang), based on texts from Turfan, Dunhuang, Kucha and Khotan demonstrates how crucial it is to combine research on these various Central Asian oases for the periods covered by the new sources (5th to 8th centuries). This project was born from readings of Ms Chin Chao-Jung’s remarkable thesis. Moreover, numerous Chinese and Japanese sources also deal with the role played by monks in the societies of the Central Asian oases and several researchers of the CRCAO are working on this subject. A number of Tibetan sources attest to the role, real or claimed, played by Buddhism in the development of agriculture and irrigation in Khotan, and it is interesting to note that archaeologists have found a similar model further to the north in Kutcha. To the west in Bactria, namely the Nawbahar complex, described by Xuanzang as the ‘largest Buddhist monastery north of the mountains’, seems to represent a fundamental step in the dissemination of certain practices and has been the focus of recent studies. It would seem that in the 7th century, Buddhist monks controlled the majority of the land and irrigation networks of the oasis of Bactria. Archaeological studies also show that they rebuilt large monasteries using styles hitherto unknown in the Buddhist world prior to the Arab conquest. Further to the south in Logar Province in Afghanistan, excavations of the monastic complex of Mes Aynak reveal that the Buddhist community controlled an antique copper mine —now the largest copper mine in Afghanistan—and shed unexpected light on the question of Buddhist economy as well as on Indian data on the subject.
The idea is to bring together a group of young scholars who will carry out further research in this field and attempt to draw a global picture of the system highlighting aspects common to the different monastic communities that originated with the diffusion of the vinaya as well as their distinctive regional cultural characteristics. Participants will include researchers in Chinese, Turkish, Persian, and Buddhist studies as well as specialists in ancient economic systems and archaeologists.

Calendar :
From 2014 on, monthly seminars will be held in Paris or Berlin focusing on two or three thematically related subjects. The first session will take place on 16 June 2014 and will focus on the role of mines and agriculture in the monastic economy of Xinjiang and Afghanistan.