After the end of the Tibetan Empire (9th c.), the centralized support to Buddhism that the royal family and the noble élites had provided, which was instrumental in the diffusion of the religion to the Tibetan plateau, ceased. A new period ushered in, marked by political struggles and social unrest, that eventually led to the fragmentation of the territory among new and old prominent families, and a renewed interest of these political elites in supporting Buddhism. During these turbulent times (that Tibetan historiography describes as a “dark age” followed by a “later transmission” of Buddhism to Tibet), the Tibetan religious landscape was radically redesigned. Newly revealed tantric scriptures, different forms of practice and exegetical traditions, as well as philosophical treatises and approaches were introduced in Tibet from South Asia, and were fostered in local religious communities. These exchanges followed trans-Himalayan routes that had an important hub in the Kathmandu valley, were local Buddhist tantric traditions were also developing. At the same time, the ties between the religious communities on the Tibetan plateau and those in Central Asia remained strong. In particular, from the 11th to the 13th c., the Tangut state (called XiXia in Chinese) was established to the West of the plateau, and controlled also part of the Hexi corridor. This was a cosmopolitan state that developed into a flourishing hub of religious exchanges at the crossroad of the Tibetan, Chinese (Song), and Liao (Khitan Empire) spheres of influence.
While the religious dynamics of this period, running from the late Empire to the Mongol conquest (ca. 800–1240 CE), eventually shaped the future of Tibetan Buddhism, they are still little studied and understood. Therefore, this research project aims at gaining a better understanding of the networks and nodes of exchange, the religious dynamics, and the institutional developments during this formative period of Tibetan Buddhism, across three main axes: (1) the religious communities and lineages, the different formulations and organization of the teachings, and the institutional developments during the “later transmission of Buddhism to Tibet” (phyi dar); (2) the role of the Kathmandu Valley and the trans-Himalayan trade routes in religious exchanges between the Tibetan plateau and the Indian Subcontinent; (3) the westwards connections with the Tangut state, primarily on the basis of Tibetan language sources recovered in the territory of former XiXia.
Buddhist Studies Tibetan Studies
(École Pratique des Hautes Études)
Marta Sernesi (École Pratique des Hautes Études)
Cécile Ducher (IFRAO)