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Religion: Buddhism in Asia

Many people in Asia and the West are attracted to Buddhism. This is because of this religion’s ‘image’ of being exotic and authentic.

Buddhism originated in India and spread to Tibet from the year 700 AD onwards. Tibetan Buddhism attracted many people and it still does. Westerners are also very interested in this variant. ‘It is seen as exotic and authentic,’ explains Professor Frank Pieke. ‘Furthermore, Buddhism is extra attractive for China and other Asian countries because it is supressed by the government.’
‘And Buddhism is safe for Westerners,’ adds Jonathan Silk. ‘People see it less as a religion than as a philosophy, which means that Buddhism is also attractive to people with no religious affinity. But people who are religious feel safe learning more about Buddhism because they do not feel that they are rejecting their own religion.’

Professor Jonathan Silk studies Buddhist manuscripts and their dissemination, in order to learn more about the attraction and meaning of Buddhism in Asia, in both the past and the present. ‘Few of the original Sanskrit manuscripts remain. The texts that we now study are mainly Chinese and Tibetan translations. What is more, Buddhism has developed over time in all these countries.’

Tibetan translations of Chinese Buddhist manuscripts

Silk is currently studying Tibetan translations of Chinese Buddhist manuscripts. The manuscripts were translated into Tibetan after Buddhism spread from India to Tibet in the seventh and eighth centuries. Chinese Buddhism also reached Tibet at the same time. ‘This was in Dunhuang, on the border with China, and in Lhasa (the former capital of Tibet and now the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region in China). In Dunhuang, there was a lot of trading with the Chinese, and a large group of Tibetans were very interested in Chinese Buddhism. Numerous written sources have been found in a cave in Dunhuang, and these are Chinese translations of Sanskrit and Tibetan translations of the Chinese. These documents give a huge insight into Tibetan perceptions of Chinese Buddhism.’

Buddhism in China (photo: LIAS)
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