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The transformation of Buddhism across Central Asia from India to China


Admission requirements



This course will trace the spread of Buddhism from the Indian heartland toward the Northwest,
into regions now in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and then further over the mountain passes
into Central Asia, whence eastward toward western China. It will focus on the importance
of the Indian emperor Aśoka, on the cult of relics of the Buddha and the stupas or memorial
mounds within which they were entombed, on the relation between Buddhism and trade, and
the ways in which Buddhism spread along the so-called ‘Silk Routes,’ namely the great trade
routes which ultimately linked Rome and China. Attention will also be given to the status of
treatment of the dead in Buddhism, the role of divine figures, and their visual depiction especially
in Central Asian cave temples. Texts excavated from diverse sites along the trade routes
will be examined in light of what they can tell us about indiginous Buddhisms. The Pure
Land traditions, which later take on so much importance in East Asia, are then treated, and finally
consideration will be given to an almost universally ignored region of Buddhist expansion,
that into what is now Iran and Persian regions far to the west of what is usually considered
the borders of Buddhist geography.

Course objectives


  1. The Legends of King Aśoka and his Missionizing: The encounter of Buddhism and other
    1. The Relic Cult 1: Its origins and development. Relic stūpas in the region of Sanchi
    2. The Relic Cult 2: From Gandhāra and Taxila Eastwards
    3. Trade, Business and the Spread of Buddhism: The Buddhist faith of the Sakas
    4. The East Asian Development of Lay Buddhism 1: Funerals and Buddhism
    5. The East Asian Development of Lay Buddhism 2: Apsaras and Vajrapāṇi
    6. Central Asian Ruins and Excavated Documents: Donation and Supplication
    7. The Development of the Bodhisattva Idea 1: Avalokiteśvara / Guanyin
    8. The Development of the Bodhisattva Idea 2: Maitreya and the Ideal Future
    9. The Crossroads of Asia: The importance of Bamiyan
    10. The Spread of Pure Land Buddhism: From mindfulness of the Buddha to Buddha-name
    11. The Spread of Buddhism West to Iran



Starting date: October 2

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Assessment method


Reading list

Preliminary List of Suggested Readings:

Dani, Ahmad Hasan., V. M. Masson, J. Harmatta, Baij Nath. Puri, G. F. Etemadi, Boris
Anatol’evich. Litvinskii, Guangda Zhang, et al. 1992. History of civilizations of Central Asia. Multiple history series. Paris: Unesco.

Errington, Elizabeth, and Joe. Cribb. 1992. The Crossroads of Asia : transformation in image
and symbol in the art of ancient Afghanistan and Pakistan. Cambridge: Ancient India
and Iran Trust.
Foltz, Richard. 1999. Religions of the Silk Road : overland trade and cultural exchange from
antiquity to the fifteenth century. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Foucher, Alfred. 1942. La vieille route de l’Inde de Bactres à Taxila. 2 vols. Mémoires de la
Délégation archéologique française en Afghanistan, t. 1. Paris: Les Éditions d’art et
Fussman, Gerard. 1994. Upāya-kauśalya: L’implantation du bouddhisme au Gandhāra. In
Bouddhisme et cultures locales: Quelques cas de réciproques adaptations, 17-51.
Etudes thématiques, 2. Paris: École française d’Extrême-Orient.
Hansen, Valerie. 1998. The Path of Buddhism into China: the view from Turfan. Asia Major
11, no. 2. 3: 37-66.
Harmatta, J., ed. 1979. Prolegomena to the sources on the history of pre-Islamic Central
Asia. Collection of the sources for the history of pre-Islamic Central Asia. Budapest:
Akadémiai Kiadó.
Hinüber, Oskar von. 1984. Expansion to the North: Afghanistan and Central Asia. In The
World of Buddhism: Buddhist monks and nuns in society and culture, ed. Heinz
Bechert and Richard F. Gombrich, 99-107. London: Thames and Hudson.
Jettmar, Karl., and Volker. Thewalt. 1985. Zwischen Gandhara und den Seidenstrassen :
Felsbilder am Karakorum Highway: Entdeckungen deutsch-pakistanischer
Expeditionen, 1979-1984. Mainz am Rhein: Phillip Von Zabern.
Juliano, Annette L., and Judith A. Lerner. 2001. Monks and merchants : Silk Road treasures
from Northwest China Gansu and Ningxia 4th-7th century. New York, N.Y.: Harry N.
Abrams with the Asia Society.
Klimburg-Salter, Deborah E. 1989. The Kingdom of Bamiyan : Buddhist art and culture of
the Hindu Kush. Series maior (Istituto universitario orientale (Naples, Italy).
Seminario di studi asiatici 5. Naples; Rome: Istituto universitario orientale,
Dipartimento di studi asiatici ; Istituto italiano per il medio ed estremo oriente.
Kuwayama, Shoshin. 2002. Across the Hindukush of the first millennium : a collection of the
papers. Kyoto: Inst. for Research in Humanities, Kyoto Univ.
Litvinsky, Boris A., ed. 1996. The crossroads of civilizations A. D. 250 to 750. History of
civilizations of Central Asia, 3. Paris: UNESCO Publ.
Liu, Xinru. 1988. Ancient India and ancient China: trade and religious exchanges, AD 1-600.
Delhi; New York: Oxford University Press.
———. The silk road: overland trade and cultural interactions in Eurasia. Essays on global
and comparative history. Washington, DC: American Historical Association.
Luczanits, Christian. 2008. Gandhara, the Buddhist heritage of Pakistan: Legends,
monasteries, and paradise. [Bonn]: Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik
Deutschland ; Mainz : Verlag Philipp von Zabern.
Neelis, Jason. 2002 (2006). La Vieille Route Reconsidered: Alternative Paths for Early
Transmission of Buddhism Beyond the Borderlands of South Asia. Bulletin of the
Asia Institute 16: 143-164.
Tremblay, Xavier. 2007. The Spread of Buddhism in Serindia – Buddhism among Iranians,
Tocharians, and Turks before the 13th century. In Spread of Buddhism, 75-129.
Leiden: Brill.
Whitfield, Susan, ed. 2004. The Silk Road: trade, travel, war and faith. London: British
Zürcher, Erik. 1990. Han Buddhism and the Western Region. In Thought and law in Qin and
Han China: studies dedicated to Anthony Hulsewé on the occasion of his eightieth
birthday, 158-182. Sinica Leidensia, v. 24. Leiden, New York: Brill.
———. 1999. Buddhism Across Boundaries: The Foreign Input. In Collection of essays
1993: Buddhism across boundaries: Chinese Buddhism and the western regions.
Sanchung, Taiwan: Fo Guang Shan Foundation for Buddhist & Culture Education.

Harry Falk, Aśokan sites and artefacts : a source-book with bibliography. Von Zabern, 2006
Patrick Olivelle, Janice Leoshko and Himanshu Prabha Ray, Reimagining Asoka Memory and
History. Oxford 2012.
John S. Strong, Relics of the Buddha. Princeton University Press, 2004
David Germano and Kevin Trainor, Embodying the Dharma: Buddhist relic veneration in
Asia. State University of New York, 2004
Michael Willis, Buddhist reliquaries from ancient India. British Museum Press, 2000
Trade and pilgrimage:
Chavannes, Édouard. 1903. Voyage de Song Yun dans l’Udyana et le Gandhara (518-522
p.C). Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême Orient 3: 379-440.
Chavannes, Édouard, and Sylvain Lévi. 1895. L’itinéraire d’Ou-k’ong (751-90). Journal
Asiatique 6 n.s. 9: 341-384.
Deeg, Max.. 2005. Das Gaoseng-Faxian-Zhuan als religionsgeschichtliche Quelle : der
älteste Bericht eines chinesischen buddhistischen Pilgermönchs über seine Reise nach
Indien mit Ubersetzung des Textes. Studies in Oriental religions, v. 52. Wiesbaden:
J Neelis, Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks: Mobility and exchange within
and beyond the northwestern borderlands of South Asia. Dynamics in the History of
Religions 2. Leiden: Brill. Chapter 2
Sen, Tansen. 2003. Buddhism, diplomacy, and trade: the realignment of sino-indian relations,
600-1400. Asian interactions and comparisons. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Sims-Williams, Nicholas. 1996. The Sogdian Merchants in India and China. In Cina e Iran :
da Alessandro Magno alla dinastia Tang, 45-67. Orientalia venetiana 5. Firenze, Italy;
[New Delhi, India]: L. S. Olshki.
Yang, Han-sung, trans. 1985. The Hye-Ch’o diary: memoir of the pilgrimage to the five
regions of India. Trans. Han-sung. Yang. Vol. 2. Religions of Asia series. Berkerly:
Asian humanities press.

Allon, Mark. 2008. Recent Discoveries of Buddhist Manuscripts from Afghanistan and
Pakistan and their Significance. In Art, architecture and religion: along the silk roads, ed.
Kenneth Parry, 153-178. Silk Road Studies 12. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols.
Dietz, Siglinde. 2007. Buddhism in Gandhāra. In The spread of Buddhism, ed. Ann Heirman
and Stephan Peter Bumbacher, 16:49-74. Handbuch der Orientalistik. Leiden: Brill.
Glass, Andrew. 2004. Kharoṣṭhī Manuscripts: A Window on Gandhāran Buddhism. Nagoya
Studies in Indian Culture and Buddhism: Saṃbhāṣā 24: 129-152.
Hartmann, Jens-Uwe. 2004. Buddhism along the Silk Road: On the Relationship between the
Buddhist Sanskrit Texts from Northern Turkestan and those from Afghanistan. In
Turfan revisited : the first century of research into the arts and cultures of the Silk
Road, ed. Desmond. Durkin, 125-128. Monographien zur indischen Archäologie,
Kunst und Philologie, Bd. 17. Berlin: Reimer.
Salomon, Richard. 1999. Ancient Buddhist scrolls from Gandhāra: the British Library
Kharoṣṭhī fragments. Seattle: British Library and University of Washington Press.
Sander, Lore. 1999. Early Prakrit and Sanskrit Manuscripts from Xinjiang (second to fifth/
sixth Centuries C.E.): Paleography, Literary Evidence, and Their Relation to Buddhist
Schools. In Collection of essays 1993 : Buddhism across boundaries : Chinese
Buddhism and the western regions, 61-106. Sanchung, Taiwan: Fo Guang Shan
Foundation for Buddhist & Culture Education.

Archeology, architecture and visual culture:

Behrendt, Kurt A. 2004. The Buddhist architecture of Gandhara. Handbuch der Orientalistik.
Zweite Abteilung, Indien, 17. Bd. Leiden; Boston: Brill.
Buffler, , Eléonore. 2009. Spreading of some Buddhist Architectural Designs between
Afghanistan and China: The Case of the Cruciform Stupa. Singapore.
Bussagli, Mario. 1979. Central Asian painting. Treasures of Asia. [Geneva]; New York: Skira
; Rizzoli.
Fussman, Gerard. 1996. Southern Bactria and Northern India before Islam: A Review of
Archaeological Reports. Journal of the American Oriental Society. 116, no. 2:
Härtel, Herbert., and Marianne. Yaldiz. 1982. Along the ancient silk routes : Central Asian art
from the West Berlin State Museums : an exhibition lent by the Museum für Indische
Kunst, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Federal Republic of
Germany. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Parry, Kenneth, ed. 2008. Art, architecture and religion: along the silk roads. Silk Road
Studies 12. Turnhout: Brepols.
Rhie, Marylin M. 1999-2002. Early Buddhist art of China and Central Asia. 2 vols.
Handbuch der Orientalistik. Vierte Abteilung, China; Handbook of Oriental studies,
Section 4, China ; 12. Leiden; Boston: Brill.
Rosenfield, John M. 1967. The dynastic arts of the Kushans. California studies in the history
of art, 6. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Srinivasan, Doris, ed. 2007. On the cusp of an era: art in the pre-Kuṣāṇa world. Brill’s Inner
Asian library, v. 18. Leiden; Boston: Brill.
Stein, Aurel. 1907. Ancient Khotan detailed report of archaeological explorations in Chinese
Turkestan. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
———. 1921. Serindia; detailed report of explorations in Central Asia and westernmost
China carried out and described under the orders of H.M. Indian government. 5 vols.
Oxford: Clarendon Press.
———. 1928. Innermost Asia: detailed report of explorations in Central Asia, Kan-su, and
Eastern Iran. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon.
———. 1944. Archaeological notes from the Hindukush region. Journal of the Royal Asiatic
Society: 8-24.
Taddei, Maurizio. 1999. Oral Narrative, Visual Narrative, Literary Narrative in Ancient
Budddhist India. In India, Tibet, China: genesis and aspects of traditional narrative,
ed. Alfredo. Cadonna, 71-86. Orientalia venetiana 7. Firenze: L.S. Olschki.
———. 2003. On Gandhāra: collected articles. Ed. Giovanni Verardi and Anna Filigenzi. 2
vols. Collectanea (Naples, Italy), 3. Napoli: [ M. D’Auria?].
Whitfield, Roderick and Anne Farrer. 1990. Caves of the thousand Buddhas: Chinese art
from the silk route. London: British Museum.


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