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Western Tibetan Inscriptions

The goal of this portion of the research project has been to find and document the contents of Tibetan epigraphic sources from the cultural region of West Tibet and to make them accessible.

The Study of Buddhist Wall Inscriptions

A focal point of the project has been the collection and investigation of historic wall inscriptions (inscriptions of founders and donors, inscriptions of renovation work, etc.), which throw further light onto the history of West Tibet, which in many aspects has as yet been only partially explored. The early inscriptions from the period just after the first millennium are particularly valuable as other historical sources from this period are rare. For this reason epigraphic testimony such as the inscription in the Tabo monastery, in which the renovation of the monastery in the middle of the 11th century is reported, are especially important for research concerning both the religious and political history of the area. In addition, they also provide important reference points for the dating and understanding of the paintings and sculptures of the region.

Historical Inscriptions

Attention has also been given to a certain type of religious inscription, whose importance for Tibetan philology has only become clear in recent years. These are wall inscriptions of excerpts from the Tibetan Buddhist Canon, which offer valuable material for the investigation of the widely branching transmission lines of these texts. The most recent results concerning the transmission of canonical collections, which contain several thousand individual texts, indicate that the transmission of many of these texts in West Tibet was independent of the transmission that took place in Central Tibet, and that in West Tibet the original wording of the texts has often been better preserved. This can be seen in early West Tibetan inscriptions that contain excerpts from specific canonical works, as for example the inscription in the Alchi monastery (Ladakh, northwest India), dated from the early 13th century, that contains excerpts from the Akṣobhyavyūhasūtra. It is one of the earliest testimonies of this sūtra’s translation into Tibetan. The text describes the kingdom of the Buddha Akṣobhya, where living beings are free of desire, hate and blindness, harvest their nourishment and clothing from “trees of wishes”, and enjoy a particularly pleasant life.

The research on these sources is augmented by the collection and study of further epigraphic documents, as for example stone tablets engraved with holy syllables and short magic formulas (mantras, dhāraṇīs), calendar inscriptions, etc.