Group Topic: Dun Huang & The Buddhist Tradition

Map of Dun Huang

Dun Huang, was initially established as a military garrison by the Chinese empire.  The first cave temples of Dun Huang were excavated in the fifth century and we came to know soon of Qianfodong or ‘Caves of a Thousand Buddhas’.  From being a semi-autonomous region, to witnessing the rise and fall of many empires, Dun Huang experienced diversity and was exposed to customs and cultures of many parts of the world.  Highly multi-cultural due to having experienced different peoples from the silk road, the languages of the manuscripts and inscriptions and the artistic styles of the paintings reflect the diversity at Dun Huang.

Buddhist traditions travelled along the Silk Road and became manifested in Dun Huang.  There were at least seventeen Buddhist monasteries and nunneries in Dun Huang during the prime time of Buddhism.  This was Indian Buddhism at the peak of its practice with many followers and a rich history of literature and documents that revolved around Buddhist life.

From the Dun Huang region, we learn a lot regarding Indian Buddhism.  We learn how Buddhism was practiced in the region, and the influence it had through the various paintings and statues that remain. We learn of their theological viewpoints and significant figures in Buddhist history such as Maitreya or Siddhartha.

In a way, the one thing that we definitely cannot explore from the Dun Huang region is how it would have fared to time, to our present time.  Had the various explorers not come in and rampaged the area looking and ‘looting’ treasure, this region would still be rich with its precious artifacts.  But that also begs the question:  If Stein and other explorers had not pillaged the region, would the changing of peoples and beliefs let these artifacts go undisturbed?  It does seem highly unlikely.  It would also be quite interesting to witness how Dun Huang fared to the rise of Islam.

Regardless, Dun Huang still exists as a prime example of Indian Buddhism at its best.  I found it extremely fascinating to learn how various items had come into Dun Huang, these included games, foods, and clothing.  It shows how diverse Dun Huang was, and the extent of the mélange of customs and culture that co-existed within it.  Lessons that can be  learnt?  Perhaps!

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1 Comment

  1. In regards to your question of whether or not Buddhism is considered foreign in India because of its rich Chinese history, I would have to say that technically, yes it would be considered foreign. However, the two have to be compartmentalized, or separated from each other into two distinct religious traditions–Indian Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism. Although its origins in India is Chinese, Buddhism in India should be studied in the context that it is indeed Indian. Of course, one must consider Chinese influences, but that’s not necessarily the objective. In order to better appreciate the overall Buddhist historical context, one could study the ways in which it was transmitted and diffused from one country to another, but objectively, they should be considered as separate traditions. J’apprécie votre usage du mot “mélange”. Mélange of customs…never would have thought to use it. That’s off topic but excellent grammatical and contextual implementation.


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