Canons in Context: A History of the Tibetan Buddhist Canon in the Eighteenth Century

Nourse, Benjamin, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Schaeffer, Kurtis, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Germano, David, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Groner, Paul, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Shepherd, John, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

In the eighteenth century, emperors, local rulers, and religious leaders funded and supervised massive efforts to print the Tibetan Buddhist Canon (the Bka’ ’gyur and Bstan ’gyur) using engraved wood-blocks. My dissertation examines the historical and cultural contexts of these publishing projects in order to understand Tibetan collections of scripture not merely in terms of their content but as objects which are given meaning and value within specific historical circumstances, social relationships, and religious ideas. The eighteenth-century watershed in canonical publications inspired contemporary monastic scholars to compose numerous new treatises on the Canon. These works, in particular the large catalogues (dkar chags) that were written to supplement each new edition, make the eighteenth century a particularly fruitful time period for studying the Tibetan Buddhist Canon and they form the basis of the dissertation.

The eighteenth-century catalogues, far from being mere lists of texts, contain some of the most sustained and detailed discussions of the Kangyur and Tengyur to be found in Tibetan. They also contain rich historical sections detailing the history of Buddhism and Buddhist texts as well as the local histories of the places where the new editions were published. This dissertation is an analysis of these catalogues, the conceptions of the Kangyur and Tengyur that they provide us, and the historical circumstances in which they were written. A close study of these catalogues gives us the opportunity to explore Tibetan scholastic interpretations of the history and content of the Kangyur and Tengyur, the organization and funding involved in printing them, and the religious ideas and political circumstances of the eighteenth century that made the production of wood block editions both possible and desirable.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Tibetan Buddhist Canon, Kangyur (bka' 'gyur), Tengyur (bstan 'gyur), catalogs, printing, Beijing, Degé (Sde dge), Choné (Co ne), eighteenth century
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