The Shifting Terrain of the Buddha

in The Holy Land Reborn

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780226356488
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226356501 | DOI:
The Shifting Terrain of the Buddha

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For much of the nineteenth century, leading European orientalists were convinced that Kuśinagar, a place famous in the history of Buddhism as the site of the Buddha's death, was located in Assam near the banks of the Brahmaputra River in the far northeastern corner of the Indian subcontinent. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, orientalist study of travel narratives by early Chinese pilgrims in India, and the archaeological excavations they subsequently inspired, indicated that ancient Kuśinagar was located in the Middle Ganges region, more than 500 kilometers distant from the popular Tibetan site in Assam. With this new identification, Western scholars of Buddhism were quick to scathingly dismiss the living Tibetan tradition about Kuśinagar. This chapter argues that there has actually never been anything like a fixed and stable tradition concerning either the individual holy sites or the overall geography of the Buddha in India. Instead, we are only ever looking at, and indeed, are even helping to generate, a “shifting terrain” of the Buddha.

Keywords: Tibet; India; holy sites; Buddha; Buddhism; Kuśinagar; Assam; shifting terrain; geography

Chapter.  10516 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Buddhism

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