Journeying to the Centre of the World

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:
Journeying to the Centre of the World

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The Tibetan emperors of the late eighth and early ninth centuries astutely followed the example set by many of their immediate neighbors and adopted Buddhism as a religion of court and state. This chapter looks at the origins of pilgrimage as a type of post-imperial Tibetan ritual. It shows how the actual practice of pilgrimage to India, together with an ongoing influx of new Buddhist ideas from India into Tibet, allowed for unprecedented Tibetan ways of understanding and representing India as a “holy land,” as an esteemed place of cultural origins, and even as the center of the Tibetan universe. It also examines the now common assumption about the importance of the “eight great holy places” as a living pilgrimage tradition practiced by real Buddhists in an Indian past. Accounts of Tibetan pilgrims going to India are most often found in the genre of religious biography or hagiography known as namthar (rnam thar) in Tibetan, which frequently offer full-length portrayals of the lives of Buddhist monks, lamas, or even laypersons.

Keywords: Buddhism; pilgrimage; pilgrims; India; Tibet; holy land; holy places; Buddhists; hagiography; namthar

Chapter.  10845 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Buddhism

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