This lecture will discuss the connections and gaps between Tibetan Dunhuang manuscripts on Avalokiteśvara and post-dynastic materials from the Tibetan Plateau, where this bodhisattva would attain unparalleled standing. Mapping how Avalokiteśvara acquired his paramount status in Tibet, the talk combines Dunhuang materials with detailed study of pivotal Tibetan works from the early second millennium, chief among which the bKa’ chems ka khol ma [Pillar Testament] and the Ma ṇi bka’ ’bum [Collected Works on the Ma-ṇi (Mantra)], in which the bodhisattva plays an outsize role. The textual histories of these early writings, some recent strides notwithstanding, remain largely unexplored. Bringing new insights into their past, Reinier Langelaar will illustrate how the Tibetan mythology and cult of Avalokiteśvara developed. To what extent did they piggyback on pre-existing traditions that circulated in surrounding areas, such as Dunhuang? And when and how did innovative Tibetan twists, if any, come about?
Reinier Langelaar is a Tibetologist. He is a postdoc at the Austrian Academy of Science’s Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia (IKGA), where he focuses on Tibetan social and religious history, in particular Buddhist historiography and the development of Tibetan national mythology. His recent publications include “Buried Bones and Buddhas Beyond: Ancestor Cults in 17th-century Khams and the Transcendentalisation of Tibetan Religion.” In The Social and the Religious in the Making of Tibetan Societies. New Perspectives on Imperial Tibet, edited by Guntram Hazod, Mathias Fermer, and Christian Jahoda, 283–308. Vienna: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2022, and “Biography and Hierarchy: The Tibetan Ruling House of Phag-mo-gru and the Singular Volume of the Rlangs (Rlangs-kyi-po-ti-bse-ru).” Medieval Worlds 15 (2022): 75–94.