Tocharian Buddhism

Tue., Aug. 19th, 09:30-17:30

Scenes from the Life of the Buddha before His Enlightenment in the Murals of the Kucha Region

Arlt, Robert & Hiyama, Satomi & Arlt, Robert (Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, GER)

While biographical representations of the life of the Buddha are a main theme of Buddhist art in the Gandhara region, Buddhist mural paintings in Kucha do not follow this theme. Kucha’s narrative paintings mainly show scenes of the Buddha’s sermons or the jātaka tales. However, there are depictions of some stages of the life of Śākyamuni that focus on episodes shortly before and after his enlightenment; they occupy a significant space in the temples’ décor. The chronological order of narration that characterises Gandharan Art in the depiction of the life of the Buddha can only be found in two of Kucha’s nearly 600 temple sites. This fact suggests that the life stages prior to the enlightenment of the Buddha are of minor interest to the Buddhist saṃgha in Kucha. The representations that refer to events taking place before Śākyamuni’s enlightenment also appear in different contexts than those life stages that are chronologically represented. Despite the impression that the scenes are comparatively insignificant, they seem to appear, for example, amongst the Buddha’s preaching scenes. Even the better-known narratives of pre-enlightenment events from the Buddha’s life are reproduced in unique pictorial compositions. In order to reveal the exceptionality of these narrative illustrations within the Tocharian Buddhist tradition, this paper will analyse Kucha’s Buddhist murals and their representation of Śākyamuni’s life stages before his enlightenment. The three following factors will serve as a methodological approach to the analysis of Kucha’s representations:

  • the context in which the scenes are depictedc
  • the scenes’ iconographic repertories in comparison to their precedents and coevals in India and Gandhara
  • their interactive relationships with textual sources (Sanskrit / Tocharian)



The Rendering of Buddhist Phraseology in Tocharian from a Linguistic Point of View

Hackstein, Olav (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, München, GER); Bross, Christoph

Previous scholarship has shown that the Tocharian translation of Buddhist texts often varies between direct and free translation. Our presentation will investigate the question of linguistic factors that caused the Tocharian translator to rephrase or even paraphrase the source text.


The Legends of the Buddha in Tocharian Texts

Habata, Hiromi (LMU München, München, GER)

Tocharian texts provide us with valuable witnesses to the transmission of Buddhist texts in Central Asia. Located between India and China, the area in which Tocharian Buddhism flourished played a role not only as a transit route, but as a center for Buddhist treasuries of Sanskrit texts and translation projects. Their translations, being their interpretations, are of great importance for analyzing Buddhist texts of which the Indian originals are lost but which were partly transmitted to China.

Focusing on the Buddha-legend in Tocharian texts, this paper aims to elucidate the transmission and the development of the Buddha-legend along the northern Silk Road. For this aim, a linguistic and philological-comparative analysis of Tocharian texts will be carried out through comparing Central Asian parallel texts and especially Indian texts on the life of the Buddha which were transmitted among the Tocharians.

In order to demonstrate the issues, some fragments from the Udānālaṅkāra and from a text of which the title is unknown will be investigated in details.


Sanskrit Word Forms Written in Brāhmī Script in the Old Turkish Buddhist Texts

Kasai, Yukiyo (Turfanforschung, BBAW, Berlin, GER)

In the Old Turkish Buddhist texts some Buddhist Sanskrit terminologies appear. Those terminologies were borrowed through Tocharian into Old Turkish. Thus they have forms which correspond well to the Tocharian ones. In some texts those words are written in Brāhmī, and most of them probably stem from the Mongolian period. Where the Uyghur Buddhists borrowed this Indian script from is a crucial question. The analysis of the Sanskrit word forms written in Brāhmī script may give an important suggestion for the origin of the use of this script amongst the Uyghurs.


Hindu Deities in Buddhist Wall Paintings of Kızıl in Kuca

Konczak, Ines (Berlin, GER)

The Buddhist site of Kızıl in Kuča comprises a small number of wall paintings that depict Hindu deities surrounding the Buddha. Besides the gods Indra (Śakra) and Brahmā, who can often be encountered accompanying the Buddha in depictions, various other Hindu deities are represented in these paintings, such as Maheśvara together with his consort Umā on his bull, Viṣṇu on Garuḍa and Kāmadeva with his bow made of flowers. The depiction of these Hindu deities is very rare in the Buddhist murals in Kızıl and the reason for their representation is not yet clear.

The paper aims to give an interpretation of the depiction of Hindu gods in the wall paintings of Kızıl based on Buddhist texts in Sanskrit and Tocharian languages found in that region. Besides that, the paper aims to verify visual models for the depiction of the Hindu deities in the paintings. Since special iconographic features of Hindu gods have been introduced in a certain region during a certain period the analysis of visual models can give us clues on chronological issues regarding the date of the paintings. For this reason the iconography of the Hindu deities in the painting will be compared with depictions in India, Kashmir and Central Asia.


A Contrastive Survey of the Buddhist Texts Written in Tocharian A and B

Malzahn, Melanie (Institut für Sprachwissenschaft, Universität Wien, Wien, AT)

The Tocharian elites of the third through the tenth centuries CE were Buddhists, and thanks to their support Buddhist monastic life and Buddhist learning flourished in the Tocharian-speaking community during this period. Already at the end of the third century CE, speakers of Tocharian B adapted the Indian Brahmi script for the purpose of rendering their own language and started both translating Buddhist literature into their own vernacular and also composing Buddhist religious works of their own that were not based on any specific original text in some other language. Two or three hundred years later, speakers of Tocharian A started doing quite the same with respect to their own language. Today nearly ten thousand fragments of Tocharian manuscripts are known. Just one fifth of these is written in Tocharian A, whereas the main bulk consists of documents in Tocharian B. Since to date only a small percentage of these texts is accessible via editions containing translations, it is difficult to get a comprehensive picture of the contents of Buddhist Tocharian literature preserved. In my paper I want to give an overview of the various types of this kind of literature, basing myself on the on-going edition project “A Comprehensive Edition of Tocharian Manuscripts” (CEToM) (FWF Y492). An emphasis will be laid upon what seem to be the most fundamental divergences between the respective Tocharian A and Tocharian B texts.


Transmission of Buddhist Texts to Tocharian Buddhism

Ogihara, Hirotoshi (Renmin University of China, Beijing, CHN)

Previous studies have already revealed that the school affiliation of Tocharian Buddhism should be (Mūla-)Sarvāstivādin. Among others, the late Prof. Kudara Kogi pointed out that the tradition of the Sarvāstivādin of the Kaśmīr region appears in the Udānālaṅkāra, a Tocharian commentary to the Udānavarga in Sanskrit which is said to be compiled by Dharmasoma.

However, the present author’s researches on Vinaya texts in Tocharian A and B allude that some traditions different from the (Mūla‑)Sarvāstivādins have been accepted by Tocharian monks at different periods from 5th century onward. It is noteworthy that those Vinaya texts in Tocharian B unearthed in Turfan, which belong to the late stage of Tocharian B, show a close affinity with the so-called Mūla-Sarvāstivādins, a fact which can be also confirmed by the Sanskrit fragments found in the same region.

On the other hand, a close affinity with the Mūla-Sarvāstivādins has rarely been detected in the fragments found in Kucha, although Dr. K.T. Schmidt recently identified most of the mural paintings in Cave No. 110 of the Kizil grottoes as belonging to the tradition of this school.

In this paper, the present author introduces the fragments found in the Kizil grottoes which seem to have belonged to one and the same manuscript. This manuscript can be classified as the classical–late stage of Tocharian B on linguistic and paleographic grounds. Given that these fragments contain avadānas or jātakas, this manuscript will be called the “Avadāna manuscript” here. The identified stories can be related to the tradition of the Mūla-Sarvāstivādins and the style of the Tocharian B version indicates that they are an adaptation of these stories in Tocharian Buddhism. It is also worthy of notice that no compilation in Sanskrit of avadānas or jātakas is known which has the same stories as the “Avadāna manuscript” in Tocharian B, a fact which suggests the possibility that the “Avadāna manuscript” was compiled within Tocharian Buddhism or was based on a lost compilation in Sanskrit.


The Contribution of Tocharian Texts to the Buddhist Belles-Lettres

Pinault, Georges-Jean (EPHE/Sorbonne, Paris, FRA)

The large majority of texts in both Tocharian (A and B) languages belong to Buddhist literature. This corpus can be classified according to the categories of genres that are recorded for other Buddhist languages. Besides works that belong to the three parts of every Buddhist canon (Vinaya, Sūtra, Abhidharma), and which are mostly well identified, the texts in the two Tocharian languages belong to the large array of Indian Belles-Lettres, as reflected in Buddhist literature. In the past decades significant progress has been made in collecting, editing, translating and analysing Buddhist works that were composed in Sanskrit. This has been summarised by Prof. Dr. Michael Hahn in “The Buddhist contribution to the Indian Belles-Lettres”, Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 65.4, 2010, pp. 455-471. Several Tocharian texts have definitely their sources in the types of Sanskrit texts which have been classified as follows: prose compositions, verse compositions, mixed style. The paper will give examples of such texts. In addition, some Tocharian compositions which are not based on any clearly identified Sanskrit text can be attributed to a precise genre, through the analysis of their stylistic features. It will be shown that the Tocharian writers have favored specific genres of verse compositions, such as several sub-types of stotra, and various types of mixed (prosimetric) style, used in dramas and narratives in campū style.

Reflections on the Purpose of the Kucha Paintings

Zin, Monika (Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität München, München, GER)

The real purpose of the Kucha paintings and the impact of the separate scenes and the entire decorated programme within the caves is still far from being identified. Based on painstaking studies on the representation of particular subjects and the arrangement of painted decoration in many of the better preserved caves, it is only gradually becoming clear that the decorative programme follows certain clearly conceived ideas. However, we do not yet know if the purpose of the representations was to create a conducive atmosphere for meditation, invoke themes for sermons to be delivered to visiting merchants, or perhaps simply create splendidly decorated sites, financed by the ruling elite, to induce the prosperous Silk Road caravans to visit the Kingdom of Kucha. 

Even if the knowledge at our disposal today does not provide answers to these questions, the paper will offer material for further reflection. By way of illustration, I shall opt not for the carefully executed paintings in Kucha but for the hastily – and undoubtedly cheaply – produced ones, which often lead one to assume that the paintings do not contain any recognisable iconography. This is an erroneous assumption, for even though the paintings look more like gaudy wallpaper than narratives conceived for a place of sanctity, a comparison with similar depictions reveals in them iconographic characteristics that were probably easily understood.


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