SOAS University of London

Centre of Buddhist Studies

Ulrike Roesler (Oxford) and Fancesco Sferra (Univeristy of Naples)

Ulrike Roesler (Oxford University) and Fancesco Sferra (Univeristy of Naples)

Date: 16 January 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 16 January 2014Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Kamran Djam Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Lecture

Quoting from Books or from Memory? Canonical quotations in the Works of the Early Kadampa Masters

Ulrike Roesler 

This talk is going to explore the way the Buddhist scriptures were studied and taught in Tibet during the “renaissance” period of the 11th-13th centuries. How local or how trans-regional was Tibetan Buddhism at that time? How did Tibetan Buddhist teachers of the early phyi dar period approach the Indian scriptures? Did they quote from books or from memory? Did they study Buddhism through original Sūtras or through exegetical literature? To what degree was the text of the scriptures fixed and standardised before the Bka’ ’gyur and the Bstan ’gyur were compiled?

To find answers to questions such as these, I will have a closer look at the gzhung pa, the “scriptural tradition” within the Kadampa school. Biographies, historiography and doctrinal works from their circles help us to gain a better understanding of the intellectual milieu in which the scriptures were studied and transmitted. The picture that emerges is that of a fairly rapid transition from oral instructions for selected disciples to large scale, public teachings that went hand in hand with the beginning of a prolific literary production. At the same time, the quotations from the Buddhist scriptures found in early Kadampa works, in particular the deviances from the canonical mainstream versions, will allow for interesting conclusions about the way textual scholarship worked.


Dr Ulrike Roesler has been the University Lecturer in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies at the Oriental Institute, Oxford since 2010. She is a Fellow of Wolfson College and has founded the Tibetan and Himalayan Research Centre there. Her academic background is in Indian Studies and Tibetan Studies, and this combination has led to a keen interest in the cultural interactions between India and Tibet throughout the centuries. Another passion is Tibetan literature with a particular focus on narrative and biographical literature. Moreover, she has been working on the sacred landscapes and holy mountains of the Himalayas and has recently done a case study on sacred landscapes and monasticism in Central Tibet. She has regularly been traveling in Tibet, Nepal, Ladakh and Sikkim since 1998.

The ‘Bodhisattva Corpus’ and the Attempt to Establish a New Orthodoxy at the Dawn of the Eleventh Century

Fancesco Sferra

The founding project of a tradition is usually expressed in its early texts, but not always explicitly. What its authors say, what they omit and, above all, the way in which they communicate content (apart from its being true or untrue) reveals their inner concerns, their perception of the surrounding reality and the motivations, at least in part and aside from the ones given, that led them to write. The first steps taken in establishing traditions, and particularly their founding projects, are especially interesting for historical research, which does not merely record the facts but also explores their mystification and enquires into the reasons for this.
Probably in order to effectively meet the new socio-cultural challenges that had arisen around the beginning of the 11th cent., the first authors of the Wheel of Time (Kālacakra), the last Indian Buddhist tantric cycle, sought to establish, within a consistent framework, a new Buddhist orthodoxy and to close the Buddhist ranks around the undisputed authority of the monastic community.
This lecture is therefore an attempt to shed light on some of the cultural forms and means through which the earliest authors of the system, later known as the Three Bodhisattvas, and their works (the ‘Bodhisattva Corpus’) utilized and shared semiotic construction strategies to legitimize their lineages and doctrine.


Born in Rome, Italy, in 1965, Francesco Sferra studied philosophy and Indology at the University of Rome “La Sapienza” under the guidance of Prof. Raniero Gnoli, Prof. Raffaele Torella and Prof. Corrado Pensa. He was awarded a Doctorate in Sanskrit by the same University in 1999.

After holding provisional positions in teaching Sanskrit at the Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli from 1998 to 2001, he was appointed Associate Professor of Sanskrit and Indology in the Department of Asian Studies, at the same University, in November 2002. He is presently Director of the Dipartimento di Studi Asiatici, Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale“.

Organiser: Dr. Vincent Tournier

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