SOAS University of London

Centre of Buddhist Studies

Foreign astrology in disguise: the sources and transmission of Amoghavajra’s Xiuyao jing

Bill Mak (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University and Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University)

Date: 8 December 2016Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 8 December 2016Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B104

Type of Event: Lecture

Among the extant works of Amoghavajra, one of the most prolific Buddhist translators in Sino-Indian Buddhism and a patriarch of the East Asian lineage of esoteric Buddhism, is a voluminous astral compendium popularly known as the Xiuyao jing 宿曜經, “The Sūtra of Lunar Mansions and Planets,” attributed to the Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī. Since the eighth century, the work was widely circulated among Buddhists in East Asia as a sacred text from the Tang Dynasty. It was considered also an authoritative text in the Japanese school of Buddhist astronomy known as sukuyōdō 宿曜道. The work became an important source on Indian calendric, astrology, horoscopy and astral worship, some of which are still practiced today. In terms of its transmission and content, the text has a convoluted history and the origin of much of the content of the work had remained poorly understood up to the twentieth century, when Japanese scholars rediscovered the lost portions of the text and compared its content with the astral texts of other traditions. As it turns out, the “astral science” described in the Xiuyao jing is a curious amalgamation of early Indian astrology and Indo-Greek astrology of ultimately Greco-Babylonian origin, together with traces of Central Asian influences. The highly eclectic, multilingual content of the work offers us a glimpse of the cosmopolitanism of eighth century Chang’an, where multiethnic communities vied against each other in promoting their own astral knowledge, which was eagerly sought after by the Chinese elites since the Six Dynasties. In this lecture, the sources and transmission of this once influential work are discussed in light of some recent discoveries and research focusing on the Japanese manuscripts.

This talk is co-organised with the Centre for the Study of Japanese Religions at SOAS

Organiser: Dr. Antonello Palumbo

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