2021-2022 Events

2021-2022 Events

Please note that due to the Corona Virus some in-person events for 2021-2022 were cancelled and redesigned as webinars. Please check our webcast page for lecture recordings.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Breaking the Egg of the White Crane: Tibetan Antecedent Myths and their Collection Dealing with the Nyen Spirits (Gnyan ’bum)

2022 Khyentse Lecture 

Daniel Berounsky, Charles University, Prague

There is a remarkable and long tradition of ritual chants containing origination myths (or series of antecedent tales), stories of rituals' original performances when they solved various crises in Tibet. In most cases the scenario of the myth follows a similar pattern. It is situated at the beginning of the world, or in some timeless primordial past. It describes the original incidents that led to the conflict, and their subsequent ritual treatment. This serves as a foundation for the ritual, which is seen as re-enacting these original events. Several Bönpo sources from 13th-14th century, which see themselves as perpetuating the tradition, describe such myths as a central means of knowledge and foundation for orientation in the world. Such myths were primarily connected with oral tradition, but fine written exemplars appear scattered among the Dunhuang manuscripts, manuscripts of the Bon religion, and among locally used texts still employed by mostly lay village ritualists. The centrality of such myths for Tibetans is attested also by their infiltration into Tibetan Buddhist rituals. One can find there similarly patterned origination myths connected with Buddha, Padmasambhava, or other Buddhist religious heroes. Fine examples of such myths are demonstrate a specific poetic beauty that is alien to the Buddhist texts yet fits well with the nature of the Tibetan language. The talk will introduce this non-Buddhist tradition and examples of myths. It will then focus on a collection of myths dealing with the nyen spirits who represent the wild environment of people and whose messengers to people are birds. This collection of myths, entitled Nyen Collection (Gnyan ’bum), relates to the Dong (Ldong) clan of Tibetans and peoples known as Qiang in the old Chinese chronicles, who originally inhabited the north-eastern part of Tibet. The central myth of the collection deals with the killing of a nyen spirit by an ancestor of the Dong clan, an act that is poetically described as “breaking the egg of the white crane”. Elements of the myths in the Nyen Collection will then be traced in recently resurfaced manuscripts of the lay ritual tradition called leu (le’u). This tradition was until recently present in the Minshan mountain range located between the current provinces Gansu and Sichuan of PRC.

Daniel Berounsky is currently employed as Associated professor at the Institute of Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague. His PhD thesis (2005) focused on the Tantra of Vajrabhairava and he then prepared new study program of Tibetan Studies at the Faculty of Arts. Starting from 2001 he conducted regular field research in the north-easter part of the Tibetan Plateau. It resulted in publishing case studies on contemporary spirit-mediums from Ngawa (Rnga ba), a history of Kirti monastery of Ngawa – the epicenter of the recent wave of self-immolations in Amdo - and case-studies of the cult of mountains and ‘warrior gods’ (dgra lha/dgra bla/sgra bla). His research focused also on the beginnings of the institution of reincarnated masters in Tibet, Chinese tradition of post-mortem rituals in Tibet, magical rituals associated with Tsongkhapa, and rituals of the Bon religion. In recent years, he has been exploring the collection of myths on nyen spirits (Gnyan ’bum) included into the Bon Kanjur and the tradition of lay ritualists from Thewo (The bo) region in Amdo called leu (le’u).

Thursday, February 17, 2022

America’s Buddhist History: Reading How the Swans Came to the Lake Forty Years Later

Benjamin Bogin, Skidmore College

How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America by Rick Fields (1942–1999), was first published in 1981. Though the landscape of American Buddhism has changed dramatically in the forty years since, the book remains the definitive account of Buddhism’s arrival on American shores. Prof. Robert Sharf and Benjamin Bogin (the author’s nephew) will explore the book’s place in Buddhist historiography and engage with questions surrounding memory, narrative, and lineage in American Buddhism.

Benjamin Bogin is Associate Professor of Asian Studies at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. He writes and teaches on biographical literature, sacred geography, and visual art in Himalayan cultures. He is the author of The Illuminated Life of the Great Yolmowa (2013) and a forthcoming book on the Copper-Colored Mountain, a Tibetan Buddhist paradise.

Friday-Saturday, February 11-12, 2022

Buddhism as/in/and Chinese Literature

Scholars of religion, philosophers, philologists, historians, anthropologists and art historians have all made significant contributions to our understanding of Buddhism. In comparison, scholars trained in literary analysis often seem less enthusiastic about wading into Buddhist waters. This is surprising, especially when one considers Buddhism’s role in the history of Asian literature. The modern academic distinction between Buddhist “religion” and Buddhist “literature” was not necessarily salient in premodern Asia. A few brave scholars have ventured into this area in the past, crossing the boundary between Chinese Buddhist history and Chinese literature. They have shown that Buddhism contributed to the rise of vernacular literary genres in China, and that Chinese literature served as a vehicle for the transmission of tenets and popularization of cults. Their works have illuminated various approaches in the literary study of Chinese Buddhist texts and the Buddhist interpretation of Chinese literary texts. But much work is left to be done. This conference will bring together both literary scholars and religious historians to explore the symbiotic interplay between Buddhism and literature in China. The interplay went in both directions, with Buddhist monks and nuns engaging in literary pursuits, and lay authors incorporating Buddhist images into their writings and reinterpreting Buddhist ideas. These interactions contributed to the evolution of what is known today as “Chinese literature” and “Chinese Buddhism.”

Friday, February 11, Webcast

Opening Remarks (2-2:15 pm)
[Robert Sharf, UC Berkeley]

Panel 1: Hagiography and Historiography (2:15 - 6:30 pm)
[Moderator: Robert Ashmore, UC Berkeley]

Anecdotes and/as Social Memory: Understanding the Nature of Buddhist Miracle Tales and Hagiographies in Medieval China
Robert Campany (Vanderbilt University) [in person]

Outside the Southern Gate, Beyond the Eastern Gate: Reflections on Old Age and Illness in Buddhist Hagiography and Six Dynasties Poetry
Antje Richter (University of Colorado Boulder) [on Zoom]

Southern Song Stupa Inscriptions, Their Features, and Their Implications
Mark Halperin (University of California, Davis) [in person]

Foil Characters in Chinese Buddhist Historiography
John Kieschnick (Stanford University) [in person]

Saturday, February 12, 370 Dwinelle Hall / webcast

Panel 2: Ritual and the Nether World (9 am-12 pm)
[Moderator: Ling Hon Lam, UC Berkeley]

The Snake Empress: Emperor Wu of the Liang’s Wife in Ritual, Literature and Art
Vincent Durand-Dastès (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales)
[on Zoom]

Rethinking Ritual and Theater: A Case Study of the Rite of Feeding the Hungry Ghosts in the Late Ming
Mengxiao Wang (University of Southern California) [in person]

Buddhist Nether World in Contemporary Chinese BL Literature
Xingyi Wang (University of California, Berkeley) [in person]

Panel 3: Buddhism and Poetry (1:30-3:30 pm)
[Moderator: Paula Varsano, UC Berkeley]

The Religious Infrastructure of Late Medieval Chinese Literature
Thomas J. Mazanec (University of California, Santa Barbara) [in person]

When Poetry is Not The Way, Thinking with Huihong and wenzi chan
Jason Protass (Brown University) [on Zoom]

Panel 4: Modern Reincarnations (3:45-5:45 pm)
[Moderator: Robert Sharf, UC Berkeley]

Repressed Modernities, Forgotten Buddhism: Gong Zizhen (1792-1841), Poetry, and the Tiantai tradition
Lang Chen (University of Michigan) [in person]

Between Passion and Compassion: The Story of the Stone and Its Modern Reincarnations
Ying Lei (Amherst College) [on Zoom]

Roundtable Discussion (5:45-6:30 pm)

Friday-Saturday, December 3-4, 2021

Gandharan Studies: A Comprehensive Survey


This workshop will discuss the history, current state and future of Gandharan studies and highlight recent research on the material and visual culture of the region. It is held in conjunction with the Beyond Boundaries: Buddhist Art from Gandhara exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum, organized by Julia White (senior curator, BAM) and Osmund Bopearachchi (Emeritus Director of Research, CNRS, Paris).

NOTE: Due to continued travel restrictions in some countries, the workshop will have a mixed format with in-person and zoom presentations. The keynote lecture on Thursday 2 and the presentations on Friday 3 will be in-person, but the presentations on Saturday 4 will be on Zoom (link here).

Both in-person and Zoom presentations will be recorded.

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2021 (in person)
370 Dwinelle Hall

12:45 - 1pm
Sanjyot Mehendale (Chair, Tang Center for Silk Road Studies)
Osmund Bopearachchi (Emeritus Director of Research, CNRS, Paris)

1pm - 1:45pm
Perspective of Studying Gandhāra Art by Pakistani scholars: A Critical Analysis
Muhammad Hameed (Associate Professor of Archaeology, University of the Punjab, Lahore)

1:45pm - 2:30pm
Gandhāran Inscriptions and Manuscripts: What have we learned?
Richard Salomon (Emeritus Professor of Sanskrit and Buddhist Studies, University of Washington, Seattle)

2:30 – 2:45 pm ~ Coffee/Tea Break

2:45pm - 3:30pm
Digital Gandhāra: New Perspectives at the Crossroads of Art History, Archaeology and Conservation
Serena Autiero (Research Associate, Center for Religious Studies, Ruhr-University, Bochum).

3:30pm - 4:15pm
The Archery Competition of Siddhārta and the Pre-marital Ceremony in Gandhāran art: an Example of Shared Traditions in Buddhism and Indian epics
Laura Giuliano (Curator, National Museum of Oriental Art, Rome)

4:15 – 4:30pm ~ Coffee/Tea Break

4:30pm - 5:15pm
A New Interpretation of the Kustanai Silver Bowl (Hermitage Museum): Oedipus the King
Anca Dan (Researcher, CNRS-ENS) and Frantz Grenet (Professor, Collège de France)

5:15pm - 6pm
Gandhāran Art and its Kashmiri and Hindu Shai Afterlife
John Guy (Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Thursday, December 2, 2022

The Great Departure and the Twin Miracle: How Gandhāran Buddhist Sculptors Showcased Key Episodes in the Life of the Buddha

Osmund Bopearachchi, Emeritus Director of Research, CNRS, Paris

Keynote of December 3-4, 2022, workshop to discuss the history, current state and future of Gandharan studies and highlight recent research on the material and visual culture of the region. It is held in conjunction with the Beyond Boundaries: Buddhist Art from Gandhara exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum, organized by Julia White (senior curator, BAM) and Osmund Bopearachchi (Emeritus Director of Research, CNRS, Paris).

Friday, November 2, 2021

2021 Toshihide Numata Book Award Presentation and Symposium

The Toshihide Numata Book Award in Buddhism is presented on an annual basis to an outstanding book or books in the area of Buddhist studies. Administered by the Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, the selection is made by an external committee that is appointed annually. This year’s event celebrates the presentation of the 2021 award to Christopher V. Jones and his book "The Buddhist Self: On Tathāgatagarbha and Ātman" (University of Hawai'i Press, 2020)


14:00-14:15: Introductory Remarks and Award Presentation

Robert Sharf (UC Berkeley) and George Tanabe (President, BDK America)

14:20 - 15:00 Keynote

Christopher V. Jones (University of Cambridge) - “What makes a Buddha-nature text? Reflections on the idea of a ‘tathāgatagarbha corpus’.”

15:00 - 15:15 Q&A

15:20 - 16:30 Presentations

Chair: TBA

Paul Harrison (Stanford University) - “The Buddhist Self and the Buddhist Studies Self.”

Hiromi Habata (International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies) - “Sattva and Sattvadhātu: The Essential Element of Existence in the World.”

Michael Zimmermann (Universität Hamburg) - “From the Lotus Sutra to the Roots of Engaged Buddhism in the Bodhisattvabhūmi: Why Tathāgatagarbha Is Indispensable.”

16:30 -17:00 Panel Discussion

Friday, October 29, 2021

Heavenly Palace in the Yellow Springs: The Wirkak Sarcophagus (580 CE) and Buddhist Elements in Funerary Art of Early Medieval China

Focusing on the stone sarcophagus of Wirkak (494-579 CE) and his wife Wiyusi, a Sogdian couple descended from Central Asia, this talk discusses the ways in which the funerary monument in Wirkak’s underground tomb is rendered like a Buddhist pagoda that evokes the vision of a heavenly palace. In the popular teaching of Mahayana Buddhism, magnificent palaces in heavens await the arrival of the souls of meritorious people after their death. The belief in Heavenly Palaces (tiangong or tiantang in Chinese) reached a pinnacle in China during the 6th century, which was largely attributable to the cult of the Maitreya Bodhisattva, a deity believed to inhabit a palace in the Tusita heaven. The belief also found compelling expressions in pictorial art and architecture, particularly in the construction of pagodas. However, the idea of the Heaven Palaces as the destiny for the deceased souls caused considerable tension with the native funerary tradition in China, which maintained the significance of a dwelling in the subterranean domain known as the Yellow Springs. The talk shows how the Wirkak sarcophagus presents an ingenious solution to this tension, exemplifying the effort of Sogdian elites in reconciling disparate ideas about the afterlife in Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Confucianism.

Jin Xu is an assistant professor of art history and Asian studies at Vassar College. He received his PhD in art history at the University of Chicago. His research has been focusing on religious and cultural exchanges on the Silk Road as reflected in Chinese art during the 6th and 7th centuries. Currently he is writing a book manuscript titled “Beyond Boundaries: Sogdian Sarcophagi and the Art of an Immigrant Community in Early Medieval China.”