In recent years, two sets of unique 11th century Tibetan manuscripts have been discovered - a sensational development according to many scholars. Texts and paintings in these manuscripts allow new insights into the cultural outlook of the little-known transition period between the 9th century fall of the Tibetan empire, and the radical socio-religious project of forging a thoroughly Buddhist society across the Tibetan Plateau that begun in earnest during the 11th century. These obscure texts mostly record previously unknown types of non-Buddhist rites. They address a range of concerns, including culturally problematic deaths of pregnant and birthing mothers and their infants, and of accident victims, offer solutions to those afflicted by psychic torment, or ensure that new human lives safely enter the world following deaths. One manuscript is richly illustrated with coloured miniatures that count among the oldest paintings from the Tibetan Plateau not directly related to organized religions. This lecture introduces results of new research on these old manuscripts and rites, outlines the previously unknown worldview they represent, and investigates cases where this ancient ritual system influenced some later innovations in Tibetan Buddhism.
Toni Huber has been Professor of Tibetan Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, since 2003. His research interests and published oeuvre focus on ethnography and cultural history of Tibetan Plateau and eastern Himalayan highland societies, environment and society, ritual and religion, and nomadic pastoralism. His major monographs include Source of Life. Revitalisation Rites and Bon Shamans in Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas (Vienna, In Press), The Holy Land Reborn. Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India (Chicago, 2008), and The Cult of Pure Crystal Mountain. Popular Pilgrimage & Visionary Landscape in Southeast Tibet (New York & Oxford, 1999).