The Nanzhao (738-937) and Dali Kingdoms (937-1253) had a continuous history of over five centuries of an independent sovereignty separated from China. Situated at the frontier of a number of regional powers, they were noted for their strategic position, as well as their devotion to a form of esoteric Buddhism little known to us. The large amount of Sanskrit inscriptions and manuscripts excavated and discovered since the early 20th century attest to the unique Buddhist practices in the region during this period and beyond. Despite no systematic examination of these materials has been done, they are noteworthy given that very little original Sanskrit materials from China survived. Their provenance is also currently a topic of debate, as different scholars speculated their connection with a variety of Buddhist practices from China, India, Tibet, and even Southeast Asia. This lecture will give for the first time an overview of the extant materials and a preliminary decipherment of some key pieces which had escaped scholarly attention so far. By doing so, we hope to further our understanding of the complex ethnography and multicultural history of Yunnan.
Bill M. Mak 麥文彪 completed his linguistic training at McGill University (B.A. Hons.) specializing in Sanskrit and East Asian languages and received his Ph.D. in Indian literature and Buddhist philology from Peking University. Mak held a number of research and teaching positions at Hamburg University, University of Hong Kong and Kyoto Sangyo University, before his current appointment as Associate Professor at Kyoto University. Among Mak’s academic interests are Sanskrit Buddhist literature, historical Sino-Indian relation and Indian astral science (jyotiṣa).