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Home Newsletters OCBS News Jan 2013

OCBS News Jan 2013

Article Index
OCBS News Jan 2013
Journal - New Hosting Program
Prof. Zacchetti report
Student Grant
Recent Lecture Series
New Book
Upcoming Lectures
All Pages


Welcome to the January 2013 Issue of OCBS News.

In this issue we have news of the publication of Volume Three of our Journal. We have also moved the Journal to a state of the art hosting program and we bring you details of this. Professor Zacchetti, the new Numata Chair of Buddhist Studies, brings us a short report of his first term in the post and how he is finding Oxford.

Jeff Watt completed his course of 8 lectures on Tibetan Buddhist iconography, a unique and greatly appreciated presentation. We bring you a report. We end with details of a new book published by Georgios Halkias, one of our Fellows, and details of our speakers in the upcoming term.




We have completed the move of our Journal to the Open Journal Systems hosting program.  You can visit our new homepage here.


This program allows us to offer a more sophisticated presentation of our Journal, including an integrated pdf reader.  We are also now able to offer access to Universities and Institutions through IP address and Domain Name access.  If you are a user of a library that has been thinking of subscribing to our Journal please do pass this information on.


Volume Three is online and you can view the Table of Contents and Abstracts by clicking here.  Volume One is now open access and can be viewed here. For information on how to subscribe please click here.


We hope that you enjoy this new way of presenting our Journal and will consider the possibility of taking out a subscription or recommending us to any organisations you belong to.




This year’s Michaelmas term, which provided me with a taste of the well-known intensity of Oxford terms, marked the beginning of my teaching experience at this university.


One of the three courses I taught during this term, a series of eight lectures on “Early Buddhist Doctrine and Practice – Buddhism I” (for the Faculty of Theology and Religion), aimed at introducing undergraduate and graduate students to the main ideas of the early Buddhist tradition. In connection with this course, I also taught a series of tutorials, which constituted my initiation into the arcana of the tutorial system.


The remaining two courses have been of a decidedly philological character. In “Prajñāpāramitā in Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese”, I read with graduate students some unedited passages from the Gilgit manuscript of the Larger Prajñāpāramitā. Occasionally we consulted some of the available parallels (particularly the Tibetan translation of the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā), but mostly we focused on the Sanskrit text, which gave us a chance to take a close look at a comparatively early manuscript (c. 6th-7th century CE), with all its palaeographic and linguistic peculiarities.


The other course, “Introduction to Buddhist Chinese”, has been something of an experiment: a focused introduction to the variety of Chinese used in Buddhist translations, with the aim of opening a shortcut for students with a predominantly Indological background to consult the precious sources preserved in the Chinese canon. I am not sure that the experiment has been successful, but without a doubt the classes have been very enjoyable, at least for the teacher.


Finally, I gave two lectures on the introduction of Buddhism into East Asia (particularly in China) for the East Asia Survey Series at the Institute for Chinese Studies.


We are very happy to announce that this term’s student grant of £500 has been awarded to Anna Sehnalova. Anna is reading for an MPhill. in Tibetan Studies at Oxford.  We are very grateful to the generosity of the devotees of the Oxford Buddha Vihara for making this award possible.



by David Pritzker and Walter Arader.


When it comes to the study of Tibetan Buddhism, one soon finds that art and practice have been inseparably linked since the region's conversion in the 7th century CE. For the uninitiated as well as for long time scholars in the field, however, it can be difficult to identify and contextualize the complex array of deities found in Tibetan art. In fact, very few have ventured into this thorny bramble of a subject and even fewer have attempted to teach it in a systematized manner for beginners. That's to say, until now! Every Monday evening during Michaelmas Term at Balliol College, on the invitation of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies (OCBS) and with funds from the Ti se Foundation, visiting scholar Jeff Watt has presented a simple and efficient system to analyze Tibetan art.

Through the online organization Himalayan Art Resources (, over the past 15 years Mr. Watt has created a unique methodology to identify and understand Vajrayana Buddhist iconography in Tibetan art. Using Tibetan textual sources and visual forms,  Mr. Watt has developed several categories to approach an art work, including number sets, groups and the  "eleven figurative forms", which provided the backbone for this term's course.

The "eleven figurative forms" or appearances -- Buddha, Arhat, King, Monastic, Lay, Mahasiddha, Bodhisattva, Peaceful, Semi-peaceful Semi-wrathful, Wrathful and Animal-headed --  were shown as single paintings or as part of sets. Participants were taught how to navigate these iconographic compositions, or programs, starting from simple to more complex, building their ability to read the visual text of even the more challenging groupings in Tibetan scroll paintings. As Jeff Watt stated, "Just like teaching mathematics to children, you first have to learn your numbers and how they combine before you can begin to do addition and multiplication."

"Number sets" were also introduced as a way to understand the context and meaning of Tibetan paintings. Among other sets, we looked at iconic representations of the three vehicles of Buddhism: Shakyamuni Buddha and the sixteen arhats, representative of original Buddhism in Tibet; the Buddha and thirty-five Confession Buddhas or the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, alluding to Mahayana Buddhism; and Vajradhara with the eighty-four Mahasiddhas, representing Vajrayana. The study of these and hundreds of other groups gave shape to the entirety of the course.

The lecture series, despite its daunting nature, filled the room throughout the eight weeks.  Drawing slightly different crowds each time, questions varied considerably from religion to iconography, to history and art. Early on in the term, Mr. Watt, Professor Gombrich, and Professor Zacchetti even had a debate on the nature of reality. Most stayed clear of that bramble but, as always, the lecture continued on to nearby Italian restaurant Gino's, and as always all were welcome.

Overall the course was a great success - a sure sign of Jeff Watt's ability to convey this material in an accessible way and the strong desire of the Oxford community to follow on the topic of Buddhist art and iconography. I look forward to following the work of Mr. Watt on and to joining future lectures by OCBS.



We are very pleased to inform you of a new book published by one of our fellows, Georgios Halkias.

Luminous Bliss: A Religious History of Pure Land Literature in Tibet is the latest title in the Pure Land Buddhist Studies series published by the University of Hawai'i Press.

"Georgios Halkias’ Luminous Bliss is a religious history of Pure Land Buddhism in Tibet that highlights the textual and ritual traditions. In doing so Halkias locates the development of the concept of a Pure Land within broader Indian and Central Asian Mahāyāna themes, many of which have been central to the intellectual development of the tradition right into the present. He provides a historical orientation to the development of the Pure Land tradition in Tibet from the ninth century onwards, and a critical textual study of one of the texts central to the tradition.

An additional important contribution of Halkias’ work is that he examines the way in which Pure Land sutra-based aspirations and tantric practices have mutually supported each other in Tibet. This provides additional nuance to our understanding of the tradition, calling into question the all-too-easy equation of Pure Land Buddhism with devotionalism, whether Indian (bhakti) or European (piety). The breadth of Halkias’ work, however, is based on a detailed philological study of representative texts and a systematic description of meditative techniques upheld over the last one thousand years by all the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism that establishes a standard for future studies of Pure Land literatures in all of the Buddhist languages."

For more details please click here.



This term we shall be continuing with our Lecture Series. We will have nine lectures in all and will feature talks from Ven. Huifeng and Arjia Rinpoche as well asDr. J. Abraham Vélez de Cea and Jasleen Kandhari.

We are currently finalising details of the talks and these will be published on our website within the next two weeks.  Audio records of the talks will be posted on our website for anyone who is unable to attend.

We would like to thank Dr. Thet Thet Nwe for her continued support of the OCBS Lecture Series.




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