The Wheel of Time: Tibetan Thoughts on the Buddha’s Anno Nirvanae: 2017 Khyentse Lecture

Lecture | February 23 | 5-6:30 p.m. | Alumni House, Toll Room

 Professor Leonard van der Kuijp, Harvard University

 Center for Buddhist Studies

Although fairly long in coming, the Christian calendar began with the year in which Jesus was allegedly born. And Dionysius Exiguus (6thc.) was the first to introduce the notion of A[nno]D[omini], the birth year of the Christ. Famously, the British monk Bede (672‑735) went so far as to deduce in his De temporum ratione of 725, an elaboration of his earlier Liber de temporibus of 703, that 3,952 years had passed from creation to Jesus' birth. For good measure he also recalculated the date of Easter. Perhaps more notoriously, in 1650, Archbishop James Ussher (1581‑1656) calculated that the world had come into being on October 23, 4004 BCE! The great Jewish intellectual Moses Maimonides (1135‑1204) worked with the year of the creation of the world, the Aera Mundi, as his starting point. In his opinion, the world's creation fell on the first of the seventh lunar month [September 7], 3760 BCE, and he used this calculation to date his 1166‑78 treatise, the Sanctification of the New Moon.

The Buddhists were not so much concerned with the creation of the world — for them it was not — as they generally were with the year in which the Buddha entered nirvana, the year in which he passed away. As yet unpublished and titled Elimination of Errors in Computation 1442 or 1443, Gö Lotsawa Zhönupel's (1392‑1481) polemical work on chronology and computation is a crucially important source for our understanding of the different ways in which the calendars and the various calculations of the passage of time in general developed in Tibet. It is also especially significant for the insights it provides into the numerous attempts that had been made in Tibetan intellectual circles to calculate the chronology of the life of the Buddha and the year of his passing. My talk will focus on this aspect of Gö Lotsawa's work and its place in Tibetan intellectual history

Leonard van der Kuijp is professor of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies and chairs the Committee on Inner Asian and Altaic Studies. Best known for his studies of Buddhist epistemology, he is the author of numerous works on Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Recent publications include "An Early Tibetan Survey of Buddhist Literature" (Vol. 64, Harvard Oriental Series, 2008), coauthored with Kurtis R. Schaeffer, and "In Search of Dharma: Indian and Ceylonese Travelers in Fifteenth Century Tibet" (Wisdom, 2009). Van der Kuijp’s research focuses primarily on the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist thought, Tibetan Buddhist intellectual history, Tibetan Buddhism, and premodern Sino-Tibetan and Tibeto-Mongol political and religious relations, 510-643-5104