Buddhism and Divination in Tibet

Lecture | February 8 | 5-7 p.m. | Faculty Club, Heyns Room

 Brandon Dotson, Georgetown University

 Center for Buddhist Studies

As a poor cousin of both science and religion, a begrudged relative of ritual, and a strange bedfellow of play, divination persists at the margins of established traditions. Buddhism shows some ambivalence toward divination, sometimes barely tolerating it, and other times making full use of divination as a medium for Buddhist messages. Buddhists, for their part, have employed divination in much the way that they have turned to astrology for clues about their karmic accounts, a determining factor in their lives that would be otherwise maddeningly opaque to all but the enlightened.

In Tibet, various forms of divination persist both within and alongside the Buddhist and Bon religions. Excavated divination texts from Dunhuang and from other Silk Road sites furnish us with traces of the dynamic processes by which Buddhism absorbed various divination techniques practiced in 8th to 10th centuries. This lecture will introduce an early form of Tibetan dice divination involving intimate exchanges with gods and with goddesses (sman), and will consider how Buddhism variously transformed, absorbed, and transmitted such divination practices up to the present day.