Comments on “The Causes and Characteristics of the Dark Age in Tibet”



Ga-tak's picture

Hi there, nice site.

A bibliography would be great - in due course.

I'm just rattling through 'Tantric Revisionings' right now (Geoffrey Samuel) who says quite a few interesting things about the Dark Ages with his refreshing viewpoint grounded in anthropology. Kapstein's 'The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism' has also got some titbits in you might like to have a nose at - if you've not done so already.

More please!


Both Great Books


Thanks for the appreciation. It's an arcane little corner of history in a distant part of the world but seems highly relevant to Buddhism's current assimilation in the West. Those are great books on this subject and others and I own them both. My copies are positively littered with post-it bookmarks.

More translations of Dunhuang texts trickle out over time, and some very interesting research is being published as PhD theses here and there. Alex McKay's (ed) 'History of Tibet' also has some useful articles in Vols I and II but it took me several years to find a copy.

More is definitely coming as I have time and uncover new tidbits.



I have described some other relevant resources here.

All Geoffrey Samuel's work is outstanding. In addition to Tantric Revisionings and Civilized Shamans (which I described in the linked page) there's his more recent Origins of Yoga and Tantra.

Ronald Davidson's Tibetan Renaissance should also go on the short list.


Ireland and Tibet c. 800 AD

I was able to convene a seminar at Glenstal Abbey in 2003 beginning a conversation about parallels between medieval Ireland and early Tibet. Your essay on the "Dark Age" has many parallels in Ireland - with similar divisiveness of clan kingdoms and a period of gang vigilantism being resolved, partially, by the ascendency of monastic Christianity & the patronage of regional kings. The introduction of Latin & text translation/transcription of the Bible & early annals of pre-Christian Irish oral (historic/legal/mythic) literature seems also to have had its parallel in Tibet... and for the same reasons. I find this fascinating and hope to learn more. Robin Kornman was beginning some serious translation & commentary (originally sponsored by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche) about this time period - thinking also that it was a bridge to adapting Buddhist tantric practice to the West. It's an amazing coincidence of isolated geography (plus a possible massive starvation about 840 BC... still being researched and possibly due to an extraordinarily powerful solar ejection impacting Earth's climate & geology). This turbulent era gave Tibetan & Irish lords the opportunity to re-shape their respective adopted "religions" to fit the political & social needs of the time in conjunction with increasingly powerful monastic institutions.

Ireland, Tibet, and Robin Kornman

Thanks, that's a very interesting parallel!

Somewhat similarly, I've become intrigued by the development of manorialism in Tibet, particularly around the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Manorialism as an economic institution was probably key to the ascendancy of the large monasteries as power centers, with large implications for how Vajrayana was practiced. It's interesting that this occurred at about the same time the European Church developed large estates. I'm not sure if this was cultural diffusion, or if there was some critical enabling technology I can't think of. (Ireland didn't develop large-scale manorialism, did it? So a different comparison.)

I hadn't known about Robin Kornman's project—unless you mean his Gésar epic translation? That is a great inspiration.