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The Buddhist Jyotisa Tradition

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Joined: 30 Sep 2005
Posts: 5040
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland

Posted: Wed Jul 10, 2013 6:20 pm    Post subject: The Buddhist Jyotisa Tradition Reply with quote

I am providing a link below to a fascinating article by Bill Mak on the corpus of ancient Indian Jyotisa texts that have been preserved in China.

This name may be familiar to many of you already since Martin Gansten recently gave a link to Mak's article The Date and Nature of Sphujidhvaja’s Yavanajātaka Reconsidered in the Light of Some Newly Discovered Materials

I discovered the article below about 6 months ago but just never seemed to find the free time to share it before now.

The article reveals several remarkable facts:

The existence of a distinct Buddhist tradition of Jyotisa. This corpus refutes the commonly expressed opinion that Indian Buddhists were not interested in astrology. However, it does seem this was more a development in later Mahayana and especially Tantric Buddhism.

A preserved collection of Chinese Buddhist translations from c. 250 – 1000 CE capture the evolution of Indian jyotiṣa in three stages – old, transition and new. Hence this corpus gives us comparative insights on the astrological texts preserved in India.

Mak's summarises this by stating
''Thus the Chinese Buddhist translations serve as a time capsule of Indian jyotiṣa materials throughout a large part of the first millennium of our era''

Bill Mak detects three phases in the texts preserved in China:

Broadly speaking, we can see that jyotiṣa materials are often incorporated into Buddhist texts somewhat apologetically in the early phase.

In the Mahāyāna case, jyotiṣa knowledge is often considered a form of
expedient (upāya), employed for the benefits for the sentient beings though they are not considered genuine Buddhist teachings per se.

In the late stage, in particular among the so-called Tantric works, they are seen as authentic Buddhist teachings and are often employed directly with no justification given or required.

Up to 6th century CE, the Chinese Buddhist texts preserve the oldest type of lunar astrology (28 nakṣatras) in India.

The texts provide definitive evidence that the order of the sidereal naksatras changed over the centuries in India. In particular the most ancient texts show the naksatras beginning at Kṛttikā, one later text starts at Bharaṇī while only those texts dated from the later period have Aśvinī as the first Nakshatra.

The analysis of these texts is a treasure trove for students of ancient Indian astrology since the Chinese preserved material lost in India itself. Moreover, unlike the Indians the Chinese also dated their texts so we can gleam far more historical insight into when they actually date from.

It seems that this research into the corpus of Chinese Buddhist Jyotisa will resolve many long standing disputes on the history of Indian Jyotisa. Bill Mak’s ongoing work looks well worth keeping up with.

Details of Bill Mak's publications: pending and published are in the link below:

An expansion of this article appears in Mak, Bill M. 2012 “Silk Road Transmission of Astrological Lore to China -Indian, Chinese and Central Asian elements in Mahāsaṃnipātasūtra (T397). Silk Road: Interwoven History. Cambridge, MA: Association for Central Asian Civilizations & Silk Road Studies.

This article is also quite interesting in providing an overview of Indian astrological influence on Buddhist East Asia:
‘’As thou conversest with the heavens, so instruct and inform thy minde according to the image of Divinity…’’ William Lilly
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