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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 5.2 (2022): 177–210;

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Chapter 24 of the Book of Zambasta: A New Version of the Prophecy of the End of Buddhism in the Candragarbha sūtra

LIU Yi 劉屹
Capital Normal University

Abstract: The Book of Zambasta is a Khotanese Buddhist work that collects various Buddhist texts; and its last chapter, Chapter 24, contains a so-called famie 法滅 prophecy, that is, the prophecy about the end of the dharma. This chapter has been identified by Jan Nattier as corresponding to the ‘Fa miejin pin’ 法滅盡品 [Chapter on the Complete Disappearance of the Dharma] of the Yuezang jing 月藏經 (Skt. Candragarbha sūtra; Bodhisattva Candragarbha Sūtra). In this article, I compare Chapter 24 with three other versions of the prophecy from the so-called Candragarbha sūtra group. My aim is to highlight five major points of discrepancy, with a particular emphasis on the battle scene in Chapter 24 which, in my opinion, is unusually elaborate. This battle scene, I venture to speculate, may reflect certain influences from the Persian epic Shahnameh and, more probably, the Indian epic Mahābhārata. By comparing these epics with the Book, I raise the possibility that perhaps non-Buddhist literary traditions have played some roles in shaping the Buddhist famie prophecy. Furthermore, I argue that Chapter 24 is part of a non-extant version of the Candragarbha sūtra. My attention then turns to the Candragarbha sūtra itself, as I discuss its geographical origin (i.e., Khotanese) and the date (early sixth century). The article ends with a discussion on the date of the Book of Zambasta. I especially focus on showing that Mauro Maggi’s dating of the Book, i.e., the second half of the fifth century, is too early.

Keywords: Book of Zambasta, End of the Dharma (famie 法滅), Yuezang jing 月藏經 (Skt. Candragarbha sūtra), Khotan


About the Author: Liu Yi 劉屹 is Professor and Dean of School of History at Capital Normal University and also the secretary of the Association of the Dunhuang and Turpan studies in China. His research interests include the Dunhuang studies and the medieval history of religion. For the past twenty years, he has been working on the history of Daoism and the Daoist scriptures. In terms of the former, he challenges the historical paradigm in which the sect of the Celestial Masters came directly down from the sect of the Five Pecks of Rice in the early Daoist history. In terms of the latter, he has specialized in the studies of such Daoist texts as Scripture on Great Peace, Xiang’er’s Commentary on Laozi, and Classic on Laozi’s Conversion of the Barbarians, and the Lingbao Scriptures of the Six Dynasties. He has recently shifted his research to the medieval Buddhist studies and is especially interested in the issue of the ‘Age of Dharmic Decline’. He has published about 110 research articles, book reviews, and translated articles and 6 books and collected volumes. The latest books include Historical Research on the Daoist Guling Baojing in the Six Dynasties (2018) and Research on the History and Scriptures of the Daoism in the Han and Tang Dynasties: Selected Works of Liu Yi (2015).


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