Lecture “Bringing Buddha Down to Earth: Celebrating Śākyamuni’s Life in Mogao Cave 61 in Dunhuang”, by Christoph Anderl at Foguang Univesity, May 30, 2024

Centre for Buddhist Studies of Fo Guang University welcomes a guest lecturer from Ghent University in Belgium, who gives a talk about his research on Śākyamuni’s Life in Mogao Cave 61 in Dunhuang. Professor Christoph Anderl is a linguist specializing in classical Chinese and an expert in Dunhuang studies, particularly in textual studies.

Mogao Cave 61 is the main subject of today’s talk. The uniqueness of this cave lies in the wall painting representing a map of Wutai Mountain (五台山) instead of the Buddhist motifs typically found in other caves. Another highlight of this cave is the depiction of Śākyamuni’s life painted on the room’s bedrock, which includes captions containing Chinese texts from the 佛本行集經 (Sūtra of Buddha’s Life).

In the presentation, Professor Anderl begins with a visual tour of Cave 61 using a 3D reconstruction from the Digital Dunhuang website and introduces the basic information about this cave. Cave 61 was commissioned by Cao Yuan Zhong (曹元忠), an official of the Dunhuang area, for family use. The donors’ figures are painted at the entrance, including Cao Yuan Zhong, his wife, and their family members, mostly female.

The panels depicting Śākyamuni’s life in the cave cover stories from Buddha’s birth to his death. Unlike the common representation of Buddha’s life through the eight junctures (八相成道), much of the content focuses on Buddha’s princely life. It appears that the donors of this cave were particularly interested in Buddha’s life in the palace.

Professor Anderl then presents the texts written in the captions alongside the 佛本行集經, using two examples from panel 13, which describes the selection of Buddha’s stepmother, and panel 28, which describes Sujata’s offering of milk porridge. Comparisons between the Chinese text in the Taisho Canon and the captions show that the authors of the captions deliberately abbreviated the text with shorter key phrases to create a condensed version for storytelling within limited space. This condensation slightly changes the emphasis of the story and alters its understanding in a different way.

This finding leads to a discussion between Professor Hsin-Yi Lin and Professor Anderl regarding whether the authors intended to manipulate the original text and create a new reading material, effectively ending the presentation with many potential research questions.

GCBS Research Forum meeting, May 27, 2024, presentations by Jiahang Yu and Massimiliano Portoghese

On March 27, 2024, two talks for the Research Forum were given by Ph.D. students Yu Jiahang于佳航 and Massimiliano Portoghese who presented parts of their ongoing research projects at the Ghent Centre for Buddhist Studies. Please find the relevant details below:

Yu Jiahang’s talk:

  • Working Title: “A Linguistic Study of the Funeral Address for a Donkey in Dunhuang manuscript Or.8210/S.1477.”
  • Summary: The Dunhuang manuscript Or.8210/S.1477, titled Jilüwen yishou 祭驢文一首 (Funeral Address for a Donkey), was written by a frustrated and impoverished scholar during the late Tang dynasty and served as a tribute to his recently deceased donkey. The text adopts a semi-vernacular style remarkable for this period and genre, containing many colloquial words and phrases, thereby ensuring its accessibility to contemporary readers. This study examines S.1477 from multiple linguistic perspectives, including genre features, syntactic constructions, as well as the author’s use of classical allusions.
  • Context: The presentation is based on ongoing research that will eventually be presented at the EACS conference. Since Jiahang also aims to submit her paper for publication in the future, she would like to discuss aspects related to the structure of her presentation and article. In addition, she will introduce similar materials from Dunhuang to make connections with her larger research project.


Massimiliano Portoghese’s talk:

  • Working Title: “Why Did Śramaņas Take the Tonsure? Perceptions and Symbolism of Hairstyles in Ancient and Early Medieval China.”
  • Summary: This talk examines the symbolic and social significance of hair in pre-Buddhist China to enhance our understanding of the Buddhist-Confucian disputes during the Six Dynasties period regarding the practice of monastics shaving their heads.
  • Context: The presentation is based on ongoing research that will eventually be presented at the EACS conference. However, the talk is not meant as a mock talk in preparation for the venue. Instead, Massimiliano will try to show the material that he has collected so far and the new research paths he intends to address. He also intends to submit his paper for publication in the future.

Guest lecture “Dreaming of Buddhahood—Measuring Bodhisattva Progress in Early Mahāyāna” by Yixiu Jiang, May 16, 2024

A guest lecture by Yixiu JIANG of Leiden University will take place on May 16 at 14:30 in Meeting Room Camelot (3.30), Campus Boekentoren, Blandij. The lecture is ogranized by GCBS’s Professor Charles DiSimone.

Title: Dreaming of Buddhahood—Measuring Bodhisattva Progress in Early Mahāyāna

Abstract: The gradual progress toward liberation—the path (mārga)—constitutes a central concern for almost all Buddhist discourse. The bodhisattva path, intended for those who aspire to buddhahood, is commonly presented within a scheme of ten stages or bhūmis. While most scriptures on the ten bhūmis describe a bodhisattva’s progress in terms of his virtues, one unique sūtra—the *Svapnanirdeśa (lit. “Teaching on Dreams”)—instructs bodhisattvas how to determine their current developmental stage through 108 kinds of dreams. This presentation will approach the concept of the bodhisattva bhūmis in early Mahāyāna from the new perspective that the Svapnanirdeśa provides.



GCBS Research Forum meeting, April 29, 2024, presentation by Nguyễn Khuông Hồng Ngọc

The meeting of the GCBS’s Research Forum took place on April 29, 2024. Our Ph.D. student Nguyễn Khuông Hồng Ngọc (a.k.a. Ruby) presented a draft paper of a research project submitted for consideration to the European Association for Chinese Studies (EACS) 25th Biennial Conference 2024 in Tallinn, and which will lay the groundwork for her Ph.D. dissertation. The working title of Ruby’s paper is as follows:

“Practical Learning (實學) and Its Influence on Educational Transformation in Eighteenth-Century Vietnam.”

Ruby’s primary objectives were: (1) to elucidate the mechanisms and resources through which Practical Learning was introduced to Vietnam, and (2) to elaborate on how Vietnamese confucians, on the basis of Practical Learning, criticized and transformed the state of education in the eighteenth century. She will focus on Lê Quý Đôn 黎貴惇 (1726–1784) who is at the center of her research, and try to bring an overall understanding about the context of education in eighteenth-century Vietnam.

PhD opportunity at the Ghent Centre for Buddist Studies

We are hiring! A four year doctoral fellowship is available in the European Research Council funded Gandhāra Corpora project led by Professor Charles DiSimone.

Please consider applying or sharing this with any recent MA graduates who are looking to continue their academic career in Buddhist Studies with a focus on Buddhist texts in classical languages. The fellow will join a great and welcoming team of international scholars. The application deadline is May 24. For further information and application guidelines, please visit the website of the Ghent University.

Titled “Corpora in Greater Gandhāra: Tracing the Development of Buddhist Textuality and Gilgit/Bamiyan Manuscript Networks in the First Millennium of the Common Era”, Professor Di Simone’s project centers on the study of large, recently discovered caches of highly significant early Buddhist manuscripts and their place in the body of works from Greater Gandhara. The philological, paleographical, codicological, and critical research conducted in this project will examine textual and material production, transmission, and relationship networks in the Buddhist manuscript cultures of Greater Gandhara and beyond in the first millennium of the Common Era.

GCBS research group previews exhibition at the Royal Museum of Mariemont, March 5, 2024

Members of our research group traveled to the Royal Museum of Mariemont, in order to preview the objects and design of an exhibition on Buddha’s life which will open in the end of September 2024.

GCBS is co-curating the exhibition, and also co-organises a large conference on Buddha’s life narratives taking place in October at the museum. Leading scholars in the field from all over the world have already applied for this conference and soon we will publish a tentative programme.

GCBS is also responsible for the content of the “research room” of the exhibition in which ongoing projects at GCBS will be introduced to a general public, with the help of multi-media installations. Some of our MA interns are currently helping to realise this project. Prof. Christoph Anderl is coordinating the work on the research room which will focus – among other topics – on the Bangkok fieldwork to Chinese temples in collaboration with FROGBEAR, and the international project “Database of Medieval Chinese Texts”. Prof. Ann Heirman is contributing to the catalogues of the exhibition, introducing the main events in Buddha’s life.


Our group approached the museum through the wonderful park that surrounds it and hosts, among else, a magnificent Buddha statue.



Dr. Lyce Jankowski, the curator of the exhibition, with her assistant Lara Bauden, welcomed GCBS team at the museum.



Dr. Jankowski proceeded to introduce the general layout of the exhibition through a virtual preview.


GCBS researchers examined in detail the objects which will be integrated in the exhibition.


After the preview, members of GCBS raised ideas concerning the conceptualisation of the exhibition and presentation of the objects.

Our MA student Zhou Zhichen to pursue a PhD in Princeton

Zhou Zhichen, student of our program “Master of Arts in Oriental Languages and Cultures — Main Subject China”, has been admitted to the Princeton University’s PhD program. At Ghent, she was conducting research under the guidance of the GCBS’s Christoph Anderl. Her area of study is medieval Chinese history and Buddhist studies. Based on Dunhuang manuscripts, she explores cultural and political memory, imagery and identity of prominent families who lived in Dunhuang during the 8th and 9th centuries. Zhichen published a paper in the European Journal of Sinology and received the 2023 Young Scholar Award of the World Association for Chinese Studies.

Professor Charles DiSimone awarded an ERC Starting Grant


In the last several years, fantastic manuscript finds have surfaced opening new windows into the scholarly study of the development of Buddhist literature. Gandhāra Corpora represents a multifaceted, holistic approach to the study of an important and voluminous genre of manuscript witnesses from an early era of Buddhist textual transmission composed mainly in Sanskrit in the Gilgit/Bamiyan type scripts from the historic region of Greater Gandhāra covering modern day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of Northern India. This project centers on the study of large, recently discovered caches of highly significant early Buddhist manuscripts and their place in the body of works from Greater Gandhāra. The philological, paleographical, codicological, and critical research conducted in this project will examine textual and material production, transmission, and relationship networks in the Buddhist manuscript cultures of Greater Gandhāra and beyond in the first millennium of the Common Era.

Lectures & Workshops Series by Dr. Lia Wei 魏離雅, February and March 2020

Dr. Lia Wei (Lecturer in Archaeology & Museum Studies, School of History, Renmin University, China) will give a series of lectures and workshops supported by the Tianzhu Foundation and Ghent University. The program includes the following topics: landscape painting, ink art, antiquarianism and seal carving. The program is concluded by a lecture on Song dynasty gardens given by Ms. Salome Foltin (University of Tübingen).  All lectures and workshops will take place at the interfaculty study center VANDENHOVE (Rozier 1, 9000 Ghent). Admission is free but for the workshops registration is required. For further inquiries please contact Mathieu.Torck@UGent.be.


1. Landscape painting lecture: “Reading and writing the landscape: from physical to literary perceptions”

Venue: Auditorium Vandenhove

Tuesday, February 11, 2020: 1–4 pm

• Topics: conceptual, pictorial and written landscapes

• Discussion: Drawing and Writing

2. Ink art workshop: “Find your way between nature and culture” (registration required!)

Venue: Workshop Room Vandenhove

Monday, February 17, 2020: 4–6 pm

• Session 1: Landscape Analysis & Construction

Tuesday, February 18, 2020: 2–4 pm

• Session 2: Beyond Classification

Tuesday, February 18, 2020: 4–6 pm

• Session 3: Texture Lines & Calligraphic Portraits

3. Antiquarianism lecture: “Future in the Past: printing and carving before and after writing”

Venue: Auditorium Vandenhove

Tuesday, February 25, 2020: 5–6 pm

4. Seal carving workshop: “Connect sign and matter in three steps” (registration required!)

Venue: Workshop Room Vandenhove

Monday, March 2, 2020: 3–6 pm

• Session 1: Etymological Research and Calligraphic Models

Tuesday, March 3, 2020: 3–6 pm

• Session 2: Carving and Printing

5. Lecture by Salome Foltin (M.A. Department of Chinese Studies, University of Tübingen): “The Literati’s Pastime: Visual Renderings of Sima Guang’s 司馬光 (1019-1086) Garden in Ming Dynasty”

Venue: Auditorium Vandenhove

Tuesday, March 3, 2020: 6–7 pm


Special Guest Lecture “The Uneven Terrain of Gender and Diversity: The View from the Humanities” by Natasha Heller

A Hot Topic Lecture part of the Doctoral School “Women and Nuns in Chinese Buddhism”

By Natasha Heller, Associate Professor of Chinese Religions, University of Virginia

June 6, 2019; 19:00-21:00

Ghent university, Auditorium P (Zaal Jozef Plateau), Campus Boekentoren. Map


Despite oft-expressed commitments to diversity, American institutions of higher learning remain centered on white men.  If we agree that the academy would better serve its purpose with a more diverse faculty, how is such an aim achieved?  In this talk I will consider how we talk about gender, diversity, and inclusion, and what these terms mean for different stages and dimensions of academic life.  Through case studies of the disciplines of Religious Studies and Asian Studies, I will consider how the issues of gender and diversity vary in different fields of study—and what this might teach us about the challenges of transforming the academy into a more inclusive space.


Natasha Heller is a scholar of Chinese Religions, currently working on contemporary Buddhist children’s literature. At the University of Virginia, she chaired the Faculty Senate committee on Diversity and Inclusion this year. She is also a founder of the website Women in the Study of Asian Religions (wisar.info), which seeks to address the gender imbalance at conferences and lecture series. But, as she notes, her real qualification is being the only woman in the room on too many occasions.

This lecture was co-sponsored by the Tianzhu Foundation.