Institutional Repository

Indo-Tibetan Buddhist literature



Pāsādika, Bhikkhu










Indo-Tibetan Buddhist literature is a vast field so that it is unavoidable for a feasible treatment of the present topic to drastically limit the scope of literature to pieces of writing valued as works of art, viz. to plays and poetry, including, however, technical works of poetics.

Although the ´five branches of science´ which a Bodhisattva is required to master, do not include poetics and the art of creating metrical compositions, right from the origins of Buddhism poetry has been playing an important role. Three reasons for its importance are given: 1) Poetry seemed best suited to convey supramundane experiences of enlightened persons such as, for example, the historical Buddha’s ´solemn utterances´. 2) Through the ages, poetry has been considered an excellent means to propagate Buddhist teachings. 3) Composing poetry has a soteriological dimension. The teaching of two levels of truth is a common thread – first implicitly and later on explicitly – running through the whole fabric of Buddhist thought; it implies practice and insight in accordance with absolute and conventional truth as being prerequisite to the realization of ultimate release. The indispensable counterpart of teachings at the level of absolute truth are devotion, benevolence and compassion, most adequately conveyed by means of hymns in praise of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas and encomiums of Bodhicitta.

Six categories bearing on the present theme are briefly introduced, and with the help of quotations it is attempted in a heuristic manner to highlight the salient features pertaining to each of them: to 1) hymnic literature, 2) epistolary literature, 3) narrative literature, 4) dramas, 5) Indian poetics and their Tibetan reception, and 6) autochthonous Tibetan poetry.

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