The Tibetan Chan Manuscripts

Cove: The Tibetan Chan Manuscripts Papers on Central Eurasia No. 41, Sam van Schaik, The Tibetan Chan Manuscripts: A Complete Descriptive Catalogue of Tibetan Chan Texts in the Dunhuang Manuscript Collections.
The Sinor Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, ISBN 2333-648X 100 pp. 2014, $18 paper, $5 pdf.

The author, Sam van Schaik, describes his book as follows:

‘Tibetan Chan Manuscripts is a catalogue of the Tibetan Chan texts found in the Dunhuang manuscript collections. The catalogue discusses 42 manuscripts, many of which are compendia containing several Chan texts. I’ve included some previously unknown Chan manuscripts (including the one on the cover) and put together some manuscripts that had been separated between the London and Paris collections. I’ve also looked at writing styles, both to date manuscripts and to suggest when two or more might have been written by the same person. The catalogue also has an introduction to the Tibetan Chan manuscripts and previous scholarship on them, plus an index of titles in Tibetan, Chinese and Sanskrit.’

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I have to admit to getting a bit of a buzz when I got this book for review. Those of us who follow Sam van Schaik’s blog Early Tibet have enjoyed his translations and comments on the Dunhuang manuscripts for quite a while. His translations range from the Tibetan debate on Indian versus Chinese Chan Buddhism to one of my favourites about Silk Road phrase books. He has the knack of bringing these subjects alive.

Tibetan Chan Manuscripts @ The British Library

My Tibetan mates all seem so confident, and a bit smug, when we have a chat about the famous Indian Buddhism versus Chinese Chan debate. They are convinced that the Chinese completely lost the debate and that it was a coincidence that Dzogchen (Rdzogs chen) arose so soon after the Chinese where forced to leave Tibet, ignoring the fact that it is remarkably like Chan. Apart from some comments on this by some early translators, there has been no real study of this until Mr van Schaik began to post his translations and thoughts on his blog Early Tibet. And now we have a comprehensive catalogue of all the Chan texts found in the Dunhuang caves.

Tibetan Chan Manuscripts @ The British Library

These manuscripts give us a snapshot of the early Chan tradition from the eighth and tenth centuries, plus the only surviving texts of a living and distinct Tibetan Chan tradition which appears to have developed its own character incorporating elements of Tantric Buddhism.

The Tibetan Chan texts included in this volume cover a wide range of Chan and Buddhist teachings from Manjushri’s Altruistic Questions to Brahma, to the Brief Precepts [Lung chung], which is a short Chan treatise on the method of looking at one’s mind (rang gi sems la bltas).

As well as a full catalogue of Chan texts, this volume has a highly informative introduction, a map, a drawing of the ‘walled up’ chapel in cave 17 (which was found by Aurel Stein). The volume also includes a few very beautiful photographs of manuscripts and scrolls.



Individual pdf copies are available for just $5.00. Go on treat yourself!

For details of how to order a copy (physical or pdf) click here or email


Categories: Book reviews, Buddhism, Chan / Seon / Zen, eBooks, Encyclopedia, History, Tibetan

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1 reply

  1. I have been practising mindfulness meditation and I must say it has changed me for the better. I was not a nice person my ego ruled me I was very possessive. Learning to let go set me free. I also suffered post dramatic stress from having a very abusive childhood. Meditation and Buddhism is now showing me the road I should of taken in my youth. My mental health plummeted 5 years ago I couldn’t see a way out suicide was on my mind constantly and to top it all off my physical health took a dive my gullet closed up completely i am sure it was the daily stress. Now I meditate and do yoga at least 4 times a week and I feel like a new man. I only hope others that like me took the wrong path learn about Buddhism meditation and yoga as I am sure they will find solace a peace of mind.


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