In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Uighur Buddhism

  • Introduction
  • General Surveys
  • Catalogues
  • Facsimile Editions and Digitization
  • Editions of Texts
  • Bibliographies

Buddhism Uighur Buddhism
Peter Zieme
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0197


Uighur Buddhism is based on different traditions. In the earlier period (roughly 9th–10th centuries), Tocharian- and Sogdian-based influences were strong, but in the later period, especially in the Yuan period (13th–14th centuries) Chinese and Tibetan Buddhisms played a larger role. With the shift from Manichaeism to Buddhism around the turn of the millennium, Uighur society became Buddhism-oriented, as can be easily seen in the development of Uighur art. In wall paintings and other art media, a Uighur style developed. Various inscriptions written on stone or wood tell us of newly founded monasteries and the support of high-ranking people, including the royal house, providing us with valuable sources for the study of the history of Old Uighur Buddhism. Special Buddhist schools like the Faxiang School, already well known in the Dunhuang area, exerted their influence among the Buddhists in the West Uighur Kingdom. Cults centered on Avalokiteśvara, Mañjuśrī, or Maitreya existed side by side. Special features of Uighur Buddhism can be seen in a predilection for jātakas and avadānas and in adapting these to their own literary imaginary; in the formation of a widely used confession of sins text; in compositions of doctrinal treatises; and mainly in a large body of poetry that covers all domains of Buddhism. Worth mentioning is the reshaping of the Chinese Meditation sutra on Amitābha Buddha of the Pure Land School from a prose text into an Old Uighur version in verse, which is the only old translation into a non-Chinese language. The translation of the Chinese illustrated sutra on the Ten Kings of the Netherworld into Old Uighur offers another fascinating facet. During the Yuan period Uighur people played a large role in politics, administration, and cultural affairs of the Mongol Empire. Some of them worked as scholars, priests, and writers, including members of the Hanlin Academy, while others were ministers or generals. The West Uighur Kingdom played a prominent role in Central Asia between Song China, Kidan, and Jin (Liao) in the East and other powers in the West headed by the Karahanid Empire.

General Surveys

There exist several short surveys on Old Uighur Buddhist texts mentioned in Elverskog 1997 (see Bibliographies). Gabain 1964 is a good general introduction, while Tekin 1993 discusses problems of book production and literary aspects. Scharlipp 2005 investigates the cultural-historical aspects of Old Uighur literature. Zieme 1992 is an introduction to the philological study of Old Uighur colophons. Kasai 2008 is a comprehensive study of Old Uighur colophons of Buddhist scriptures, providing essential information about the origin and transmission of the discussed scriptures.

  • Gabain, Annemarie von. “Die alttürkische Literatur.” In Philologiae Turcicae Fundamenta II. Edited by Louis Bazin, et al., 211–243. Wiesbaden, Germany: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1964.

    This German essay discusses the general development of Old Turkic literature and includes firsthand information on Old Uighur Buddhist texts known up to that time.

  • Kasai, Yukiyo. Die uigurischen buddhistischen Kolophone. Berliner Turfantexte XXVI. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2008.

    A comprehensive study of the known colophons attached to Uighur Buddhist texts. The author discusses questions of provenance, translators, the contents of the colophons and their dates, and many other problems.

  • Scharlipp, Wolfgang-E. Die alttürkische Literatur: Einführung in das vorislamische Schrifttum. Engelschoff, Germany: Verlag auf dem Ruffel, 2005.

    The author discusses in his essay general questions about Old Turkic literature. He includes a section on Old Uighur Buddhist scriptures and highlights some essential points regarding their importance in the development of Old Turkic culture.

  • Tekin, Şinasi. Eski Türklerde Yazı, Kağıt Ve Kağıt Damgaları. Istanbul: Eren Yayıncılık ve Kitapčılık Ltd. Şti, 1993.

    Written in Turkish, this book concerns writing materials, codicological problems of manuscripts and block prints, book formats, and similar topics. A general outline of the development of the Old Uighur language in the areas of Dunhuang and Turfan is given.

  • Zieme, Peter. Religion und Gesellschaft im Uigurischen Königreich von Qočo. Kolophone und Stifter des alttürkischen buddhistischen Schrifttums aus Zentralasien. Opladen, Germany: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1992.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-322-84378-4

    The author provides a short survey of the Buddhist literature written in Old Uighur from the viewpoint of their involvement in the society of the Old Uighur period.

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