Illuminated manuscripts, like this one of the Buddhist deity Sahasra Pramardini, were only still being made in Nepal during the Indian persecution of Buddhism and consequently Tibet during the mid-ninth century through the start of the eleventh. Illuminated manuscripts like this one helped both Tibetan Buddhist teachers and students bring the famous teachings back to central Tibet.
Buddhism, which flourished when first introduced to Tibet in the middle of the seventh century, experienced a time of decline beginning in the second half of the ninth century continuing through the end of the tenth. This can be attributed to warfare fought among the Tibetan, Uighur Turks, and Chinese that had been brought on by the frequent changing of allies causing great imbalances in political power.[i] These battles, which were often and high in damage and causalities, eventually created a massive financial debt within the Tibetan Empire that fed off the resources that were quickly disappearing. The lack of resources, natural and human, forced Tibet into signing peace treaties with China that ensured the end of “the era of Tibetan expansion in Inner Asia”[ii]. The remaining debt in Tibet, now halted from the profit found in expanding, had nowhere to come to rest except on the Tibetan people themselves. This came in the form of taxation and with no organized system of power, central Tibet collapsed. The debt affected every aspect of Tibetan culture, and even Buddhist monasteries and temples had a major drop in financial support from the government. Previously, historical legends recounted an extremely violent and massive persecution of Buddhism in Tibet stemming from a king who had turned his back on the religion[iii]. However, most historians agree that this is most likely an example of legends being taken to heart and attribute finanical problems as the real cause;
“ It seems possible that the persecution, despite its great importance in later thought, was in essence a withdrawal of funding, no doubt due to a poor current-accounts balance rather than to anti-Buddhist sentiment, that came to be very much exaggerated in its retellings.”[iv]
Image courtesy of Naresh Shakya.