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The Holy Land Reborn

Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India

The Dalai Lama has said that Tibetans consider themselves “the child of Indian civilization” and that India is the “holy land” from whose sources the Tibetans have built their own civilization. What explains this powerful allegiance to India? In The Holy Land Reborn¸ Toni Huber investigates how Tibetans have maintained a ritual relationship to India, particularly by way of pilgrimage, and what it means for them to consider India as their holy land.
Focusing on the Tibetan creation and recreation of India as a destination, a landscape, and a kind of other, in both real and idealized terms, Huber explores how Tibetans have used the idea of India as a religious territory and a sacred geography in the development of their own religion and society. In a timely closing chapter, Huber also takes up the meaning of India for the Tibetans who live in exile in their Buddhist holy land.
A major contribution to the study of Buddhism, The Holy Land Reborn describes changes in Tibetan constructs of India over the centuries, ultimately challenging largely static views of the sacred geography of Buddhism in India.

464 pages | 28 halftones, 15 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Buddhism and Modernity

Religion: South and East Asian Religions


“A fascinating work of scholarship on the Tibetan obsession with the ‘holy land’ of India, at once entertaining and edifying. Even that most stable-seeming of realities, physical location itself, is here shown to be a product of cultural creation. In this case what is more at issue than the Indian subcontinent itself is how the imagination of its Buddhist sacred sites shaped the landscape of Tibetan Buddhism, on the other side of the Himalayas.”

Janet Gyatso, Harvard Divinity School

“It has been repeated endlessly that for Tibetans, India is a ‘holy land,’ the place of origin of their Buddhist faith. Toni Huber has delved behind cliches and slogans and explored the cultural and historical realities of Tibet’s relations with India in the past as well as its present-day transformations. His book is a fascinating contribution to the study of Tibetan Buddhism, and to the history of religions and ideas in Asia in general. He cloaks his erudition in a lucid and eminently readable text, imparting new insights to the reader, counterbalancing prevalent facile and romantic ideas about Tibet.”

Per Kvaerne, University of Oslo, Norway

“The transformation of fluid space into bounded place, with knife-edged and therefore inevitably bloody borders, has been the work of modernity. In this engaging metageography of southern Asian Buddhism, Toni Huber rediscovers another world—India as a Tibetan place—demonstrating the deep, if sometimes confused and contested, connections that Tibetans have reinvented over ten centuries, whether through travel visions, pilgrimages, or exile. He thereby provides an exquisite demonstration of the fact that the certitudes by which people live their lives are as real and consequential as the hard truths of modern science.”

Sheldon Pollock, Columbia University

"This extremely well-researched book will have strong appeal for scholars of Tibet."


"Huber’s sophisticated and nuanced ’study of India as a Tibetan place’ is fascinating, beginning to end. . . . His compelling history of Tibetan perceptions of India and encounters with it highlights their national nostalgia, fascination, and disappointment, refreshingly casting Tibetans as subjects rather than the objects we so often take them to be."

Judith Simmer-Brown | Buddhadharma

"This well-researched and skillfully-written volume will appeal to religion scholars, historians, anthropologists, and anyone interested in how people construct their present meaning out of the hints and memories from the past. . . . It is a brilliant exemplification of the creative imagination that underlies vital religious movements, thereby fortifying Ricoeur’s observation that traditions only manage to remain alive by being reinterpreted."

Derek F. Maher | Religious Studies Review

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Note on Transliteration
Part One: Locating and Dislocating the Land of the Buddha
1   The Shifting Terrain of the Buddha
2   Buddhist Knowledge and Anachronism in Tibet 
3   Journeying to the Centre of the World
4   Tantric Buddhist India and Its Tibetan Appropriation  
Part Two: Reinventing the Holy Land in India
5   Nirvanain Assam 
6   Return to the Centre of the World 
7   The Allure of the Atsaras                                                                        
8   The Precious Guru in the Punjab   
Part Three: Modern Rebirths of the Holy Land
9    Archaeological and Discursive Rebirths of Buddhist India       
10  Encountering the Modern Holy Land 
11  Exile in the Land of the Buddha


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