Current Research Projects
Prof. Dr. Dieter Schuh (Editor):
Contributions to the History of the Tibetan Calendar, Tibetan Astronomy and Sino-Tibetan Divination
The first four volumes are forthcoming: Click here for more information.
Modern research on the Tibetan Calendar started in 1834 with the first explanation of the Tibetan sexagenary cycle by Alexander Csoma de Körós. Unfortunately Csoma de Körós wrongly fixed the first year of the first Rab-´byung-cycle as 1026 instead of 1027. This mistake passed unnoticed for almost 80 years with the consequence, that many dates given by historians according to the Western calender were wrong by one year.
Almost 80 years later Paul Pelliot published in 1913 his outstanding article Le Cycle Sexagénaire dans la chronologie Tibétaine, in which he corrected this mistake. Shortly afterwards Bertold Laufer confirmed this discovery (The Application of the Tibetan Sexagenary Cycle). Nevertheless many problems of computing Tibetan dates into Western time-reckoning remained unsolved and the principal structures of the Tibetan calendrical systems were completely unknown. On one hand the beginning of the Tibetan year is not only different from the new-year in the Western calendar. It changes every year and the exact reasons for these varations remained unknown. The same held true for the problem of intercalary months in the Tibetan calendar and for the fact, that sometimes days were omitted or extra days inserted.
More than 50 years after Pelliot´s and Laufer´s articles three scholars suddenly showed new interest in the problems of the Tibetan astronomy and calendrical calculations. The first one was Winfried Petri, who was an experienced astronomer. He studied Sanskrit and Tibetan under Helmut Hoffman and submitted in 1966 under the title "Indo-tibetische Astronomie" his second thesis to the Faculty of Natural Sciences of Munich-University. Copies of this thesis were distributed widly among many scholars and are still available in several libraries. But the thesis was never published properly. Additionally Petri published several articles about his research on the astronomy of the Kalacakratantra. Petri's main interest was the history of astronomy. The special problems of the Tibetan calendar were not solved by him. His results are even nowadays very valuable.
In 1967 Dieter Schuh, at that time a young student of mathematics and physics at Cologne University, was send by Prof. Walther Heissig and Prof. Klaus-Ludwig Janert to Dharmsala (India) in order to study Tibetan mathematics, astronomy and calendrical calculations. As a result he published from 1970 onwards several articles on Tibetan arithmetic, astronomy, calendrical calculations and Sino-Tibetan divination (nag-rtsis). His thesis "Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der tibetischen Kalenderrechnung" was published 1973 and contained among others detailed computer-tables for the conversion of dates from the Tibetan calendar into dates of our Western system of time. Although one thousand copies were printed at that time, this book is now out of print for more than 15 years. When Dieter Schuh started his work he was fully aware of Petri's research. Dieter Schuh's research revealed, that during the last thousand years several schools of calendrical und astronomical traditions were established in Tibet. This resulted in the usage of different calendars in different parts of the country at different times. Insofar the conversion Tibetan dates into Western time reckoning is even to-day not an easy task.
Completely independend from Winfried Petri and Dieter Schuh the Japanese scholar Zuiho Yamaguchi published in 1973 in Japanese language a rather small but highly important article on the Tibetan calendar. He describes very correctly the basic principles of the Tibetan calendrical calculations. Later on Zuiho Yamaguchi published three more articles on this subject (one in Japanese and two in English). The last one, published 1992, deals with the problem of computing of intercalary month and deserves special attention.
In 2005 the Taiwanese scholar Te-ming Tseng published his thesis on Sino-Tibetan divination (Sino-tibetische Divinationskalkulationen (Nag-rtsis)). The book is especially important for the understanding of the Tibetan Calendar as the calculations of the Sino-tibetan divinations play an important role for the construction of the calendar system in Tibet.
Although the Tibetan calendar is of outstanding importance for scholars in the field of Tibetan history, there is an amazing deficit of attention to the results of the research work of Winfried Petri, Dieter Schuh und Zuiho Yamaguchi. The tables of Dieter Schuh for the conversion of Tibetan dates were frequently used, but this usage lacked any critical approach. There was a strong hope that the increasing number of studies on Tibetan biographies and Tibetan histories would lead to a collection of calendrical datas und further discussions, but this hope was, obviously due to lack of interest, never fulfilled.
For this reason the IITBS decided to start a project of new research on the special problems of the Tibetan calendar.
As the first stepp we will publish the relevant contributions of Pelliot (French), Laufer (English), Petri (German and Englisch) , Schuh (German), Yamaguchi (Japanese with German translation and English) und Tseng (German) in one volume. This edition will be furnished with an extensive glossary of Tibetan terms on calendar, astronomy and Sino-tibetan divination. We plan to provide an introduction about the history of the Tibetan calendar and its principles. We hope that this introduction will be understandable also for the general reader.
As the second step we plan to publish the most important Tibetan scources on calendrical calculations together with a German translation. Here we are also planning to provide a collection of calendrical data-material from available Tibetan histories and biographies.