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Stele carved with the Six-Syllable Mantra at Mogao Caves


(Please click for enlarged image)

      


8th year of the Zhizheng reign, Yuan dynasty (1348)
 

Inscribed across the top (from right to left) of the stele are the three characters denoting Mogao Caves. The carving on the remaining surface of the stele comprises three sections. 1) The centre features an engraved image of the Four-Armed Avalokiteśvara, very likely associated with Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism. 2) Above and on the sides of this image are the Six-Syllable Mantra — Om Mani Padme Hum — rendered in six different languages, namely Sanskrit script, Tibetan script, Han Chinese script, Tangut script, Phagspa-Mongol script and Uighur script. The Six-Syllable Mantra is the exclusive mantra of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. It is frequently chanted and worshipped by followers of Tibetan Buddhism in the hope of liberating from transmigration and suffering. 3) The sides and the lower part of the stele are inscribed with the names of donors and individuals involved in the related merit-gaining activity. Included in the names are the Lord of Xining and his family members, local officials and monks. All the non-Han names have been rendered into Han Chinese. This reflects that Buddhism still thrived in Dunhuang by the Yuan dynasty, with believers from different ethnic groups.

The principal donor of this stele was Suleiman, who was Lord of Xining and ruler of Shazhou. He was the eighth-generation descendant of Tolui, fourth son of Genghis Khan. This stele was probably established in association with religious activities participated by both the Buddhist clergy and the lay community to drive away evils and disasters through a series of mass rituals in Tibetan Buddhism.