Buddha’s Word: The Life of Books in Tibet and Beyond

28 May 2014 – 17 January 2015
Li Ka Shing Gallery


Buddha’s Word was the first museum exhibition of Tibetan material in Cambridge, and the first time in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s history that its Buddhist collections will be showcased in an exhibition.

Developed in partnership with the Mongolia and Inner Asia Research Unit and with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Frederick Williamson Memorial Fund, Buddha’s Word brought together collections and research from three of the University of Cambridge Museums – the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences and the Fitzwilliam Museum – as well as the University Library and Emmanuel and Pembroke Colleges.


Many of the artefacts, prints and manuscripts in the exhibition had never been on public display before. Exhibits included some of the oldest illuminated Buddhist manuscripts from the first decades of the eleventh century as well as specimens of skillfully illuminated wooden covers; a quartet of scroll paintings brought back from the infamous Younghusband Expedition; and a gift from the 13th Dalai Lama.

The exhibition charted some of the incredible journeys that the words of the Buddha have taken: crossing mountains and oceans and taking different material forms in different places. This was the story of the transformation of Buddha’s words, from palmleaf, to paper, to digital dharma. It focused on books, not just as objects of learning and study, but as relics of the Buddha, and sacred objects in their own right.

You will never look at a book in the same way again.

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