Exploring the Dunhuang Sutra Cave Riddle

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.3, 2021


Exploring the Dunhuang Sutra Cave Riddle



Zhang Yongquan, Luo Mujun and Zhu Ruoxi


The Sutra Cave documents in the Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes is one of the most important discoveries in the scholarly history of modern China. However, the reasons for the closure of the cave and the nature of those documents remain unsolved. The Buddhist scriptures in the cave are mainly composed of remnant scrolls, and the collection is closely related to the restoration activity of Buddhist scriptures managed by Daozhen (道真)a monk from Sanjie (三界) Temple located in the Mogao Grottoes. Around the fifth year (934) of Changxing in Late Tang dynasty, Daozhen, who later served as the Dusenglu (都僧录) of Dunhuang, began a large-scale restoration of the Buddhist scriptures. The Sutra Cave is simply the Gujing Chu (故经处), or the place where Daozhen gathered the restoration materials. The Gujing Chu is totally different from the Cangjing Chu (藏经处) of the Sanjie Temple, where the Tripitaka was collected. Daozhen gathered old and discarded Buddhist scriptures from the temples in Dunhuang, with the aim of “restoring the beginnings and ends.” Those Buddhist scriptures that had been restored and supplemented in complete sets were put into the Tripitaka collection, while the remaining fragments or copies remained in the Gujing Chu as restoration materials and became the real source of the Sutra Cave documents. The closure of the Sutra Cave may relate to the termination of Daozhen’s restoration work.