Thesis ID: CBB041789676

Topics on the History of Tibetan Astronomy with a Focus on Background Knowledge of Eclipse Calculations in the 18th Century (2016)


The eclipse calculations in Tibet feature religious implications. One religious issue is Buddhist chronology (bstan rtsis). With Kālacakra calculational bases, Tibetan Kālacakra astronomers have tried to synchronize with the Buddhist texts, stating that the Buddha’s enlightenment occurred during a lunar eclipse of the full moon. The concept is called “backward calculation” ( yar log gi rtsis). Another religious issue is the rite of posadha (gso sbyong). At some point in Tibet, the idea of ūnarātra (zhag mi thub) in the Abhidharma literature was used to argue the accuracy of the weekday (gza’ ) value of the skar rtsis for the performance of gso sbyong . However, the decision of the accurate day for the gso sbyong during the 18th century Amdo became an issue. At stake was the conjunction with the occurrence of the solar eclipses, whose dates occasionally matched up with the Qing Chinese calendar, not with the skar rtsis calendar. Upon these cases, one of the possible solutions was to perform gso sbyong in conformity with region (yul bstun gso sbyong) according to the Chinese date. Under the situation that an eclipse is closely tied to the religious chronology and practice, Tibetan astronomers made great efforts to produce the eclipse calculation results which were in accordance with direct experience (mngon sum). However, they have been confronted with the incongruity between their calculations and the real phenomena of an eclipse. Inevitably, the non-Kālacakra methods and knowledge, including observation, empirical data, debates, criticism, research into other traditions, etc. have been incorporated into the skar rtsis system based upon the Kālacakra. Technically, adding a correction (nur ster), the correction of residual (rtsis ’phro), the correction of a Great Conjunction at the zero point (stong chen ’das lo), etc., within the conceptual and methodological framework of the Kālacakra , have been used to tally calculations with the real phenomena of an eclipse. Also, the non-Kālacakra Chinese Lixiang kaocheng system (later known as Mā yang rgya rtsis), which was based upon modern geometric and trigonometric knowledge, was used.

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Authors & Contributors
Ben-Dov, Jonathan
Harkness, Deborah
Meeks, Lori
Wood, Jonathan Kevin
Magini, Leonardo
McCluskey, Stephen Clement
Ziran Kexueshi Yanjiu (Studies in the History of Natural Sciences)
Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage
Journal for the History of Astronomy
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Suhayl: Journal for the History of the Exact and Natural Sciences in Islamic Civilisation
L'Erma di Bretschneider
University of Texas Press
Duke University Press
University of Southern California
Astronomical chronology
Eclipses; transits; occultations; conjunctions
Science and religion
Aflah, Yabir ibn al
Liu Hong
Time Periods
17th century
19th century
16th century
18th century
Middle and Near East

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