22 Oct 2017

An Eighteenth Century Italian Missionary in Ladakh
I’m just back from Italy where I took part in a conference on Ippolito Desideri (1684-1734), a Jesuit priest who travelled through Ladakh on his way to Lhasa in 1715.

The conference took place in Pistoia, Desideri’s home town, which is in Tuscany, close to Florence. The photograph shows the town as seen from the bell tower next to its cathedral. 

Here is a link to the conference programme:

The convenor was Enzo Gualtiero Bargiacchi, who is also from Pistoia. The image here shows Enzo at the opening session with the mayor of Pistoia, Alessandro Tomasi, on his left; and Maria Stella Rasetti, the director of Biblioteca San Giorgo on his right. Enzo worked tremendously hard to arrange the conference, and I hope that he is delighted with the success of a long-held ambition.

Desideri was a voluminous writer in both Italian and Tibetan. His Italian writings have recently been translated into English by Michael Sweet and Leonard Zwilling. See: http://www.wisdompubs.org/book/mission-tibet/praise.  Even more recently, Donald Lopez and Thupten Jinpa have published extracts from Desideri’s Tibetan works: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674659704 .

Donald Lopez (shown here) spoke about the translation at the conference, and Michael Sweet and Leonard Zwilling sent video presentations with new information about Desideri’s Tibetan adventures drawing on a hitherto unexamined text – his account book.

Other  Italian and international scholars spoke about Desideri’s Jesuit background, his geographical discoveries, and his engagement with Buddhism. My own contribution was a discussion of his journey through Ladakh where he had his first encounter with Tibetan Buddhism, but depended heavily on assistance from Kashmiri Muslim guides. 

The conference proceedings will be published in the Buddhist-Christian Studies journal from the University of Hawaii in 2018.

John Bray