Manuscripts and Writing in Buddhist Monasteries: New Discoveries and Research

Thu., Aug. 21st, 09:00-12:30 | Fri., Aug. 22nd, 09:00-15:30

Manuscript Growth and Episodic Composition: Commentaries and Avadānas in Early South Asia

Baums, Stefan (University of Munich, Munich, GER)

Some early Indian manuscripts contain texts – verse anthologies with and without commentary, collections of story sketches – that appear to have been conceived and written not in a single sitting, but periodically added to following a logic that was dictated by text‐external factors. Tell‐tale signs are lack of textual continuity between sections, changes in the style of writing from one section to the next, and in some cases physical additions to the manuscript to add more sections than originally anticipated. Early texts in this genre of ‘episodic compositions’ share the property of concise and sometimes elliptical expression, but some (typically commentarial texts) are written very carefully and were apparently intended to be used more than once, while others (typically story sketches) are written in untidy hands and contain many mistakes. This paper will consider the possible text‐external factors influencing these types of episodic composition (for example liturgical or educational settings) and their interaction with oral modes of textuality by drawing on comparable uses of writing in modern Buddhist monastic environments, and it will trace the fixation of material from episodic and casual manuscripts in classical works of Buddhist scholasticism and narrative literature.



Secular Uses of Writing in Buddhist Monasteries in Kucha

Ching, Chao-jung (Turfanforschung, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin, GER)

The region of Kucha (Xinjiang, China) is well known for Buddhist grottoes, mural paintings and Buddhist texts written in Sanskrit and Kuchean (Tocharian B). Numerous fragments of secular texts, especially monastic accounts of expenditure and income, were also discovered in the ruins of Buddhist monasteries. In this paper, I will try to generalize the properties and the features of the materials written in Kuchean. The documents written in local Prākrit (i.e. the so-called “Kučā-Prākrit” or “Kučā-Gāndhārī) as well as the ones written in other languages found in Chinese Turkestan will also be treated for comparison. Attention will be paid on economic activities and monastic administration in the local monasteries by a brief reflection of the studies of the economic law in Vinaya texts.


Dhāraṇī Translations and the Shifting Ritual Text

Davidson, Ronald (Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT, USA)

Several dhāraṇī translations into Chinese, attributed to the Liang period (502-557 CE) show a marked difference to all known recensions of the texts. This is especially true of the various recensions of the Saptabuddhaka-dhāraṇī and the *Mūlyamantra (T.1007), both relatively elaborate Mahāyāna mantra texts. In both instances, the earliest translation is the most extensive, in contradiction to the normative supposition of Indological textual criticism. A comparison of the *Mūlyamantra with the approximately contemporaneous Gilgit fragments demonstrate that the Indian monk bringing the text to China employed the manuscript as a place holder for a series of ritual pericope, variable in structure, application and language as needed. The paper will examine the relationship of the mudrā section of the Gilgit manuscript to the anonymous Liang translation, and the translations of Bodhiruci II (706 CE), Amoghavajra, and the Tibetan, to demonstrate that at least some fifth to seventh century manuscripts were employed as prompts or mnemonic rubrics to include greater or lesser related material, dependent on genre. In this regard, they demonstrate that the critical observations of Herman Gunkel and his followers in form and redaction criticism may be extended to Buddhist texts, particularly ritual or liturgical works. Consequently, when we examine the Sitz im Leben of dhāraṇī ritual texts, we see genre relations to other ritual texts outside of Buddhism, particularly the vidhāna, pariśiṣṭa, and śeṣa later appendices of the gṛhyasūtras.

Paper, People, and Prayers: A Community of Scribes and Editors Copying the Tibetan Aparimitāyur-nāma Sūtra at Dunhuang

Doney, Lewis (LMU, München, GER)

Fujieda Akira already noted in 1969 that ‘a copying office on a very large scale was established at Tunhuang under Tibetan rule in the first half of the ninth century’ (“The Tunhuang Manuscripts: A General Description. Part II.” Zinbun 11: 36). This presentation offers a glimpse into the fascinating world of that copying office, through the colophons of the texts copied there, as well as related documents concerning the economy of paper, copying religious works, and their relations with the Tibetan empire just before its collapse.

Understanding the inner workings and output of this copying office is incredibly important to gain an insight into the Tibetan imperium at the time, its links with other countries, and adoption of Buddhism. Yet despite this, and the fact that texts created by this office form by far the majority of the Tibetan documents at Dunhuang, these important sources have received little attention since Fujieda’s general description.

Brandon Dotson (Munich), Duojie Dongzhi (Lanzhou) and I have recently begun a major systematic investigation of one group of texts copied in Dunhuang during the early ninth century— the Aparimitāyur-nāma Sūtra. This research has been carried out with access to primary material held at the British Library, London. It uncovers the relationship between scribes and editors of thousands of copies of religious texts (primarily the Aparimitāyur-nāma Sūtra, but also the Śatasāhasrikā-prajñapāramitā Sūtra). These groups of copyists consisted of both monks and laymen, working in a fluid structural hierarchy to complete this huge undertaking as a ‘gift’ for the Tibetan emperor, Khri gTsug lde brtsan (r. 815–841). The investigation also reveals a practice of supplanting the names of the actual scribes with those of other people, perhaps as a means of the real scribes to loan, barter, or perhaps “sell” copies to other scribes.

We have located the names of scribes in other, contemporary Tibetan texts, which further evidence the economy of paper present at Dunhuang. These documents show how important and potentially lucrative the work of this copy house was for those in the areas surrounding Dunhuang. The same texts also demonstrate the high price that would be paid (either literally or metaphorically in a form of punishment) for falling behind in this work or losing the precious paper that formed the basis for this economy.

Such indications of economic concerns among the scribes of the copying house are born out in the colophons to the Aparimitāyur-nāma Sūtra. However, these colophons also contain religious sentiments, such as invocation of Buddhist deities and prayers for the long life of the Tibetan emperor. These act as a counterbalance to the above concerns, suggesting a more complex cultural dynamic present within the copying project than a mere calculating acquiescence to imperial decree out of a desire for economic gain. A more nuanced account of the daily life of this copying house is necessary, which could be fruitfully compared to other major copying projects, such as in Tang China, to properly contextualize Asian scribal culture in this period.


Colophons, Scraps, Jottings, and the Law: The Context of the Tibetan Emperor’s Sūtra-Copying Project, Dunhuang, c. 820-840

Dotson, Brandon (Institute für Indologie und Tibetologie, München, GER)

In the 820s the Tibetan emperor Khri Gtsug lde brtsan (reigned 815–841) commissioned the production of thousands of copies of the Aparimitāyur-nāma mahāyāna-sūtra (AN) in both Tibetan and Chinese, and hundreds of copies of the Tibetan Śatasahasrika-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra (SP) and the Chinese Mahā-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra (MP). The purpose for doing so is alluded to in administrative documents, in a rock inscription in eastern Tibet, and in impromptu prayers and jottings in the sūtras themselves. The sūtras were meant to generate wisdom and merit so that the Tibetan emperor, and all beings, might attain enlightenment by seeing, hearing, and worshipping them. As such, we may approach the copying and commissioning of these sūtras – particularly the AN – as a ritual act in the context of the Buddhist cult of the book. In doing so, we gain some insight into the ritual and karmic economy in the late Tibetan Empire, and the place of the king in relation to the ritual act.

Additionally, however, these documents allow us a glimpse at the ritual actors who produced these sūtra copies. From their names and titles we know that the scribes and editors were Chinese and Tibetans, monks and laymen. Apart from the execution of their copying duties, and their loans of paper to one another, we gain a sense of who the scribes and editors were by looking at their jottings and at the scraps of paper they used in order to patch damaged sūtras. Many of the sūtra folia that come down to us are discards rejected by the editors. On these folia we occasionally find jottings – flights of fancy penned around the edges and in the margins of the copied sūtra. The contents of the jottings – whether or not they reflect the wandering of the scribe’s mind amid the devotional or mechanical practice of copying sūtras – tell us about the scribes’ social milieu and about their interests. In these jottings we find, for example, proverbs, and a verse from the Rāmāyaṇa about Sita’s beauty. More prosaically, on the verso of rejected folia there are drafts of official letters, usually in the form of practice runs at the formulaic openings that begin such correspondences. Where sūtras are repaired with patches, these are not made with new, blank paper, but from offcuts of discarded documents. These patches often come from sūtras, but there are also scraps from official letters. As a whole, the patches constitute a fascinating sample of the sorts of documents found in the chancellery or in the editors’ and scribes’ workshops. Piecing together such patches and jottings, we can better understand the editorial process, the scribes’ relationships to one another, and their duties and interests beyond the work of copying sūtras.


Scribes, Leaves and Libraries: The Ancient Pāli Tradition of Southeast Asia, Particularly in Lān Nā and Siam

von Hinüber, Oskar (Universität Freiburg, Freiburg, GER)

Among the three branches of the extant Pāli tradition preserved in the traditional Theravāda countries Ceylon, Burma and Siam respectively, the oldest manuscripts are preserved in Lānā (Northern Thailand) being copied towards the end of the 15th century. They are of particular value for text critical purposes not only because of their age, but first of all because of the excellent text tradition which they preserve. This will be demonstrated by help of selected examples of both, text critical and linguistic investigations. Moreover, the colophons contain rich information on various aspects of cultural history. Particularly, the information concerning the production of manuscripts, which can be gathered from the colophons, will also be communicated.

After a brief survey of the major collections, ancient (Buddhist monasteries) and modern (libraries), manuscripts will be dealt with in the historical context of the text tradition including exchange of texts among the different Theravāda countries in pre-modern times.

Lastly, some of the modern research tools available for using the Southeast Asian Pāli manuscripts will be described.


Linguistic Ambiguities, the Transmissional Process, and the Earliest Recoverable Language of Buddhism

Levman, Bryan (University of Toronto, Toronto, CAN)

Scholars have long been preoccupied with the language(s) the Buddha spoke and the earliest recoverable language of Buddhism. Underlying the surviving witnesses a simplified communication medium is found, called by scholars une langue précanonique, a lingua franca or koine. It removed characteristic dialect differences, by lenition or elimination of intervocalic stops, lenition of aspirated stops to aspirates only, assimilation or resolution of conjunct consonants, levelling of sibilants, and interchange of certain glides, nasals, palatals and liquids. This is by definition a lingua franca or koine, a common language or interlect which “contained elements of all the dialects but was free from the most obtrusive dialectical characteristics” (Geiger 1916: 4). The koine harmonized the different Middle Indic (MI) dialects for mutual comprehension and was also constrained by the different phonologies of other unrelated autochthonous languages (Dravidian, Munda, Tibetan), or other Indo-Aryan languages (Tocharian, Krorainic, Old Sinhalese) which interacted with MI. Since these languages had a different phonemic structure, their speakers were not able to hear or repeat some of the MI phonemes. This catalyzed the development of the koine in a certain direction — towards simplification, eliminating some of the phonemic distinctions of MI, and making it more intelligible to a wider audience.


Instituting Transcription: Laborers, Administrators, and Scriptoria and the Emergence of a Textualized Buddhist Tradition in Japan

Lowe, Bryan (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA)

In the roughly one hundred years between the late seventh century and the end of the Nara period (710-784), Japanese Buddhism transformed into a textual tradition. Prior to this time, there is little evidence of Buddhist textual practices in Japan; it was primarily a religion of architecture and icons. The spread of texts in the eighth century forever altered the religious landscape of Japan. Buddhist scholasticism emerged; temples accumulated multiple copies of the canon; and ritual practices related to recitation and transcription flourished. In short, by the end of the Nara period, Japanese Buddhism had become a religion inseparable from texts.

This paper will argue that these transformations were enabled by institutional and technological developments. It will use a collection of more than 10,000 hand-written documents from a bureau for transcribing Buddhist scripture, as well as colophons from extant sutra manuscripts, to chart the emergence of diverse sutra copying institutions—both officially sanctioned canon copying offices and smaller aristocratic household organizations. My paper will focus on the activities of those employed within these scriptoria. These include laborers such as scribes, proofreaders, and assemblers, as well as administrators responsible for keeping records and coordinating with other offices. By highlighting the role of these individuals, my paper challenges traditional narratives of early Japanese Buddhism, which attribute the religion’s rise to the activities of courtiers and monks. In contrast, this paper will suggest that the foundations of Buddhism in Japan were built through the sweat of scribes and the administrative skills of mid-level managers.

My paper will begin by introducing a collection of documents from the treasure house known as the Shōsōin. These documents have received scant attention by scholars in Buddhist studies, but they provide an unparalleled perspective on the circulation and production of scripture in early Japan. I will then outline the types of institutions through which sutras were transcribed. After describing the relevant collections of sources and institutional contexts for sutra copying, the paper will turn to an insider’s view of the scriptorium by exploring the lives of the administrators and laborers responsible for large scale transcription efforts. I will argue administrative and technical skill helped produce religious texts and knowledge. The paper will conclude by showing how these technologies shaped the history of Buddhism in Japan by connecting sutra transcription to the rise of scholasticism and new ritual and artistic practices.


Two Gāndhārī Saṃyuktāgama Sūtras of the Senior Collection

Marino, Joseph (University of Washington, Seattle, USA)

Recent studies of the Senior Collection of twenty-four Kharoṣṭhī manuscripts have revealed at least twenty-six sūtras with either direct or indirect parallels in the Pāli Saṃyutta-nikāya (SN) and/or Chinese Saṃyuktāgama (SĀ). Dating to around the early 2nd century CE, these have been called the “earliest documentary witness to the development of the Connected Discourses” (Glass 2007), and as such, their study has important implications for our understanding of the relationship between early South and East Asian recensions of the SN/SĀ and of the relationship between oral and written sūtras in South Asia as a whole.

Senior scroll no. 20 contains two SN/SĀ-type sūtras. The first includes a unique version of the gatekeeper metaphor (G doario; Skt. dvārika), which appears in other sūtras such as the P Kiṃsuka-sutta (SN IV 194) and Uttiya-sutta (AN V 193), but has no complete parallel in Pāli, Chinese, or Sanskrit. The second sūtra corresponds in part to the Pāli and Chinese Pariḷāha-suttas, describing the hellish nature of life for those who are ignorant of the Noble Truths. A detailed comparative study of both the content and the technical features of these texts, namely, their structure, their orthography, and the medium by which they are transmitted, brings to light features that augment and clarify our understanding of where such texts might be situated within the presumably literary-cum-oral milieu of Gandhāran Buddhism and within the broader context of textual transmission between South and East Asia.


Palimpsests and Recycled Manuscripts from Bāmiyān

Matsuda, Kazunobu (Bukkyo University, Kyoto, JPN)

Among the Buddhist manuscripts discovered in Bāmiyān Valley included in the Schøyen Collection, Norway, and Hayashidera Collection, Japan, there are two unprecedented kinds of fragments. One are palimpsests of palm leaf manuscript written in Kharoṣṭhī script, and the other are recycled birch bark manuscripts written in Brāhmī script. Based on these two kinds of manuscripts, I would like to analyze the scriptural transition and the change of transcription materials in the Bāmiyān manuscripts.


The Deorkothar Inscriptions and Buddhist Institutional Memory

Salomon, Richard (University of Washington, Seattle, USA)

O. von Hinüber and P. Skilling have recently published two very important inscriptions which were found on a fragmentary pillar at the Buddhist site of Deorkothar (Rewa District, Madhya Pradesh), and which date from about the second century b.c.e. (Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology 16, 2013, pp.13-26). The inscriptions trace the monastic lineages of their donors back to the Buddha (inscription 1) or Anuruddha (inscription 2). Such lineages were previously unknown in early Buddhist inscriptions, and now give us an important insight into the modes of preservation of institutional lineages in early Indian Buddhist communities.

Moreover, two important points in the inscription are unexpectedly consistent with traditions recorded in canonical and post-canonical texts: the association of Anuruddha with the Cedi/Vatsa region in which the inscription was found, and the linkage between the Kukkuṭika/Gokulika (kokuḍika-) and Bahuśrutīya schools which are mentioned together in inscription 1. These points argue against the excessive skepticism about the historicity of Buddhist textual traditions which has prevailed in some circles, and strengthens the position of scholars such as A. Bareau and M. Hofinger who have favored a more open attitude.


Writing and the Production of Mahāyāna Literature

Strauch, Ingo (Université de Lausanne, Lausanne, CHE)

The influence of writing and associated cultural techniques on the development of Buddhist Mahāyāna literature has been controversially discussed. It was first Gregory Schopen, who in his famous article on the Mahāyāna book cult directed the attention to the role of manuscripts and books in the history of early Mahāyāna. Despite Drewes’ fundamental criticism it cannot be denied that the technique of writing did indeed play a crucial role in the emergence and in the development of Mahāyāna literature.

It is the aim of my paper to investigate this issue on the basis of the recently discovered manuscripts of Mahāyāna texts from “Greater Gandhāra”. These manuscripts represent the oldest material evidence for early Mahāyāna. Moreover, they originate from an area which was highly important for the transmission of Buddhism and its literature to Central and East Asia. Many of the early Chinese translations of Mahāyāna sūtras are said to be based on texts in Gāndhārī, the Middle Indian language of that region.

In the last decades, seven different Mahāyāna sūtras could be identified among the materials of different manuscript collections. They belong to different periods and different regions. The contents, the formal features and the contexts of these Gāndhārī Mahāyāna sūtras can probably help to get a clearer picture of the importance of writing for the composition of early Mahāyāna texts and of the use of these written texts within monastic communities in North-West India. 


The Production of Chinese Buddhist Manuscripts at Dunhuang: An Overview

Teiser, Stephen F. (Princeton University, USA)

The Chinese Buddhist manuscripts from Cave 17 at Mogaoku near Dunhuang (Gansu province) constitute the world’s largest cache of premodern Buddhist manuscripts, capable of answering a veritable Indra’s net of questions and problems in Buddhist studies. The Dunhuang manuscripts have been known for over 100 years since their discovery by the local priest Wang Yuanlu around the year 1900. They have been the object of study by an international group of scholars (European, Asian, American) for several generations, and their close study is entering a new era owing to recent advances in digital technology and the renaissance of scholarship in China. 

This paper offers a broad overview of the conditions under which Chinese Buddhist manuscripts were produced at Dunhuang over five centuries. Starting with the manuscripts themselves, it first offers an analysis of the content of the manuscripts. The paper considers such questions as: How many Chinese manuscripts are there in the Dunhuang corpus? What is their content, and how many texts are in each category? What accounts for the relatively large amount of non-canonical Buddhist texts, documents concerning social and economic life, popular literature, and other non-Buddhist texts at Dunhuang? The paper next turns to the Sitz im Leben of the manuscripts, reflecting on the religious and educational institutions that produced the manuscripts and the broader trends in writing, literacy, and textual production in medieval China. It asks questions like: Who produced (wrote, copied) the manuscripts? In what institutions: scriptoria of local monasteries, local schools, temple schools, individual monks, individual local officials, or monasteries located elsewhere? The paper ends by considering trends in secondary scholarship of the last century against this documentary and social background, suggesting some fruitful avenues for future research.

Gilgit Manuscripts and the Role of Writing in Mahāyāna and in Canonical Sūtra Literature

von Criegern, Oliver (LMU, München, GER)

The Gilgit manuscript corpus is unique among findings of ancient Indian Buddhist manuscripts in so far as this large collection has been recovered as a whole from that very building where it was left more than 1200 years ago. These manuscripts therefore not only provide a lot of Buddhist Sanskrit texts that are lost elsewhere, but they may also be considered representative of the Buddhist literature as it was present in Gilgit around the 7th century. A more recently found manuscript of the Dīrghāgama that comes from the same area and probably from the same site may be added to this corpus. An examination of these manuscripts reveals differences regarding script, language, diligence of writing etc., which can be related to differend kinds of texts, as especially old canonical sūtras vs. Mahāyāna sūtras, and which may shed light on the development of Buddhism in that area and to the role of writing in Mahāyāna in contrast to non-Mahāyāna Buddhism.


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