Restoration and publication of Ancient Gandhari Buddhist Texts

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Project ends on December 31, at 12:00 AM AEDT
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Restoration and publication of Ancient Gandhari Buddhist Texts

Support the research, consulting and resources to enable the conservation, study and publishing of Gandhari Buddhist Texts at the University of Sydney. 

New Scrolls

The University of Sydney project aims to undertake the study and publication of two new Gandhari birch bark Buddhist scrolls dating approximately to the 1st to 2nd century AD and containing remnants of two early and highly revered Mahāyāna sūtras. The first contains a substantial portion of the first chapter of a Gandhari version of the Samādhirāja-sūtra, the Discourse on the King of Concentrations, while the second contains a portion of a Gandhari version of the ninth chapter of the Pratyutpannabuddhasaṃmukhāvasthita-samādhi-sūtra, the Discourse on the Concentration of Direct Encounter with the Buddhas of the Present Time. The Pratyutpannabuddhasaṃmukhāvasthitasamādhi-sūtra scroll has only recently been conserved and is yet to be reconstructed (it is quite fragmentary). The Samādhirāja-sūtra fragment is still also only at the initial stage of being studied, but it appears to contain 38+ lines of text.

The appearance of these very early witnesses to major Mahāyāna texts is highly significant. For example, before this the earliest solid witness to the Samādhirāja-sūtra was the 5th century AD Chinese translation. The Indian versions are primarily witnessed in much later and more developed Sanskrit manuscripts from Nepal and northern Pakistan. There has been much debate as to whether this text is an early or middle period Mahāyāna text. This new Gandhari manuscript confirms for the first time that it is early (1st to 2nd century AD) and provides an extremely important witness to a very early stage of its development. Indeed, the study of these texts is a critical element in a re-evaluation of the rise of the Mahāyāna.

The scrolls were recently donated to a major public institution and they will make a public announcement of this in due course.

The research outcome will be articles on both of these manuscripts in the most prestigious Buddhist Studies journals and venues alongside state-of-the-art digital editions to be made available online. All publications will be open‐access. We will be publishing digital threshold editions in order to make this material publicly available as soon as possible. The investigators plan to publish the larger studies of these texts in the Gandhāran Buddhist Texts series.

                                        

                                                                                                             Two Gandhari Scrolls - Taken by Mark Allon

Gandhari Buddhist Texts

Since the early 1990s, several major collections of extremely old Buddhist manuscripts have been discovered in eastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, a region that corresponds to the cultural and linguistic area of Greater Gandhāra in antiquity. These manuscript finds have been referred to as the Dead Sea Scrolls of Buddhism and have been the subject of high-profile scholarly projects in Australia, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, and the USA. (For an overview of these collections, see Allon 2008.)

Written on birch bark and palm leaf, these manuscripts carry texts in a great diversity of genres belonging to various schools and forms of Buddhism. The language of most of these documents is Gandhari written in the Kharoṣṭhī script. Dating from approximately the 1st century BC to the 3rd or 4th century AD, they are the oldest Buddhist and oldest Indian manuscripts ever discovered, hundreds of years closer to the very sermons of the Buddha than anything we knew before.

Spanning some 500 years of the Buddhist literary culture of the North-west region of the Indian subcontinent, these new manuscripts are of inestimable value to the study of the development of Buddhist thought in early India, the transmission of Buddhism to China, the history of Buddhism in ancient Gandhāra, as well as in India, Central Asia, and China, and to the study of Buddhist literature and languages. They provide examples of previously unknown texts as well as very early witnesses to texts known only in other languages, such as Pali, Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese.

The University of Sydney's Dr. Mark Allon will be leading the research in conjunction with Prof. Richard Salomon from the University of Washington, Seattle, Prof. Paul Harrison from Stanford University, and Dr Andrew Skilton from the University of Oxford, with digital development from Ian McCrabb and Stephanie Majcher also from the University of Sydney.

Help the University preserve the past

Please donate today and support the research, consulting and resources to enable the conservation, study and publishing of Gandhari Buddhist Texts at the University of Sydney. The funds raised in the crowdfunding campaign could fund:

  • comprehensive digital imaging of the two scrolls;
  • research assistants to support the investigators in the development of transliterations, translations, and grammatical, linguistic, and textual studies;
  • technical assistants to support digital publishing of threshold editions of these text.

All donations $2 and above are tax deductible.  

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