A Few of Our Favourite Things: #9 Seishi Karashima

As part of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations we have asked twenty of our friends and supporters to select their favourite item from the IDP collections. The full selection will form an online catalogue and will be featured in the spring and autumn 2014 editions of IDP News

Seishi Karashima has been a Professor of Sino-Indian Buddhist Philology at The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University, Tokyo, since 1997, where he has been carrying out philological research on early Mahāyāna scriptures and early Chinese Buddhist translations. He has published twelve books and more than a hundred articles on these themes, including: The Study of the Chinese Versions of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra –– in the light of the Sanskrit and Tibetan Versions; A Glossary of Dharmarakṣa’s Translation of the Lotus Sutra; A Glossary of Kumārajiva's Translation of the Lotus Sutra; A Glossary of Lokakṣema’s Translation of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā; A Critical Edition of Lokakṣema’s Translation of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā.

In the 1990s, he realised that the old Sanskrit manuscripts and fragments from Central Asia were indispensable sources for allowing scholars to draw nearer to the original features of early Mahāyāna scriptures and therefore, since then, he has been engaged in publishing photographs and transliterations of those manuscripts and fragments, now preserved at the British Library and Institute of Oriental Manuscripts in St. Petersburg. He has also been in the process of publishing a series of Buddhist Manuscripts from Central Asia: The British Library Sanskrit Fragments (BLSF) (2 vols. so far) and that of The St. Petersburg Sanskrit Fragments (StPSF) (in preparation) in collaboration with K. Wille, M. I. Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya and other scholars.

His chosen item is the Sanskrit manuscript IOL San 482.

Seishi Karashima writes:

The manuscript of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra (IOL San 482–515), or the Lotus Sutra, was discovered by Aurel Stein in Farhād-Bēg-Yailaki, near Khadalik, during his second expedition and is kept at present in the British Library. 35 folios, written on paper, are preserved. This incomplete manuscript, whose script is the Early Turkestan Brāhmī, type b, probably dates back to the fifth or sixth century AD. Both its language (Buddhist Sanskrit) and the content (from the eleventh to the beginning of the fifteenth chapter of the Lotus Sutra) also show its antiquity. Owing to its particular importance to the study of the Lotus Sutra, a black-and-white facsimile edition, though of very low quality, was published as early as 1949 in Japan, from which the late Prof. Hirofumi Toda made a transliteration.

When I saw the actual manuscript with my own eyes at the British Library in December 2004, I was struck by its beautiful calligraphy and its absolute clearness, which unfortunately the facsimile edition lacks. Thus, I decided to transliterate the manuscript anew by using newly-taken coloured photographs and, at the same time, persuaded our university to support IDP financially by digitising the entire collection of the Sanskrit manuscript fragments from Central Asia. I am happy to know that, now, this ten-year digitisation project has been completed.