Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Sanskrit Diamond Sutra in Infrared

The Vajracchedikā or Diamond Sutra is one of the most popular Buddhist texts in East Asia. The famous printed copy of a Chinese translation is currently on display at the British Library. But Aurel Stein also found manuscripts of Diamond Sutra in other languages, including Tibetan, Khotanese and Uighur. And the oldest extensive copy of the text in the original Sanskrit was found by Stein in Dandan Uilik, a Buddhist temple site near the ancient city of Khotan.

In a recent study of this manuscript, Paul Harrison has greatly improved on previous readings, offering a much better version of the text. He has also discovered more text by tracing the impression of ‘ghost folios’, lost pages whose impression on the existing pages survives in the faint outline of letters in mirror image.

These readings were helped by the photography of new infrared images of the folios of the Sanskrit Diamond Sutra manuscript, which was done in the IDP digitisation studio at the British Library. The manuscript is spread over several shelfmarks, comprising IOL San 382–387, 419–422, 424–427. All of these can be seen on the IDP website, with the colour photographs of each folio accompanied by the infrared images.

Detail from the colour and infrared images of IOL San 425.

Paul Harrison’s article is in the new volumes of the British Library Sanskrit Fragments series, edited by Seishi Karashima and Klaus Wille:

Paul Harrison, “The British Library Vajracchedikā Manuscript: IOL San 383–387, 419–427,” in The British Library Sanskrit Fragments Vol.III.2, pp.823-866. Tokyo: The International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University, 2015.

The volumes can be downloaded from these links:
Volume III.1 (PDF 43MB)
Volume III.2 (PDF 62.6MB)

1 comment:

  1. While the mss are an exciting development, for me the good news is that Paul Harrison is continuing to work on Vajracchedikā and plans to produce a new edition of the longer text that Muller published. Along with his earlier edition of the 6th C Gilgit/Afghan hybrid ms this means we have some quality Sanskrit texts to work with, perhaps for the first time. Everything written about the so-called Diamond Sutra will have to be revised!

    But we need to find a bridge from the academic environment to connect with practising Buddhists. One hopes that a publisher like Wisdom will commission new English translations from Harrison's improved Sanskrit editions, and perhaps from Kumārajīva's Chinese version (with comparisons to other texts).