Thursday, April 16, 2015

Collaborative Project for the Conservation, Digitisation, Research and Publication of Tangut Material in the British Library

The project which started in January 2015 is a collaboration between the British Library and the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region Archive (NXA) to enable the conservation, digitisation and cataloguing of the Tangut manuscripts and printed documents held in the British Library.

Tangut fragment. Or.12380/19

Using existing archival material relating to the collection including concordance lists and notes from early researchers and conservators the aim is to conserve, number, digitise and make available the estimated 6–8,000 documents on the IDP Interactive Web Database by June 2017, thereby contributing to the preservation and international dissemination of this important material and stimulating scholarly research.

The Tangut manuscript and printed material in the British Library was excavated from the city of Karakhoto (10th–14th c.) by Aurel Stein on his 3rd expedition (1913–16) following Russian excavations at the site (material now in the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, an IDP partner and also working with NXA). Part of the Stein material was sent to India (National Museum of India). The remainder became part of the collection of the British Museum and then the British Library.

K.K.VI at Kharakhoto, May 1914 and October 2008. Photo 392/29(114) and Photo 1187/1(4)

Despite spite early research by scholars such as Professor Tatsuo Nishida, much of the material has never had full curatorial attention. Many items remain in the paper packets in which they were placed by Stein during his excavations and therefore remain unknown and inaccessible to scholars.

Pre-conservation Tangut fragments in Stein’s paper packets.

The project will make the entire British Library Tangut collection available for the first time for IDP’s international community of scholars and researchers, paving the way for future work including cataloguing and linking with related material in other collections. Potential work may also include the input and digitisation of related archival material such as historical catalogues and expedition reports.

Funds are secured for the first two stages of the project, enabling a conservator to work full-time on the unconserved material for one year. Funds are now being sought for stage three, for the remaining conservation and digitisation. Any offers of support are welcome.

To follow the progress of the project and digitisation output follow #Tangut @idp_uk.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Diamond Sutra on display: Text panel 6 with colophon

The whole text of the earliest dated printed book — the Diamond Sutra — will be on display at the British Library for the first time over a period of eighteen months between March 2014 – July 2015.

Following extensive conservation, the Diamond Sutra scroll currently remains in separate panels giving the unique opportunity to show all the panels in turn (see timetable below). Each panel will be on display for two months in the Treasures Gallery at the British Library, open to all and with free admission.

The sixth text panel of the Diamond Sutra on display (April–May 2015) contains the text from the second half of section 26 to the end of the Diamond Sutra. It also includes the dated colophon.

See the whole of the Diamond Sutra online on the IDP website.

The following English translation of the sixth text panel (by Lapiz Lazuli Texts) is based on Kumārajīva's Chinese translation of the original Sanskrit:

26. The Dharmakāya is without appearance (cont.)

Subhūti addressed the Buddha, saying, “Bhagavān, thus do I explain the meaning of what the Buddha has said. One should not observe the Tathāgata by means of the Thirty-two Marks.” At that time, the Bhagavān spoke a gāthā, saying:

If one perceives me in forms,
If one listens for me in sounds,
This person practices a deviant path
And cannot see the Tathāgata.

27. No severing, no annihilation

“Subhūti, suppose you think, ‘The Tathāgata has not, from the perfection of characteristics, attained Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi.’ Subhūti, do not compose the thought, ‘The Tathāgata has not, from the perfection of characteristics, attained Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi.’ Subhūti, composing this thought, the one who is developing the mind of Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi is then speaking of the severence and annihilation of dharmas. Do not compose this thought. Why? One who is developing the mind of Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi does not speak of a characteristic of the severence and annihilation of dharmas.

28. Not receiving, not desiring

“Subhūti, suppose a bodhisattva, in the practice of giving, filled as many world realms with the Seven Precious Jewels, as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River. If there is a person with the awareness that all dharmas are without self, and accomplishes their complete endurance, then this is superior, and the merits attained by this bodhisattva surpass those of the previous bodhisattva. Subhūti, the reason for this is that bodhisattvas do not receive merit.” Subhūti addressed the Buddha, saying, “Bhagavān, why do you say that bodhisattvas do not receive merit?” “Subhūti, for bodhisattvas to make merit, they should not greedily wish to acquire it, and therefore it is said that there is no merit received.

29. Power and position destroyed in silence

“Subhūti, if someone says that the Tathāgata comes, goes, sits, or lies down, then this person does not understand the meaning of my teachings. Why? The Tathāgata is one who neither comes nor goes anywhere, and for this reason is called the Tathāgata.

30. The principle of the unity of appearances

“Subhūti, if a good man or good woman disintegrated three thousand great thousand-worlds into atoms, would these atoms be very many in number?” “They would be extremely many, Bhagavān. Why? If this multitude of atoms truly existed, then the Buddha would not speak of a multitude of atoms. Yet the Buddha does speak of a multitude of atoms, and therefore the multitude of atoms spoken of by the Buddha is not a multitude of atoms, and is thus called a multitude of atoms. Bhagavān, the three thousand great thousand-worlds that the Tathāgata speaks of are not worlds, and are thus called worlds. Why? The existence of these worlds is like a single unified appearance. Why? The unified appearance that the Tathāgata speaks of is not a unified appearance, and is thus called the unified appearance.” “Subhūti, one who is of the unified characteristic is unable to speak it, and yet ordinary people greedily wish to acquire it.

31. Unborn knowing and perceiving

“Subhūti, suppose a person says, ‘The Buddha teaches views of a self, a person, a being, and a life.’ Subhūti, what do you think? Does this person understand the meaning of my teachings?” “No, Bhagavān, this person does not understand the meaning of the Tathāgata’s teachings. Why? The views of a self, a person, a being, and a life, that the Bhagavān speaks of, are not views of a self, a person, a being, or a life, and are thus called the views of a self, a person, a being, and a life.” “Subhūti, regarding all dharmas, one who is developing the mind of Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi should thusly know, thusly see, and thusly believe, not giving rise to notions of dharmas. Subhūti, the true characteristic of dharmas is not a characteristic of dharmas, and is thus called the characteristic of dharmas.

32. Transforming the unreal

“Subhūti, suppose someone filled immeasurable, innumerable worlds with the Seven Precious Jewels, and then gave these away in the practice of giving. If a good man or good woman develops the mind of a bodhisattva and maintains this sūtra, even with as little as a four-line gāthā, and accepts, maintains, studies, recites, and explains it to others, then the merits of this surpass the others. How should one explain it? Without grasping at characteristics, in unmoving suchness. For what reason?

All conditioned dharmas
Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, or shadows;
Like drops of dew, or like flashes of lightning;
Thusly should they be contemplated.

After the Buddha had spoken this sūtra, then Elder Subhūti along with all the bhikṣus, bhikṣuṇīs, upāsakas, upāsikās, and the devas, humans, and asuras from every world, heard what the Buddha had said. With great bliss, they believed, accepted, and reverently practiced in accordance.

Appendix: Mantra for the Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā

namo bhagavatīprajñāpāramitāyai
oṃ īriti īṣiri śruta viṣaya viṣaya svāhā


Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 15th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong.' [11 May 868]

‘The Diamond Sutra and Early Printing’

MARCH 2014 – JULY 2015

Monday 09.30 - 20.00
Tuesday 09.30 - 20.00
Wednesday 09.30 - 20.00
Thursday 09.30 - 20.00
Friday 09.30 - 18.00
Saturday 09.30 - 17.00
Sunday 11.00 - 17.00
Public holidays 11.00 - 17.00

Sir John Ritblat Gallery
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London, NW1 2DB

April – May 2015

6th panel printed text, including colophon

June – July 2015