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Crowdfunding: 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. 

Click here for crowdfunding and information page.

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 Mahayana sutras. The first contains a substantial portion of the first chapter of a Gandhari version of the Samadhiraja-sutra, the Discourse on the King of Concentrations, while the second contains a portion of a Gandhari version of the ninth chapter of the Pratyutpannabuddhasammukhavasthita-samadhi-sutra, the Discourse on the Concentration of Direct Encounter with the Buddhas of the Present Time.

The appearance of these very early witnesses to major Mahayana texts is highly significant. For example, before this the earliest solid witness to the Samadhiraja-sutrawas 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 Mahayana.

The research outcome will be articles on both of these manuscripts in the most prestigious Buddhist Studies journals alongside state-of-the-art digital editions to be made available online.

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 Kharosthi 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 Gandhara, 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. Your donation will contribute towards the study, photographing and publication of Gandhari Buddist texts such as the two newly discovered ancient Gandhari birch bark Buddhist scrolls that date to the 1st to 2nd century CE.














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