Friday, September 12, 2014

Film Screening: The Silk Road of Pop

An evening of music and film will commence with a live performance by the London Uyghur Ensemble followed by a screening of the award winning documentary The Silk Road of Pop, a portrait of the explosive pop music scene among the Uyghur community in China’s Xinjiang Province. The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with the film directors.

Fri 28 Nov 2014, 18:30–­20:30
The British Library Conference Centre
96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB
MAP
Admission Free
ONLINE BOOKING

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

IDP Interns: Shaochen Wang and Na Zhang (UCL)

IDP interns Shaochen Wang (left) and Na Zhang (right).

SHAOCHEN WANG

I am a postgraduate student from Institute of Archaeology in UCL and major in managing archaeological sites. I have spent one month working with the IDP, it is very interesting and attractive. Since I come from Xi’an, China, the starting point of the Silk Road, I found the most fascinating work experience in IDP was when we were rehousing some slides of old Xi’an, the City Wall, the Great Wild Goose Pagoda and so on. Most of the slides are made in 1980s or earlier, so I got a chance to know my hometown better and appreciate the vintage photographs, especially some ancient architecture that I am familiar with. Besides this, other interesting work in the IDP involved typing some documents regarding the Dunhuang Mogao Caves and translating some Buddhist words. It can be difficult sometimes but I have learnt a lot about Dunhuang and Buddhism through this experience and after this, I really want to visit Dunhuang by myself and see the caves and wall paintings that I have documented and translated.

And I also think that all the digital works and the online database of IDP are really wonderful. Having been shown the workflow of digital studio and some basic training of XML, I realized how complicated it can be and how difficult to maintain a database like that and I am really impressed. And special thanks to Emma Goodliffe, she was really kind and helpful and I really enjoyed the time working with the staff of the IDP and my classmate!

NA ZHANG

I am a full-year postgraduate student at the Institute of Archaeology at the University College London majoring in managing archaeological sites. I became an intern in the IDP at the British Library after a very friendly interview. Then I knew there would be an interesting journey with IDP waiting for me.

I studied archaeology in Xi’an which is the starting point of Silk Road and Dunhuang is a significant part of Silk Road as well. There is no denying that the manuscripts and murals at the Dunhuang Mogao Grotto are attractive and fascinating. People in that period were smart and creative. Based on these things, when I rehoused the slides about Dunhuang and the Silk Road, it seems like I am walking on that road. I enjoy the beautiful landscapes, chat with local people and touch the mysterious caves. After I knew the development of the conservation and preservation of the manuscripts, I realized that IDP did a great thing for both scholars and general public.

From the traditional method to the modern technology, people who are interested in the Dunhuang culture try their best to present this to the world. How nice that I can do the placement here!

IDP Highlights 2013–14

Our annual highlights report is available to download (PDF 602KB). The report celebrates the past year’s achievements and gives us an opportunity to thank the many supporters and friends of IDP worldwide. Highlights include the completion of the conservation, numbering and digitisation of Sanskrit material and the work carried out on the Central Asian manuscript storage areas at the British Library.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Diamond Sutra on display: Text panel 3

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 – August 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 third text panel of the Diamond Sutra on display (September-October 2014) contains the second half of section 13 through to the first half of section 15 of the Diamond Sutra.

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

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

Subhūti, what do you think? Has the Tathāgata actually spoken any dharma?” Subhūti replied, “Bhagavān, the Tathāgata has not spoken.” “Subhūti, what do you think? Are there very many atoms contained in three thousand great thousand-worlds?” Subhūti replied, “There are extremely many, Bhagavān.” “Subhūti, the atoms spoken of by the Tathāgata are not atoms, and are thus called atoms. The worlds spoken of by the Tathāgata are not worlds, and are thus called worlds. Subhūti, what do you think? Can the Tathāgata be seen by means of the Thirty-two Marks?” “No, Bhagavān, the Tathāgata cannot be seen by means of the Thirty-two Marks. Why? The Thirty-two Marks that the Tathāgata speaks of are not marks, and are thus called the Thirty-two Marks.” “Subhūti, suppose there were a good man or good woman who, in the practice of giving, gave his or her body away as many times as there are sand grains in the Ganges River. If there are people who accept and maintain even a four-line gāthā from within this sūtra, then the merits of this are far greater.”

14. Leaving appearances: Nirvāṇa

At that time, Subhūti, hearing this sūtra being spoken, had a profound understanding of its essential meaning, and burst into tears. He then addressed the Buddha, saying, “How exceptional, Bhagavān, is the Buddha who thus speaks this profound sūtra! Since attaining the Eye of Prajñā, I have never heard such a sūtra! Bhagavān, if there are again people who are able to hear this sūtra thusly, with a mind of clean and clear belief, giving rise to the true appearance, then this is a person with the most extraordinary merits. Bhagavān, the true appearance is not an appearance, and for this reason the Tathāgata speaks of a true appearance.

“Bhagavān, being able to hear this sūtra thusly, I do not find it difficult to believe, understand, accept, and maintain it. However, in the next era, five hundred years from now, if there are sentient beings who are able to hear this sūtra and believe, understand, accept, and maintain it, then they will be most extraordinary. Why? This is because such a person has no notions of a self, notions of a person, notions of a being, or notions of a life. Why? The appearance of a self is not a true appearance; appearances of a person, a being, and a life, are also not true appearances. Those who have departed from all appearances are called buddhas.” The Buddha told Subhūti, “Thusly, thusly! If there are again people who are able to hear this sūtra, and are not startled, terrified, or fearful, know that the existence of such a person is extremely rare. Why? Subhūti, this foremost pāramitā that the Tathāgata speaks of is not a foremost pāramitā, and is thus called the foremost pāramitā.

“Subhūti, the Pāramitā of Forbearance that the Tathāgata speaks of is not a pāramitā of forbearance. Why? Subhūti, this is like in the past when my body was cut apart by the Kalirāja: there were no notions of a self, notions of a person, notions of a being, or notions of a life. In the past, when I was being hacked limb from limb, if there were notions of a self, notions of a person, notions of a being, or notions of a life, then I would have responded with hatred and anger. Remember also that I was the Ṛṣi of Forbearance for five hundred lifetimes in the past. Over so many lifetimes there were no notions of a self, notions of a person, notions of a being, or notions of a life.

“Therefore, Subhūti, bodhisattvas should depart from all appearances in order to develop the mind of Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi. They should give rise to a mind which does not dwell in form; they should give rise to a mind which does not dwell in sounds, scents, tastes, sensations, or dharmas; they should give rise to a mind which does not dwell. In anything that dwells in the mind, one should not dwell, and for this reason the Buddha says that the minds of bodhisattvas should not dwell in form when practicing giving. Subhūti, bodhisattvas should give thusly because it benefits all sentient beings. The Tathāgata teaches that all characteristics are not characteristics, and all sentient beings are not sentient beings. Subhūti, the Tathāgata is one who speaks what is true, one who speaks what is real, one who speaks what is thus, and is not a deceiver or one who speaks to the contrary.

“Subhūti, the Dharma attained by the Tathāgata is neither substantial nor void. Subhūti, if the mind of a bodhisattva dwells in dharmas when practicing giving, then this is like a person in darkness who is unable to see anything. However, if the mind of a bodhisattva does not dwell in dharmas when practicing giving, then this is like a person who is able to see, for whom sunlight clearly illuminates the perception of various forms. Subhūti, in the next era, if there are good men or good women capable of accepting, maintaining, studying, and reciting this sūtra, then the Tathāgata by means of his buddha-wisdom is always aware of them and always sees them. These people all obtain immeasurable, limitless merit.

15. The merits of maintaining this sūtra

“Subhūti, suppose there were a good man or a good woman who, in the morning, gave his or her body away as many times as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River. In the middle of the day, this person would also give his or her body away as many times as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River. Then in the evening, this person would also give his or her body away as many times as there are grains of sand in the Ganges River. Suppose this giving continued for incalculable billions of eons. If there are people again who hear this sūtra with a mind of belief, without doubt, then the merits of these people surpass the former merits. How much more so for those who write, accept, maintain, study, recite, and explain it?

“Subhūti, to summarize, this sūtra has inconceivable, immeasurable, limitless merit. The Tathāgata speaks it to send forth those in the Great Vehicle, to send forth those in the Supreme Vehicle. If there are people able to accept, maintain, study, recite,[end of panel] and explain this sūtra to others, then the Tathāgata is always aware of them and always sees them.


‘The Diamond Sutra and Early Printing’

MARCH 2014 – AUGUST 2015
FREE ENTRY

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
MAP

September – October 2014

3rd panel printed text

November – December 2014

4th panel printed text

January – February 2015

5th panel printed text

March – April 2015

6th panel printed text, including colophon

May – June 2015

Frontispiece

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Married Monks of Kroraina

The kingdom of Kroraina florished in the middle of the Taklamakan desert in the first centuries of this millennium, and is now known to us through the buildings and artefacts preserved by the desert until their discovery and excavation by explorers and archaeologists. Among the most important of the discoveries from the kingdom were documents providing a detailed (if incomplete) picture of the daily life of Buddhist monks in the region in the 3rd to 4th centuries.

The manuscript Or.8211/1374, containing a letter about the adoption and marriage of a girl into the monastic community.

Over 700 of these documents were excavated by Aurel Stein in the early 20th century and are now in the collections of the British Library and the National Museum of India. Most of them are letters, written in the Gandhārī language and the Kharoṣṭhi script, on wooden tablets. A document was usually made of two wooden tablets placed together, with the content of the letter inside. The two parts were bound with string and sealed with clay, and the cover tabled was inscribed with the name of the addressee

One of these tablets reveals a very interesting aspect of the lives of the monks in Kroraina. It records a dispute that arose out of the adoption of girl as a daughter by one monk, who was then given as a wife to another monk:

The śramamna Budhavam̄a says that the śramamna Śariputra received as an adopted child from Denuǵa Aṃto his daughter called Śirsateyae. The śramamna Śariputra gave this daughter to the śramamna Budhavam̄a as his wife in lawful marriage. The daughter of that woman Śirsateyae, Puṃñavatiyae by name, was given as wife to the śramamna Jivalo Aṭhama. This Aṭhama died...

The practices mentioned here (and in other documents) seem to be regarded as normal, only written about when problems arise leading to disputes, such as the death of a one of the monks. So it seems that the kings of Kroraina accepted that these monks were allowed to be married and have children. Yet this could hardly be simply a case of ignorance: the stricture of celibacy is at the centre of the Buddhist monastic vows.

Photo 392/27(89)Photograph of the excavation of site N.xxvi in Niya, one of the houses in which śramamna lived.

We can only speculate on the nature of the compromises that we made in order to allow for married śramaṃna in the knowledge of the requirements of the vinaya. It might be that the śramaṃnas took the full monastic ordination but ignored the strictures on celibacy. On the other hand, they may have received only the lay vows, but adopted the status of a fully-ordained monk for ritual purposes. Another possibility is that they combined the life of a celibate monk with that of a householder by taking a wife but remaining celibate, with children brought into the family through adoption.

Note

Translations of most of the documents from Niya can be read on the IDP website. All of the British Library documents have been digitized. Transcriptions can be found at www.gandhari.org.

Further Reading

Brough, John. 1965. "Comments on Third-Century Shan-Shan and the History of Buddhism." Bulletin of SOAS 28: 591–93.

Burrow, T. 1940. A Translation of the Kharoṣṭi Documents From Chinese Turkestan. London: The Royal Asiatic Society.

Hansen, Valerie. 2004. "Religious Life in a Silk Road Community: Niya during the Third and Fourth Centuries." In John Lagerwey, ed. Religion and Chinese Society 1: 279–315. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press.

Padwa, Mariner. 2007. "An Archaic Fabric: Culture and Landscape in an Early Inner Asian Oasis (3rd–4th Century C.E. Niya)." PhD Dissertation. Harvard University.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Diamond Sutra on display: Text panel 2

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 – August 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 second text panel of the Diamond Sutra on display (July-August 2014) contains sections 7-12 and the first half of section 13 of the Diamond Sutra.

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

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

7. No obtaining, no expounding

“Subhūti, what do you think? Has the Tathāgata obtained Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi? Is there any dharma the Tathāgata has spoken?” Subhūti replied, “Thus do I explain the true meaning of the Buddha’s teachings: there is no fixed dharma of Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi, nor is there a fixed dharma the Tathāgata can speak. Why? The Tathāgata’s exposition of the Dharma can never be grasped or spoken, being neither dharma nor non-dharma. What is it, then? All the noble ones are distinguished by the unconditioned Dharma.”

8. Emerging from the Dharma

“Subhūti, what do you think? If someone filled the three thousand great thousand-worlds with the Seven Precious Jewels in the practice of giving, would such a person obtain many merits?” Subhūti replied, “Very many, Bhagavān! Why? Such merits do not have the nature of merits, and for this reason the Tathāgata speaks of many merits.” “If a person accepts and maintains even as little as a four-line gāthā from within this sūtra, speaking it to others, then his or her merits will be even greater. Why? Subhūti, this is because all buddhas, as well as the dharmas of the Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi of the buddhas, emerge from this sūtra. Subhūti, what is called the Buddha Dharma is not a buddha dharma.

9. The appearance without appearance

“Subhūti, what do you think? Does a srotaāpanna have the thought, ‘I have obtained the fruit of a srotaāpanna?’” Subhūti replied, “No, Bhagavān. Why? ‘Srotaāpanna’ refers to one who has entered the stream, yet there is nothing entered into. There is no entry into forms, sounds, scents, tastes, sensations, or dharmas. Thus is one called a srotaāpanna.” “Subhūti, what do you think? Does a sakṛdāgāmin have the thought, ‘I have obtained the fruit of a sakṛdāgāmin?’” Subhūti replied, “No, Bhagavān. Why? ‘Sakṛdāgāmin’ refers to one who will return once more, yet there is nothing which leaves or returns. Thus is one called a sakṛdāgāmin.” “Subhūti, what do you think? Does an anāgāmin have the thought, ‘I have obtained the fruit of an anāgāmin?’” Subhūti replied, “No, Bhagavān. Why? ‘Anāgāmin’ refers to one who will not return, yet there is nothing non-returning. Thus is one called an anāgāmin.”

“Subhūti, what do you think? Does an arhat have the thought, ‘I have obtained the fruit of an arhat?’” Subhūti replied, “No, Bhagavān. Why? There is truly no dharma which may be called an arhat. Bhagavān, if an arhat has the thought, ‘I have attained the Arhat Path,’ then this is a person attached to a self, a person, a being, and a life. Bhagavān, the Buddha says that among arhats, I am the foremost in my practice of the Samādhi of Non-contention, and am the foremost free of desire. However, Bhagavān, I do not have the thought, ‘I am an arhat free of desire.’ If I were thinking this way, then the Bhagavān would not speak of ‘Subhūti, the one who dwells in peace.’ It is because there is truly nothing dwelled in, that he speaks of ‘Subhūti, the one who dwells in peace.’”

10. The adornment of pure lands

The Buddha addressed Subhūti, saying, “What do you think? In the past when the Tathāgata was with Dīpaṃkara Buddha, was there any dharma obtained?” “No, Bhagavān. When the Tathāgata was with Dīpaṃkara Buddha there was truly no dharma obtained.” “Subhūti, what do you think? Do bodhisattvas adorn buddha-lands?” “No, Bhagavān. Why? The adornments of buddha-lands are not adornments, and are thus called adornments.” “Therefore, Subhūti, bodhisattva-mahāsattvas should thusly give rise to a clear and pure mind—a mind not associated with abiding in form; a mind not associated with abiding in sounds, scents, tastes, sensations, or dharmas; a mind not abiding in life. Subhūti, suppose a person had a body like Mount Sumeru, King of Mountains. Would this body be great?” Subhūti replied, “It would be extremely great, Bhagavān. Why? The Buddha teaches that no body is the Great Body.”

11. Unconditioned merits surpass all

“Subhūti, suppose each sand grain in the Ganges River, contained its own Ganges River. What do you think, would there be many grains of sand of the Ganges River?” Subhūti said, “There would be extremely many, Bhagavān. The number of Ganges Rivers alone would be countless, let alone their grains of sand.” “Subhūti, I will now tell you a truth. If a good man or good woman filled such a number of three thousand great thousand-worlds with the Seven Precious Jewels in the practice of giving, would he or she obtain many merits?” Subhūti said, “Extremely many, Bhagavān.” The Buddha told Subhūti, “Just so, if good men and good women accept and maintain even a four-line gāthā from within this sūtra, speaking it to others, then the merits of this surpass the former merits.

12. Venerating the true teachings

“Moreover, Subhūti, if one speaks even a four-line gāthā from within this sūtra, you should understand that this place is like the shrine of a buddha. In every world, the devas, humans, and asuras should provide offerings to it. How much more so for those capable of accepting and maintaining the entire sūtra? Subhūti, you should know that this is a person with the highest and most exceptional Dharma. Wherever this sūtra dwells is the Buddha or an honored disciple.”

13. Receiving and maintaining the Dharma

Subhūti asked the Buddha, “Bhagavān, by what name should we revere and maintain this sūtra?” The Buddha told Subhūti, “This sūtra is called the Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā, and by this name you should revere and maintain it. Why is it called this? Subhūti, this Prajñāpāramitā spoken by the Buddha is not a perfection of prajñā. Subhūti, what do you think?


‘The Diamond Sutra and Early Printing’

MARCH 2014 – AUGUST 2015
FREE ENTRY

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
MAP

July – August 2014

2nd panel printed text

September – October 2014

3rd panel printed text

November – December 2014

4th panel printed text

January – February 2015

5th panel printed text

March – April 2015

6th panel printed text

May – June 2015

Colophon

July – August 2015

Frontispiece

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

One of the world's first banknotes

Paper money originated in China and flourished along the Silk Routes. One of the earliest surviving banknotes was found in the lost city of Kharakhoto (Turkic for “the black city”). Kharakhoto was once a stronghold of the Tangut Empire, before it fell to the armies of Genghis Khan in 1227. The banknote is in two separate pieces now held at the British Library, Or.12380/2286 and Or.12380/2287, and it dates to the period of Mongol rule in the 13th century.

Paper money began in the 9th century when merchants began depositing their money with local banks in return for promissory notes. These notes the passed from hand to hand, used as money in themselves. Once this practice became widespread, successive Chinese rulers first tried to ban or regulate this practice, before the Song Dynasty established a monopoly on printing banknotes in the 11th century. The government monopoly continued under the Mongol rulers of the Yuan dynasty, the era in which the banknote from Kharakhoto was printed.

This particular banknote was printed in the early 1260s, at the beginning of Kublai Khan’s reign. We have Marco Polo’s account from around this time recording his impressions of paper money: these pieces of paper are issued with as much solemnity and authority as if they were of pure gold or silver; on every piece a variety of officials have to write their names and put their seals… Anyone forging it would be punished with death. And the Kaan causes every year to be made such a vast quantity of this money which costs his nothing that it must equal in amount all the treasure in the world.

The Kharakhoto banknote is digitized and available on the IDP website, along with two brief articles. The first, by Beth McKillop, discusses the discovery of the banknote and its context in Chinese history. The second, by John Burton, describes how the banknote was preserved by the British Library's Oriental Collections Conservation Studio.