Friday, 10 January 2014

IDP and Seishi Karashima and Agnieszka Helman-Ważny

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 VersionsA Glossary of Dharmarakṣa’s Translation of the Lotus SutraA Glossary of Kumārajiva's Translation of the Lotus SutraA Glossary of Lokakṣema’s Translation of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā PrajñāpāramitāA 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 ofThe 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.
Professor 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.

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

Dr. Agnieszka Helman-Ważny (University of HamburgUniversity of Arizona) is a paper scientist. Her main research area is the history of paper and books in Tibet and Central Asia, and the development of methods for their examination and conservation. Since 2005, she has studied the early history of paper in Central Asia and aimed to create a typology of paper based on a systematic study of manuscript collections found along the Silk Road. She detected a broad range of paper types for these early manuscripts written in Chinese, Tibetan and other languages. By using the technological and microscopic study of paper combined with codicological and textual information, her research undertaken in collaboration with the IDP team has aimed to explore the possibilities for dating this material and recovering the histories of its regional production and usage. Her chosen item is a Tibetan manuscript, IOL Tib J 308, written possibly with blood on fine quality paper.

Top: Detail of IOL Tib J 308.
Bottom: Rag paper composed of ramie and hemp fibres coloured with Herzberg stain in the manuscript IOL Tib J 308, observed in magnification OM 200x.
Agnieska writes: 
IOL Tib J 308 was primary selected for our research because of the unusual ink colour and the fine paper quality. The manuscript is typical of the Tibetan pothi book format: 9 x 43 cm with one string hole. The leaf proportions and string hole resemble Indian palm leaf books. The hole, with its abraded edges, suggests that the book was well used and that its leaves were string-joined. The Tibetologist Sam van Schaik describes the copying of the text on this manuscript as a meritorious activity associated with the achievement of a long life. During the 830s–840s, many hundreds of copies of this text were made at the behest of the Tibetan emperor; however, the present copy is different from these in format and writing style. The script in this manuscript is in a brown ink easily distinguished from black carbon-based inks. It is possible that the ink colour is evidence of the practice of writing with blood, which is also attested by results of Renate Nöller’s XRF and VIS spectroscopy examinations.
This manuscript's paper was produced from ramie and hemp derived from textile waste. It was made with a movable type of papermaking mould equipped with a bamboo sieve. Thus this paper represents laid, regular paper with a sieve print characterized by 16 laid lines in 3cm; the laid lines are horizontal and parallel to the text. The exceptionally good quality of fibre struck my attention when I was looking at it under the microscope. My study confirmed that this simple manuscript without any fancy elements was written on paper made from high quality textiles. I could envision the raw materials beaten gently by hand during the papermaking process, to prevent shortening of the fibres. Those fibres visible on the photograph above are exceptionally long and well preserved.
This type of rag paper, made with one of the oldest papermaking techniques known and adapted later in Europe, has been found in the majority of manuscripts from Central Asia produced in the first millennium but hardly ever later. Thus this Tibetan manuscript, a common sutra, a scripture from the Buddha, was probably locally produced at Dunhuang with extreme sincerity and devotion. It makes me wonder what wish was laid bare by this person who wrote on such gently-made paper, possibly with the addition of his own blood. Unfortunately we will never know who was its creator…

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