Scholars note '99 find of rare sutra copy

The Japan Times:

Dec. 18, 2001


Japanese researchers said they have discovered an ancient copy of a legendary Buddhist sutra, written in Sanskrit, in the city of Lhasa.

It is the first time in modern history that an original Sanskrit text of the sutra, known as "Yuima-kyo" in Japanese and "Vimalakirti" in Sanskrit, has been discovered, Taisho University researchers said.

Buddhists have so far used texts translated into old Chinese and Tibetan.

Members of the Tokyo-based university's Buddhism research institute, which has been studying Buddhist texts in Tibet, found a complete copy of the scripture in July 1999 at the Potala in Lhasa. The copy, which dates back to the eighth century, is very well-preserved, they told a recent news conference.

The Potala was established by the fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century and was registered as a world cultural heritage site in 1994. It consists of more than 1,000 rooms and houses a number of precious Buddha statues, pictures and scriptures.

The researchers said Buddhist scholars around the world had long searched for the scripture, noting the finding had a significant impact on various fields.

The find is expected to help reveal more about the establishment of one of the two major divisions of Buddhism in India around the first and second centuries and the spread of the belief to China and Japan.

"We accidentally discovered the original Sanskrit sutra that was believed to have been scattered and lost. It was both a great joy and surprise, because scholars had long given up hope of finding them," said Yoshihiro Matsunami, president of Taiho University.

"Is is believed that the copy had been removed from a temple that was destroyed during China's Cultural Revolution," he said.

The "Vimalakirti" is one of the most noted Buddhist sutras. In Japan, Prince Regent Shotoku Taishi, who lived in late sixth to early seventh century, also wrote a book on the "Vimalakirti" in the Asuka Era (593-710).

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