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From Birch Bark to Digital Data: Recent Advances in Buddhist Manuscript Research

Birk Barch to Digital Data cover
Verlag der Österreichschen Akademie der Wissenschaften
2013

The sensational manuscript finds of the last two decades have led to a new burst of interest in the literary heritage of Indian Buddhism. Discovered mainly in Pakistan and Afghanistan, these finds have opened up fresh and often quite unexpected perspectives on the historical development of this religious and philosophical tradition.

Some fragments date from the end of the first millennium BCE, and are therefore older than any manuscripts previously known from the Indian cultural sphere. At the same time their content throws light on the surprising ways in which early strands of Buddhism unfolded. All this has led to intensive philological efforts to preserve this legacy, while simultaneously bringing long-neglected manuscript finds from the last century back into view, and setting off another phase of intensive work on them. The volume aims to record all these finds systematically, to describe their significance for Indian Buddhist literature, and above all to present the current state of work on them.

The individual contributions are organized by the places where the manuscripts come from, with each find or collection described by the specialists working on it. For the first time, therefore, a complete picture of the Indian Buddhist manuscript tradition is presented, which shows the pieces of the mosaic which have survived, while at the same time giving us an idea of how much has been lost. What is more, it affords a clear view of the foundations of all modern representations of Buddhism, insofar as these are based on literary sources in Indian languages.