Author Topic: Indian Buddhism: Birch-Bark Treasures  (Read 4063 times)

WisdomBeing

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Indian Buddhism: Birch-Bark Treasures
« on: January 28, 2013, 10:38:39 AM »
What fantastic news of these early manuscripts of Buddha's teachings. What i think is amazing is that this project will take 21 years and that the majority of documents are at the British Museum! I wonder if it's available for public viewing or just for research. Although i wouldn't understand the text, it would be very cool to actually see this 2000 year old document which could have historic impact by giving more insight to the Buddhist teachings.



Indian Buddhism: Birch-Bark Treasures

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130123133430.htm

Jan. 23, 2013 — Experts in Indological Studies at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich are in the process of analyzing 2000-year-old Indian Buddhist documents that have only recently come to light. The precious manuscripts have already yielded some surprising findings.

The oldest surviving Buddhist texts, preserved on long rolls of birch-tree bark, are written in Gandhari, an early regional Indic language that is long extinct. The scrolls originate from the region known in ancient times as Gandhara, which lies in what is now Northwestern Pakistan.

For researchers interested in the early history of Buddhism, these manuscripts represent a sensational find, for a number of reasons. The first is their age. Some of the documents date from the first century BC, making them by far the oldest examples of Indian Buddhist literature. But for the experts, their contents are equally fascinating. The texts provide insights into a literary tradition which was thought to have been irretrievably lost, and they help researchers to reconstruct crucial phases in the development of Buddhism in India. Furthermore, the scrolls confirm the vital role played by the Gandhara region in the spread of Buddhism into Central Asia and China.



Editing the manuscripts

At LMU Munich a team of researchers led by LMU Indological scholar Professor Jens-Uwe Hartmann and Professor Harry Falk of the Free University of Berlin has just begun the arduous job of editing the manuscripts. Most of the texts survive only as fragments, which must first be collated and reassembled. The magnitude of the task is reflected in the planned duration of the project -- 21 years. The project of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities is being funded by a total grant of 8.6 million euros from the Academies Program, that is coordinated by the Union of German Academies of Sciences and Humanities. It is one of the largest research programs in the field of the Humanities in the Federal Republic.

The researchers work not with the manuscripts themselves, but with digital scans. The originals are not only extremely fragile, but are held in various collections scattered around the world. A large fraction of the surviving material is stored in the British Library in London. The ultimate goal of the project is to prepare a modern edition of all the Gandhari manuscripts, thus making them available for further investigation. In addition, the researchers plan to produce a dictionary of the Gandhari language and a survey of its grammar. However, the project will be primarily concerned with illuminating the development of Gandhari literature and the history of Buddhism in Gandhara. It is already clear that the results will lead to a new understanding of the earliest phases of Buddhism in India.

At the core of the project is the construction of a comprehensive database in which all relevant information and results are collected, stored and linked together. The database will serve as the major source of electronic and printed publications on the topic, and regular updates will give the international research community access to the latest results.

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by http://www.uni-muenchen.de/ Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen (LMU).
Kate Walker - a wannabe wisdom Being

Big Uncle

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Re: Indian Buddhism: Birch-Bark Treasures
« Reply #1 on: January 28, 2013, 03:08:20 PM »
This is very interesting. I wonder what these manuscripts are about? They are very fascinating and I didn't know the Gandharan culture had their very own script. I thought most scriptures would either be in Sanskrit or Pali. Anyway, I think it is incredible how old Buddhism is and how much it has evolved over time without losing its flavor and essential message.

It is universally known that the Buddha left no written records and that the current body of 108 volumes of Buddha's spoken words were recorded down by his arhat disciples who had perfect memory. This includes the later body of commentaries and other Tantric liturgies. I think Dharma books that expounds the essential meaning and intent of the Buddha will always be an important part of Buddhism. Newer and newer books are important to as they will re-interpret the Buddha's teachings according to the original intent of the Buddha. I guess that's whats most important.

WisdomBeing

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Re: Indian Buddhism: Birch-Bark Treasures
« Reply #2 on: January 28, 2013, 04:40:56 PM »
Just for a bit of info re language, Magadhi Prakrit, is believed to be the language spoken by the Buddha, and the language of the ancient kingdom of Magadha.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magahi_language

The Magahi language is a language spoken in India and Nepal. In Nepal itis known as ancient Nepali. Magadhi Prakrit was the ancestor of Magadhi, from which the latter's name derives. The ancestral language, Magadhi Prakrit, is believed to be the language spoken by the Buddha, and the language of the ancient kingdom of Magadha. Magadhi is closely related to Bhojpuri and Maithili, and these languages are sometimes referred to as a single language, Bihari. These languages, together with several other related languages, are known as the Bihari languages, which form a sub-group of the Eastern Zone of Indo-Aryan languages. Magadhi has approximately 18 million speakers.

It was once mistakenly thought to be a dialect of Hindi, but has been more recently shown to be descendant of and very similar to the Eastern Indo-Aryan languages, along with Bengali, Assamese, and Oriya. It has a very rich and old tradition of folk songs and stories. It is spoken in eight districts in Bihar, three in Jharkhand, and has some speakers in Malda, West Bengal.
Kate Walker - a wannabe wisdom Being

jessicajameson

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Re: Indian Buddhism: Birch-Bark Treasures
« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2013, 06:25:03 PM »
I do rejoice that such a holy relic has been found. After all, these are remnants of the written Dharma from the 1st century! I'm also quite amazed at how so much is being invested into the project.

However, this discovery also reminds me that whatever that we read now will end up being words on paper in a few hundred years from now. Words are just words - but if applied, they become real transformation - leading to attainments - which can be brought on to our future lives.

It is great to see writings on birch-bark, but what about the clear text we have printed in our Dharma books currently. It would be better to focus on that! It's possible that one day too our language will become extinct!  :P