This manuscript, now incomplete, would have originally possessed some 1,000 folios. It contains the Śatasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra or Sūtra of the Perfection of Wisdom in 100,000 Lines.
What is this scripture?
The Sūtra of the Perfection of Wisdom in 100,000 Lines is the longest of all the sūtras of the 'Perfection of Wisdom'. The latter are a collection of around forty texts that focus on the doctrine of emptiness (śunyatā) and have been popular wherever Mahāyāna Buddhism has flourished. Two of the best-known ones are the Heart Sūtra and the Diamond Sūtra.
What are the material and form of the manuscript?
The text is in Sanskrit and was copied by hand on palm leaves, a material readily available for writing in India. Stacked up and held horizontally in front of the reader, the oblong folios would have been bound together with a thread going through the central string hole. Referred to as pothi, this book format is probably the one through which many of the early Buddhist texts were transmitted eastwards along the Silk Roads.
Where was the manuscript found?
This copy of the Sūtra of the Perfection of Wisdom in 100,000 Lines was found in the Library Cave (Cave 17) of the Mogao Buddhist cave complex, located near Dunhuang, in the present-day Chinese province of Gansu. It is believed to have been created in northern India around the 8th century and to have travelled all the way to Northwest China, perhaps going through Tibet, as this would have coincided with the period of the Tibetan occupation of Dunhuang.
- Article by:
- T H Barrett
- Buddhism, Sacred texts
The Buddhist ‘canon’ is vast, complex and difficult to define. Here Professor Tim Barrett outlines some of the key works for the different branches of Buddhism.