The Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon: Its prospects and future

By Min Bahadur Shakya Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods, Nepal EBTI/CBETA Conference Taipei Feb 15-17, 2008


What is the Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon? (1) A Short History

• - The DSBC is a collection of over 250 Buddhist Sanskrit e-texts • - Texts are manually input at NIEM, Nepal, mostly from South Asian publications • - The first phase in 2003 was collaboration between Univ. of the West and NIEM • - It was initially guided by Lewis Lancaster and sponsored by Ven.Hsing Yun • - Since 2005, the DSBC e-texts have been freely downloadable via the internet: • • - Now, for the first time in history, the basic texts of Indian Buddhism are accessible to the whole world

Input team

Input team

Input team

Master Hsing Yun

Prof. Lewis Lancaster

Screenshot of the DSBC homepage

What is the Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon? (2) The Texts

• - The e-texts are available both in Unicode Devanagari and Roman with diacritics • - All e-texts can be easily searched and cut-andpasted into other applications • - Currently HTML is used for all texts • - Other formats (eg. plain UTF8 text) may be used in future • - There is no markup. Separate files are used for separate chapters • - There are no notes, front/end matter or critical apparatus. The e-texts are simply searchable indexes to the published texts • - Priority is given to inputting the texts. Digital search tools and markup are future tasks

Screenshot of a DSBC text in Devanagari and Roman
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Why a Buddhist Canon instead of a Collection?
• - In India, collections definitely existed in various monasteries, even though the contents of these collections are not precisely known • - In Nepal, a core group of nine Mahāyāna texts (the navasūtra or navadharma) is recognised. These texts were the among the first to be input for the DSBC • - Outside South Asia, in China and Tibet, canons of Buddhist texts were created for the convenience of Buddhist institutions • - A canon is useful for designating texts which are accepted for teaching, study and practice • - The DSBC aims to include all texts belonging to the Sanskrit tradition of Buddhism

Picture of the navasutra (books)  

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What texts are included in the Digital Sanskrit Buddhist canon? • A Sanskrit work is included if: • 1. It is spoken by a Buddha • 2. Its author regards him/herself as Buddhist • 3. It was used by Buddhists in preference to texts of other traditions • eg. certain grammars and medical texts (‘secular’ Buddhist literature)

What texts should not be included? (1) Content
• - There is no exclusion based on place or date of composition • - traditions of Buddhist theory and practice do not end with Śākyamuni Buddha • - There is no exclusion based on doctrinal content • - unless the text takes a clearly antiBuddhist position • - the phenomenon of ‘spurious texts’ is well known outside India • - but there are very few examples of Buddhist texts which were rejected within the Sanskrit Buddhist tradition, and none of these are thought to survive.

What texts should not be included? (2) Poor Quality Texts

• The inclusion of very corrupt texts (eg. from very late manuscripts) can be misleading or counter-productive • - For this reason the DSBC depends on published texts • - High quality editions of texts are often copyrighted works that authors • - However, fragmentary or incomplete texts can provide useful data for research

What texts should not be included? (3) Vajrayāna Texts
• Many tantric texts were not intended to be openly transmitted, but: several of these texts have already been published, so they are no longer secret • all Vajrayāna traditions maintain that initiation is essential to actually use tantric texts • to distribute a tantric text digitally does not necessarily disrupt traditions of tantric practice • the common problem of tantric texts being misunderstood (without reference to living tradition or commentaries) will not be solved simply by excluding tantric texts from the canon; they can be easily obtained from libraries • Some kinds of tantric text, eg. dhāraṇīs and kriyātantras, are not secret and are already being included • - The DSBC is considering the inclusion of all published Vajrayāna texts

Who uses a Buddhist canon in Sanskrit? (1) The Mahāyāna
• • • • • • • • • • All Mahāyāna schools derive their authority from Sanskrit texts, even though translations are used outside South Asia In translated scriptures, questions of meaning, interpretation and authenticity are sometimes only resolved by consulting the original Sanskrit Mahāyāna traditions deriving from Sanskrit texts are very widespread: East Asian: China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Chinese overseas Tibetan: Tibet ,Bhutan, India, Nepal, the West Old Javanese: Indonesia Some Buddhist traditions still use Sanskrit texts directly: Newar Buddhism: Nepal, Newar diaspora areas (India, etc.) Sanskrit is also extremely important for the tantric Buddhist traditions: Mantranaya:Tibetan Buddhism, East Asia, Indonesia

• * Picture of Ranjana script in Tibet or China

Who uses a Buddhist canon in Sanskrit? (2) The Śrāvakayāna
• Historically, some Śrāvakayāna schools used Sanskrit as well • A handful of non-doctrinal Sanskrit texts are still transmitted in areas that have become totally Theravādin: Śrī Laṅka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia • Ironically, most Sanskrit manuscripts from Theravādin areas have no direct connection to Buddhism • Yet many Sanskrit texts of Indian Buddhism are older than Pali commentarial works • Thus Sanskrit texts have at least exegetical importance for Theravādin Buddhists

Who uses a Buddhist canon in Sanskrit? (3) Beyond sectarianism
• • • • • • • • • • The purpose of the DSBC is to provide a free, non-sectarian resource for research and study The DSBC permits the entire Buddhist canon to be instantly searched. This is an enormous breakthrough for scholarship Scholars, individuals and institutions are increasingly using the DSBC in research Most research on Sanskrit Buddhist texts is now done in Japan and Germany Most visitors to the DSBC’s website are from the USA In just two years, the website has received over a million page impressions Population of areas where living religions are based directly on Sanskrit texts: approx. 1.5 billion people (East Asia, Nepal) Population of areas where religious traditions are connected to Sanskrit Buddhist texts: approx. 3 billion people (+India, Southeast Asia)

• * picture of world map with Buddhist areas highlighted •  

A Classification Scheme for the DSBC
• • • • • • • • • • • • - The first phase of the DSBC uses three broad categories: 1. sūtras (62 texts) 2. śāstras (85 texts) 3. stotras (108 texts) A new classification scheme is needed: - to make texts easier to find - to convey a text’s approximate historical origin - to show a text’s traditional doctrinal position(s) The new classification scheme is being based mainly on modern surveys: the Sanskrit Buddhist Literature series (Japan) the Systematic Survey series (Germany) the History of Indian Literature (Netherlands) Modern classifications order texts by period and author as well as genre

Towards a Comprehensive Sanskrit Canon (1): Seeking Published Texts
• There is still no up-to-date bibliography of all published Sanskrit texts • Gaining access to published editions of Sanskrit texts remains difficult • Even texts which appear in print are often very hard to find in libraries • Most reliable editions published are published in the West, and their distribution is constrained by copyright • To incorporate these editions, resources are needed for the time-consuming business of copyright clearance • Some editions can only be used through the goodwill of their editors or publishers

Towards a Comprehensive Sanskrit Canon (2): Buddhist ‘Secular’ Literature
• • • • • • • • • • • Buddhists composed texts on subjects not directly concerned with Buddhism: - Grammar (vyākaraṇa) and lexicography (koṣa) - Poetry (kāvya) and poetics (alaṁkāra) - Medicine (ayurveda), etc. Yet texts on ‘secular’ subjects were written in line with Buddhist principles: - Smaller and clearer grammars do without Vedic forms of Sanskrit - Poetics is connected with theories of meaning - Medicine is of practical benefit to living beings Historically, Buddhist institutions transmitted many ‘secular’ texts - Manuscript collections in Nepal and Sri Lanka are evidence for this That these texts are sometimes used outside Buddhism does not diminish the Buddhist affiliation of their ideas or authors

Towards a Comprehensive Sanskrit Canon (3): Buddhist Inscriptions
• Buddhist inscriptions in Sanskrit tell us how Buddhism was actually practiced • Buddhist inscriptions in Sanskrit appear as far away as Korea, the Maldives, and Afghanistan • Buddhist inscriptions in are also texts composed by Buddhist authors • These inscriptions contain language, ideas and phrases from the Buddhist canon • It is natural to study inscriptions along with canonical texts • The problems of locating, inputting and distributing e-texts of inscriptions are similar to those of canonical texts

Towards a Comprehensive Sanskrit Canon (4): Inputting from manuscripts
• A large number of texts have still not been published in any form • Before modern communications and digital photography, access to manuscripts was limited • It is now possible to input directly from digital scans of manuscripts • Many unpublished texts are clearly important within the Sanskrit tradition • - eg. Certain avadānas, stotras, and tantras • A census of manuscripts is needed to determine the most important unpublished texts, and the most reliable manuscripts • Texts input from manuscripts will be diplomatic transcriptions, not editions • Transcriptions provide useful data for future editions, and accurately reflect manuscript traditions

Picture of an old manuscript in Sanskrit

Plans to complete the Sanskrit Buddhist Canon (1): Goals
• We aim to finish the input of texts in 2010 • Feedback from scholars is sought to improve the integrity of the DSBC • The final step will be to publish and distribute a CD with digital search tools  

Plans to complete the Sanskrit Buddhist Canon (2): Seeking feedback • Feedback from scholars and users is sought prior to completion: • - on any texts that should be included that have not been (or vice versa) • - on the accuracy of input texts • - on the classification of the canon • - on digitally collating the texts with translations in Chinese, Tibetan and Western languages

Plans to complete the Sanskrit Buddhist Canon (3): Needed Resources
• Funding is still needed for the following tasks, in order of priority: • Accessing and inputting all remaining printed texts • Proofreading of texts already input • Seeking copyright clearance for recent editions published outside South Asia • Creating custom digital search and study tools for the whole canon • Pressing and distribution of CDs for areas where internet access is not widespread • Long-term support for the internet presence of the DSBC  

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