HOMEResearchResearch Institute for Old Japanese Manuscripts of Buddhist Scriptures

Research Institute for Old Japanese Manuscripts of Buddhist Scriptures

Establishment of the Research Centre for the Buddhist Manuscripts copied in the Nara and Heian Periods

The Buddhist manuscripts copied in the Nara Period amount to more than one thousand scrolls. These are believed to have served as the basis for the manuscripts later made during the Heian and Kamakura Periods, of which over ten thousand copies have survived to this day. For many generations, the tendency has been to regard these ancient manuscripts as sources of secondary value which could merely offer supplementary materials not found in the traditional editions of the Buddhist Canon printed in China and Korea beginning with the 10th century. Recent research has proved, however, that these manuscripts are not only faithful replicas of the Chinese originals which circulated during the Tang Dynasty but also reflect the basic aspects of the Sui and Tang Buddhism. These ancient manuscripts, no doubt representing the flower of the Japanese Buddhist culture of the time, actually constitute a corpus which can vie with the famous Dunhuang collections. Their value as a textual body can be compared to the modern Taisho Canon, which doubtless counts as one of Japan’s major contributions to the spread and study of Buddhism in our days. Unfortunately, however, no major effort to gather and survey the whole corpus of Nara and Heian manuscripts has been undertaken so far. Besides, not a few of them are now hosted in collections overseas. A complete inventory of all these manuscripts, whether in Japan or abroad, remains a strong desideratum.
The International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies in association with other academic institutions as well as with Buddhist temples, museums, research institutes, etc. in Japan and abroad plans to survey the exact location and take digital pictures of all these manuscripts in order to re-construct the traditional corpus of texts recorded in the Zhengyuan Era Catalogue. It is hoped that this will provide new foundations for the study of the textual traditions of the Eastern Buddhist cultural sphere.