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'A Tripitaka for the 21st Century:

The Development of the

Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon'.

Min Bahadur Shakya

Nagarjuna institute of Exact Methods
Chakupat, Lalitpur,Nepal

Exploring Sanskrit Buddhist canon
Restoration of lost Sanskrit Buddhist literature and its importance
Digitization of Sanskrit Buddhist canon

I. Introduction:

We know that the various editions of Tibetan Kanjur contain the translation of the most of the
important texts of Sanskrit Buddhist canons. In the catalogue index of Tibetan Kanjur prepared
by Dharma Publishing there are more than 1000 Sanskrit titles in it.

Among them only 10 percent are available in original Sanskrit.

The canons of other schools of the Shravakayana are largely identical to the Pali canonical
tradition of the Theravada; however, they are however compiled in other languages or dialects

The Vinaya Pitaka is found without too much variation in almost all schools.

The Sutta pitaka shows more variations, however, none of them being of a fundamental nature.
In Sanskrit it is mostly referred to as the Agama Pitaka. The large body of literature concerning
Agama texts is available only in Chinese Translations. Often Agama texts are longer than Sutta

Concerning the Abhidhamma Pitaka there is no agreement with Abhidharma literature in

Sanskrit. This could be explained by the later date of the redaction.

A lot of Sanskrit texts have been lost and only are extant in their Chinese and or Tibetan

Besides the Theravada school, the only other school with a completed (i.e. closed) canon is the
Mulasarvastivada School.

A great number of fragments are still being discovered, mostly in Sanskrit or Central Asian
languages (Sogdian, Tokhari, Khotanese,).
II. Exploration of Sanskrit Buddhist Canon
Nepal, Central Asia, Gilgit, Beijing-China, Tibetan Autonomous regions, Japan, UK/USA,
will be dealt with.

I. Nepal has the largest repository of Buddhist Sanskrit literature dealing with different aspects
of Mahayana creeds and practices. The monk scholars as well as Vajracharya Pandits have
contributed in producing and preserving Buddhist manuscripts

It was not until the advent of Sir Brian B. Hodgson (1824-1842 AD.) a British diplomat in Nepal,
discovered a great number of Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts in Nepal.

The existence of these Sanskrit Buddhist Manuscripts before his time was unknown, and his
discovery entirely revolutionized the history of Buddhism, as Europeans knew it in the early part
of this century. Copies of these works, totaling 381 bundles of manuscripts have been distributed
so as to render them accessible to European scholars.

Of these 86 eighty-six manuscripts comprising 179 separate works, many were presented to
Asiatic Society of Bengal:1
85 to the Royal Asiatic Society of London;
30 to the Indian Office Library;
7 to the Bodleian Library, Oxford;
174 to the Société Asiatique, and to French scholar Eugene Bernouf.
The last two collections have since been deposited in the Bibliothèque Nationale of France.

It is in Nepal that most of the Sanskrit Buddhist documents have been found. Most of the
manuscripts originally preserved in Nepal have been carried out of the country by the pioneers of
the modern Indology.
At present following organizations are working hard for the preservation of these Sanskrit
Buddhist mss in Nepal.
1. National Archives: It has recently published a catalogue of all the important Sanskrit
Buddhist texts numbering 1800.
2. Nepal German Mss.Preservation Project: NGMPP has published a catalogue of all
microfilmed mss from National archive and the center’s collection.
3. Asha Archives In collaboration with the Buddhist Library of Japan, Nagoya, the
Asha Archives has recently completed the digitalization of its 7025
titles of manuscripts. All the manuscripts including their paintings and illuminations
are available on CD-ROM (368 cd's) or 53 DVDs The Collections in this archives there are
several valuable collections of palm leaf, loose leaf pothi and folded manuscripts.
4. Keshar Library: .Keshar Library has preserved valuable Buddhist Mss which is worth
mentioning dating back as early as 13th century..
II. Central Asia:
A summary of contents of 85 Mss was published as Sanskrit Buddhist literature of Nepal by Rajendra Lal Mitra in
1882 published by The Asiatic Society of Bengal,Calcutta.
As we discussed, the discovery of Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts in Nepal has revolutionized
the history of Buddhism and its academic study.
In the beginning of the 20th century, from a series of missions in Central Asia Prof.A.F.
Rudolf Hoernle, Prof. Stein Konow, Prof. A. Stein and others have reported an existence of
number of Sanskrit Buddhist Manuscripts, Prakrit,Uigurs,Sogdian, Tokhania and others in
Central Asia2.. As much as 33 Sanskrit Buddhist texts were published in fragments or some in
full text. The Central Asia Manuscripts belong to all the major form of Buddhism.
Some of these important texts are as follows:
1. Samgiti Sutra-Dirghagama
2. Atanatia sutra-Dirghagama
3. Upali Sutra-Madhyamagama
4. Suka Sutra-Madhyamagama
5. Pravarana Sutra-Samuktagama
6. Candropama Sutra-do
7. Sakti Sutra-do
8. Ratnarasi sutra-Ratnakuta Class
9. Ratnadhvaja Sutra-Mahasannipata class
10. Candragarbha Sutra-do
11. Bhadrapala Sutra-do
12. Mahaparinirvana Sutra-Nirvana class
13. Suramgama samadhi sutra and several others.

III. Gilgit Manuscripts:

In 1931 Several Buddhist Sanskrit Manuscripts were discovered in a Stupa near Gilgit in
Kashmir.The Manuscripts were written in 5th or 6th century A.D and are some of the earliest
manuscripts discovered at the times.Most of these mss are known through Chinese and
Tibetan translations and not in their original Sanskrit.

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Nalinkasa Dutta who edited and published a series of rare texts
worthy of praise and admiration. These titles are
1. Samadhiraja sutra –
2.Vajrachedika Prajnaparamita
6.Mulasarvastivadavinaya vastu
7.Arya Buddhabaladhana sutra
9.Sri mahadevi vyakaranam
10.Sarvatathagata adhisthana vyuha and so forth.3

The report was published in the text" Manuscript remains of Buddhist literature found in Eastern Turkestan"
published by Sri Satguru Publication-Delhi , 1988 and first Oxford edition at 1916
Gilgit Manuscripts four volumes-9 parts published by Sri Satguru Publications,
IV. Afganistan:

Another important discovery is the Schoyen's collections



Buddhist manuscripts smuggled out of Afghanistan now in Norwegian collection of Buddhist

manuscripts from Afghanistan acquired by Martin Schoyen are now kept in his private
manuscript collection4. The Norwegian media has written quite a bit about the Schoyen-
collection in the course of the last few months. The coverage was initially positive, but lately
more critical views regarding the collection have been aired. The Egyptian authorities, through
their ambassador, are now considering a claim on the return of Egyptian objects in the collection.
The current debate in Norway concerning the Schoyen-collection The Norwegian collector
Martin Schoyen is the formal owner of the alleged largest private collection of ancient
manuscripts in the world.


I) Sutra:
a) Agama:
1. Camgisutra, -Jens-Uwe Hartmann
2. Fragments from the Mahaparinirvanasutra, Klaus Wille
3. Fragments of a Sanskrit Version of the Andhasutta, of a Sutra on the Three Bad Moral
Qualities of Devadatta, and of a Kavikumaravadana, - Siglinde Dietz
b) Mahayana:
4. New fragments from the Astasåhasrikå Prajñaparamita of the Kusana period,
Lore Sander

Parts of the collection are presented on a web-page (in English) by the Norwegian
National Library:
5. Candrottaradarikavyakara, -Jens Braarvig, Paul Harrison
6. Fragments of the Saddharmapundarikasutra, Hirofumi Toda
7. Samadhirajasutra, Andrew Skilton
8. Larger Sukhåvativyuha, Paul Harrison, Jens-Uwe Hartmann,
Kazunobu Matsuda
9. Another Fragment of the Ajåtasatrukaukrtyavinodanasutra,
Paul Harrison, Jens-Uwe Hartmann
II) Vinaya:
1. Mahåsånghika-vinaya, Seishi Karashima
2. Manuscript Remains of a Karmavacana Collection:
III) Abhidharma:
1. Three Fragments Related to the Sariputra-Abhidharma, Kazunobu Matsuda

IV) Miscellaneous:
1. 2nd century Abhidharma Commentary, Lambert Schmithausen,
Lore Sander, Jens Braarvig
2. A Sanskrit Fragment Mentioning King Huviska as a Follower of the Mahayana,
Richard Salomon
4. Jyotiskavadana, Stefan Baums
5. Poetical Texts
Buddhastotras by Matrceta, Jens-Uwe Hartmann
The Jatakamala of AryaSura, Jens-Uwe Hartmann
Haribatta’s Jatakamala, Michael Hahn

V. Discovery of Buddhist Manuscript in Tibetan Autonomous regions

In year 2004, Prof. ERNST STEINKELLNER published his extensive article"

-On Sanskrit Manuscripts in Tibet, their Past and their Future"

Here is the summary of his article.

The Tibetan kingdom reached the apex of its power and extension by the end of the 8th century A.D. and
the new religion was officially adopted by king Khri-srong lde-btsan (755-797AD)for his people in 779

AD. The first monastery, bSam-yas, was founded in A.D. 775_ with the help of the famous Indian scholar
Santaraks ita who ordained the first Tibetan monks in A.D. 779

Translating the scriptures and scholastic treatises, mainly from Sanskrit, but also from Chinese,
was considered to be a major task during this period. The following kings, particularly
Khri-gtsug lde-btsana lias Ral-pa-can (A.D. 815-841), _ continued this policy. The list of works deposited
in the palace of lHan-kar. Aa_ mentions seven hundred and twenty-two texts translated and seven texts
under preparation.

All these translations were done by teams consisting of Indian, Tibetan and
Chinese monastic scholars. For the translations of Sanskrit texts these teams must
have been working on the basis of manuscripts brought from the Indian Buddhist

What happened to these original materials after they were translated into Tibetan, we can only
guess. They were certainly treated carefully and with the highest respect and in all probability
safely kept in the royal palaces and the early temples, much in the same way as they were kept in later

The so-called ‘‘later spread of the doctrine’’was initiated by the fervently Buddhist kings of the Western
Tibetan kingdom. It began with king Ye-ses-’od’s strong efforts to re-establish the links to authoritative
Buddhist traditions. Young Tibetans were sent to neighboring Kashmir and its monasteries to learn the
language of the Holy Scriptures, to translate, and to acquire Sanskrit manuscripts to be translated in the
new royal realm.

Rin-chen bzan -po, the leading figure of this period, reportedly worked on one hundred and sixty-eight

translations. Another Indian scholar of renown was invited to Western Tibet. Atisa (A.D. 982-1054) who
subsequently went to Central Tibet to continue his missionary work. Monastic centres soon began to
develop again

Again Tibetans went to India and Nepal, and Indian scholars, monks and practitioners were invited to
Tibet. Manuscripts were imported once more and translated in much the same way they had been during
the old kingdom.

Clearly the influx of Indian Buddhists and Buddhist material from the 11th century onwards was also
substantially enhanced by the fact that Muslim raids swept through Northern India with steadily
increasing pressure during this period.

The great centers of Buddhist learning as for example in the Pala realm, were destroyed near the turn to
the thirteenth century, and with them their libraries"_: Odantapura, Vikramasila , Somapura, and
Jagaddala. Nalanda ,"_ founded before the middle of the _th century, was already a ruin when the Chag
lotsaba Chos rjes- dpal alias Dharmasvamin visited. The libraries had long ago been turned to ashes, and
Dharmasvamin could not take a single manuscript back home.

All the manuscripts he brought back to Tibet were acquired in Nepal. Now we have to imagine Indian
refugees who went with their most precious treasures, consisting again, mainly of manuscripts, to Nepal
and even further to Tibet for safety.

Sanskrit Manuscripts in Sakya Monastery:

In Sa-skya, the Sanskrit manuscripts were kept in the so-called Phyag-dpe lhakhan (’Manuscript-
Chapel’). In this context Sankrityayana’s vivid description of his first visit to these treasures was
outstanding and marvelous. Thanks to Indian genious- a man called Rahula who brought a great
deal of Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts from these Tibetan monasteries and has been preserved at
Bihar Research Society.

K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute

In this aspect K.P.Jayaswal Research Institute has done a commendable job in publishing
important texts which were received from Tibet from Rahula 's expedition in Tibet.. I'd like to
express my special thanks and offer my obeisance to these scholars who worked on this project
of publication of these texts. Among these outstanding scholars of international repute Prof.
Karunesh Shukla is one of them who edited and worked on Shravaka bhumi text energetically
and thoroughly. Other Scholars are as follows: Gustabh Roth, Padmanabha Jain, Ananta Lal
Thakur, Nalinaksa Dutta, and so on.

V. New Sanskrit Buddhist texts published from Japan

Vimalakîrtinirdesa and Jñânâlokâlamkâra

Sanskrit texts collated with Tibetan and Chinese translations

The Vimalakîrtinirdesa ("The Teaching of Vimalakirti") is one of the most well known Mahayana
sutra among Buddhist countries in Asia. The complete Sanskrit text had been considered lost
until a delegation team of Taisho University found out the complete and beautiful palm-leaf
manuscript at the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region. The news of
the discovery of the manuscript was released in the end of 1999.

  The Sanskrit manuscript of the Vimalakîrtinirdesa is preserved together with the

Jñânâlokâlamkâra mahâyânasûtra in the same bundle. This mahayanasutra is one of the
important sources for the study of the Tathâgatagarbha philosophy, for it is often cited in the
Ratnagotravibhâga.The bundle of both important Sanskrit manuscripts are reproduced as the
facsimile edition.

Apart from these two imporant texts, there are other such as
Siddhaikaviramahatantra Chapter II by Nobuo Otsuka.
Siddhaikaviramahatantra Chapter III by Hideaki Kimura.
The Script of the Sravakabhumi Manuscript by Koshin Suzuki.
On the inserted verses among the citation from Prajnopayaviniscayavidhi IV in
Samputodbhavatantra II-ii by Keiya Noguchi.
Dakarnavamahayoginitantra Chapter 15 by Takashi Maeda.
Vajra-dhatu-mukh'akhyana-deguri-vidhih IV by Mitsutoshi Moriguchi.
Index to the Hetuvidya Text of the Yogacarabhumi by Hideomi Yaita/ Masahiro Takano.
Dvadasanga-pratityasamutpadah by Takayasu Kimura.

VI.Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project-UK/USA

Project history: The British Library / University of Washington Early Buddhist Manuscripts
Project was founded in September 1996 in order to promote the study, editing, and publication of
a unique collection of fifty‐seven fragments of Buddhist manuscripts on birch bark scrolls,
written in the Kharoṣṭhī script and the Gāndhārī (Prakrit) language that were acquired by the
British Library in 1994.

The manuscripts date from, most likely, the first century A.D., and as such are the oldest
surviving Buddhist texts, which promise to provide unprecedented insights into the early history
of Buddhism in north India and in central and east Asia. Research findings and translations are
being presented in publications of the University of Washington Press.
VII. People's Republic of China


The Research Institute of Sanskrit Manuscripts and Buddhist Literature were established under
the Department of Oriental Languages of the School of Foreign Languages and are currently
under the direction of Professor Dr. Duan Qing.

As an effort to promote studies of Buddhist texts around the world, the Research Institute will
publish periodically in the internet facsimiles of Sanskrit palm leaves, together with
transliteration and trilingual comparative texts (Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese). Such valuable
Sanskrit textual resources will thus be made readily available to Indologists and Buddhist
scholars worldwide.

Since the discovery of the Dunhuang Manuscript Cave in 1990, a new academic
discipline - "Dunhuang Studies" sprang up, attracting international attention. As so much
attention has been focused on Dunhuang, let us not forget that there is yet another
Manuscript Cave, that is, a substantial collection of Sanskrit Manuscripts preserved in
Tibetan and other parts of China.

As they are now made available to us, these manuscripts deserve our serious attention.
Our endeavor to compile and conduct research on them is an on-going and long-termed
project, demanding supports in various ways, financially and technically from interested
parties worldwide.

b. China Tibetological Research Center-Beijing

Recently, CTRC has publishing new Sanskrit Buddhist texts which were discovered in
Potala Palace of Lhasa and elsewhere. Some of these publications were jointly
collaborated Austrian academic of sciences led by Dr. Ernst SteinKellner.They are as

1.Jinendrabuddhi's Visalamalavati Pramanasamuccayatika edited by Ernst

Steinkellner,Helmut Krasser and Horst Lasic published by China Tibetological
Publishing House and Austrian Academy of Sciences Press Beijing-Vienna 2005.

2.Dharmakirti's Pramanaviniscaya ( chap I & II) edited by Ernst Stein Kellner

-published by China Tibetological Publishing House and Austrian Academy of Sciences
Press Beijing-Vienna 2007.

VIII. Importance of Restoration of Sanskrit Buddhist texts

It is believed that there had been a separate Sanskrit Buddhist canon in older period but
it does not exist now. Because due to the destruction of Nalanda and Vikramashila
monasteries and its libraries a great deal of Sanskrit texts had been lost.

Most of the agama literature, Mahayana Sutras, and Shastras are not extant now and is
available only in fragments.

In this context the works of individual scholars are praise worthy. There are galaxies of
scholar authors who are worthy to mention and are commendable for their outstanding
restoration works.

In this aspect Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, has done a commendable job
in restoring a number of Sanskrit texts from Tibetan sources.
A bulk of shastra literature of the Buddhists has already been restored into Sanskrit and
some of them are waiting for publication. Their next venture is the restoration of lost
Mahayana sutra literature from Tibetan or Chinese.

In this act of restoration works, scholars from Vishva-bharati Shanti niketan, Adyar
Library, Delhi University, K.P.Jayaswal Research Institute and others are worthy of

IX. Digitization of Sanskrit Buddhist canon:

The Nagarjuna Institute of Exact Methods (NIEM) is a non-profit, educational foundation.
Our goal is to promote research into the vast Sanskrit Buddhist Canon. The scriptures and
treatises, which make up this canon, encompass over a hundred thousand pages.

Over the past 12 years, NIEM has established a solid basis in scholarship and organization.
We are accelerating our work by broadening our support and applying the latest in computer
technology. We need the financial and moral support of all those who recognize the
importance of Buddhism for today's world. Through this support, we hope to complete the
Sanskrit Buddhist Canon CD-ROM project in 5 years. It is the nature of this project than the
more support we receive; the faster it can be completed.

Significance of the Project

• Electronic access to Sanskrit Buddhist texts, with all its profound implications for
enhancing the power, scope and subtlety of research, has been a desideratum of the field
for quite some time. Clearly, the conversion of the Buddhist canons into machine-
readable format is an idea whose time has come. We will begin with the published
editions of the Sanskrit Buddhist texts published from the beginning of this century.
About 200 Sanskrit Buddhist texts are available to day in printed form.
• The availability of all the Sanskrit language texts on CD-ROM will be an important
milestone in Buddhist scholarship, and the inclusion of the English preface will make this
CD-ROM immensely useful to educators and non-specialists. We are trying to publish
and disseminate these texts in electronic media.
A pioneering resource for cultural and religious
The Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon (DSBC)
Rare treasures of human wisdom, freely available for the first
The University of the West is engaged in a ground-breaking project to gather,
digitize and
distribute the original Sanskrit scriptures of the Buddhist faith. Although
Buddhism disappeared
from its Indian homeland hundreds of years ago, many of its sacred texts were
preserved in Nepal.
Now, with the collaboration of Nagarjuna Institute of Nepal, these texts are
again being
brought to the world.

The Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon, or DSBC, is an ambitious project to offer

the original
intellectual and spiritual heritage of Buddhism in digital form. Currently over two
scriptures are freely offered at our website (

Some highlights of the DSBC

Global significance. The Sanskrit scriptures of Buddhism are authorities for the
majority of the
world’s Buddhists, namely those in China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet
and Nepal, as
well as India and much of Southeast Asia. The DSBC has generated enormous
interest in these
countries, as well as among scholars in the United States and Europe.

Open access. Many of the scriptures offered by DSBC are difficult or practically
impossible to
find in libraries or through the usual research methods. The DSBC’s texts are not
only instantly
accessible via the internet, but can also be searched and indexed

A pioneering resource. The digitization of Sanskrit Buddhist texts was

considered a desirable
but distant goal for many years. The DSBC’s unique expertise, together with the
generosity of its
sponsors, turned this dream into a reality for the first time. The DSBC’s work to
date will enable
rapid advances in the study of Buddhism, philosophy, culture and other fields of
the humanities.

Help us complete a successful project

Since coming online in 2005, the DSBC has attracted a steadily growing base of
users. The DSBC
website serves tens of thousands of visitors every month from all over the world.
To give one
indication of its importance, Göttingen University in Germany requested and
received permission
to host a large portion of the DBSC on its internet servers.

The response has been very positive,and now our users are looking forward to
the completion of the project. Much has been achieved, but much remains to be
done, and further funding is needed.

Financial assistance is sought for:

- The identification and input of a hundred or more texts not yet in the DSBC;
- The reorganization and classification of the completed canon;
- The provision of easy-to-use search and study tools;
- Long-term support for the DSBC’s internet presence.

Our goal of open access to this treasury of human wisdom can be realized with
your support.
Donations may be assigned to specific texts or resources, and are gratefully
acknowledged within
the DSBC itself.

I appeal to outstanding Sanskrit Buddhist scholars and academics to put a concerted effort in
restoring these texts which are available only in Chinese and Tibetan languages.

We understand that there is no complete closed Sanskrit Buddhist canon in Buddhist history.
Sanskrit literature in Buddhism is by no means exclusively Mahāyānist.
Various sects of Hinayāna including Sarvāstivāda possess a canon of their own and a rich
literature in Sanskrit.

Several original Sanskrit Buddhist Mss. are found in Nepal Archives dating from 11th
century to 20th century.

The digitization of these Sanskrit Buddhist texts was considered a desirable but distant goals
for many celebrated Universities and organizations for many year.

But now we are confident that UWEST/NIEM will achieve this goal in no time.
UWEST will be premiere University who is producing Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon for
the first time in the history of electronic Buddhist world.


Thanks to the vision of Grand Master Hsing Yun who sponsored this project generously.

I owed a deep debt of gratitude to Prof. Lewis Lancaster, who initiated and inspired to work on
this project. Without his support this project will not have actualized to this present state of

Last but not the least, I’d like to thank the organizer led by Most Ven. Prof Le Manh That
Vice President, Vietnam Buddhist University Chairman, IOC for UN Day of Vesak 2008 – BE.
2552 who invited me in this magnificent conference in the city of Hanoi and gave me an
opportunity to share the missions of DSBC and for their kind and generous hospitality during our
sojourn in this beautiful city of Vietnam.