Soka Gakkai Publishes Eighth Part of the Lotus Sutra Manuscript Series
The Soka Gakkai recently published The Sanskrit Lotus Sutra Manuscript from the Société Asiatique (No. 2), Romanized Text, the eighth part in its ongoing Lotus Sutra Manuscript series. The Soka Gakkai originally commissioned the Institute of Oriental Philosophy (IOP), Tokyo, Japan, to coordinate the publication of facsimile and romanized texts of Lotus Sutra manuscripts in cooperation with various academic institutions dedicated to preserving original texts as well as with leading experts, and make the Lotus texts more widely available for study.
The manuscript from the Société Asiatique (No. 2), Paris, was used by the famous French scholar Eugène Burnouf (1801-52) to render a French version of the Lotus Sutra, the first-ever attempt at translating the ancient scripture into a modern European language. Burnouf conducted pioneering research on Buddhism in 19th-century France along with colleagues at Collège de France. In this sense, the recent publication of the romanized text of the manuscript, which can be regarded as a starting point of research into Mahayana Buddhism in Europe, is of great significance.
In 1837, Brian H. Hodgeson (1800-1894), a British diplomat stationed in Kathmandu, Nepal, sent a number of valuable Buddhist sutras which he had obtained in Nepal to Burnouf at the Société. Among the packages from Nepal, Burnouf found a Sanskrit Lotus Sutra manuscript in perfect condition. He immediately began translating the manuscript into French, completing the work in 1839. His French translation, along with detailed notes and appendices, was published in 1852--an epoch-making achievement that made a great impact in the world of philosophy at the time. The opportunity to read a romanized text of the original manuscript which Burnouf translated has been long-awaited by Buddhist philologists and researchers.
The publication of Lotus Sutra Manuscript Series 8 is a significant achievement, accomplished some 150 years after Burnouf's French version.
Dr. Haruaki Kotsuki, researcher in charge of manuscript studies at IOP who undertook the elaborate task of romanizing the text, remarked, "The academic and philosophical significance of the Burnouf translation is immeasurable. In Japan, study of the Lotus Sutra has been based mainly on the Kumarajiva translation of Myoho-renge-kyo [Chinese: Miaofa lianhua jing]. But the romanized text now enables a new approach to the Lotus Sutra, allowing an examination and comparison of the Sanskrit original with the French version.
"Through the comparison between the new [romanized] Sanskrit text and the French version, one can clarify how Mahayana Buddhism was introduced to European academia. At the same time, the new romanized text will serve as a valuable basic resource for further philological research...thus paving the way for a new horizon of Lotus Sutra studies at large."
[Adapted from an article in the April 5, 2008 issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai, Japan]