The Perfection of Wisdom

Around 1000 years ago, a scribe called Sujātabhadra, penned the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra or ‘Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 lines‘. Historians believe that the manuscript was completed in the year 985 during the reign of the Pala King, Mahipala.

Importance of the Thought of Enlightenment

Where there is no sprout, there can in the world be no tree. How can therein be the production of branches, leaves, fruits or flowers?
Without aspiration for enlightenment there is no possibility of a Jina* in the world.

*a term used for human beings who have attained omniscience

These words from the text were meant for those on the path to enlightenment and to help them realise the transient nature of things, making it easier to attain nirvana. Full of such pearls of wisdom, it is the world’s oldest Sanskrit manuscript.

What is the manuscript, ‘Perfection of Wisdom’ about?

perfection of wisdom manuscript
The manuscript illustration shows scenes from Buddha’s life. In this case, you see the birth of Buddha.

This manuscript — considered a physical embodiment of the Buddha’s wisdom — is both an object of learning and one of devotion. Devotees study and recite its text, believed to be the Buddha’s own words.

The Perfection of Wisdom is set in the community of monks at the Vulture peak in Rajgrha, modern Rajgir. The text is in the form of dialogues between disciples of the Buddha – such as the traditionalist Sariputra, Buddha’s first cousin Ananda, and bodhisattvas such as Maitreya who discuss what constitutes the correct path to enlightenment.”

Discovering the world’s oldest Sanskrit manuscript

perfection of wisdom manuscript
Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra | Illuminated Buddhist manuscript on dried palm leaves. India Pala period, late 11th C.

Buddhism travelled from India to Nepal, Tibet, along the Silk Route to China and further onto Japan. In the 1870s, Dr Daniel Wright, a surgeon of the British Residency found this manuscript in a disused temple in Kathmandu, Nepal.

When Sujātabhadra picked up his reed pen and put his name to the manuscript, he was part of a rich network of scholarship, culture, belief and trade

Dr Camillo Formigatti of the Sanskrit Manuscripts Project.
Buddha taming the enraged elephant, Nalagiri

Where can you find the manuscript today?

The manuscript is part of the South Asian collections at the Cambridge University Library, along with about 2,000 other centuries-old manuscripts that cover religion, philosophy, astronomy, grammar, law, poetry and many other subjects. A digitisation project has made the manuscript accessible online to scholars worldwide and has revealed fresh evidence about the origins of some of the earliest Buddhist texts. The images are licensed as CC BY-NC 3.0.

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