Reclaiming the lost Buddhist legacy

by Sarthak Gupta, Top News, Jan 4, 2010

New Delhi, India -- In a quiet corner of the city, scholars from across Asia will come together to reclaim our Buddhist legacy.

They are rendering, for the first time, two important Buddhist texts — the Mahamegha Sutra and a meditation manual by Kumarajiva, the son of a monk, whose translations of Buddhist texts spurred the spread of Buddhism in China — in English so that Indians can have access to it.

These texts were first written in Sanskrit and as Buddhism spread across Asia they were translated into Chinese, Tibetan and Japanese. But the original Sanskrit text is now lost and only the translations exist.

“Today, we don’t have access to what was ours to begin with,” said Dr Sankarnarayan, head of the KJ Somaiya Buddhist Centre that is coordinating these projects. “By rendering them in English and publishing them, a lot more people can understand the roots of Buddhism.”

These projects were taken up last year and scholars from the Benaras Hindu University and Kushu Ryukoku College in Japan will be part of the project.

Across the world, Buddhist texts are being translated into English.

Robert Thurman, JeyTsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies, Columbia University, said, “The recovery of these texts into English couldn’t be more important for India and the world.

They record the knowledge and aspiration of millions of people from the golden age of classical India, when Buddhist universities and communities constituted a major component of the Indian civilization,” said the father of Kill Bill star Uma Thurman.

“The awareness of this component was lost to India for over a thousand years because of various foreign invasions and destruction of great universities such as Nalanda, Vikramashila and Otantapuri. I am sure the various translations ofBuddhist texts across the world will eventually be considered among the greatest scholarly projects of the 20th-21st centuries.”

These texts are very relevant in today’s world. For example, the Mahamegha Sutra, was recited when there was a famine in Kanchipuram in south India.

“The text helps people deal with the havoc of a natural calamity and the loss people feel. It explains that these calamities are part of the balance of nature and each individual is part of the universe and will go back to it. These teachings are relevant to the present day where the world is fraught with calamity,” added Sankarnarayan.