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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 3.1 (2020): 259–317;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Manuscript Studies and Xuanzang Studies)

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On Xuanzang and Manuscripts of the *Mahāprajñāpāramitā-sūtra at Dunhuang and in Early Japanese Buddhism

University of Saskatchewan

Abstract: Xuanzang 玄奘 (Genjō, c. 602–664) is credited with translating some of the largest and most significant scriptures and commentaries in the East Asian Buddhist canons. But his behemoth translation of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā-sūtra 大般若波羅蜜多經 (Z no. 1, T no. 220) in 600 rolls seems to have been particularly important to Buddhist monastics and patrons who produced manuscript editions of the Buddhist canon at Dunhuang during the ninth century, and in Japan from the eighth to twelfth centuries. In this paper, I first survey what made the *Mahāprajñāpāramitā-sūtra an object of exceptional reverence, and why it appears to have been critical to communities from western China to Japan that this colossal work can be connected to Xuanzang. Next, I introduce several colophons to manuscripts from Dunhuang to show how quickly Xuanzang’s Mahāprajñāpāramitā-sūtra seems to have been taken to the temples near Dunhuang to become the key component in manuscript copies of all the scriptures (yiqie jing, issaikyō 一切經). Then I introduce less well known manuscripts from eighth century Japan, along with examples of rolls with colophons from the Nanatsudera 七寺 and Matsuo shrine 松尾社 canons, and archaeological evidence from elsewhere in Heian (794–1185) Japan to demonstrate how and why the Mahāprajñāpāramitā-sūtra was revered above all other scriptures.

Keywords: Mahāprajñāpāramitā-sūtra, Da bore jing, Dai hannya kyō, Xuanzang, Buddhist manuscripts China and Japan, Dunhuang manuscripts, old Japanese manuscript canons, Tang China, Matsuo shrine canon, Nanatsudera canon


About the Author: Dr. George A. Keyworth is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. He received his Ph.D. in Chinese Buddhist Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Dr. Keyworth has received grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada to support research about and the publication of peer-reviewed articles on Northern Song dynasty (960–1127) Chinese Chan Buddhism and the figure of Juefan Huihong 覺範惠洪 (1071–1128); Japanese pilgrims to Song China (e.g., Jōjin 成尋 [1011–1081]); apocryphal Chinese Buddhist scriptures and the particular case of the Shoulengyan jing 首楞厳經 (*Śūraṃgama-sūtra) using sources from Dunhuang, Central Asia, and Japan; esoteric Buddhism in Tang (618–907) and Song China; Zen Buddhism in Edo Japan and the figure of Kakumon Kantetsu 覚門貫徹 (d. 1730); and old Japanese manuscript Buddhist canons, especially from Nanatsudera 七寺, Amanosan Kongōji 天野山金剛寺 and the Matsuo shrine 松尾大社 canon kept at Myōrenji 妙蓮寺. Dr. Keyworth is currently working on two books, tentatively titled: A History of Matsuo Shrine and Copying for the Kami: A Study and Catalog of Three 12th century Manuscript Buddhist Canons.


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