Click here return to the Hualin main page.

Click here return to the Hualin E-Journal Vol 4.2 Table of Contents page.


Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 4.2 (2021): 240–273;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Wheel that Crossed the Borders: Buddhist and Non-Buddhist Religions)

Download full text PDF


The Study of Sanskrit in Medieval East Asia: China and Japan

Jeffrey KOTYK
University of British Columbia

Abstract: This paper explores the historical study of the Sanskrit language and its related systems of writing in ancient and medieval East Asia. It is argued that the varied availability of teachers and manuals in different time periods and environments led to uneven studies of Sanskrit in different generations. In some cases, we can point to significant understanding of Sanskrit in the writings of some monks. Although some monks had direct access to Indian teachers, the majority of students never had this opportunity, and instead relied on resources in Chinese, which primarily included word lists, rather than grammars. There is evidence for the systematic study of Sanskrit grammar, but this was apparently limited in time and faced a number of challenges. The script of Siddhaṃ became widely studied as a sacred system of writing, but I argue that this did not necessitate the learning of Sanskrit grammar.

Keywords: Sanskrit, China, Buddhism, Japan, Mikkyō, Jōnen, Siddhaṃ


About the Author: Jeffrey Kotyk (Ph.D., Leiden University, 2017) is presently the Sheng Yen Education Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Chinese Buddhism at the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada. His diverse publications cover a variety of topics, including transcultural Buddhist history, the history of astronomy in China, material culture in medieval East Asia, and Sino-Japanese Buddhist relations. He has publications in journals such as T’oung PaoAsia Major and Studies in Chinese Religions.


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.