Posted on: 22 January 2015

Digital Rare Book:
Literary history of Sanskrit Buddhism
By G.K. Nariman
Published by India Book Depot, Bombay - 1919

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Buddhism rose in India and it is all but dead in India ; but the zeal of the early Buddhist missionaries spread the faith far beyond the boundaries of its native land. There is no lack of authentic histories of Buddhism but up to now no systematic history of the Buddhist literature in Sanskrit has appeared. Buddhism has had an immense literature. The literary productions of the Buddhists fall into two divisions. The sacred language, however, of Buddhism, has not been one. The religion had early branched into several sects and each of them had a sacred tongue of its own. It is yet a moot question what the original language of Buddhism was and whether we have descended to us any fragments of the tongue employed by the Buddha himself. Whatever that original language was it is now certain that Pali has no claim to that distinction. Strictly speaking there are only two sacred languages of the Buddhists, Pali and Sanskrit. Pali is the hieratic language of the Buddhists of Ceylon, Siam and Burma who observe a prosaic and more ancient form of Buddhism. The sacred language of Tibet, China and Japan is Sanskrit and although very few books on Buddhism written in Sanskrit have ever been discovered there, it is unquestionable that at one time there was an immense Buddhist literature, a vast amount of which was translated into Tibetan and Chinese and latterly scholars have succeeded in recovering a portion of the Sanskrit canon which was believed to have perished beyond recall. The history of Buddhism will have a sufficient amount of tight thrown on it when we have accessible to us in a European language of the Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist works. But Pali Buddhism has the merit of being compact and has been studied more or less vigorously in Europe. The Sanskrit Buddhism has had the disadvantage of being looked upon with suspicion. It was believed to be a later production. Very few scholars are now sceptical regarding some of the texts which this Sanskrit Buddhist literature embodies and which date from an antiquity as respectable as any of the Pali texts.

Heart Sutra in Sanskrit

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