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Buddhadharma : Spring 2019
BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 43 MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS have passed since twenty-eight fragile birch bark scrolls, now known to be the oldest surviving Buddhist manuscripts in the world, came to light. Dating back to as early as the first century BCE, the scrolls—originating in the ancient kingdom of Gandhara, which once straddled the border between present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan—predate the earliest Pali manuscripts by several centuries. Since that initial discovery, hun- dreds of similar manuscripts and fragments have been recovered, all from the same region. Buddhist academics in several countries in North America, Europe, and Asia have engaged in arduous study of the Gandharan manuscripts, the contents of which have been the subject of eight books and innumerable articles. But what does the discovery of these relics mean for Buddhist practitioners? Are they merely a matter of academic interest, or do they have the potential to shift our under- standing of the original message of the Buddha in some fundamental way? Will they compel us to abandon or modify long-cherished Bud- dhist ideas and practices or present us with previously unimagined revelations about the Buddha’s message? The short answer to such questions is no—but also yes. Lessons of the Gandharan Manuscripts Richard Salomon Seated Buddha, first to mid-second century CE Gandhara (modern-day Pakistan) THEMETROPOLITANMUSEUMOFART,NEWYORK,GIFTOFMUNEICHINITTA,2003,ACCNo:2003.593.1