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Buddhadharma : Spring 2019
RICHARD SALOMON 51 of Vessantara, but in that of Kanha. This is startling, and even somewhat unsettling, given how well known the Vessantara story is throughout the Buddhist world, all the more so because the verses are considered the essential core of the jataka stories, with the prose narrative deemed to be mere commentary. It would be tempt- ing—but probably incorrect—to dismiss this anomaly as a memory error on the part of the scribe; it is unlikely the scribe would have misremembered an important passage from such a fundamental text. Rather, it seems we are dealing with an unexpected variant of the Vessantara story that circulated in Gandhara but did not survive into the canonical Buddhist literatures of later times. This situation is emblematic of the overall character of the rediscovered Buddhist literature of Gandhara: the broad textual framework and the main doctrinal principles are familiar, but the details are often different, sometimes subtly and sometimes, as here, dramatically so. Other casual sketches scrawled into the spaces of earlier manu- scripts involve not legends from the time of Buddha or from his previous lives but stories about notable figures who lived at the time of the scrolls’ creation. Among these are rulers of the kingdoms of the early centuries of the Common Era, previously known to us from their coins and inscriptions. These legends illuminate the his- torical context of the manuscripts themselves as well as the adoption of Buddhism by these foreign conquerors. A collection of fragments very recently discovered turned out to be a ledger of gifts to a mon- astery—a record of donations by the Kushana king Vima Kadphises, who ruled in the early second century CE. This is a spectacular discovery, revealing rare details of the relationship between secular powers and Buddhist institutions. There have been many other surprises, as well. Sprinkled among the many dozens of texts are ten examples of Mahayana sutras— including ones well known in Sanskrit, Tibetan, or Chinese, such as the “Perfection of Wisdom Sutra” and the “Bodhisattva Basket ARTINSTITUTEOFCHICAGO|SAMUELM.NICKERSONFUND,REF.No:1931.268 Head of Buddha, third to fifth century Gandhara (modern-day Afghanistan or Pakistan)