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Bridging Worlds: Buddhist Words and Works

Texts

Buddhist texts have been created, translated, and transformed wherever the dharma has spread. Canonical and devotional texts are perfect examples of the mixture of transregionality and localization that the Bridging Worlds exhibition attempts to draw out. The classical languages of the canon, Pali and Sanskrit, are transregional; they connect Buddhist cultures over wide swathes of Asia. The Sanskrit and Pali languages do not, however, have their own distinctive scripts. They can be and are still written in local scripts—Devanagari, Thai, Burmese, Sinhala and the like. Local languages are typically used for translations, commentaries, and original works.

The long and narrow dimensions of palmleaf manuscripts set the model for later paper manuscripts and many printed editions. Japanese and Chinese texts follow their own orthographic conventions, reading right to left and top to bottom.

Grhi-vinaya, a Nepali pamphlet on good conduct for laymen.
(top left) Ryan Brah Sudhan, Jataka or birth stories in Burmese; (top center) Bodhi sattvayagu samutthana citta va triratnaya guna, a Newari pamphlet on Mahayana aspirations; (top right) A palmleaf manuscript in Sinhala on ayurvedic medicine; (center) The Karandavyuha, a Sanskrit text on the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (facsimile edition); (bottom) Tibetan Stupa consecration text in Tibet's traditional pecha format.