The teachings of the Buddha were initially transmitted orally, on the organizational model of the Vedic schools, but without their insistence on a linguistic standard and immutability of textual form. As a consequence, Buddhist texts adopted the dialects of the new regions to which they were brought and began to develop in new literary genres. It is the far northwestern region of Gandhāra (modern Pakistan and Afghanistan) that has preserved the oldest written Buddhist texts for us (dating as far back as the first century BCE), laid down in the local Prakrit Gāndhārī and the local script Kharoṣṭhī on birch-bark scrolls. The rediscovery and study of these manuscripts since the 1990s has cast much new light on the early history of Buddhism, its transmission to Central Asia and China, and processes such as the beginnings of literacy in South Asia and Buddhist canon formation and hermeneutics. This lecture will present an overview of these new manuscript discoveries and what we have learned from them so far, and take a detailed look at the transmission of selected early Buddhist canonical texts in Gandhāra and their treatment by local exegetes.
Dr Stefan Baums is a well-known specialist in Gandhāran texts, author of many articles on the subject and, together with Dr Andrew Glass, a winner of the Aming Tu Prize for the outstanding website https://gandhari.org. Dr Stefan Baums studied in Göttingen and London and received his PhD from the University of Washington. Since 2012 he has been Lead Researcher at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities and is responsible for the project “Buddhist Manuscripts from Gandhāra”.
Relief with the Buddha during the school visit (The Museum Fünf Kontinente, Munich)