Some two thousand years ago Buddhism experienced a major reformation through a movement called the Mahayana, or “Great Vehicle.” Which dominated religions thought in much of Asia for many centuries and still exerts considerable influence. The basic Mahayana texts were sermons. The basic Mahayana texts were sermons ascribed to the Buddha, called “sutras” in Sanskrit.
The earliest and most influential of these Mahayana sutras had the “perfection of wisdom” as its main subject matter. Of these texts, the famous “Diamond” and “Heart” sutras have been known in the West for many years, but they are merely condensation of the original “Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom” that took shape between 50 and 200 A.D.
In the present volume, Dr. Conze offers the result of thiry-five years of close study, and makes available this “Large sutra,” the key document for dealing with early Mahayana doctrine. This scripture has, though the centuries, been revered as “The great mother of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas’ not only in India but in China, Tibet, Japan Mongolia and Southeast Asia as well. It is now made available its complete from for the first time in an annotated translation.
Dr. Edward Conze, the author of many studies of Buddhism, has served on the faculties of universities in Europe, Great Britatin and the United States.
The transition of pages 37 to 430 (abhisamayas 1-IV) normally follows the version in 25,000 lines has been adjusted to conform to the division of the Abhisamayankara! In some passages of chapters 1-21 I have, however, translated the in 100,000 lines or adopted readings of the version in 18,000 lines and of those various Chinese translations which seemed an older or more intelligible text. For chapters 22-54 also I have generally following the revised pancavimsatisahasrika. But portions of the original, unadjusted version in 25000lines. As well as the version in 18000 lines, which are preserved in Gilgit and Central Asian manuscripts of the sixth or seventh centuries, are the basis of pages 229-239 (p), 363-367 (Ad) and 369-395 (Ad) of this translation, and I have followed them in those passages which occur in Ms. Stein Ch. 0079a although I have noted all the variants of P insofar as they affect the division of the AA.
Pages 431-643 (abhisamayas V to VIII, chapters 55-82) translate the Gilgit manuscript of the version in 18.000 lines, and I here simply reproduce, with the kind permission of Prof. G. Tucci, my translation as it first appeared in Series Oriental (1962 and1974), though I have, where necessary, rearranged the sequence of the text to make it correspond to the divisions of the Abhsamyalankara. In the eighth abhisamaya, at VIII 5, 2, 5-21, this correspondence breaks down altogether and I have therefore give the relevant text from P in pages 653-656 as an Appendix. Finally, chapter 83, Mastery’s Chapter, is missing in the gilgit ms, but is preserved in the Tibetan Ad (To.No.3790), which corresponds almost literally to the Sanskrit text of P 578-583b, which I have edited in 1968 in Mélanges d’ Indianans a la memories de L. Renou, pp.233-242.
To philological purists, unacquainted with the particular problems of the Prajnapramita. My procedure must appear questionable, and they will insist that I should keep the different recessions rigidly apart. There has, for instance. Been some criticisms of my superimposing the chapter headings of Ad on the text of P. which has no such headings. What motivated me was the belief that this exceptionally difficult text can be studied much more easily if broken up into relatively short and manageable Chapters, and I chose those of Ad because Ad alone, in its Tibetan version. Give all the headings, whereas S and the unrevised P normally only number. The chapters and give the headings just occasionally. If there were even the slightest hope that each of the chief versions. I.e. s. p and Ad. Might be translated in the foreseeable future, I would have stuck strictly to P. As it is, there is no such hope. What is needed at present is to make known the contents and messages of the Large Sutra in its entirety and, aware of the execrable nature of the Nepalese mss. On which alone the text of P can be based, I naturally relied frequently on the older manuscripts, which are more accurate then the after unbelievable careless and corrupt late Nepalese mss. This translation is a continuation of my work on the Abhisamayalankara (SOR vi, 1954). And there seems to me some value in showing how the headings of AA fit the text of P. This correspondence is, I admit, not always easy to see. Particularly will become clear.
The most outstanding feature of contemporary Prajnaparamita studies is the disproportion between the few persons willing to work in this field and the colossal number of documents extant in Sanskrit. Chinese. and Tibetan. Looking ahead to the year 2000, I would say that further study would have to proceed in there stages:
Fist, the general outlines of the argumentation of the Large Sutra must be determined, irrespective of the different versions and recessions. In this context it must be admitted that my treatment of the lengthy repetitions lacks somewhat in consistency, and has been chiefly guided by the desire to cut down their bulk.
Second. The literal meaning of many now obscure passages must be ascertained with the to chih ta lun, which ought to be translated in its entirety into a European language. After that is accomplished, it would be necessary and useful to scrutinize the many versions recessions of the Large Sutra, to note their differences as well as their agreement, and to try to work out their mutual interrelations. To attempt such a detailed study now would be to put the cart before the horse.
At the top of each page I give a page number, marked P and the appropriate section of the Abhisamayalakara, AA. The latter follows the numeration adopted in my English translation of the AA. P refers first, I.e., up to page 202, to N. Dutt’s 1934 edition of P, and after that to the pagination of the Ms. Cambridge Add., 1628. I have used this Ms. In all my publication as the standard reference for everything I have said about the unpublished of the Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom, because back in 1947 I thought it to be a particularly good Ms. Further study has revealed substation omissions; for instance between P 241 and 254 no fewer than ten and a half leaves are simply left out In spite of this, it will be better to continue to treat Ms. Cambridge Add. 1628 as a kind of master copy until we can refer to a printed copy of a critical edition of the text.
The translation could not have been accomplished without the help of many institutions and individuals which has been acknowledged with gratitude in the previous editions, i.e. on page v of part I as issued by Luzac & Co. in London in 1961, and on page I of parts II and III as issued in Madison, Wisconsin in 1964, and again in Seattle, Washington in 1966.
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