Maps of Ancient Buddhist Asia

Dharmapadāni Āyatanāni
Where the various versions of the Dhammapada-s were found

The Buddha taught mainly in and around the North-Eastern area of India which was known as the Majjhimadesa (the Middle Country), and after his Final Emancipation his teachings were originally collected there. It is curious indeed that although first taught and collected in India none of the texts we now possess today actually come from there, but have survived in the border countries long after all traces of the books were lost in their Homeland in the Middle Ages.

The Pāḷi Tipiṭaka has been passed down through the Śrī Laṅkan Saṅgha; various Sankritised Prakrit texts, which were written down on birch bark, survived in the deserts in Central Asia; and others rescensions have been found in Nepal and Tibet.

The oldest book that has come down to us from Ancient times is a rescension of the Dhammapada preserved in the Gāndhārī dialect. Unfortunately for us it was ripped into 3 pieces and sold off to explorers in the late 19th century; one part went to Paris, another went to St. Petersburg, and a third part went missing altogether.

The edition of the text we now know as the Patna Dhammapada was found in an unknown Tibetan monastery by Rāhula Saṁskṛtāyana sometime in the 1930s. There is one set of photographs of the work,The name is derived from the current location of the photographs in the J.P. Jayaswal Research Institute of Patna01 and parts of it are obscured so that they cannot be read properly. What happened to the work after the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s is not known at present. It was possibly removed to Beijing, but there is no confirmation of this.

Literally hundreds of manuscript fragments of the Udānavarga have been found in the Central Asian deserts, which testifies to the popularity of the work. Piecing them all together again to form a coherent text was a mammoth undertaking performed by Dr. Bernhard in the 1950s (published 1965-67). It appears now however that he has mixed up two different rescensions of the work Lambert Schmithausen 1970: Zu den Rezensionen des Udanavarga in Wiener Zeitschrift fur die Kunde Sudasiens, vol 14 pp 47-12402 so that the value of his undertaking has been somewhat diminished with time. Recently a new edition has been made of one of the rescensions by H. Hakatani entitled Udanavarga de Subasi.Published by Publications de l'Institut de civilisation indienne, Paris03

The testimonies for the Pāḷi rescension of the work were mainly written on perishable ola-leaves and date back only a few centuries, but there are very many of them, and they also are corrobated by other works, that there can be no doubt about the age of the work. It appears that the Śrī Laṅkan Saṅgha has very faithfully passed the work down over the millennium, which we can be sure of, as the text contains many readings that are unmetrical and even ungrammatical, but which have not been cleaned up or revised by the recitors, which they would have been had the texts been tampered with.