There Is Life after Being Re-Pulped

Part 97 (of 100) of the sutra Yogācārabhūmiśātra [Ch.: Yuqieshidi lun; J.: Yuga shijiron; Treatise on the Stages of Yogic Practice].

Trans. into Chinese by Xuanzang. Orihon (accordion) format (258 x 12,550 mm.), 28 joined sheets, 23 columns per sheet, mostly 17 characters per column, blockprint height: 201 mm.). Printed on grayish recycled paper. [Nara: published by the monk Kōei at the Kōfukuji Temple, 1213].

An extremely rare example of a Kamakura-era sutra printed in Japan on recycled grayish paper; this is the first specimen we have encountered. For an excellent discussion on the subject of recycled paper used in early Japanese printing, we have turned to the most interesting contribution of SOAS Prof. Lucia Dolce (“A Sutra as a Notebook? Printing and Repurposing Scriptures in Medieval Japan,” Ars Orientalis, Vol. 52, No. 3, 2023):

The term sukigaeshigami 漉返紙 (reclaimed paper) appears often in literary works of the time, indicating paper made by soaking scrap paper and other fibers and then spreading them thinly. This method erased the previous text almost completely. Small traces of ink and even traces of characters remained, for ink dissolves and adheres to paper and it is difficult to remove it completely. This gave paper a light gray, “thin-inked” color (usuzumikami 薄墨紙). Sutra printed on such paper were called shukugamikyō 宿紙経, literally “sutras on reclaimed paper.” Since this type of paper was darker and of lower quality than new paper, it was mixed with a higher-quality paper, such as the silky textured ganpi that lends a glossy appearance, and became luxury paper. A second impression of the Kōei edition of the Lotus Sutra was printed on recycled paper of unknown provenance, which had been mixed with mica. The understanding that writing is imbued with the spirit of a person underpinned such practices, and it is suggestive that literary works use the term kankonshi 還魂紙 (lit., “paper in which the spirit of a deceased comes back” for sutra paper recycled from someone’s writings. These examples suggest that the preservation of a deceased person’s writing functioned as a primary aim for reusing written paper, for once printed with a sutra, that writing would enjoy long life with no danger of being destroyed (except by accident). It is worthy of note, though, that reclaiming paper was primarily not an emotional strategy, but a regular operation in premodern Japan. Until the fourteenth century paper recycling was run by a governmental institution, the Kamiya 紙屋, and recycled paper was routinely used by the court for bureaucratic matters, such as imperial messages.
The Yogācārabhūmiśātra is “an encyclopedic work that is the major treatise of the Yogācāra school of Indian Buddhism. It was widely influential in East Asia and Tibet, being translated into Chinese by Xuanzang between 646 and 648. Authorship is traditionally attributed to Asanga (or, in China, to Maitreya), but the size and scope of the text suggest that it is the compilation of the work of a number of scholars (possibly including Asanga).”–Buswell & Lopez, The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, p. 1034.

The translator, Xuanzang (600/02-64), was a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, monk, scholar, and patriarch of the Chinese Yogācāra tradition. Along with Kumarajiva (344-413), Xuanzang was one of the two most influential and prolific translators of Indian Buddhist texts into Chinese. In 627, he embarked on an epic journey to India, where he studied Sanskrit, and returned to China in 645 with over 600 Sanskrit manuscripts in his luggage, along with images, relics, and other artifacts. Settling in the Tang capital of Chang’an, he established a translation bureau, where he oversaw a team of monks who transcribed the texts and, in the process, made translations, polished the renderings, clarified texts, and certified both their meaning and syntax.

In fine condition, preserved in a modern wooden box. Our copy is quite wormed but has been extremely skillfully repaired throughout.

❧ K.B. Gardner, “Centres of Printing in Medieval Japan: late Heian to early Edo period” in British Library Occasional Papers 11. Japanese Studies (ed. by Yu-Ying Brown), London: 1990, p. 159–”The term Kasuga-ban became used more loosely, in a wider sense, to denote publications of the Nara monasteries in general, not only of the Kōfukuji. The printing of Kasuga-ban in this broader sense flourished throughout the Kamakura period and up to the end of Muromachi (ca. 1570).” Gardner, Descriptive Catalogue of Japanese Books in the British Library Printed before 1700 (1993), no. 137 (part 77 in scroll format, printed on “white” paper).

Price: $22,500.00

Item ID: 10192