Orihon (accordion) woodblock-printed book of Vol. 333 of the Sutra of Perfection of Wisdom or Mahaprajnaparamitasutra, entitled in Japanese reading: “Daihannya haramitta kyo kan dai sanbyaku sanjusan.”

Five columns per page, 17 characters per column. 94 pages, one blank leaf at end. Tall narrow 8vo (232 x 95 mm.), orig. upper semi-stiff board (upper board partly worn & defective, lower board absent). [Nara: printed before 1311].

An extremely rare and very beautiful early sutra, printed at Nara before 1311. It has been printed on highest-quality thick paper (gampi or mulberry fibers), with bold, thick strokes, using black sumi ink, typical of kasuga-ban printings, a term for publications of the Nara monasteries in general.

We can date our printing of Vol. 333 of the Sutra of Perfection of Wisdom to before 1311 based on the inscription on the blank leaf at end, where an early owner has written: “Enkei [or Enkyo] 4th year” (1311). This same person also states that he made a collation of this sutra against other sutras in the possession of Niidera, a temple whose location we have been unable to ascertain.

The Mahaprajnaparamitasutra is a massive compilation of scriptural literature said to have been preached by the Buddha in four different places to 16 discrete assemblies. It includes seminal works such as the Prajnaparamita in One Hundred Thousand Lines and the Diamond Sutra. “This recension of the scripture is only extant in a Chinese translation made in six hundred rolls by Xuanzang and his translation team between the years 660 and 663. Xuanzang’s recension is by far the largest of all the prajnaparamita scriptures in the Chinese Buddhist canon…The Mahaprajnaparamitasutra also often holds pride of place as the first sutra found in many traditional East Asian Buddhist scriptural canons.”–Buswell & Lopez, eds., The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, p. 505.

The translator of the Perfection of Wisdom, Xuanzang (596?-664), was a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, monk, scholar, and patriarch of the Chinese Yogacara 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.

A fine and fresh copy, preserved in a chitsu. There is some inoffensive worming, touching some characters. On the upper wrapper is an early manuscript inscription with the abbreviated title of the sutra (“Daihannya kyo”) and volume numbers that do not correspond with our actual sutra.

❧ 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 Kofukuji. The printing of Kasuga-ban in this broader sense flourished throughout the Kamakura period and up to the end of Muromachi (ca. 1570).” Mizuno, Buddhist Sutras. Origin, Development, Transmission, pp. 178-79.

Price: $9,500.00

Item ID: 7846