Richard Salomon: Early Buddhism in Ancient Gandhāra

In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, Daniel speaks with Dr. Richard Salomon, Professor of Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Washington and a leading figure in the field of early Buddhist studies. You’ll hear Richard discuss his groundbreaking scholarship in the field of ancient Gāndhārī literature. His new book, The Buddhist Literature of Ancient Gandhāra, is a fascinating look at the oldest Buddhist manuscripts ever to be uncovered. You’ll learn the historical and religious context of these 2000-year-old documents, which were found in modern-day Pakistan, and what it was like for Richard to first encounter them in person. Richard also talks about the ancient language of Gāndhārī, how it was decoded, and its particular significance in the formation of standardized Buddhist canons. Richard’s important work sheds new light on how we understand early Indian Buddhist traditions and their transmission into central and East Asia.

Podcast Extra

Image: A Gandhāran birchbark manuscript unrolled, “Parable of the Log.” From Richard Salomon’s book “The Buddhist Literature of Ancient Gandhara”

The Buddhist Literature of Ancient Gandhāra: An Introduction with Selected Translations

Discover the fascinating history of a long-hidden Buddhist culture at a historic crossroads.

In the years following Alexander the Great’s conquest of the East, a series of empires rose up along the Silk Road. In what is now northern Pakistan, the civilizations in the region called Gandhāra became increasingly important centers for the development of Buddhism, reaching their apex under King Kaniska of the Kusanas in the second century CE. Gandhāra has long been known for its Greek-Indian synthesis in architecture and statuary, but until about twenty years ago, almost nothing was known about its literature. The insights provided by manuscripts unearthed over the last few decades show thatGandhāra was indeed a vital link in the early development of Buddhism, instrumental in both the transmission of Buddhism to China and the rise of the Mahayana tradition. The Buddhist Literature of Ancient Gandhāra surveys what we know about Gandhāra and its Buddhism, and it also provides translations of a dozen different short texts, from similes and stories to treatises on time and reality.

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Dr. Richard G. Salomon of the University of Washington is a leading figure in the field of early Buddhist studies. He specializes in the study of Sanskrit and Prakrit inscriptions and Gāndhārī manuscripts, and has published numerous articles on these and related subjects. He directs the Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project and is general editor of the Gandhāran Buddhist Texts series published by the University of Washington Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington. Discover the fascinating history of a long-hidden Buddhist culture at a historic crossroads.