Jōmyōgenron (Commentary on the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra)


Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum
Kyoto, Japan

This eight-volume commentary Jōmyō genron (Ch. Jingming xuanlun) presents the essential points of the Buddhist scripture Vimalakīrti nirdeśa sūtra (Ch. Weimo jing, J. Yuima kyō). The original text was written by the Chinese priest Jicang (549–623) of Jiaxiang temple, known for expanding the teachings of the Mādhyamika (Ch. Sanlun, J. Sanron) school of Buddhism in China during the Sui dynasty (581–619).
This manuscript of Jōmyō genron was copied in Japan and is an extraordinarily rare historical Buddhist scripture. The fourth and sixth volumes of the set have colophons dated the twelfth month of 706 (Keiun 3), making them Japan’s oldest surviving dated manuscripts—Buddhist or secular. Some scrolls of the manuscript are reproductions: the first volume was recopied during the Heian period (794–1185), while the second and fifth volumes date to the Kamakura period (1185–1333). The prefaces of three of the volumes (all but the seventh and eighth) were also copied later.
Sutra commentaries and annotations composed by Chinese monks were typically written in freehand, without adherence to the strict seventeencharacters- per-line standard required for copies of actual sutra texts. This manuscript’s paper is made from paper mulberry ( J. kōzo) fibers, while its script evokes the tastes of China’s Six Dynasties period—providing essential information for our understanding of historical calligraphic styles. Also of historical significance are the white marks and other diacritical marks indicating the proper reading of the Chinese characters into Japanese. These notations provide a valuable, early reference for study of the Japanese language.


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