Posts written by Bill M. Mak

Third day in Tokyo – ICABS, Tokyo University Shibuya Campus

The manuscript team is adding new materials daily including astral texts into the database. It is such an honor to meet in person those dedicated researchers working for a project that may last possibly “fifty, sixty years” — if they continue to receive funding! By comparison, the Nepal-German Manuscript Preservation Project lasted over thirty years and it will at least another decade to complete the cataloguing. Talking about vision and dedication!

Today I spent most of the time reading the manuscripts of the different translations of the 起世經 (cf. Aggaññasutta) which all give an extremely interesting, detailed (and according to Gombrich, satirical) account of the origin, rise, decay and destruction of the world. Although its horrific apocalyptical vision never had quite the same effect to the believers as the Book of Revelation, the cosmogony and cosmology were accepted as foundation of Buddhist astronomy throughout the history of Buddhism. I am surprised how little scholarly work has been done on this important text which used to hold great importance, though nowadays forgotten as it apparently fell out of favor.

While going through the Kamakura period manuscripts, I stumbled upon a zodiac-nakṣatra chart 二十七宿十二宮圖 whose data are different from all the editions I have seen so far. It is anomalous in many ways but it can’t be just scribal errors because it was copied out so neatly and carefully.

Spent a great evening with K. Lam, a fellow Hongkonger who is an expert on Nishda and Kyoto School. Me a philologist and he a philosopher, I thought we would both have little to say with the fear that something very dumb may come out of our mouths. But it turned out rather pleasant; I suppose frankness and openness are always the keys. Apparently he is the only faculty member of Tokyo University from Hong Kong. And apparently so am I at Kyoto University by this coming fall. I was given a glimpse of all the extraordinary works he is doing — teaching six classes per week, editing a journal and running an association.

1929 Institute of Oriental Culture 東方文化学院 in Kyoto


Story behind a church-like building near my house, possibly where my office will be later this year — This beautiful building — reputed to be one of the best architectural pieces of the period – now belongs to the Institute of Research of Humanities, Kyoto University. I was so impressed by its stone staircases and stained glass windows when I was asked to give a talk there on my work on the Yavanajātaka manuscript last year. It was built originally by the Shōwa government as the Institute of Oriental Culture 東方文化学院. When the Manchurian Empire lost the war to Japan, the latter demanded the Chinese a hefty indemnity. After the Manchurian Empire was overthrown, anti-Japanese sentiment continued to grow in China. With part of its funding coming from the indemnity, the establishment of the Institute in 1929 was conceived as a means to further collaboration between Chinese and Japanese academics. Regardless of its background and the colonialist agenda behind it, the institute produced generations of great scholars, including Yabuuti Kiyosi, whose works on Oriental Astronomy attracted worldwide scholarly attention. Last year I joined all the great teachers and disciples of Professor Yabuuti to celebrate his 14th memorial anniversary.





The Siddham Alphabet in the Mantra of Pu’an – A case of sinicization of Buddhist mantras


In this paper, the source and construction of the Mantra of Pu’an, one of the most popular Buddhist mantras in sinicized Sanskrit, attributed to the twelfth century Zen Master, are examined. Although the language of the mantra was described as “bastard Sanskrit,” the construction of the mantra is clearly modeled on Sanskrit phonetics, as well as the content of a textbook on Sanskrit orthography known as Xitan zhang or “Chapter of Siddham” which was widely circulated in Central Asia and China during the first millennium. Furthermore, the mantra is shown to be connected with Dharmkṣema’s translation of the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra where the Sanskrit alphabet was described, and also the tradition of religio-magical chanting of the Arapacana alphabet described in the Buddhāvataṃsakasūtra. Ultimately, to complete the process of sinicization, the Mantra of Pu’an was written down, canonized in one of the Chinese Tripiṭakas and even “resanskritized” with Chinese pronunciation, which was thought to be authentic and authoritative.


“Bukkyō mantora-no chūkokuka-no ichirei — Fuanshu-ni okeru shittan jibo-ni tsiute” 仏教マントラの中国化の一例—普庵咒における悉曇字母について”. Tōhō gakuhō東方学報88: 189-219, 2013.

Mak 普庵咒 2013