Posts written by Bill M. Mak

Fourth day in Tokyo – Waseda University, Tokyo University, Toyo Bunko

Paid a visit to two brilliant young rising scholars in history of science, Sidoli at Waseda University specializing in Greek/Arabic materials, and Isahaya at Tokyo University specializing in Persian/Chinese materials. I was surprised to see the crowds of students at both universities — something I don’t seem to see in Kyoto. Had a nice visit to the fantastic looking Toyo Bunko which has an excellent collection of rare books from around the world. Made an appointment to read a few Sanskrit manuscripts next Monday. Grahamātṛkādhāraṇī written in silver ink on black paper. So much materials on hand already. Need to take a breather before plunging into the ocean of manuscripts again tomorrow!

Toyo Bunko

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.