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From The Westminister Review.


In the year 1875 there was delivered, at the library of the India Office in London, a collection of books in seven large boxes, carefully packed in lead, with padding of dry rushes and grass. The books are the Buddhist Tripitaka, in Chinese characters, with Japanese notations, issued in Japan, with an imperial preface, in the years 1681-1683 A.D. The entire series of two thousand volumes is contained in one hundred and three cases or covers. When placed in the library, they required eleven shelves of ten feet in length. This was the magnificent gift of the Japanese government to England, made on the suggestion of the ambassador who had recently visited Europe. He had doubtless been struck by the anomaly between the intense desire of the English to convert the heathen, and their profound ignorance of all religions except their own, and especially of the one which most closely resembles it, the state religion of his own country, Buddhism. Mr. Beal and Dr. Rost requested him to solicit the gift. No more appropriate gift could have been sent; and the secretary of state directed the Rev. Samuel Beal, professor of Chinese in the University of London, to prepare a "compendious report of the Buddhist Tripitaka." The result of his labors is the catalogue raisonné now before us. Professor Beal is well known as one of the first Buddhist scholars in Europe, and he had already reported upon the Chinese books in the library of the India Office.

The importance of the Chinese copy of the Buddhist canonical scriptures lies in the fact that it was commenced in the first century A.D. The translation was made from the Sanskrit, or from some Indian vernacular, by early Buddhist missionaries from India to China.

Like Socrates and other great religious teachers, Buddha taught only by word of mouth. Immediately after his death his disciples assembled in conclave to recall and commit to memory the words of the master. These "words" were, like the Vedas, handed down from disciple to disciple, until they were finally committed to writing.[2] They were divided into three parts, or baskets, Tri-pitaka: (1.) Doctrinal and practical discourses; (2.) Ecclesiastical discipline for the religious orders; (3.) Metaphysics and philosophy. So long as the words of Buddha were handed down by oral tradition, there was danger of heresies and false teaching; therefore, about the year 246 B.C., King Asoka, who stood to Buddhism in a relation similar to that of the emperor Constantine to Christianity, summoned a council to fix the canon. This council was to India what the Council of Nice became to Europe. The assembled fathers, who numbered a thousand, received the excellent advice from the king, that they should seek only for the words of the master himself, for "that which is spoken by the blessed Buddha, and that alone, is well spoken." The canon drawn up by this council is the one accepted by the southern Buddhists of Ceylon, Siam, and Burmah. None of the Pitakas can be traced back with certainty to an earlier date, although they contain matter which is much older. The northern canon, which is somewhat larger than the southern, was fixed at a council held in Kashmeer about the commencement of the Christian era. The Chinese is translated from this northern canon; and many of the monasteries in China contain complete copies of the scriptures in the vernacular, and also of the Sanskrit originals from which the Chinese version was made. Great impetus to the work of translation was given by the influx of Buddhist missionaries on the conversion of the Chinese monarch in the middle of

  1. 1. The Buddhist Tripitaka as it is known in China and Japan. A Catalogue and Compendious Report. By Samuel Beal. Printed for the India Office. 1876.
    2. A Letter to Dr. R. Rost, Librarian, India Office, London. By Samuel Beal. Printed for the India Office. 1874.
    3. A Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese. By S. Beal. Trübner. 1871.
    4. The Romantic History of Buddha from the Chinese-Sanskrit. By S. Beal. Trübner. 1875.
  2. Vassilief thinks that writing was not known in India until long after Buddha's death. "Der Buddhismus," 1860.