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The Diamond Sutra on display: Frontispiece

By Vic Swift 9 June 2015

UPDATE: The Diamond Sutra will remain on display until the end of October 2015.

The whole text of the earliest dated printed book — the Diamond Sutra — has been on display at the British Library for the first time over a period of eighteen months between March 2014 – August 2015.

Frontispiece of the Diamond Sutra, with an illustration of the Buddha preaching.
See the whole of the Diamond Sutra online on the IDP website.

Following extensive conservation, the Diamond Sutra scroll currently remains in separate panels giving the unique opportunity to show all the panels in turn. Each panel has been displayed for two months in the Treasures Gallery at the British Library, open to all and with free admission.

The final panel on display (June-August 2015) is the illustrated frontispiece showing the Buddha with his elderly disciple, Subhūti. The text of the sutra concerns the philosophical discussion between the Buddha and Subhūti.

The Diamond Sutra was printed in AD 868 as an act of faith and piety. In this period Buddhists took advantage of printing to replicate the words and image of the buddha, but private printers at the time also used the new technology to produce texts for profit. Almanacs were immensely popular, so much so that the Chinese emperor, whose imperial astronomers produced and distributed an imperial almanac, tried to suppress their printing and sale throughout the 9th and 10th centuries.

Displayed alongside the Diamond Sutra will be a copy of a Chinese almanac printed just a decade later, in AD 877. It is a very different style of printing with the document split into registers showing immense detail. They include the animals of the Chinese zodiac, a diary of lucky and unlucky days, fengshui diagrams, magic charms and much more.

The display also includes two pages from a printed copy of the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit with a phonetic transcription in Chinese, an early example of Korean printing using moveable type and the earliest examples of Japanese printing, the Million Charms of Empress Shotoku.

‘The Diamond Sutra and Early Printing’

MARCH 2014 – AUGUST 2015

Monday 09.30 – 20.00

Tuesday 09.30 – 20.00

Wednesday 09.30 – 20.00

Thursday 09.30 – 20.00

Friday 09.30 – 18.00

Saturday 09.30 – 17.00

Sunday 11.00 – 17.00

Public holidays 11.00 – 17.00

Sir John Ritblat Gallery
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London, NW1 2DB


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