Interview: Dr. Darui Long Rediscovers Rare Buddhist Manuscript in Kraków, Poland

Dr. Darui Long delivering a lecture on the Buddhist Canon. (Image courtesy of Dr. Long)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of University of the West nor any other individual, agency, or institution.

University of the West’s Department of Religious Studies Professor and founder of the New Catalog of Yongle Northern Buddhist Canon, Dr. Darui Long, recently made a fascinating contribution to world history by rediscovering a long-lost Buddhist manuscript of the Tangut Empire. Equipped with the knowledge of rare Chinese books and historical printing methods, last summer at the historic Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, Dr. Long set out to carefully examine and catalog thousands of dusty, unaccounted for documents. On June 9th, 2017, he came upon a manuscript written in gold dust on indigo paper and, seeing that it was noticeably different from the others, documented the whole book. A month later in Beijing, after conferring with Professor, Shi Jinbo from the Institute of Minorities, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who is an expert and the foremost scholar in the field of Tangut language and culture, they were able to definitively conclude that this indeed was four chapters of the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sutra, (or Miao Fa Lian Hua Jing, 妙法蓮華經, commonly referred to as the Lotus Sutra) in the extinct Xi Xia, or Tangut language, of the former empire of Western Xia.

Front cover (left) and outer box (right) of Tangut manuscript of the Lotus Sutra.
(Image courtesy of Dr. Long)

We sat down with Dr. Long to ask him about his exceptional finding and the experience of traveling to one of the oldest remaining universities in Europe. But before we hear from him directly, let’s explore a little history of how this rare Chinese manuscript made its way to a library halfway around the world!

A page of the Lotus Sutra in Tangut language. Gold dust on indigo paper.
(Image courtesy of Dr. Long)

Genghis Khan, War & Rebellion, and Unexplored Treasures

In the Middle Imperial China period, the Xi Xia people had a thriving empire along the Silk Road with their own language, script, arts, and a formidable military from 1038 to 1227 in what are now the northwestern Chinese provinces of Ningxia, Gansu, eastern Qinghai, northern Shaanxi, northeastern Xinjiang, southwest Inner Mongolia, and southernmost Outer Mongolia. In 1217, years after begrudgingly serving under and fighting alongside Genghis Khan and the Mongols, Western Xia defied the Mongol Empire and eventually refused to commit troops to any further campaigns, thus changing the course of history. On August 18, 1227, after years of conflict, and while the Mongols were sacking the capital of Western Xia, Genghis Khan succumbed to his wounds and fell to his death. Although the details of his demise remain uncertain, some scholars believe Genghis Khan may have died from injuries sustained while falling from a horse in or out of battle with the Xi Xia. Regardless of the exact cause, after the first Great Khan’s death, the Mongols massacred the Tangut people in one of history’s earliest recorded genocides. Some of the Tangut royalty managed to flee and a few small enclaves are thought to have remained until the 16th century, but those commoners who were not eradicated largely assimilated into Mongol, Tibetan, or other neighboring Chinese communities. The annihilation of the Western Xia Empire has made the development of Tangutology a challenging endeavor, with an ongoing reconstruction of their script and language being the foundation of that field of study.

About 500 years after the fall of Western Xia, while the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded, occupied, and looted Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion in the summer of 1900, two French diplomats found six volumes of the Lotus Sutra in the Tangut language at the Miaoying Temple and divided these plundered treasures amongst themselves, each taking three volumes. The French Orientalist who was most famous for his discoveries of the Dunhuang manuscripts at the Mogao Caves a few years later, Paul Pelliot, was present. As a great and reverant sinologist, Pelliot urged the diplomats to donate the precious scriptures to museums and by means of a purchase, one of them eventually found its way to what is now the Berlin State Library in Germany. After the library sustained damage from one of the many bombing raids led by the Allies of World War II in 1941, thousands of texts were quickly bundled up and sent to nearby monasteries and castles to avoid complete destruction. One such place was the beautiful, but German-occupied Książ Castle in Wałbrzych, Poland. In 1946, five years after the fall of the Third Reich, the Tangut manuscript was sent along with many others that had yet to be properly codified to the alma mater of Nicolas Copernicus, Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. There they sat, relatively unexplored and unknown until Dr. Long’s fortunate chance rediscovery, of which he shared with us some details in the interview below.

Książ Castle in Wałbrzych, Poland. (Source: DenTour TV)

Dr. Long’s ongoing research and interest in rare editions of the Chinese Buddhist canon, his knowledge of printing and religious history, as well as his proficiency in several languages has given him a unique interdisciplinary approach to the evaluation of uninvestigated manuscripts and in his instruction as a professor and lecturer. Having spent time researching at institutions such as the Sichuan Provincial Library in Chengdu, the Princeton University Library, the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago, and Jagiellonian University Library in Kraków, Dr. Long is also fortunate to enjoy rare and privileged access to libraries, museums, and temples that he has explored across China. Students at UWest are often captivated by the wealth of experience, information, and perspectives Dr. Long consistently delivers. More information about the rediscovery can be read in Dr. Long’s paper, A Preliminary Report on the Chinese Buddhist Literature Kept at Jagiellonian Library in Poland. Let us now hear from him directly about the rediscovery of the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sutra Tangut manuscript:

An Intriguing Conversation with Dr. Darui Long

UWest: What was it like to look through the collection in the library of the historic Jagiellonian University in Kraków?

Dr. Long: Everyday I would have to open 40 packages. I took photos of the front and back pages, and outer front covers. Sometimes a front cover and front page did not match because they were damaged. And some people simply use the damaged front cover of one scripture to cover another scripture. So I took photos…each day I probably took 1000 photos. At the end of every day, my muscles and my back were very sore and my trousers were full of dust! When I opened a package, unpacked and repacked, and then tied the package, it was all with my body because they were very large. Nobody was there to help me, and I had to tie it. Well, it was pleasant work but too much dust on the body is not very pleasant. Every day I found that I was full of dust.

So they [Jagiellonian University] want me to catalog in a way like an inventory. But inventory catalogs, well, you see the package could have so many scriptures mixed and wrongly placed. So they do not match the cataloging words or scholars could not have any use for [an inventory catalog]. So I have to negotiate with the Polish side to see if they’ll agree with me. But they say, “It’s unique. It’s packed in the way we got it. We should not rearrange it.” Now the Germans probably had a catalog, originally, but when the war came, the bombing came, they just packed things together. So everything was in disorder. So I don’t know how I can persuade or convince Polish side that they should give me a big table with, maybe, 500 boxes so that I can put each one in the right place.

UWest: How long do you think that would take?

Dr. Long: Probably one month and I can do it. I can bring my digitized version of the canon and my catalog so that I know where and how to put each one. I may bring some students from our university to train them.

But the important thing is that I want Harvard professors and other professors, jointly, to persuade the Polish side to accept the idea that the Chinese Buddhist Canon should be cataloged in this way instead of inventory catalog.

Jagiellonian University, founded in 1364. (Source: In Your Pocket)

UWest: What is the significance of rediscovering the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sutra in the extinct Tangut language of the Xi Xia peoples?

Dr. Long: For the manuscripts of Xi Xia, any paper or any fragment of paper would be considered [a Chinese] national treasure. For the Xi Xia people, their history remains a mystery. Because they disappeared, very few scholars understand their language. The Chinese claim they invented movable printing and the earliest artifacts we have printed by wood moveable-type are Buddhist scriptures in Xi Xia language.

UWest: What is unique about this manuscript?

Dr. Long: The scripture I discovered in Pander F is unique in a sense that the Chinese side has no record. I checked the catalog and certainly it is not a Buddhist canon. It is not a Taoist scripture. It is not included in either the Taoist Canon or Buddhist Canon. So people suggest it should be a folk religion. But I checked the catalog and there is no record. That one, I told the Polish side, is very unique. It is worth doing more research on. But for the Yongle Northern Canon, well, they have 5000 volumes.

UWest: Can you describe the events that led to your discovery at Jagiellonian University?

Dr. Long: In 2013, our university held the Second International Conference on the Chinese Buddhist Canon. A Chinese scholar told me that he heard that some university in Poland keeps a unique edition of the Yongle Northern Canon, but he didn’t tell me anything except “Poland,” so I had to find the information. He also told me James Robinson knows, and so I contacted him. It took me almost one or two years to get in touch with him and also I got a reply from the University of Warsaw. They said, “We don’t have the manuscripts, you probably should ask Jagiellonian University.” It took maybe 3 months, 4 months to get a hold of Jagiellonian University. And so I went there!

I spent almost two weeks for the first time in 2016. They showed me the 68 volumes and I made detailed notes, but I realized they were not what I was looking for. I showed them the photos from James Robinson and they didn’t recognize them. Their catalog is in enumerating figures so it cannot help you with anything. No Sanskrit words. No Chinese words. Not a single word except for Chinese Buddhist scripture. So I said, “Why don’t you bring me out 637, 637A, 637B?” Once they brought out 3 boxes of 637, 637A, 637B I realized they are three of the same different prints. Contents are the same, but they are different in size and package. Just like the Bible, you have so many different Bibles. Well, they probably belong to the same edition printed in 1598, 1594, and 1596. So they are different prints of the same Buddhist Canon.

I asked them, “How many do you have?” They showed me the catalog and I realized they have at least 403 packages. The next day I had to fly back so I said, “Ok, I’ll have to do it next year.” So I applied for a scholarship from University of the West. They gave me a great endorsement and I went there again for three weeks. Well, I could hardly imagine in those three weeks…well…there is no Chinese food [laughter]. I had to cook by myself. Well, it doesn’t matter; I should endure all the hardships. But it was very fruitful. So every day I checked the sources. Their librarian would send me carts filled with probably 20 packages of Canon. So on June 9th, I accidentally found one volume which was much smaller. I took a look. As I studied the history of Chinese printing, I realized it was Xi Xia, or Tangut.

Tangut people…well I know very little about Tangut people but I do know Genghis Khan attacked Tangut people and he was wounded and he died and that Mongols took revenge. So the hierarchies of Tangut were massacred. Their court was destroyed. The Emperor was killed. Probably lower ranking peoples merged into Mongols and Chinese. That’s the history. So the killing of Genghis Khan changed world history. Certainly, Xi Xia people disappeared and their language remained for probably the next 100 years because they merged into Chinese and Mongols. So nobody used their language. Well, until the end of the 19th century, people found a bilingual stone of Xi Xia and Chinese. That was in Wu Wei that I visited last month.

Tangut History Museum in Wuwei, Gansu Province, China.
(Image courtesy of Dr. Long)

While I was there I showed my manuscripts of Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sutra in Tangut language to a curator. The curator was fascinated and immediately changed. “Can we have a talk?” She was so fascinated by the manuscripts and the photos I took in Poland. And then she asked, “What do you want?”

I said, “I want to see your collection of Yongle Northern Canon.”

I knew they had it, but they had never allowed me to take any photos and this time she said, “Ok, I can provide you photos.” So indeed she kept her word and sent me quite a number of photos I had never seen. And I found that their collection of Yongle Northern Canon was part of the canon in Beijing.

UWest: What was your reaction when you came across the rare Tangut manuscript?

Dr. Long: Well, first of all, I thought that I made a wrong guessing because Pander took all those treasures from Yonghe Lamasery, so I thought probably it was related to Mongols. And the second thought was that I knew that the Mongols destroyed everything. Well, the Mongols certainly believed in Lamaism. The Mongols and the Tibetans had good relations. So at the beginning, I thought probably it was brought by Pander from Yonghe Lamasery, which is a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Beijing, then to Germany, then to Poland. But later on, other guys told me it was a French diplomat who discovered them in 1900 in Beijing when Boxers attacked diplomat compounds and Allied Forces entered Beijing and destroyed the Boxers and they began to loot.

Then they got the treasures from a white pagoda in Beijing, but we don’t know which. We know there are two white pagodas in Beijing. People say that they don’t know which one it should be. So it remains a mystery, for which white pagoda. The famous white pagoda is located just behind the Imperial Palace. Another white pagoda is probably two or three blocks away from the Imperial Palace on the west side of Beijing. They are built in Tibetan style. Professor Shakya [Assistant Chair of UWest Religious Studies and Program Coordinator of the Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon] visited the white pagoda and he probably understands more about that white pagoda in Beijing because it was designed by a Nepalese monk. So those things are complicated. A scholar needs to know Mongolian language, Sanskrit, Tibetan language, Chinese, and Xi Xia. So that’s not easy.

White Stupa Temple in Beijing, also known as Miaoying Temple.
(Source: High Peaks Pure Earth)

I sometimes lament that I began to study Sanskrit at a very late age. So I say, well, I just try to discover those things for the next generation of scholars. I don’t think I’m strong enough or ambitious enough to master another language in order to do research. This is beyond me. But I am happy I made some contributions. Because otherwise the manuscript remains in the Chinese Buddhist Canon but nobody knows the whereabouts of it. The Germans sent their librarians to Poland three times asking where those manuscripts are. The Polish said, “Show them the catalog, that’s all that we have.” So they have no record of the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sutra in the Tangut language. Or the Poles do not know the Xi Xia. Sometimes I say I was lucky, by chance I found it. I don’t claim that I’m certain I can find it – no. It was by chance. Well, in the beginning, I just remembered that the Xi Xia people were massacred by Mongols. But how did the manuscript come to Germany, come to Poland? Well, I didn’t know. So I went to Beijing and asked those guys and those guys told me things in detail. So I quoted their passage on what they had done.

UWest: So how did you feel when you heard the story about how those manuscripts came to be at Jagiellonian University?

Dr. Long: Well, I feel that I was happy, I was fortunate. Many people probably do research all their life, as I told you, they never have a chance to visit the sights. They never have a chance to discover things. Anything. And I am happy that I, not discovered, but rediscovered certain things so that the scholars of the world know their importance.

UWest: Since you sent out the preliminary report on your findings, have you gotten a response back from anyone yet?

Dr. Long: From Poland, one scholar said that it was fascinating and interesting.
I sent it to four or five people including one from Harvard and one from University of Warsaw. Jagiellonian Library certainly replied with a very positive attitude including Professor Marek Mejor who wrote A Preliminary Report on the Wanli Kanjur Kept in the Jagiellonian Library, Krakow. I am sure they will be fascinated by my catalog because they know some Chinese but they don’t know how we classify the Chinese Buddhist Canon.

UWest: What was your favorite part of searching, the discovery, or sharing the discovery?

Dr. Long: This is the part when I can finally say I made a contribution to the studies of Buddhism. Because a man’s ability may be small or big, but if you can make a tiny contribution, then we approach the better understanding of Buddhism, Chinese printing, Chinese Nationalities, and the relations between Chinese and those minorities. And this is one of the significances that we cannot ignore. Well, since we know that they are there we should make an endeavor to rediscover them so the world will not miss these treasures. Those treasures do not belong to China or Poland, but to the world civilization. That’s my understanding. Not only to Buddhism but to all nationalities of the world because without this part, as one professor who was also my father’s friend who studied Xi Xia, he said, “Any fragment of a document would add to our knowledge of the understanding of Xi Xia.” Because now most are the documents are missing. Or they are destroyed. Or they are destroyed by time or by war. So I think if we can find those four volumes, certainly they can help us to widen our horizon of civilizations, or Xi Xia civilization, which is one part of Chinese history.

Library interior at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. (Source: In Your Pocket)

UWest: Is the manuscript you rediscovered going to stay at Jagiellonian University and is it going to be published?

Dr. Long: The Chinese side, they have money and they want to republish. And in our library you see they publish those manuscripts in luxurious or deluxe format. So I was promised, “If you can find another 3 volumes, let’s publish together.” And so four departments would be involved – Jagiellonian University of Poland, Guimet Museum of France, Institute of Nationality Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and University of the West.

UWest: So it sounds like there’s definitely some interest in continuing the search. What do you think is the future for these studies? Do you anticipate that you’ll be able to return to Jagiellonian University to continue searching?

Dr. Long: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Certainly Poland expressed their wish that I would continue and I would discover more treasures, especially those of the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sutra. Or I can add my knowledge to their understanding of the Chinese Buddhist Canon because it is unique in Europe. These are the earliest Chinese prints in Europe.

And another thing I want to do, I want to make a correspondent or concordance catalog of Yongle Northern Canon. I use a standard catalog. I include all the existent copies of Yongle Northern Canon. So it’s a union catalog. Chinese, Korea, and Japan together have produced more than 22 editions of the Buddhist Canon. So the catalog of each edition is different. So how they are different? How are they different in the new prints? The Chinese recently arranged and reprinted many editions of the Buddhist Canon. They are continuing to do this work so I want to incorporate a catalog in which any scripture of the Yongle Northern Canon can be found in other editions of the Buddhist Canon very quickly. I will give the volume number, page number, description in the new one. For the old one, I just keep their…not volume number, probably qiān zi wen. One-thousand character word order so that they could easily go to that edition of the Buddhist Canon to compare the scriptures.

Well, those people say that those are two big projects. One is called the concordance catalog in which I elaborate the one catalog of the standard to other editions of different Chinese Buddhist Canon. Another is the Yongle catalog which I try to incorporate all the existent copies of the Yongle Northern Canon in Wu Wei, in Beijing, in Princeton, in Poland, etc. Any place in China. But this, I don’t think I can finish this one in my lifetime because I need their cooperation. If they refuse to cooperate, if they refuse to provide their catalog, I can do nothing. But this catalog is important because I want them to record every colophon on a certain page, on a certain volume number, so that scholars in the future can easily check. And this is a huge job and I know that I probably cannot finish. But at least I can tell students that, “You can do it.” This research is never-ending. I don’t want to tell students that what I have done is the height or the zenith. No. I would tell students, “You should continue,” or “You should develop another area of research. You may check other editions of Chinese Buddhist Canon and use my way to check things in every library or in every temple so that you probably will make contributions.” Who knows?

Well, the second catalog, the Yongle catalog, I don’t think I can do it, I can’t finish in a lifetime because I need 25 libraries because this is not a prominent subject. Buddhist Canon, well everybody knows it’s important. Everybody knows that we can get it from a website. Everybody knows that we can easily check in the library. But I am doing something which is the canon itself, which is not accessible to scholars worldwide. Well, I can certainly get access to Princeton, or to Poland, or to Chicago once I am there. But Chinese scholars have trouble with the English language and communicating, especially with Poland. This is the weak point of Chinese scholars. American scholars, they have tremendous difficulties getting access to Chinese collections because Chinese say, “Hey, why? What are you doing?” or “What do you want?” So they do not open it to the Chinese themselves, how can they open it to the Western foreigners? Well, sometimes they are willing to open to the westerners, but according to the rules, they only show you some sample copies in brief. You don’t expect one hour.

UWest: Do you think these manuscript collections will ever be digitized?

Dr. Long: But with digitized manuscripts, you cannot see the paper to study the actual materials. Or you cannot see the colophons. Sometimes you have to see the colophons. People who are responsible for digitizing, sometimes they don’t care. They just scan but they could omit or they could neglect something important, for instance, a scribble. Or colophons are sometimes written on the back. You have to check the reverse side. So this is scholarly work which I, well, I feel it’s a learning process. Nobody has taught me how to do that. I had to learn by myself. Sometimes I may consult with people, but in many cases, I have to learn by myself. I have to make judgments about how important this is, in which respect, in which perspective or which angle I should take. Well, once I close it, once I return, I have no chance to look at it. So I have to bring the photos back. It’s a life-long process.

UWest: What events in your life have led you to this field of study and ultimately this rediscovery?

Dr. Long: I participated in the translation of Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China. So, from the translation of this book, this is one volume [hands me book volume]. I translated one volume from this one. This is paper and printing. I participated in the translation about gunpowder. Gunpowder was invented by Taoists. So from there, I decided to change my orientation. I no longer did research on linguistics. I majored in literature, but later on I decided to switch to religion. So the translation of this book changed my orientation.

I only translated 100 pages of this book. And because my father took me to the library to check every source, I gradually came to know how to check the Chinese texts in the English language. So that’s a kind of training, that, most of the people my age, born in 1953 in China, most of the people do not have this asset. So I was able to train myself to be a scholar. That’s very difficult.

Sometimes I regret I did not study so many things enough when I was a young man because when you are young it’s a better time to remember things. But when you are getting old and your memory is declining and…well, fortunately, I’m doing such a research on the bibliography. It’s an accumulation of knowledge and well, now I just try to use my knowledge, try to widen my knowledge. But now I know that I should focus. I should not expand too much.

At first, I wanted to do research on another version of the Chinese Buddhist Canon, but the librarian stopped me and said, “Don’t do it because other scholars have done research, very good research, and you will have difficulty catching up to or surpassing their level.” So he suggested that I do research on Yongle Northern canon which had been in the Princeton University for more than 80 years, and nobody had touched or done any research upon it. So I was the first person to examine it in a thorough way. And usually you pay the hardship, then you gain. So I realized that. I tell students, “You should do research that no one has done before. It is difficult, but you may gain something. You may find treasures. Or you may find pleasant feelings when you discover something. Otherwise, you repeat what others said and it’s not tasteful.” I don’t know. Well, that’s the result of research, I believe.

I started to do research on Chinese canon in 1994. So it’s not a short time. Princeton I started in 2009, so it’s almost 10 years. Next year will be 10 years. Ten years is not a short time. But gradually, each year I travel and I do a little bit.

Dr. Darui Long delivering a lecture on the Buddhist Canon
(Image courtesy of Dr. Long)

Dr. Long’s Biography:

Dr. Darui Long is a professor of Chinese religions, Department of Religious Studies, University of the West, Rosemead, California, USA. He received his Ph.D. from Graduate School, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, 1996. Upon his graduation, he obtained “The Senior Fellowship” from the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University, and “Harvard-Yenching Institute” in 1996 – 1997. He continued his research in Chinese Buddhism with the support of University of California, Berkeley in the following years. He has taught Chinese history, Chinese Confucianism and Daoism, comparative religions and ethics, Buddhism in Central Asia, and Dunhuang studies at the University of the West since 2002.

Dr. Long’s research interest focuses on rare editions of Chinese Buddhist canon. He began his investigation into the Hongwu Edition of the Chinese Buddhist Canon kept at Sichuan Provincial Library, Chengdu, 1994. His paper on The Hongwu Edition was published by the East Asian Library Journal, Princeton University, 2000. In 2009, he obtained a scholarship from Princeton University Library and spent one month doing research on the rare editions of Chinese Buddhist canon. He also spent three weeks at the Regenstein Library, University of Chicago, examining its collection of the Northern Yongle Canon. He has traveled widely in China checking the rare books in Buddhist literature preserved in libraries, museums, and temples in China.

One thought on “Interview: Dr. Darui Long Rediscovers Rare Buddhist Manuscript in Kraków, Poland

  1. Romain Lefebvre

    Congratulations to Dr Long Darui !

    We were many to look for these long lost Tangut scrolls of the Lotus Sutra. I had been to Warsaw to look for them but was unsuccessful, I knew I had to go to Krakow. The “legend” said it was in Poland, but which city? Then I realized a month ago that I must go to the Jagiellonian library.
    Well, this is done and this is great news.

    Kind regards,

    Romain Lefebvre


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