Text as Saraswati

mkapstei at UCHICAGO.EDU mkapstei at UCHICAGO.EDU
Tue Jul 27 08:08:46 UTC 2010

A similar practice exists in Tibet -- if one inadvertently
mishandles a text, touches it with the foot or something
unclean, etc., one then touches it with one's forehead
as a gesture of respect and may recite as well
a brief formula of contrition.

All of this of course raises interesting questions in 
connection with the emergence of the "cult of the book"
in India and Indianized milieux. I recall that somewhere
among Marc Aurel Stein's reports on his excavations in 
Central Asia, he came across Buddhist suutras (dating to
the early first millennium CE) disposed of in a latrine, 
and to all evidence this was not the work of vandals,
but the original manner of treating texts that were no
longer used. If his findings are dependable, given this
and G. Schopen's famous "Cult of the Book" article, 
we might imagine that there was a fairly rapid transformation
in the manner in which physical books came to be
perceived, at some point during the first centuries CE.

Matthew T. Kapstein
Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies
The University of Chicago Divinity School

Directeur d'études
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris

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