Scroll 157 of the Daihannya Sutra (Yakushiji Sutras)

  • Nara period
  • 8c
  • Handscroll, ink on paper
  • H-1080 W-27.5
    Transmitted by Yakushiji temple
Catalogue Entry

Nara period, 8th century
Handscroll, ink on paper
H. 27.2 cm, Overall length: 1,051.0 cm

This is one scroll of the 600 scrolls of the Daihannya sutra version extremely well known by its popular names, the Yakushiji Sutra or Nagahi Sutra. This set of scrolls is one of the representative examples of old sutra copies from the late Nara period.

The Daihannya sutra (S: Maha prajnaparamita sutra) is a sutra text translated by Hsuan-tsang of the Tang dynasty and consists of a set of 600 scrolls. The Daihannya sutra is considered the longest sutra in the Buddhist canon and is approximately 5 million characters in length. It is thought that approximately 10,500 sheets of paper were needed to copy out the entire sutra.

This Yakushiji Sutra is named after Yakushiji in which the sutra has been preserved, and two round, red letter seals reading Yakushiji-in are impressed at the title at the beginning of each scroll, and a black ink seal reading Yakushiji Kondo is impressed on the back of the first sheet of paper on the mount sheet. The name Nagahi Sutra derives from the traditional attribution of the calligraphy to Asano Sukune Nagahi, famous as a talented calligrapher from the second half of the 8th century.

The brushwork in the sutra text itself is weighty and beautifully drawn, with the solemn, powerful brushstrokes, and fleshy, rather large characters fully representative of the typical style of sutra texts from the late Nara period. The material is a thick brown hemp paper, and the sutra is written out in lines of 17 characters, with 24 lines inscribed on each sheet of paper.

At present the majority of the Yakushiji Sutras, 387 scrolls, have been designated as National Treasures and are in the collection of the Fujita Museum, Osaka. Unfortunately, however, all of these scrolls lack the colophon information which would identify the date of their production. There is, however, writing in black ink on the paper attached to the roller bar at the end of some of the scrolls which notes the number of sheets of paper used, corrections to thserved in the Fujita Museum and Yakushiji, some fifty or so scrolls are thought to exist in various other collections.