Filed in Nichiren

Eugène Burnouf (1801-1852)

How a French scholar introduced the Lotus Sutra to the West

Donald S. Lopez

Wisdom Collection

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In April 1837, twenty-four Sanskrit manuscripts arrived in Paris, sent from Kathmandu by Brian Houghton Hodgson, British Resident at the Court of Nepal. They were Buddhist sutras and tantras, long lost in India but preserved in Nepal. The Société Asiatique instructed two young scholars, both named Eugène—Burnouf and Jacquet—to examine the texts. Burnouf began with the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Stanzas. He had no idea of its importance; he only knew that it was one of the “nine dharmas,” the central texts of Nepalese Buddhism. But he didn’t like it, writing to Hodgson, “I saw only perpetual repetitions of the advantages and merits promised to those who obtain prajnaparamita. But what is this prajna itself? This is what I did not see anywhere, and what I wished to learn.” Burnouf kept reading.

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