Comparative Research of Sarvastivadin Texts in Tocharian Languages

As far as I understand, the Tocharian languages are among the less known Buddhist languages, if not actually the least known. Tocharian A and Tocharian B (the word ‘Tocharian’ is a misnomer since both languages had other names) are languages of Indo-European peoples inhabiting the Tarim Basin in the present-day Xijiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China in the first millenium CE. The region was dominated by the Sarvastivadin school of Buddhism spreading from the Kushan empire. Kucha, the biggest Tocharian city, was actually home of the legendary Kumarajiva who translated Indian Buddhist texts into Chinese with considerabl elegance and deep insight into the difficult Buddhist doctrines.

Does anyone know if there are any surviving Canon fragments in the Tocharian languages and whether they were used for comparative analysis of the EBTs?


Apparently there are. Ven. Analayo references them in his comparative study of the Majjhima Nikāya; see especially MN 26, MN 135, and MN 142.


Is Tocharian the same as what we call “Khotanese” on SC? Maybe we should change the name.

My understanding is that they are different. In his study of MN 135 , Ven. Analayo refers to both Tocharian and Khotanese fragments. At the same time, they are apparently both Indo-European languages and from roughly the same area. It may well be that they are closely related. According to Wikipedia Khotanese is an eastern Iranian language, whereas Tocharian is an unknown branch of Indo-European.


Depends on how you define ‘closely related’. Within the Indo-European family the languages are almost as far apart as it gets, kind of like Armenian and Russian,t igve an apt analogy.

So that’s what was confusing. It looks like we should add Tocharian to our list of root languages.


Tocharian A and Tocharian B (depending on the language the relevant fragments were in). They were two very closely related but most likely mutually unintelligible languages.

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Would you be interested to hunt this down? I think there are only a very few fragments. If we can identify them, and specify the language, we can add them to SC. The details seem to be in the link you gave at the head of this topic.


Right now I am in the middle of moving into a new room on the other side of the city, so I am a little bit short on free time. I’ll try to look for the texts this weekend - there are a few more Tocharian resources that I know of, some of the fragments are even translated, if I am not mistaken. I’ll do my best but I cannot promise anything :cry:


Good news everyone! I found a project hosting the comprehensive edition of Tocharian manuscripts in both languages - all transliterated and translated, most entries identified as fragments of specific texts.

The bad news is there are currently 1,630 manuscripts hosted on the website, which makes the task of looking through them a bit difficult. I can try to do this as much as I can this Saturday - if I have enough time, which is not a given. Still, could we narrow down the scope of the task a little bit for the time being? Like, I should only look for texts that are parts of the Digha, Samyutta, Majjhima and Anguttara Nikayas?

I also found a French-language reader in the Tocharian languages with several Buddhist texts, but while I am pretty sure we can publish the Tocharian language fragments, I have my doubts about the copyright of the French translations.

Upd: So far, as far as I can tell, the database is choke full with fragments of Udānavarga - apparently, all translations from Sanskrit, but who knows? The most amazing thing is that most of the Udānavarga fragments seem to be bilingual, providing the Sanskrit original and Tokharian translation. Looks like people of the Tarim basin had the same problems with their holy texts as us nowadays :grinning:


Wow, what a great find! How did I not know about this?

If you would proceed with this, it would be so helpful. My suggestion would be:

  • Start off with a general survey of the site. I can’t see anywhere that they list the titles of the works that they contain, but let’s see if we can make such a list, or at least a general set of categories.
  • We can then assign priorities to the categories. Generally speaking:
    1. Nikaya/Agama texts
    2. Vinaya, and Udanavarga/Dhammapada style verses
    3. Jatakas and similar late canonical material
    4. Canonical Abhidhamma (it’s unlikely there will be any)
    5. Later literature and abhidhamma (This is only of interest if it quotes agama sutras)
  • Once we have an idea of the scope of the project, we can figure out what we want to do with it. While in principle it would be nice to have text, translations, and parallels here, there are a number of problems with implementing this. Anyway, to start with if we have at least the parallels data and links, that would be pretty good.
  • Once we know exactly what we want, we can start to gather the detailed information. Depending on the scope, this will be done by hand, or possibly by scraping the site or requesting the data from them.

I notice that this work is based in Vienna. Maybe I can visit them next time I’m around.


First, it should be said that almost all of the manuscripts are not actually manuscripts but rather manuscript fragments- most of them really tiny. I think you know it already, so just in case.

Second, there are no titles of the works found in the manuscripts. I think the reason for this is that the Indologists and Buddhogists are showing little interest in the comparative analysis of the texts: the languages are too obscure are the Tocharian translations are quite frequently done word to word, even ignoring the Tocharian syntax (much like early Bible translations), so their hunch is they will not find anything new in these manuscripts. The primary focus of the Tocharianology (to coin a new term) is the languages, and most linguists don’t care about the contents of the texts, all they want is language data. In the books on the Tocharian languages that I skimmed through, the general tone is that of annoyance: ‘Man, why did they have to write all these Buddhist texts instead of private correspondence or business letters?!’ For this reason, there are no titles, so I will have to check each fragment one by one, looking up the text titles.

For this reason, if I manage to work on it - which I unfortunately cannot guarantee - I will make up a Google Spreadsheet with a tab for each of the categories, where I can provide the title, fragment names and links to them. I think it is not feasible I will check all 1,650 fragments, so maybe I will take up the work next week. Any review of the context would be not possible under those circumstances. If I do start working on it, I will PM you on Saturday so that you can give me an e-mail adress I can share the spreadsheet with.

Again, I think that publishing texts will not be an issue. Publishing translations can be a bit tricky.


I was skimming through them and I found one concerning Viśākhā[quote]
a4 … it is not surprising that old, wretched or poor people leave the house and go to Buddha …
a5 very amazing and very surprising [is] yet the monkhood of Nanda …
a6 … he went in front of Nanda approaching in a revering manner …
b1 … but this lay-woman was [like] a Kālinga textile to touch …
b2 … retain the body …
b3 le Buddha-seigneur, le maître, prit connaissance de l’affaire.
b5 … thereupon, Viśākhā touched her own head, and immediately she knew …[/quote]Very interesting, but also very fragmentary. The sudden French is interesting too.


There is also one cool project connected with the Tocharian languages (sorry, German only): ‘The Legend of the Buddha’s Life in Tocharian Texts’. I haven’t found any online publications of the results of their work, but I am intrigued.

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I think this is because the text was possibly taken from the French-language reader I referred to earlier. Most of the text has been rendered in English, but this project is still work in progress (or not, they mentioned on the main page they had been funded till January 2017 only), so…

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Time to sharpen up the google-fu:

site: "Title of the work"

This gives 90 hits, so it shouldn’t be too bad.


This link may be interesting (let me know if it has been pointed before):


Thanks a lot, I think it can be of help later!

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Here is a recent essay, A Glimpse into the Tocharian Vinaya Texts by Pan Ta, a graduate student at the comparative and Indo-European linguistics department at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. It offers a general survey of the field and a detailed study of a few short Vinaya passages.


Thank you so much. Very valuable and interesting!
By pure chance I just stumbled over this, though only in German (do you understand German perhaps, if I may ask – just curious): Schmidt, Klaus: Der Schlussteil Des Pratimoksasutra Der Sarvastivadins: Text in Sanskrit Und Tocharisch a Verglichen Mit Den Parallelversionen Anderer Schulen (

And a review on the above referenced work: Kieffer-Puelz: Review on Klaus T. Schmidt, Der Schlußteil des Prātimokṣasūtra der Sarvāstivādinsßteil_des_Prātimokṣasūtra_der_Sarvāstivādins_Göttingen_1989_ZDMG_142_1992_197_198