'Gandharan Buddhism and Gandhari Buddhist Manuscripts' - Lecture Series - Mark Allon


Lecture Series and Reading Workshop

The Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies, SPPU, Pune is pleased to announce a Lecture Series and Reading Workshop on ‘Gandharan Buddhism and Gandhari Buddhist Manuscripts’ under the Khyentse Foundation India Visiting Professorship Programme. The lecture series and reading workshop will be guided by Prof. Mark Allon, Associate Professor in South Asian Buddhist Studies, University of Sydney, who is a renowned scholar of Gandharan Buddhism.

The lecture series and reading workshop will commence on 20th December and will conclude on 15th February 2024. Sessions will be held on every Wednesday and Thursday at the Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies, SPPU from 10.30 am to 01.30 pm and will also be available online on Microsoft team’s link. Session is open for interested students, scholars and faculty members from inside and outside theUniversity. The participants should register their names by filling up Google form on the link given below on or before 15th December 2023. Please note that there is no registration fee. Your sincere interest and active participation is what we require.

To register, please fill the Google form on the following link:

Please note that the online joining link and the study material will be send only to the registered participants.

Prof. Mahesh Deokar
Head of Department,
Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies,
SPPU, Pune

About the Workshop:
Readings in Gandhari Buddhist Manuscripts

The past three decade has witnessed the discovery of several major collections of Buddhist manuscripts from ancient Gandhara (present day northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan).

The oldest of these are the Gandhari manuscripts, which date from approximately the 1st BCE to the 3rd century CE, making them the oldest Buddhist and oldest Indian manuscripts yet discovered. Despite at least a 1000 years of Buddhist history in the region, which is well attested through a wealth of archaeological sites, art objects, coins and inscriptions, supplemented by historical accounts, such as those of Chinese pilgrims, these are the first substantial examples of Gandhari Buddhist texts from Gandhara.

This series of lectures and text reading sessions will introduce students to Gandharan Buddhism, art, and culture, to the new manuscript discoveries and their importance, and to the Gandhari language and Kharoshthi script. The bulk of the series will be taken up with reading sample texts from the new collections.

Lecture 1 (20 December): Buddhism in ancient Gandhara (northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan) and recent discoveries of Gandhari Buddhist manuscripts

In this lecture I will give an account of the history of Buddhism in Gandhara, artistic expressions and innovations, and the importance of the region to the spread of Buddhist to Central Asia and China, then discuss the new manuscript discoveries and the impact they are having on our understanding of Buddhism in Gandhara and beyond. I will also discuss the digital platform we have developed for collaborative research and for the publishing of Gandharan Buddhist manuscripts and inscriptions, which is the foundation for their digital repatriation to the communities from which these important cultural artifacts originate.

Lecture 2 (27 December): The Gandhari language and Kharoshthi script

In this lecture I will give an overview of the Gandhari language and its relationship to Sanskrit, Pali and other Prakrits, and an account of the Kharoshthi script and scribal hands. I will discuss the materiality of Gandharan birch bark manuscripts and how we work with these manuscripts, which are not uncommonly fragmentary, and “wrestle” an edition, translation, and study out of them. I will conclude with a discussion of the relationship between these Gandhari texts and their parallels in other languages (Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese) and what this tells us about the transmission of early Buddhist literature.

Remaining lectures (28 December and thereafter Wednesday and Thursday in subsequent weeks): Reading Gandhari manuscripts

The remaining lectures, or better, sessions, will focus on reading Gandhari manuscripts. We will begin with a reading of the Gandhari version of the second discourse of the Buddha, which in Pali is called the Anattalakkhaṇa-sutta, in conjunction with its Pali and Sanskrit parallels. The texts read in the remaining sessions will be decided in conjunction with staff and students. This might include further prose sutras, verse texts, such as the Dharmapada or Anavataptagāthā, and inscriptions.

By Mark Allon, all times in announcement in IST


OK I have registered. Should be interesting.

Any guidance on what prerequisite knowledge will be expected of attendees?


Where is this post copied from, I couldn’t find any link online?

I did some searching, and found the following interesting video of a talk by Mark Allon:

Based on viewing the above, these two web sites may be of interest to those wishing to know more about this subject:



What I found interesting based on Mark Allon’s talk was the discovery of Mahayana texts in the Gandhari collections - it seems entirely possible that Mahayana emerged from this region and possibly a lot earlier than some of us may think.

This has caused me to reflect on the “legitimacy” of Mahayana sutras such as the Lotus Sutra and perhaps whether they reflected the Buddha’s actual teachings as Mahayanists claim.

Another interesting reflection is evidence of what I call “Sanskritisation” in the later Gandhari texts. Gandhari is a Prakrit language with a grammar notably simpler than Sanskrit. For example the vibhatti (case endings) of words are not clearly defined or strongly aligned to case usage or meaning. However, the later texts shows a prevalence to use Sanskrit case endings and spelling. I wonder whether the same process has applied to the Pali texts - that they were originally simpler and progressively Sanskritised over time. Kaccāyana documents instances where the vibhatti of Pali words in the canon do not align with kāraka (case usage) so it may be evidence of an earlier period when the Pali texts were not written with well defined case endings.


Salomon has argued in his book on Gāndhārī that the discovery of Gāndhārī Mahāyāna texts doesn’t change the timeline that has been proposed earlier on the emergence of Mahāyāna. It seems to corroborate what had been already proposed:

(ignore the 429, that’s a foot note)

Mark Allon’s talk is from 2022, a lot of other Gandhari texts have surfaced, and carbon dating dates the earliest ones to 1 CE.

Mark was specifically asked the question during his talk whether the new findings show that Mahayana originated in the region. His answer (I think) is that it’s still an open question. But some of the other texts that he partially cited during his talk displays what I would call a focus on Mahayana topics of interest.

We of course know the Lotus Sutra was composed over several stages, but it appears the genesis of some of the ideas may have come from much earlier. I remain open to the possibility that some of ideas could potentially have come from the Buddha himself. Particularly the concept of “one vehicle many skilful means” - that strikes me as something the Buddha may well have said. We already know he varies his teachings based on whether his audience had a brahministic background, Jain, etc. That evidence can be found in the Tipiṭaka itself - so many of the suttas contain Vedic references, so it’s conceivable and even likely he adapted his teachings to suit his audience.


Prof. Salomon gave this great interview yesterday with Ven. @nisabhobhikkhu at the end of the interview he also addresses this particular question.


Thanks - I finally had a chance to watch this and it is an interesting interview. I particularly liked the conjecture that in the early Gandhari texts, there may have been no distinction between Theravadan and Mahayanan concepts, which further supports the idea that some of the concepts in Mahayana texts date back to an earlier period than we may previously have thought.

It also brings up an uncomfortable issue that I am hesitant to raise: the possibility that the existing Pali canon was censored and redacted, and Mahayanan concepts and suttas were removed, leaving behind a possibly biased account of the Buddha’s teachings. Of course, the Mahayanists themselves may believe this to be true.

I’ve sent in my application but have heard nothing. Has anyone received a reply?

Oh dear, only just saw this so I hope I have registered in time.

Also, I presume 10:30-1:30 is Pune time (given SPPU is Pune University)?
That would be Wed 20th Dec 4pm to 7pm by my calculations???

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Yes, I believe the time given is for Pune.


Just received my link this afternoon…should be interesting…

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The provides corroboration for the widely-accepted notion that Mahayana texts began appearing around this time. Previously this had been inferred working backwards from the earliest dates of translation into Chinese. An Shigao worked circa 150CE, but he did not translate Mahayana texts. Lokakṣema translated Mahayana sutras around the same time, maybe a little later.

Allowing for the reasonable supposition that it took some time for texts to reach China and be translated; that we have an incomplete record; and certain internal details of Mahayana texts, it becomes reasonable to assume a date around the beginning of the Common Era, maybe a bit earlier. I’m not sure when the earliest epigraphic evidence is.

A lot of people want the Gandharan texts to be a “Buddhist Dead Sea Scrolls”, opening a new revelation to previously unattested texts of long-forgotten schools.

But for the most part, they are a survey of exactly the kinds of texts that you’d expect to find in a Buddhist monastery of that period. Some early suttas, some Dhammapada style verses, some legends, some Vinaya, some Abhidhamma, some Mahayana. Rather boringly, they tend to confirm rather than upset the findings of historical scholarship.

Their true worth lies in the details and specificity that we can gain from understanding a snapshot of Buddhism in that time and place. For example, the fact that all these types of texts are found in the same monastery library is interesting!

Early Mahayana texts such as the Prajnaparamita (translated by Lokakṣema) position themselves quite explicitly as a response to the Abhidhamma, the core teaching being a criticism of the Abhidhammic notion of svabhāva. In fact, not even to Abhidhamma canon so much, which mostly concerns itself with systematizing the teachings of the suttas, as the scholastic theories based on the Abhidhamma. So the history must go Suttas → Abhidhamma systematic stage → Abhidhamma theoretical stage → Mahayana.

Much of “Mahayana” doctrine, especially the Bodhisattva, the Jatakas, etc., is of course shared with the schools and is attested at Sanchi around 2nd-1st century BCE. Again there is clear line of development, Suttas → late canonical (Jatakas, Buddha biography) → Mahayana.

If evidence suggests we must push back the date of the Mahayana—which the Gandharan texts, so far as I am aware, do not—then all that means is that this process happened a bit more quickly. But anyway, this development happened over several centuries.


Thanks, I think I was relying on some articles which were dating Mahayana from around 50 CE onwards, the Gandharian texts would support that the core ideas at least appeared earlier than that. I think it may even have been Wikipedia, but I just went there and the text may have been edited since my last visit to say that Mahayana ideas surface from around 1 CE based on the Gandhari texts, so someone is on the ball.

It’s also interesting that the Gandharian texts also contains alternative biographies of the Buddha. So far, no smoking gun though (that Mahayana ideas may have been “censored” in the Pali Tipiṭaka).

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This kind of thing is just anti-historical. It’s like saying that Newton didn’t mention e = mc2 therefore it must have been censored.


Not necessarily. We don’t know.

I believe (some) Mahayanists believe this, that the Mahayana doctrines were redacted by those “evil” Theravadans. I suppose it was to justify the Lotus Sutra actually contained the words of the Buddha or his “last sutta”

Please note: I am ambivalent about this, as I am about most controversies. If there is a smoking gun, I would of course like to see it.

Just finished attending Lecture 1. Mark covers pretty much the same ground as per the Goodman Lecture video.

I managed to find some of the web pages he shared in the video:




He cites one Mahayana sutra (Samādhirāja) that has been carbon dated to 112 BCE to 23 CE - doesn’t really prove much. Also fragments of the Lotus Sutra have been found, but these are dated later, so again no smoking gun.

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Thanks for locating the two preliminary videos, Christie, particularly useful to me as I missed the first live lecture.

I thoroughly enjoyed the second lecture, and am wondering if anyone understands how to access the recordings. (There was a message associated with the recording announcement during the session that a link would appear in the chat, but I don’t have a Teams account and therefore couldn’t access the chat.). I’m asking because I’ll be on retreat next week and will miss two more sessions.

Here are comments from Ajahn Sona, also in interview with Ven Nisabhobhikku yesterday on this interview with Prof Salomon:

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