[China discourse: Passing the torch of ‘knowledge on the verge of extinction’]
The pioneers of modern Sanskrit studies in China are the two scholars- Ji Xianlin and Jin Kemu. But it should be said that, China’s current overall Sanskrit study is still in its infancy, and training able successors is still the key to continuing this tradition. I myself had been engaged in the study of Sanskrit all my life, and have deeply felt that it actually is a difficult-to-learn subject, and the quality requirements for trained personnel are very high.
Researchers should be proficient in Sanskrit, which is crucial. In the languages of the world, Sanskrit is relatively difficult to learn, and one needs to spend more time in comparison to learning other languages. If only to master the rudiments of Sanskrit, one can engage in Sanskrit research of related disciplines, but the knowledge output thus achieved is very unreliable.
Sanskrit after all is a language tool, used for the study of related disciplines. Therefore, even if proficient in Sanskrit, and is engaged in related disciplines, such as religion, philosophy, literature, etc., still one need to have academic accomplishment in related disciplines. The level of standard of Sanskrit research in a specific discipline depends on the level of academic accomplishments of the researchers.
China and India have a history of more than 2,000 years of cultural exchange. Especially Indian Buddhism has influenced ancient Chinese culture in many ways. Successive generations of eminent monks have also left us a voluminous Buddhist literature. As a Chinese Sanskrit scholar, you should take advantage of these precious materials. Therefore, the researchers should also have accomplishments in ancient Chinese culture and archaic Chinese. Moreover, the comparative study of ancient Chinese and Indian cultures also is helpful in enhancing the depth of research in related disciplines, and can have the effect of making foreign things serve China.
At the same time, the researchers also need to have a relatively comprehensive understanding of ancient Indian culture. Sanskrit research is making use of ancient Indian literature for undertaking the study of related disciplines, and each discipline is not mutually isolated. For example, Buddhism in ancient India did not emerge and develop independently, but had emerged and developed out of contention with ancient India’s mainstream religion- Brahmanism. Therefore, having a relatively comprehensive understanding of the ancient Indian culture, further can improve the understanding of Buddhism, and is also conducive to the study of Sanskrit.
The scholars from Europe, United States and Japan had been engaged in Sanskrit studies for more than hundred years. We have to learn from and absorb their valuable academic achievements, and for this we need to master one or two relevant foreign languages. Meanwhile, China’s Tibet not only has preserved a large number of Sanskrit palm leaf manuscripts, there also is the Tibetan Tripitaka. Only if you have mastered a certain level of Tibetan language, can you take full advantage of such material. Of course, it should be noted that each scholar should have a choice of some sort, and act within one’s competence. Otherwise, one will be a jack of all but master of none, wasting valuable time.
Once the academic accomplishment required for undertaking Sanskrit research is understood, the young students interested in undertaking this discipline will have enough mental preparation, and there will be a clear direction for their hard work. They won’t be afraid of hardships, be willing to be lonely, and pursuing unremittingly, they will ultimately be able to make creative contributions in the field of Sanskrit research, and not fail in their obligation as scholars in the historic mission of passing on academic knowledge.
At present, the State also attaches great importance to the study of Sanskrit. In 2009, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences received a major project -“Sanskrit Studies and Building of a Contingent of Qualified Personnel” commissioned by the National Social Science Fund. To this end, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has set up a Sanskrit research center for the implementation of the project, and started offering a Sanskrit course of three and a half years duration. The first three years is the study Sanskrit, and the last six months, one studies Pali. Pali is a vernacular language of ancient India similar to Sanskrit, and is a language used by the early Buddhist religion.
For any one discipline, preparation of teaching materials is building the foundation, which is analogous to having a solid foundation– only then being able to build a high-rise building. Integrated with the teaching, we have also compiled a series of textbooks and have already published five categories, including: “Elementary Sanskrit” “Sanskrit Literature Reader”, “Sanskrit Sutra Reader”, “Practical Pali Grammar” and “Pali Reader”. These set of Sanskrit and Pali textbooks are specially compiled keeping in mind the characteristics of Chinese students, selection of material is completely from Indian Sanskrit and Pali original scriptures, maintaining the authenticity.
General Secretary Xi Jinping has stressed at the Working Symposium of Philosophy and Social Sciences, that neglected branches of learning have to “make sure that people do take them up and pass on the tradition,” which amply reflects the country’s full support for academic research. Moreover, the age-old cultural bondage between China and India has accumulated a wealth of literature resources. Chinese Sanskrit scholars have a unique advantage in this regard. Thus, the new generation of Chinese Sanskrit scholars only need to have determination and will to dedicate themselves to the academic career. They will definitely attain academic achievements worthy of their predecessors.
[Editor: Xu Hao]