03 April 2023
The Lotus Sutra Project: Conserving and Digitising 800 Manuscripts in the British Library
The International Dunhuang Project (IDP) is pleased to announce that after 5 years, the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Conservation and Digitisation Project successfully concluded in December 2022. Generously sponsored by the Bei Shan Tang Foundation, the Project aimed to publish online 793 manuscript copies of the Lotus Sutra from Dunhuang currently in the Stein collection at the British Library. This has resulted in over 374,000 cm of conserved material and nearly 17,000 new images for the IDP website.
Image of Or.8210/S.6791, conserved and digitised by the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Conservation and Digitisation Project.
The Lotus Sutra is one of the most influential scriptures in Mahayana Buddhism, and is thought to contain the Buddha’s final teaching, complete and sufficient for salvation. The Stein collection contains over 1000 copies of the Lotus Sutra in Chinese, which were acquired by Sir Marc Aurel Stein in 1907 and 1914, when he visited the so-called ‘Library Cave’ (Cave 17) at the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang, in the present-day Gansu Province in China.
Before and after conservation photos of Lotus Sutra Scroll Or.8210/S.3796, one of 793 manuscripts conserved through the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project.
Only a small portion of these had been previously digitised, and the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project was organised to make images of the remaining manuscripts available online. Thanks to the sustained efforts of the Project team since 2017, 790 scrolls and 3 booklets have been stabilised and conserved to enable digitisation, and photographed to produce high-resolution images that are now freely available to the public on the IDP website.
Image of Or.8210/S.155, a Chinese Lotus Sutra scroll with Tibetan divination texts on the back. Conserved and digitised as part of the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Conservation and Digitisation Project.
Through the thousands of new images online, the Project has significantly increased global access to these important materials. In an effort to document the methodology of the Project, team members have published several articles, such as Digitisation Officer Francisco Perez-Garcia’s The Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project: the collaborative work between the Heritage Made Digital team and the International Dunhuang Project team (published in the Library's Digital Scholarship blog, 14 March 2022). More about the digitisation efforts of the project can be found in the article How to Digitise Scrolls: A Step-by-Step Guide from the Lotus Sutra Project by Senior Imaging Technician Jon Nicholls (published in the Library’s Asia and Africa blog, 2 August 2021).
Image of Or.8210/S.3579, featuring a custom-made core developed by conservators on the Project.
Throughout the Project, the Conservation team also undertook critical research on preservation techniques and innovative storage solutions, shared via published articles like Conserving paper: reflections on cultures of conservation in Europe and East Asia by Paulina Kralka (published in The Journal of the Institute of Conservation, 24 May 2022) and Lotus Sutra Project: Storage Solutions by Paulina Kralka and Marya Muzart (published in the Library's Collection Care blog, 07 December 2020 and the IFLA Journal, 21 July 2021).
We wish to express our enormous gratitude for the efforts of the Project team, including Tan Wang-Ward, Marie Kaladgew, Marya Muzart, Paulina Kralka, Tania Estrada-Valadez, Vania Assis, Jon Nicholls, Ambrose Hickman, Isabelle Reynolds-Logue, Giancarlo Carozza, and countless others who have contributed throughout the lifetime of the Project.
Image of a panel discussion at the Lotus Sutra Conference in the Foyle Suite of the British Library. (Left to right: Dr Eric Tzu-Yin CHUNG, Dr Paul Harrison, Dr Stephen F Teiser, Ven. Miao Duo, Roxanna Pang, Dr Luisa Elena Mengoni.)
To celebrate the close of the Project, the IDP hosted a conference at the British Library on 15 – 16 December 2022. The conference, titled ‘The Lotus Sutra: the Teachings, Transmission and Material Culture of a Sacred Buddhist Text’, included a keynote speech from Dr Stephen F Teiser and presentations from other experts, in addition to a panel of the Project team discussing their results and methodology.
The full programme of the conference is here: Download IDP Lotus Sutra Conference Programme
The lectures were recorded and are now available on the IDP YouTube channel:
• Opening Ceremony of the Lotus Sutra Conference (15 – 16 December 2022)
Panel 1: Teachings of the Lotus Sutra
Chaired by: Luisa Elena Mengoni
• Keynote presentation: ‘The Lotus Sutra: Creating Buddhist Scripture’ by Dr Stephen F Teiser (15 December 2022)
• 'When Being Original No Longer Matters: Reflections on the Sanskrit Text of the Lotus Sutra and its Uses' by Dr Paul Harrison (15 December 2022)
• 'Lotus Sutra: Applying the Teachings in an Everyday Life' by the Venerable Miao Duo 妙多法師 and Roxanna Pang (15 December 2022)
• ‘Deciphering the Exhibition of The Arts of the Lotus Sutra at the National Palace Museum' by Dr Eric Tzu-yin Chung 鍾子寅 (15 December 2022)
• Panel 1 Discussion: Teachings of the Lotus Sutra
Panel 2: The Lotus Sutra at Dunhuang
Chaired by: Sam van Schaik
• ‘Universal Gate of Salvation: Guanyin at Dunhuang’ by Dr Roderick Whitfield (16 December 2022)
• ‘Dividing and Structuring the Lotus Sutra in Manuscript Form’ by Dr Costantino Moretti (16 December 2022)
• ‘At the Intersection of Image, Text and Ritual: The Lotus Sutra in Mogao Murals’ by Dr Neil Schmid (16 December 2022)
• ‘Pieces of a Puzzle: Fragments of Chinese Manuscript with the Lotus Sutra' by Dr Imre Galambos (16 December 2022)
• ‘The Guanyin Sutra at Dunhuang as Seen Through the British Library Collection’ by Mélodie Doumy (16 December 2022)
• Panel 2 Discussion: The Lotus Sutra at Dunhuang
Panel 3: Preserving the Lotus Sutra at the British Library: From Physical to Digital
Chaired by: Mélodie Doumy
• ‘Locating the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project’ by Tan Wang-Ward 王潭 (16 December 2022)
• ‘The Lotus Sutra Project at the British Library 2017–2022: A Conservators’ Perspective’ by Marie Kaladgew, Paulina Kralka & Marya Muzart (16 December 2022)
• ‘Conservation Case Studies from the Lotus Sutra Project at the British Library 2017–2022’ by Tania Estrada-Valadez, Marie Kaladgew, Paulina Kralka & Marya Muzart (16 December 2022)
• ‘Seeing Things Differently: The Imaging of Lotus Sutra Scrolls’ by Isabelle Reynolds-Logue (16 December 2022)
• Panel 3 Discussion: Preserving the Lotus Sutra at the British Library: From Physical to Digital
Anastasia Pineschi, International Dunhuang Project, British Library