National TreasureSutra of the Wise and Foolish (Large Shōmu)

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  • 賢愚経残巻(大聖武)
  • Purportedly by Emperor Shōmu
  • 1 scroll
  • Ink on paper
  • 25.7x696.9
  • Nara period/8th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • B-2402

The Sutra of the Wise and Foolish (Skt. Damamuka[nidana] Sutra; J. Kengukyô), also known as the Sutra of the Karma of the Wise and Foolish (J. Kengu innen kyô), is a thirteen-volume sutra consisting of sixty-nine metaphorical narratives that describe the karmic pasts of wise and foolish people. This handscroll includes a total of 262 lines, consisting of Chapter 8 ("Vajra, the Daughter of King Prasenajit"), Chapter 9 ("Golden Wealth"), Chapter 10 ("Heavenly Flowers"), Chapter 11 ("Heavenly Jewels"), and the final lines of Chapter 48 ("Upagupta"). In view of the shorter length of the first sheet of paper and other factors, this work was probably copied from a sixteen- or seventeen-volume version of the sutra, rather than from the usual thirteen-volume version. The handscroll is called the "Yamato Edition" (J. Yamato gire), because it was kept at Tôdai-ji Temple located in the Yamato region (present-day Nara Prefecture). Since its calligraphy has been attributed to Emperor Shômu (r. 724-749), it is also known by the name of "Great Shômu"(J. Ôjômu).

The paper is dabishi, or "cremation paper," a type of paper said to be made from the cremated ashes of Sakyamuni. Dabishi is a thick, high-grade paper that contains powder made from fragrant wood and is coated with a whitewash made from ground, roasted seashells. Ruled lines are brushed onto the paper with diluted ink.

Although sutras are usually copied with seventeen characters per line, this transcription of Kengukyô uses eleven to fourteen characters per line. The voluminous brush strokes achieved by writing characters of larger size are orderly yet dynamic. Although this handscroll is generally thought to have been written in China and then brought to Japan, some scholars have suggested that it was transcribed in Japan by a Chinese calligrapher.