Siddham in China and Japan
by Saroj Kumar Chaudhuri
Acceptance of the linguistic concepts of Sanskrit by the Chinese scholarly world is a unique episode in China's academic history, which, perhaps, was not repeated until modern times. Translation of Buddhist scriptures coincided with a time when the Chinese were keenly feeling the shortcomings of their logographic script and desperately searching for some rational means to express the readings of the characters. The Chinese Buddhists were the first to realize the academic importance of the phonetic script that was used to write Sanskrit, which was called Siddham. The Indian monks incorporated a section on Siddham letters in a number of translated sutras, perhaps, at the insistence of Chinese monks. They undoubtedly added the letters, but at the same time gave them a religious aura by adding an esoteric interpretation to each letter. They did not add much linguistic information to the letters. It was the Chinese Buddhists who appended Sanskritic linguistic information to the letters, and tried hard to comprehend the meaning. In short, they discovered the Sanskritic linguistic concepts and disseminated them to the Chinese academic world, with the Indian and Central Asian monks virtually playing the role of informants. The new ideas made a profound contribution to the development of linguistic studies in China. From China, Siddham and its linguistic concepts travelled to Japan and initiated the scientific study of the Japanese language. Early Japanese linguistic studies were carried out almost exclusively by Japanese monks who were basically scholars of Siddham. Of special interest is the Japanese treatment of the pronunciation of mantras. They conventionalised the readings of mantras which deviated from the actual readings. They developed elaborate hypotheses to explain the deviation. The way the Chinese and the Japanese understood Sanskrit, as well as the new ideas that evolved in Chinese and Japanese linguistics under the impact of Sanskritic linguistic ideas, are the main topics of this study.
The author wishes to express his profound gratitude to Prof. Victor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania for reviewing the manuscript thoroughly and providing very valuable suggestions.
Certain preliminary information is assumed in this study. This has been given in the section entitled "Introductory Information" that follows. Readers are requested to go through it before entering the main text.include '../includes/navbar.html'; ?> include '../includes/footer.html'; ?>