ajñānāc cīyate karma, janmanaḥ karma kāraṇaṃ |
jñānān na cīyate karma, karmābhāvān na jāyate ||
Through ignorance, karma is accumulated;
Karma is the cause of rebirth.
Through wisdom, karma is not accumulated;
In the absence of karma, one is not reborn.
This verse is not known from any Indian inscription, and it is yet to be traced in any Indian Buddhist text, whether in the original Indic language or in Tibetan or Chinese translation.
Southeast Asia is rich in epigraphic material: historical, secular records (royal praśasti with their lineages and accounts of temporal deeds); historical, religious records (the foundation and dedication of buildings or images); and non-historical religious records containing praises of brahmanical or Buddhist deities, scriptural citations, dhāraṇī, or mantra. As in India, several or all of these elements can be combined in a single record.
Religious records can be read for the information they contain about the diffusion of Buddhist practices or ideas in the region. In this chapter, I trace the travels of a single Sanskrit verse, which is known from lithic inscriptions from three neighbouring sites in north peninsular Malaysia, from three sites on the island of Borneo (one each from Brunei, Sarawak, and Kalimantan), as well as from a terracotta tablet and gold plates from Java. At the end, I briefly examine the relationship of the verse to the texts and stūpa images with which it is associated.
The documentation of some of the artefacts discussed here goes back to the first half of the nineteenth century, a period of expansion and consolidation of the horizons of orientalist knowledge; their modern history reflects the shifting boundaries and fortunes of the region that we know today as “Southeast Asia”. The first notices of some of the inscriptions were published in Calcutta, then capital of British India, known today as Kolkata, the capital of Paschim Banga (former West Bengal). One of the artefacts was in fact removed to Calcutta, where it remains today. Early studies were published by scholars or colonial officers associated with the Asiatic Society of Bengal, then the leading organization for Asian studies, in the pages of the Proceedings or Journal of the Society. Other artefacts, from the Dutch East Indies, were published by Dutch scholars. The prevailing framework was antiquarian; at the time, field archaeology was in its infancy.