The teachings of the Buddha were first written down 2000 years ago. For centuries and across continents they were carefully transmitted, recorded on palm-leaf manuscripts, until they began to be printed in book form in the late 19th century. The ancient manuscripts are now under threat. Rapid modernization and the spread of consumerism have brought sweeping social changes. Manuscripts - along with other sacred objects - have become commodities, up for sale as "antiques". Sets are broken up; single leaves are framed for wall decoration. The rich literary heritage of Buddhism is endangered.
The Fragile Palm Leaves project seeks to rescue these ancient books from the market-place. The manuscripts are kept together as a single collection, to be catalogued and reproduced. The materials will then be made available internationally for research and publication.
Fragile Palm Leaves is a non-profit project based in Bangkok, Thailand. It operates under the auspices of the Pali Text Society (Oxford, U.K.), and has the support of leading international scholars and members of the Buddhist Sangha.
Materials gathered so far include palm-leaf and paper manuscripts in Pali, Burmese, Shan, Tai Khun, Tai Lue, and other Southeast Asian languages. They include canonical texts, commentaries, local legends, and historical and medical texts. These manuscripts are a precious treasury for the study of the religious and literary heritage of the Buddhism of Southeast Asia and should be preserved for future generations.
Peter Skilling, Curator, is a Canadian scholar, resident in Thailand since 1971. He spent three years as a Buddhist monk, and at present is working on a three-volume comparative study of canonical texts in Tibetan, Sanskrit, and Pali.