Our society, the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society, prints a wide range of Dhamma books for free distribution. The money for printing these books comes from people who wish to honor or remember their deceased loved-ones, usually their parents, and they ask this fact to be mentioned somewhere in the book. This is a very ancient and a particularly Buddhist practice. The oldest dated book in existence is a copy of the Vajracchedika Sutra printed on 11th May 868 in western China. On the colophon at the end of the book are these words. 'Devotedly made for free distribution by Wang Jie in memory of his parents on the 13th day of the 4th moon in the 9th year of Siantong.' The book is made of several sheets of paper glued together, 16 feel long and with an illustration of the Buddha surrounded by his disciples at the end. It was found at Dunhuang in 1907 by Aural Stein and is now displayed at the British Library. Last time I was in London I went to have a look at it. It's yellowed and worn but still in pretty good condition and the print is clearly readable. I got a real thrill to see it and to think that we Buddhists continue to follow the custom of generously sharing the Dhamma with others. May it continue long. Related to this, printing seems to have been invented in China around the end of the 6th century CE and probably to mass-produce Buddhist literature. The Confucianists disdained printing, believing that calligraphy was more noble. The oldest book printed with movable type, also a Buddhist book from China, is dated 1377.
From the 2nd of February I am going to share with you some of my thoughts on the now well-known claim that Jesus spent his 'lost years' learning Buddhism in India.