The Swat Valley in northern Pakistan is definitely not the sort of place you would want to be visiting nowadays. Malala Yousafzai, the girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for attending school is from Swat. But it wasn’t always the case. Going back 1500 years ago the valley was known as Udyyana, the Buddha’s Garden. The monks have long vanished, their sonorous chants silenced forever and their monasteries and stupas now nameless neglected ruins. But even here the Buddha’s words, though no longer understood by the locals, can still encountered. If you take the main Malamjaba road some 5 k north of Manglaur you will eventually see two huge rocks on the side of the hill, one known locally as Oba Ghat and the other as Khazana Ghat. There are two inscriptions on the first of these rocks and one on the second. The first inscription reads: Sarvva pāpasyākarana, kusalasy opasampada, svacitta vyavadānam, caetad budanu sasanam, which is of course the Buddha’s famous summery of his teachings from Dhammapada verse 183.
The second inscription is on the upper portion of the rock far beyond reach and reads: Vācānurakst samvrtahk kāyana caiva kusalan na kurvan tāstrāyin karma pathānu isokya āraghyen mārgam rpippraveditam. This verse can be found at Dhammapada 281.Moving on to the second rock one will find a third inscription which reads: Anityā vava (sic! for vata) samskārā utpāda vyaya dharmina hutpadyahinirud (dh)yantetepā (read tesām) vyupasamas sukham.
This passage can be found in the Mahasudassana Sutta (D.II,1990 and is repeated in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta where it is recited by Indra. Each of these inscriptions is in Sanskrit, although in the case of the last one with rather poor spelling. The first two are in Gupta period Brahmi characters from about the 2nd or 3rd century CE, and the third was written in the 6th century CE judging by the characters.
Who wrote these verses we do not know. Clearly they were literate, they knew the Dhammapada and the Digha Nikaya and they thought the verses important enough to make them known, so chances they were monks or perhaps nuns. What would they think of Swat, one of the loveliest valleys in the Himalayas, if they came back today?