Pi Jianjun received Peking University’s second Khyentse Foundation Award for Excellence in Buddhist Studies in October, 2011. Since enrolling in the university’s Research Institute of Sanskrit Manuscripts and Buddhist Literatures, Pi has been consistently at the top of his class. According to his graduate advisor, Professor Ding Chuan, he has mastered both Sanskrit and Pali, and “as young as he is, he is one of the main translators of the Pali Dīighanikāya (Long Discourse of the Sutta Canon) and finished translation of several important suttas from Pali to Chinese with high quality.”

Professor Peter Skilling, of [intlink id=”104″ type=”post”]Fragile Palm Leaves[/intlink] Foundation, presented the award, praising Pi for his skill in several subjects and languages and welcoming him to a “network of excellence.” “I am especially happy to see that he works not only on Sanskrit but also on Pali. It is a good sign that Pali studies are progressing here in China.”

Pi writes that under Professor Duan he has been able to decipher for publication three newly discovered, secular Kharosthi documents from ancient Central Asia. “I am planning to do further research on Kharosthi in order to get acquainted with Buddhism in Central Asia.” Kharosthi script is associated with Gandhara and other central Asian states along the Silk Road through what is now northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. The oldest Buddhist texts discovered to date are from Gandhara in the first century CE and were written on birch bark in Kharosthi script. Through several thriving dynasties, Gandhara was one of the world’s most important Buddhist centers and the gateway through which Buddhism traveled from India to China and other parts of Asia. Deciphering Kharosthi script has great significance for translating Buddhist writings from this region that are more than 1500 years old and for understanding the area’s history in terms of Buddhadharma.

Pi’s facility with ancient languages is remarkable. He writes, “I am determined to go to Germany for Tocharian study as a PhD student. I will turn to full account my Sanskrit language ability to acquire knowledge of the Tocharian language, so as to investigate Buddhism in Chinese Turkistan. In addition, thanks to Professor Duan, I am granted an opportunity to be a research assistant of Professor Monika Zin at Munich University, whose specialty covers the history of Indian art and Central Asian Art.” Pi says that the KF award provides great encouragement for his future work.

The Award for Excellence in Buddhist Studies has been established at ten universities on four continents: the University of British Columbia, Canada; Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand; the University of California at Berkeley, USA; Hamburg University, Germany; the University of Hong Kong, China; the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka; Peking University, China; the University of Pennsylvania, USA; the University of Sydney, Australia; and National Chengchi University, Taiwan.

Khyentse Foundation’s vision in establishing these awards is to promote and encourage Buddhist scholarship around the world. Professor Skilling says, “That this network of prizes to encourage the academic study of Buddhism has developed so rapidly in so many countries over four continents demonstrates the vitality of international Buddhist studies today. Khyentse Foundation is delighted and proud to join in these auspicious developments. May Buddhist studies flourish around the world!”