What Are The Oldest Books (Top 10) in the World

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What Is the Oldest Book in the World?
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What Is The First Book in the World?

We've all turned to books at some point, whether it was just for fun, to do something else, or to study for a test. Do you know what the oldest printed book with a date that is still around today is?

The Buddhist religious text The Diamond Sutra gets this honor. Even though the book was written in 868 AD, it wasn't found until 1907. It had been hidden for almost a thousand years. Sir Aurel Stein, a British archaeologist and explorer who was born in Hungary, is to thank for this.

History of the Diamond Sutra - The First Book in the World

Scholars believe the original Diamond Sutra text was written in India during the second century CE. Kumarajiva is credited with the first translation into Chinese in 401 CE, and the Kumarajiva text appears to be the most frequently translated into English.

The Diamond Sutra was divided into 32 chapters and each chapter was given a title by Prince Chao-Ming (501-531), the son of Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty. This chapter division is still used by translators today, though they do not always use Prince Chao-titles. Ming's

Diamond Sutra - the oldest book in the world
Diamond Sutra - the oldest book in the world. Photo: Goodreads

The Diamond Sutra was significant in Huineng's (638–713) life as the Sixth Chan Patriarch (Zen). According to Huineng's narrative, he became enlightened when, as a young man selling firewood in a market, he overheard someone recite the Diamond Sutra.

The Diamond Sutra is thought to have been translated into Tibetan from Sanskrit in the late 8th or early 9th century. The translation is credited to Silendrabodhi, an Indian scholar, and Yeshe De, a student of Padmasambhava. At the remains of a Buddhist monastery in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, a manuscript of the Diamond Sutra that was much earlier and written in the Gandhara language was found.

Content of Diamond Sutra - The First Book in the World

The Diamond Sutra is a brief, sacred text in Mahayana Buddhism, the school of the religion practiced most widely in East and Southeast Asian countries. It has only 6,000 words. Many Buddhists hold the view that the Mahayana Sutras were verbally transmitted from the Buddha to their disciples, and The Diamond Sutra is written in the style of a dialogue between Subhati, one of the Buddha's students, and the teacher himself.

Photo: Britannica
Photo: Britannica

"Just as, in the vast ethereal sphere, stars and darkness, light and mirage, dew, foam, lightning, and clouds emerge, become visible, and vanish again, like the features of a dream—so everything endowed with an individual shape is to be regarded," the Diamond Sutra says in reference to the Prajnaparamita emphasis on the illusory nature of phenomena. Similar to the majority of the shorter (and later) Prajnaparamita writings, the ideas are openly proclaimed rather than supported by arguments or explanations, frequently in the form of eye-catching paradoxes and frequently identifying things with their opposites.

The text's central claim that transcending intellectual categories is necessary for spiritual realization is thus reinforced by the presentational style. The Diamond Sutra is regarded as the Sanskrit literature that is most similar in spirit to Chan (Zen) Buddhism, in part because of this.

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Why is it Diamond?

The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion is the full title of the document. Susan Whitfield, who runs the Dunhuang Project, says that the sutra helps us see through the illusions we have about the world. "We just think we exist as individuals, but we don't. In fact, we're in a state of complete non-duality, where there are no individuals and no sentient beings," writes Whitfield.

Why did Wang Jie commission it?

Whitfield says that in Jie's culture, Buddhists thought that copying pictures or words of the Buddha was a good thing to do and a way to earn merit. It's likely that monks would have regularly unrolled the scroll and read the sutra out loud. Whitfield says that this is one reason why printing started so early in China. "If you can print multiple copies, and the more copies you send out, the more you spread the word of Buddha, and the more merit you send out into the world," she writes. "Because of this, the Buddhists were quick to see how the new technology of printing could be used."

What is one quote you should know from The Diamond Sutra?

It’s difficult to translate the sutra word for word and still catch its meaning. But this passage about life, which Bill Porter, who goes by the alias "Red Pine," adapted to English, is one of the most popular:

So you should view this fleeting world—

A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,

A flash of lightening in a summer cloud,

A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

Things that have been around for a long time are usually prized and worth a lot. Old things tell us about history, an old culture, or a type of animal that is no longer alive. They also show us what people thought was important or beautiful in the past. This is why we still go to historical sites, look at classic works of art, and read old books.

It's rare to be able to read something that's thousands of years old, especially for the second group. Paper breaks down quickly, fire destroys collections and libraries, and people (usually monks or scholars) had to keep making copies of texts to keep them readable and safe. This was not an easy task, and it took a lot of time. However, the fact that it was done shows that the text had some value and was thought to be important enough to spend time on.

There is a high chance that the old books we still have today are affected by survivorship bias. Maybe we can read it not because it is important or good, but because it was saved because of a lucky set of circumstances. But as a general rule, books that are older tend to be more valuable.

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