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Title: The Tibetan Dragon Sutra Compiled during the Reign of Emperor Kangxi
The Tibetan Dragon Sutra Compiled during the Reign of Emperor Kangxi (New window)   The Tibetan Dragon Sutra Compiled during the Reign of Emperor Kangxi

The Tibetan Dragon Sutra was compiled under the commission of the Grand Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang, Borjigit Bumbutai, grandmother of Emperor Kangxi. This voluminous collection of manuscripts in 108 cases was written in Tibetan script in gold ink on made-to-order cobalt-blue stationery. The front and back sutra boards are decorated with 756 color-painted Buddhas and inlaid with jewelry, covered by sutra screens embroidered in five colors - red, blue, green, white, and yellow - for protection.

According to the Archives of the Imperial Household Department, the Grand Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang had devoted herself to the compilation of the Sutra from the very beginning. Supported by her 14-year-old grandson, Emperor Kangxi, she prevailed over all dissenting opinions and overcame obstructions and difficulties involving personnel, financial, and material resources. With strong assistance of her family clan of the Khorchin Mongols, it took two years to complete the monumental project. Members of the compilation project, supervised by the Imperial Household Department, were divided into two groups. The team of bla ma monks, with a total of 171 members, was in charge of transcribing the scriptures, and the team of laymen, whose number unknown, was in charge of the distribution of materials, the daily life of the transcribers, and their security. According to a memorial on the estimated quantity of gold powder for transcribing the Bkav vgyur Sutra by the official Mishan (1633-1675, of the Fuca Hala clan) and others, “For 108 pieces of the front sutra boards, each requires 5 pieces of flying gold, and hence it totals 540 pieces. Every four leaves out of a total of 50,300 sutra leaves need three pieces of flying gold, so 37,725 pieces of flying gold are on demand.  The grand total thus comes to 38,265 pieces of flying gold. Supposing every piece of flying gold costs nine taels and seven maces (approximately 357.93 grams) of silver, the requirement will be 371,175 taels and 5 maces (approx. 13,696,375.95 grams) of silver. The 756 Buddhas on the boards takes 1,782 taels (approx. 65,755.8 grams) of gold powder.” This report attests to the enormous cost spent on the project. The flying gold refers to extremely thin gold foil.  At the time of the compilation, the supply of the flying gold from the North entirely ran out, and new supplies were bought from the South. The sutra screens and wrappers were also purchased in the Jiangnan region. As the flying gold was very expensive, white paper was used for drafting before transcribing. During the drafting period, the bla ma monks were offered a meal and two tea breaks a day. During the time of transcribing, two meals and three tea breaks a day were permitted. The bla ma monks accomplished their duties with satisfying supplies that guaranteed the quality of the Dragon Sutra, which is evidenced in the extant work. The Sutra, with more than 50,000 leaves in 108 cases, was written in standard Tibetan script with saturated gold pigment. The gorgeous and solemn representations of Buddhas and the exquisite and elegant mounting also reveal the imperial style and taste.