Calligraphy in Sutra Script (Fojing Wen) from the Sutra of the Great and Complete Nirvana (Mahaparinirvana) Artist: Unknown

late 7th century c.e.

Asian Art

Not on view

Written by 220 C.E., the Mahaparinivara sutra recounts the Buddha’s final days. The word nirvana derives from the Sanskrit to "blow out" everything "negative"—to be released from suffering by extinguishing the flames of greed, hatred, and delusion. The word sutra means "to string together," connoting a collection of attached aphorisms, while the Chinese translation "classic" (jing, 經), suggests silk threads binding the texts together. This manuscript was written during the influential Sui dynasty, which unified China. Lying hidden for almost nine hundred years, it was discovered in 1900 at Dunhuang on the Silk Road. While some manuscripts were sold or lost, many were saved by the intervention of the scholar Luo Zhenyu. Written with standard script’s boxy characters, sutra script is differentiated by the flared strokes of clerical script that sweep down to the right, as seen in such characters as 入, 之, 大, and 是, exemplifying the transition from clerical to the standard script used today. Sutra style is also characterized by uniform columns of seventeen characters each; without uniform rows, scribes can adjust character height as needed. Monks considered copying sutras one of their most meritorious deeds, as it combines worship, literature, and calligraphy.


Handscroll, ink on paper


11 1/2 × 294 1/2 in. (29.2 × 748 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of H. Christopher Luce, B.A. 1972, in honor of Henry W. Luce, B.A. 1892

Accession Number



Sui dynasty (581–617 C.E.) or Tang dynasty (618–907 C.E.)


Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of records is ongoing.



H. Christopher Luce, New York; Sotheby's, The Arts of the Buddha, New York, Friday, September 21, 2007, lot 32; Sasaki Nobutsuna (1872-1963), Japan
  • David Ake Sensabaugh, "A Seventh-Century Chinese Buddhist Sutra at Yale," in "Recent Acquisitions," special issue, Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2014), 75–79, fig. 1–2
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