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This image depicts the frontispiece to the world's earliest dated printed book, the Chinese translation of the Buddhist text the Diamond Sutra. The manuscript consists of a scroll, over 16 feet long, made up of a long series of printed pages. Printed in China in 868 AD, it was found in the Dunhuang Caves in 1907, in the North Western province of Gansu. Buddhist sutras are texts for chanting to show religious devotion, by monks, nuns and pious lay people. The first few lines of text therefore contain instructions about the chanting. For example, that all those who chant must do so 'with a pure mouth so that the true word of Buddha can penetrate'. Such exhortations have disappeared from modern printed editions of sutras but are important for understanding how the text was used.
This sutra consists of a dialogue between the Buddha and his disciple, Subhuti. Subhuti is the old man showed kneeling on a prayer mat in front of Buddha on the frontispiece to this scroll. Or. 8210/P.2, frontispiece and text