The collector behind the Schøyen Collection, Martin Schøyen, has received an honorary doctorate from the Thai university founded in the 19th century by the moderniser King Chulalongkorn. The award from Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaia University was made for Dr Schøyen’s contribution to historical preservation and academic research, especially in relation to Buddhist scholarship.
The award follows the ‘Traces of Gandaran Buddhism’ exhibition (2010-11) at the Buddhist museum in Buddhamonthon, which presented a selection of items from the centrepiece of the Buddhism collection - some 5,000 leaves and fragments, with around 7,000 micro-fragments from a library of originally up to 1,000 manuscripts found in caves in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. At the start of the exhibition, the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, said: "This exhibition in Thailand of these ancient manuscripts which date back nearly 2000 years ... provides the opportunity for the Thai people to learn and gain further knowledge about Lord Buddha's teaching and historical traces of Buddhism as a whole."
In May last year (2014), when he studied second century manuscripts from Bamiyan and Tibet's oldest manuscript from the Dun Huang caves, the Dalai Lama wrote in the visitor book of The Schøyen Collection: “The manuscript materials you have on the study of the Dharma is very important, and I am grateful for your efforts in preserving these.”
The convocation on the occasion of the doctorate award was held at Wat Thai Norway, home of the Thai Buddhist Association and a Buddhist temple. Among the dignitaries in attendance was Professor Jens Braarvig of the University of Oslo, editor of the three volumes on The Buddhist Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection. The event was attended by some 200 Buddhist monks, many coming from Thailand and other Asian countries.
Martin Schøyen said: “Over 60 years I built, preserved and made available online a collection that in total comprises some 20,000 manuscripts of global historical importance. They cover most of the world's countries, languages, scripts, literature, texts and religions, spanning over 5,000 years. This award – 18 long years after I received the Norwegian Nansen medal – reinforces the importance of this collection in the preservation of the world’s cultural heritage for posterity.”
Mr Schøyen added: “The road from the start of the Buddhist collection in 1996 to today’s scholarly publications, exhibitions and world recognition has been bumpy, prone to ill-informed media and activist attacks. This award is a vindication that this project undertaken with Professor Jens Braarvig and other scholars has been a worthwhile success we can all be proud of.’
Mr Schøyen paid tribute to the initiative of His Holiness Somdet Phra Buddhacharya, president of the executive Committee for the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, and the Supreme Sangha Council, for arranging the ‘Traces of Gandaran Buddhism’ and to Professor Jens Braarvig , Fredrik Lilland and Siam Saenkhat who curated the exhibition and produced the exhibition catalogue.
He also referred to Geoffrey Clarfield’s article ‘Buddhism's Dead Sea Scrolls - Aurel Stein and the Taliban - Beyond the Buddha’ (Minerva, May 2007 pp. 14-15), which stated: "Neither UNESCO, the European Union, nor any other official museum, library or university, has been able to do what Mr. Schøyen has done: Almost single-handedly protecting these priceless cultural treasures from the hands of religious iconoclasts."
Photos: Bodil Schøyen