Archaeologists in India’s Bihar State this week unearthed what they believe to be a Buddhist sutra from the 1st century CE, which depicts the Buddha telecommuting to deliver a sermon to his followers. In the scripture, the Buddha’s attendant Ananda recounts a time when his teacher was traveling in a distant land but still wished to address the sangha. While much of the text has been damaged, researchers say that it appears to describe the Buddha miraculously projecting his image and voice onto a screen at a monastic hall, where disciples had gathered to hear his message.
Unfortunately, as the following excerpt demonstrates, the Buddha encountered some technical difficulties:
Thus have I (mostly) heard,
A monk asked the Buddha, “Lord, you have taught us to value both solitude and community. How are we to understand this?”
And the Buddha responded: “When one’s [inaudible] is [inaudible] or [inaudible], then it is paramount that [inaudible].”
At which point the Blessed One’s image on the screen did freeze, and the student asked, “Lord Buddha, are you still there?”
And the Buddha replied, “and so that is what—what’s that? Can you hear me now?”
And the monk said that he could.
The Blessed One then announced that he was moving to another room to see if there was better reception.
Seated once more, he continued: “The true nature of reality is—”
Alas, mid-word, the Buddha’s message did abruptly cease, and the screen went blank. The monks hurried to investigate the cause, puzzling over whether or not the issue was on their side, until, suddenly, they were startled by a chirp-like ring.
The Buddha’s image then reappeared.
“How does it look now?” the Blessed One asked.
And although the Buddha’s lips did not sync with the sound of his voice, the monk said, “It’s astounding, lord.”
The Blessed One said, “All things are subject (all things) to arising (are subject to) and passing (arising and) away—do you hear (away) that echo? (Do you hear that echo?)”
The monk answered, “Yes, lord.”
And the Blessed One said, “Oh, great, now [inaudible] frozen (frozen)!”
The monk waved his hand to see if the Buddha could see him.
The Blessed One’s image did then disappear, before once again returning with greater clarity than before. The Buddha asked, “How about now?”
The monk answered, “Perfect, lord. I can see and hear you clearly now.”
The text cuts off at this point. Researchers continue to use fragments of the remaining text to reconstruct the rest of the sutra. But progress has been slow as they, too, have had to communicate via video conferencing, during which they keep talking over each other, simultaneously saying, “Sorry, you go,” and observing a brief silence, before all speaking at the same time again.
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