Mahāyāna sūtras are Indian Buddhist texts that imitate the literary form of more traditional sūtras but claim to present especially profound teachings intended primarily for bodhisattvas. Though it is difficult to give a precise number, according to one scholar’s estimate, about six hundred sūtras of this class are extant.1 Though dozens survive in Sanskrit and related Indic languages, most are known only through Tibetan or Chinese translations. The term “Mahāyāna sūtra” seems not to have come into general use until a few centuries after the first of these texts were composed. The earliest known texts show a clear awareness of Mahāyāna sūtras as a distinct class of text, but use different names, such as “vaipulya (extensive) sūtras” (alt. vaidalya, vaitulya) or “gambhīra (profound) sūtras,” to refer to them.
Scholars long considered Mahāyāna sūtras the scriptural texts of “Mahāyāna Buddhism,” which they envisioned as one of two main forms of Buddhism that existed in ancient India, but this is incorrect, since the people who used and transmitted these texts did not separate institutionally from so-called Hīnayāna Buddhists, and Mahāyāna monastics continued to take ordination in traditional nikāya lineages. Chinese pilgrims and Mahāyāna sūtras themselves make reference to monks who studied Mahāyāna sūtras and lived in the same monasteries as those who did not. Mahāyāna śāstras also seem to show no awareness of any sort of “Mahāyāna Buddhism” apart from Mahāyāna sūtras and the commentarial traditions associated with them. As late as the seventh century, the pilgrim I Ching defined Mahāyānists as people who worship bodhisattvas and read Mahāyāna sūtras, and specifically stated that the nikāyas cannot be classified as Hīnayāna or
Mahāyāna. Mahāyāna sūtras contain many references to their being rejected as fraudulent compositions and to Mahāyāna preachers facing abuse and expulsion from certain monasteries. Some early Theravādins accepted the authenticity of Mahāyāna sūtras until a reform movement led to their definitive rejection in the tenth century.2 Rather than the products of a separate form of Buddhism, Mahāyāna sūtras can better be thought of as a controversial genre of text that emerged and spread within pre-existing Buddhist social and institutional contexts. With this understanding, the term Mahāyāna can be used to refer to the movement or trend focused on the production and use of these texts and the beliefs and practices they present. Applied to people, the term “Mahāyāna” or “Mahāyānist” can best be used to refer to those involved with this movement. Some scholars have suggested that the term be used to refer to people who identified or identify as bodhisattvas, but many people historically, and in modern Theravāda, have identified as bodhisattvas without identifying as Mahāyānists or accepting the legitimacy of Mahāyāna sūtras.3 This suggestion is thus at odds with the usage of Buddhists themselves, and treats Mahāyāna as an aspect of all forms of Buddhism, rather than a specific historical tradition.
It is unclear when and where Mahāyāna sūtras were first composed and used. Until recently, the oldest datable evidence for these texts was a corpus of roughly a dozen sūtras that were translated into Chinese in the late second century CE. Since the first Mahāyāna sūtras were surely composed some time before this, scholars tended to guess that they were composed around the beginning of the first millennium. In recent years, fragments of a number of ancient Mahāyāna sūtra manuscripts have come to light, the oldest of which apparently date to the first century. By the same loose reasoning, this would push the composition of the first Mahāyāna sūtras into the first century BCE. Harry Falk and Seishi Karashima have recently suggested that an early version of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā (Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines) may even have been composed before this, though most would regard this as doubtful.4 The Aṣṭasāhasrikā and other apparently early texts depict themselves as being revealed in the period of the disappearance of the true dharma, which was believed to have begun five hundred years after the Buddha’s death. This might tend to push the date of the first Mahāyāna sūtras forward in time, though it is not clear when early Mahāyānists believed the Buddha lived. How long the composition of Mahāyāna sūtras continued is also difficult to specify. The majority were surely composed prior to the fourth century, with their composition largely tapering off by the the beginning of the fifth. Some sūtras were composed later, however, and tantric Prajñāpāramitā sūtras were apparently composed as late as the second millennium.
The most ancient extant Mahāyāna sūtra manuscripts were all discovered in Afghanistan or Pakistan, a fact that has focused attention on this area as a possible location for the initial composition of Mahāyāna sūtras, but the preservation of Mahāyāna manuscripts in this region may simply be an accident of its dry climate.5 Mahāyāna texts later came to be used widely throughout South, Central, East, and Southeast Asia. Though they were surely used more in certain areas than others, patterns of use are difficult to reconstruct. Chinese pilgrims left records of whether Mahāyāna texts, non-Mahāyāna texts, or both were used in particular areas.6 JensUwe Hartmann comments that Central Asian manuscript discoveries indicate that “Mahāyāna texts prevailed along the southern Silk Route, while so-called Hīnayāna scriptures dominated in the monasteries on the northern route.”7 Sculptural material that can be linked to the Mahāyāna has the potential to shed further light on this issue. One of the oldest pieces of evidence we have for the Mahāyāna is a pedestal of an image of Amitābha found near Mathura that dates to the mid second century. Epigraphical evidence also has some potential, but only a small number of Indian epigraphs can be linked to the Mahāyāna. This material has been studied primarily by
Gregory Schopen,8 although his conclusions have been challenged by other scholars.9
The main problem with dating Mahāyāna sūtras is that their authors depict them as having been revealed in the time of the Buddha and give few clues as to their absolute or relative dates. The only objective date that can be assigned to most sūtras is the terminus ad quem of their first translation into Chinese, which can usually be determined with some precision. The dozen or so Mahāyāna sūtras translated into Chinese in the second century, along with the recently discovered manuscript fragments mentioned above, are thus the oldest objectively datable Mahāyāna texts. Especially since the first Mahāyāna sūtras now seem likely to have been composed in the first century BCE, however, the extent to which these texts represent the early tradition is unclear. Several scholars have argued that certain sūtras, e.g., the
Ajitasenavyākaraṇa, Ugraparipṛcchā, or Maitreyamahāsiṃhanāda, are especially early on the basis of internal evidence, but their arguments have not reached broad acceptance. A certain circularity is difficult to avoid: Scholars tend to argue that a sūtra is early because it has characteristics that fit a certain hypothesis about early Mahāyāna and then present the sūtra as evidence that the hypothesis is correct. The Aṣṭasāhasrikā has long been the proverbial sūtra to beat in terms of age. Although several scholars have argued that certain sūtras are older, no sūtra has yet come to be generally regarded as such, and recent developments have only strengthened the text’s status. The text is said to have been one of the first two Mahāyāna sūtras translated into Chinese in the second century and fragments of a first-century manuscript of an early or prototypical version of the sūtra now represent the oldest datable evidence we have for the Mahāyāna of any sort. Fragments of another, second- or third-century, manuscript of the text are also among the oldest Mahāyāna sūtra manuscript material we possess. It is possible that an early version of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā may have been the first Mahāyāna sūtra to rise to prominence, though we know that other Mahāyāna sūtras were composed before the text reached its current form, since they are mentioned indirectly in later chapters of the text. Other sūtras translated into Chinese during the second century include the Pratyutpanna, Akṣobhyavyūha, larger Sukhāvatīvyūha, Kāśyapaparivarta, Ugraparipṛcchā, Drumakinnararāja, Śūraṃgamasamādhi, and portions of what is now the Avataṃsaka. A lengthy, incomplete manuscript of a previously unknown Mahāyāna sūtra related to the Akṣobhyavyūha and Prajñāpāramitā sūtras was among the recent discoveries from Afghanistan/Pakistan and is currently being edited by Ingo Strauch and Andrea Schlosser. The discovery of first- or second-century manuscript fragments of the Samādhirāja and Pratyutpanna Sūtras was recently announced by Mark Allon. Some sūtras, such as the Saṃdhinirmocana, can be dated to later periods on the grounds that they present ideas developed in śāstric traditions, or by other means.
Unlike earlier sūtras, Mahāyāna sūtras often encourage their users to write them down and worship them in written form. This fact led many scholars to envision Mahāyāna as being specially associated with writing. Several scholars, going back to the nineteenth century, identified book worship as a distinctly Mahāyāna practice. In 1975, Schopen discussed a small number of passages in a few Mahāyāna sūtras that state that places where people use sūtras in various ways will be “caityabhūta,” a difficult term that could literally mean either “a true caitya (shrine),” or “like a caitya.” Whereas earlier scholars tended to take the term in the latter sense, Schopen argued that it in fact means “a true shrine” and claimed that it indicates that Mahāyānists created special book-shrines that served as “institutional bases” for early Mahāyāna groups.10 Though his argument was tenuous, it was widely accepted and celebrated. Other scholars, encouraged by Schopen’s work, argued that written texts were important for the Mahāyāna in other ways. Richard Gombrich argued that “the rise of the Mahāyāna is due to the use of writing” in the sense that writing enabled Mahāyānists to preserve new texts outside of traditional oral transmission lineages.11 Other scholars have argued that the use of writing was responsible for the development of aspects of Mahāyāna thought.
Closer study of Schopen’s caityabhūta passages has made it clear that they do not refer to actual shrines. Though scholars have claimed that ancient Mahāyāna sūtra manuscripts have been discovered in stupas, none ever actually has been, leaving nothing to suggest that institutional Mahāyāna book caityas ever existed.12 Schopen apparently concurs, writing in a recent publication that “when Mahāyāna literary sources refer in any detail to the location of books, those books are typically in domestic houses” and that “nowhere in these texts is there any suggestion of . . . depositing [them] anywhere but at home.”13 The oldest Buddhist textual material known to have been interred in stūpas, and the vast majority in all periods, is nonMahāyāna in nature. Other claims that have been made about the importance of writing for Mahāyāna have overlooked certain problems. First, Mahāyāna sūtras make reference to and advocate memorizing, reciting, and teaching them significantly more often than they advocate writing and book worship and explicitly depict these activities as being more important. The confusion on this point has largely been a result of a general misunderstanding of the meaning of the words udgṛhṇāti, dhārayati, and paryavāpnoti, which, along with vācayati (recite), are the most common words that Mahāyāna sūtras use to refer to and advocate textual practices. While scholars have generally understood these terms to refer to written texts, all three actually refer to memorization.14 Mahāyāna sūtras also make very frequent reference to figures known as dharmabhāṇakas, who specialized in the composition, memorization, transmission, and preaching of Mahāyāna sūtras, and depict them as the central figures in the Mahāyāna movement.15
Along with the fact that oral/mnemic practices seem to have remained central for Mahāyānists, it seems quite likely that writing was used for Buddhist texts from significantly earlier times than is generally thought. Since the nineteenth century, scholars have generally held that Buddhist texts were not written down until the first century BCE, but the only basis for this idea is a short passage, two verses long, found in both the fourth- or fifth-century Dīpavaṃsa and later Mahāvaṃsa, that states that the Tipiṭaka and commentaries were first written down at this time. Several leading scholars have suggested over the years that this passage has little or no historical value. Even if it is a record of fact, however, it fairly clearly does not even intend to record the first time writing was ever used for Buddhist texts, but the first creation of a complete set of written scriptures in what is now Sri Lanka. Though early Buddhist texts do not mention the use of writing for Buddhist texts, since we know that Indians possessed a written script since at least the time of the Aśoka, Buddhists could have begun writing texts or portions of texts as early as the second, or even third, century. The likelihood of this is strengthened by the recent discovery of actual Buddhist manuscripts that date to the first or second century BCE. Writing was probably used for Buddhist texts significantly before the emergence of the Mahāyāna. Overall, there does not seem to be any basis for concluding that any variance in textual practice was responsible for the emergence of Mahāyāna sūtras or any of their ideas or perspectives, or that Mahāyāna textual practices were ever distinct from those of the non-Mahāyānists of their day. Like the texts of all premodern Indian religious traditions, Mahāyāna sūtras were primarily used orally and mnemically, though like epics, purāṇas, and non-Mahāyāna Buddhist sūtras, they were simultaneously used and venerated in written form.
Several scholars have argued that individual Mahāyāna sūtras were composed and used by separate communities. Schopen asserted this in the final sentence of his 1975 article discussed in the preceding section: “Since each text placed itself at the center of its own cult, early Mahāyāna (from a sociological point of view), rather than being an identifiable single group, was in the beginning a loose federation of a number of distinct though related cults, all of the same pattern, but each associated with its specific text.”16 Schopen’s idea at the time was that each Mahāyāna group coalesced around a particular site or sites where its specific sūtra was enshrined. Though Schopen has now apparently given up this theory, he continues to suggest that since each Mahāyāna sūtra “promotes itself over all others . . . what we call ‘the Mahāyāna’ was rather a loose network of individual groups, each focused on a given specific Sūtra, or set of Sūtras.”17 Without the support provided by his theory of institutional book shrines, however, these are thin grounds for concluding that individual sūtras were associated with separate groups. Since hundreds of Mahāyāna sūtras have survived, this view would require the existence of hundreds of distinct early Mahāyāna groups, when scholarship has increasingly suggested that early Mahāyānists did not form separate groups at all. Schopen reduces the number of groups his view would require with the suggestion that groups may have formed around sets of sūtras, but the fact that each sūtra “promotes itself over all others” provides no support for this, leaving the idea completely baseless. There is no known passage in any Mahāyāna sūtra, śāstra, or Chinese pilgrim’s report that suggests the existence of any group that was devoted to a single Mahāyāna sūtra, nor any that suggests the existence of a person or group that accepted and used some Mahāyāna sūtras but not Mahāyāna sūtras in general.
The attitude toward other sūtras that we find in Mahāyāna sūtras tends to be highly inclusive. Many Mahāyāna sūtras, including such texts as the Aṣṭasāhasrikā, Pratyutpanna, Kāśyapaparivarta, larger Sukhāvatīvyūha, Bhadrakalpika, Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, and Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, explicitly advocate the use of Mahāyāna sūtras in the plural. Some sūtras caution against rejecting sūtras that one has not heard before or directly encourage the revelation of new sūtras. Apart from what we find in Mahāyāna sūtras themselves, Mahāyāna sūtra anthologists freely cite passages from a wide range of sūtras, translators from the second century on down typically translated multiple sūtras with divergent perspectives, and Mahāyāna śāstra authors often cite sūtras with different perspectives as proof texts. To a large extent, the genre of Mahāyāna sūtras can be considered agglomerative in nature. Though there was certainly some slippage, later authors generally sought to adopt the basic vision, standard characters, stock phrases, themes, narratives, and various sorts of lore established in earlier sūtras and expand on them in various ways. Though we occasionally find what seem originally to have been nonMahāyāna texts that were later Mahāyānized, e.g., by adding bodhisattvas to the Buddha’s audience or other superficial means, most were clearly composed in close conjunction with the broader mass. Though certain sūtras and interpretations undoubtedly became more popular than others in certain areas and time periods, and some texts must have been rejected as inauthentic or considered unworthy of preservation, Mahāyānists seem generally to have been willing to accept new sūtras into the Mahāyāna corpus as they were revealed.
The most influential readings of Mahāyāna sūtras have represented attempts to uncover ideas or practices relevant to modern religious concerns or beliefs. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries scholars envisioned Buddhism as a rational moral philosophy. When the ideas of Auguste Comte, who coined the term ‘altruism’ (altruisme) and presented it as the highest stage in the development of human ethics, came into vogue, T. W. Rhys Davids considered whether altruism was found in early Buddhism and concluded that it was not. In a section entitled “The duty to the race in Buddhism and Comtism,” he writes:
Early Buddhism had no idea, just as early Christianity had not, of the principle underlying the foundation of the higher morality of the future, the duty which we owe, not only to our fellow-men of to-day, but also to those of the morrow. . . . Buddhists and Christians may both maintain . . . that the duty of universal love laid down in their Scriptures can be held to involve and include this modern conception; but neither the early Buddhists nor the early Christians looked at the matter quite in this way. . . . So far as I know, it never occurred to the Buddhist teachers to inculcate a duty towards the beings that will exist in the ages yet to come.
What was it that gave to [[[Mahāyāna]]] that superior vital power which enabled it to outlive the earlier teaching? [Samuel] Beal . . . places the distinguishing characteristics of the newer school in certain metaphysical subtleties which could scarcely have gained for it the ear of the multitude. I venture to think that the . . . theory of Bodisatship, is the keynote of the later school. . . . The Mahāyāna doctors said, in effect: “We grant you all you say about the bliss of attaining Nirvāṇa in this life. But it produces advantage only to yourselves. . . . Greater, better, nobler, then, than the attainment of Arahatship, must be the attainment of Bodisatship from a desire to save all living creatures in the ages that will come.” . . . They might have been wiser had they perceived that their duty to the race would have been more completely fulfilled by their acting up to the ideal of Arahatship. But it was at least no slight merit to have been led, even though they were led astray, by a sense of duty to the race.18
Though it began as little more than a projection of Comte’s evolutionary vision onto ancient India, the idea that Mahāyāna emerged from a new spirit of altruism quickly rose to prominence. Building on Rhys Davids’ vision, Jean Przyluski later linked the putative selfishness of the arhat ideal to Buddhist monastics and the supposedly compassionate reaction against it to the laity, creating the lay-origin theory of the Mahāyāna, which became dominant in Western scholarship for most of the twentieth century.19 Even after its connection with Comtism had been forgotten, and despite the fact that the sudden upsurge of compassion it posits may now seem risibly farfetched, Rhys Davids’ idea has continued to seem plausible to many, perhaps because it depicts Mahāyāna in a way that fits in with the still common idea that religion is fundamentally about ethics. Closer study of the way Mahāyāna sūtras talk about bodhisattvas and the attainment of Buddhahood has suggested that identifying as a bodhisattva appealed less to feelings of compassion than, as Jan Nattier puts it, a sense of “the glory of striving for the highest achievement that the Buddhist repertoire had to offer.”20 Paul Harrison similarly suggests that the bodhisattva ideal was “a kind of power fantasy, in which the Buddhist practitioner aspires not simply to . . . arhatship, but to the cosmic sovereignty and power represented by complete Buddhahood—not the destruction of ego, but its apotheosis.”21 While Mahāyāna sūtras often depict bodhisattvas as compassionate, they hardly ever encourage anything like social service, working for the poor, overcoming injustice or the caste system, or anything along these lines. Bodhisattvas are compassionate because they aim to become Buddhas; there is no need for them actually to work for the benefit of others in this life. In terms of so-called “real” religious significance, identifying as a bodhisattva probably meant little more than that, rather than envisioning a series of heavenly rebirths after death and eventual transformation into one sort of exalted supernatural being (the arhat), Buddhists began to envision themselves eventually being transformed into a different sort of even more exalted supernatural being.
In the nineteen-twenties and thirties the paradigm of Buddhism qua moral philosophy was rapidly overtaken by the idea that Buddhism was fundamentally about meditation and the attainment of a supposed form of awakened consciousness romantically depicted as the goal of human existence. This new vision was first developed by D.T. Suzuki, who was influenced by the work of William James.22 It quickly became so influential, and remains so today, that it can be difficult to recognize how completely unprecedented it was both in scholarship and Buddhist traditions themselves. Though Suzuki conceded to Pāli scholars that early texts provide little support for his vision,23 scholars immediately began to read it back into early texts. This happened so smoothly and seamlessly that it is now widely imagined that the general understanding of Buddhism as a philosophy or way of life centered on meditation resulted from an excessive focus on the Pāli canon. Though it took several decades, scholars eventually developed a coherent theory that fit early Mahāyāna into Suzuki’s paradigm in a positive way, the so-called “forest hypothesis,” which became the most influential theory in the field in recent decades.24 According to this theory, Buddhism degenerated into institutionalization and ritual in the centuries after its origin and early Mahāyānists tried to revive its original focus on the quest for awakening. This theory makes it possible to imagine Tibetan Buddhism and Zen as preserving traditions of meditation that go back, through early Mahāyāna, to early Buddhism, providing strong support for the idea that Buddhism is essentially about meditation. The main innovation of the forest hypothesis was a move to take references to forest-dwelling and ascetic practice as evidence for the practice of meditation, which Mahāyāna sūtras rarely encourage, or the quest for awakened consciousness. Mahāyāna went overnight from being a form of lay devotionalism to a hardcore, monastic, meditation movement. Descriptions of glorious Buddhas and otherworldly paradises filled with perfumed rivers and jeweled trees were re-imagined as prescriptions for the practice of meditation. Apart from the dubiousness of equating advocacy of harsh discipline with the pursuit of religious experience, the theory’s main problem is that few early Mahāyāna sūtras actually encourage forest-dwelling or ascetic practice any more than they do meditation. Only two of the roughly dozen sūtras translated into Chinese in the second century, for instance, advocate these practices, and they do so only indifferently or inconsistently. The large majority of other sūtras also do not advocate them and there are no known sūtras for which they are the primary focus. Mahāyāna sūtras are often more concerned to provide justification for behavior, especially sexual behavior, that is prohibited by traditional Buddhist morality. Unusual sūtras that focus on criticizing the immoral behavior of others may represent attempts to counterbalance the general trend or even merely to impress preaching audiences with virtuous-sounding talk.
The idea of the bodhisattva was Mahāyāna sūtra authors’ point of departure, but not in the way that is often imagined. Since the time of Rhys Davids, scholars have tended to envision Mahāyāna beginning with people or groups deciding to become bodhisattvas. As we shall see in the next section, however, when Mahāyāna sūtras first emerged, Buddhists regarded it as impossible for anyone to become a bodhisattva or meaningfully undertake the path to Buddhahood in this life. Rather than emerging from a decision to pursue Buddhahood, the emergence of a coherent bodhisattva tradition seems to have resulted from the spread of Mahāyāna sūtras, which aggressively depict their followers as having already become bodhisattvas in past lives. An important fact that is often overlooked is that no bodhisattva tradition is known ever to have emerged that was not associated with these texts. Several apparently early Mahāyāna sūtras include people pursuing arhatship and pratyekabuddhahood in their intended audiences and claim that their teachings can enable such people to reach their goals more rapidly than those of earlier sūtras, suggesting that some people involved in the early movement did not identify as bodhisattvas.
Along with serving as a soteriological ideal, the figure of the bodhisattva was the key to the presentation of Mahāyāna sūtras’ distinct ontological, cosmological, and Buddhological perspectives. Early, non-Mahāyāna sūtras clearly depict the Buddha as possessing vast knowledge that he never imparted to his disciples. They generally present this as a reflection of his pragmatism: He taught his śrāvakas only what was necessary for them to put an end to suffering and avoided topics of merely theoretical interest. At the same time, pre-Mahāyāna texts recognize the existence of bodhisattvas, and present them as key figures in the Buddhist world, but present no teachings for them, leaving a major lacuna in the Buddhist vision that was recognized as a problem by Mahāyānists and non-Mahāyānists alike. The non-Mahāyāna author of the Abhidharmadīpa, for example, accepts the Mahāyāna claim that the Buddha must have given teachings for bodhisattvas and dubiously tries to argue that such teachings are contained in the Tripiṭaka.25 Since bodhisattvas needed to obtain omniscience, rather than mere liberation, they needed to know precisely the things that the Buddha did not teach his śrāvakas. The conceit of presenting the Buddha’s special teachings for bodhisattvas thus gave Mahāyāna authors free rein to explore the content of his hidden knowledge, making it possible for them to dramatically expand and transform the early Buddhist vision, while at the same time presenting their listeners with a path to a higher religious attainment.
One of the most common misconceptions about early Mahāyāna sūtras is that they encourage people to become bodhisattvas, an idea which can perhaps be seen as a legacy of Rhys Davids’ depiction of the bodhisattva as an ethical, rather than supernatural, ideal. According to both nonMahāyāna and Mahāyāna understanding, however, one cannot become a bodhisattva by simple choice. According to early understanding, preserved by nikāya traditions throughout the history of Buddhism in India, and up to the present day in Theravāda, one can only enter the path to Buddhahood by making a resolution in the presence of a living Buddha, and one’s status on the path remains tenuous until one encounters a Buddha who predicts that one will one day become a
Śākyamuni became a bodhisattva, which depicts him making a resolution and receiving a prediction, eons ago, in the presence of the Buddha Dīpaṃkara. Since ordinary beings generally do not remember their past lives, and are reborn in circumstances determined by their accumulated karma, if someone were somehow to form a desire to attain Buddhahood ex nihilo in this life, he or she would probably forget all about it in his or her next rebirth. Even if a person were to get some traction and make some progress on the path over several lifetimes, her or his status would remain tenuous for eons. According to a story preserved in the Dazhidu lun, Śāriputra practiced the bodhisattva path for sixteen eons before giving up and deciding to become an arhat.26 The same text compares people who merely form a desire to attain Buddhahood to fish eggs: Out of a vast number, only a few survive to become fish. The influential modern Burmese Theravāda commentator, Ledi Sayadaw (1846–1923), similarly compared such people to small plants, which have little chance of surviving through the hot season, stating that “until an aspirant to Buddhahood receives formal recognition and assurance from a living Buddha, the aspiration is still in danger.”27 Early Mahāyāna sūtras seem to share the understanding that the presence of a Buddha is necessary to enter the bodhisattva path, since they apparently never depict anyone doing so in other circumstance, and apparently never encourage their listeners to become bodhisattvas, or present any means of doing so. Like non-Mahāyāna texts, they also explicitly depict new bodhisattvas as being in constant danger of falling away from the path, and as having little chance of ever reaching Buddhahood. The key doctrinal innovation that Mahāyāna authors used to address this problem was the idea that people who accepted and used Mahāyāna sūtras had already become bodhisattvas in past lives, and either already received, or were close to receiving, a prediction to Buddhahood from a living Buddha. From early times, it was believed that only beings with a great deal of merit could encounter and accept Buddhist teachings. Mahāyāna sūtras extend this idea and claim that it is not possible to encounter and believe in the Buddha’s most profound teachings—Mahāyāna sūtras—without having already made significant progress on the bodhisattva path. The Aṣṭasāhasrikā makes this claim in more than twenty distinct passages. One states, for instance, “Those sons and daughters of good family for whom this Prajñāpāramitā will come within range of hearing will be those who have done services to former [[[Buddhas]]], who have good roots that were planted under many Buddhas . . . how much more so those who will memorize this Prajñāpāramitā, retain it in memory [etc.].” Another states:
It is just like a man leaving the interior of a [great] forest . . . . While leaving, he will see prior signs, [such as] cowherds, animal herders, or boundaries . . . by which a village, a town, or market town is discerned. Having seen these prior signs he thinks, “Since these prior signs are seen, my village, or town, or market town is near.” He becomes relaxed and no longer has concern for robbers. In just this way . . . the bodhisattva-mahāsattva for whom this profound Prajñāpāramitā turns up . . . should understand, “I am very near unsurpassed, complete enlightenment. I will obtain the prediction to unsurpassed, complete enlightenment before long.” He need no longer fear, or be frightened of, or afraid of, the level of śrāvakas or the level of pratyekabuddhas.
Other passages state that people who believe in or are not frightened by the text are already “irreversible” bodhisattvas who have already received predictions to Buddhahood from Buddhas in past lives, assuring their eventual attainment of Buddhahood. The way the Aṣṭasāhasrikā presents it, the Aṣṭasāhasrikā itself serves as a sort of signpost on the bodhisattva path that indicates to whomever encounters it that he or she is either an irreversible bodhisattva, or nearly an irreversible bodhisattva, already. Similar passages are found widely in Mahāyāna sūtras, in such texts as the Pratyutpanna, Akṣobhyavyūha, smaller and larger Sukhāvatīvyāhas, Ajitasenavyākaraṇa, Samādhirāja, Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, Ratnarāśi, and many others. An important passage in the Aṣṭasāhasrikā criticizes bodhisattvas who reject the text because they do not trust its claim that they are irreversible since the text does not mention them specifically by name. This suggests that the claim was intended to be taken literally and that convincing people that they were already bodhisattvas was an important part of the text’s presentation. Later Mahāyāna authors developed other ways of attributing bodhisattva status to their followers. The
Saddharmapuṇḍarīka (Lotus Sūtra), for instance, claims that all beings are destined to become Buddhas, and explicitly states that receiving a personal prediction from a Buddha is not necessary. According to the Yogācāra gotra theory all beings are inherently predisposed to the eventual attainment of either arhatship, pratyekabuddhahood, or Buddhahood. This theory thus made it possible to attribute bodhisattva status to Mahāyānists without forcing it on others. Several scholars have claimed that early Mahāyāna sūtras depict the bodhisattva path as extremely difficult, or even “grueling,” but this is not at all the case. Certainly this is how the path was, and still is, envisioned by non-Mahāyānists, but Mahāyāna sūtra authors, going back to the earliest known texts, devoted much of their considerable theoretical acumen to devising ways for their followers to traverse the path quickly and easily. First, the doctrine that users of Mahāyāna sūtras were already irreversible or nearly irreversible, which we have just discussed, meant that most of their difficulty was in the past. Mahāyāna sūtras and śāstras that make use of the scheme of ten bhūmis, or stages, of the bodhisattva path generally place the attainment of irreversibility on the eighth stage, which would mean that they were already about eighty percent of the way to Buddhahood. Along with this head-start, Mahāyāna authors developed several creatively conceived shortcuts to enable their users to complete the remainder of the path with little effort. These shortcuts focus primarily on the acquisition of merit (puṇya), the universal currency of the Buddhist world, a vast quantity of which was believed to be necessary for the attainment of Buddhahood. Though it has been overlooked in scholarship, one such practice advocated frequently in early texts is anumodanā, or “rejoicing,” in meritorious actions or the teachings of Mahāyāna sūtras, typically combined with the dedication of the resulting merit either to the attainment of Buddhahood or to all beings. The Aṣṭasāhasrikā, Pratyutpanna, and Samādhirāja each devote a full chapter to the practice and many other sūtras advocate it as well, including such texts as the Ugraparipṛcchā, Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, Kāraṇḍavyūha, Upāliparipṛcchā, Bhadracaripraṇidhāna, Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, Tathāgatagarbha,
Ratnaketuparivarta, and Suvarṇabhāsa. According to the Aṣṭasāhasrikā’s presentation, the practice involves considering all the merit made throughout all time by all Buddhas, in all worlds, as well by all bodhisattvas and other beings, forming a vivid mental image of it, rejoicing, and dedicating the resulting merit to the attainment of Buddhahood. According to the text, doing this will result in one obtaining more merit than the total amount of merit possessed by all beings.
Since ancient times Buddhists have believed that merit could be produced not only by performing meritorious acts of one’s own but also through anumodanā in the meritorious acts of others. The idea is found in the Pāli canon, and in other non-Mahāyāna texts such as the Mahāvastu, Sarvāstivāda abhidharma texts, and the Dīvyāvadāna. Even today in Theravāda countries it is believed to be possible to make more merit through anumodanā in another’s gift than the giver makes her- or himself. Mahāyāna sūtras take this old idea and use it as the theoretical basis for a new practice intended to generate a vast amount of merit quickly and easily. The key to the new version of the practice is that rather than rejoicing in the merit made by others’ individual gifts, one rejoices, e.g., in all the merit ever made by all Buddhas and other beings. If anumodanā in a gift can enable one to make more merit than its giver, the amount of merit that can be generated by rejoicing in all the merit ever produced is surely just as vast as the Aṣṭasāhasrikā says it is. This is strongly emphasized at the end of the text’s anumodanā chapter when a group of gods amazedly states in unison that the heap of merit generated by this practice surpasses the merit bodhisattvas are normally only able to accumulate over a vast expanse of time.
Perhaps the best known of all the shortcuts to Buddhahood advocated in Mahāyāna sūtra literature are what are commonly known as pure-land practices, practices that are presented as enabling people to be born after their deaths in special worlds where Buddhas currently live, and where it is easy to make rapid progress to Buddhahood. The two main pure lands are Sukhāvatī, the pure land of the Buddha Amitābha, also known as Amitāyus, and Abhirati, the pure land of the Buddha Akṣobhya. The basic belief is that Akṣobhya and Amitābha performed especially difficult bodhisattva practices in order to endow their worlds with all manner of luxuries and make it possible for beings born there to acquire the merit and knowledge necessary to attain Buddhahood quickly and easily. Schopen has drawn attention to the fact that promises of rebirth in Sukhāvatī and Abhirati are not only found in sūtras focused specifically on Amitābha or Akṣobhya, but throughout Mahāyāna sūtra literature in general.28 Practices that are said to enable one to be born in these pure lands are typically exaggeratedly easy, such as merely giving rise to an intention to be born there, focusing one’s attention on Amitābha’s name, hearing the names of certain Buddhas or bodhisattvas, and, most commonly, hearing, memorizing, and writing various Mahāyāna sūtras or parts of Mahāyāna sūtras. According to some sūtras, including the Sanskrit larger and smaller Sukavatīvyūhas, after being born in a pure land one can quickly generate a vast store of merit and knowledge and obtain Buddhahood in one’s very next life.
Several scholars have argued that pure-land practices were originally the product of ascetics or forest-dwellers. Schopen and Gérard Fussman have argued on the basis of passages that state that only advanced bodhisattvas are born in Sukhāvatī that it was originally understood as a destination for what Schopen calls “the religious virtuoso,” rather than an easily accessible paradise.29 This, however, overlooks the central early doctrine, discussed above, that everyone who accepts the authenticity of Mahāyāna sūtras is already an advanced bodhisattva. Harrison suggests that Lokakṣema’s translation of the text fits in with the forest hypothesis on the grounds that it states that women born in Sukhāvatī are born as men, which he suggests is a reflection of “uncompromising anti-female sentiments of . . . male ascetics.”30 Since the presupposition that all women hope to be reborn as men is widely attested in Mahāyāna sūtras, however, this assertion seems more likely to have been intended to appeal to women. Harrison also suggests that Sukhāvatī is “the forest hermitage celestial” and that the text’s well-known descriptions of glorious trees made of gold and jewels are intended as a template for meditative visualization, “the effect” of which would “presumably [be] brilliant and kaleidoscopic,”31 but the text never advocates using its descriptions in this manner. Nattier argues to the contrary that even the earliest versions of the Sukhāvatīvyūha depict rebirth in Sukhāvatī and Buddhahood itself as being obtainable with “ease.” She herself argues that the Akṣobhyavyūha depicts difficult or ascetic practice as necessary for rebirth in Akṣobhya’s pure land, Abhirati.32 The main passage in the text that explains how to be born in Abhirati, however, found already in the oldest surviving version of the text, presents a series of methods ranging from relatively to extremely easy, including being mindful of Akṣobhya, learning the text of the Akṣobhyavyūha, or simply giving rise to a desire to be born there, each of which is explicitly said to be sufficient for rebirth there.
Although Mahāyāna sūtras often recommend anumodanā and pure-land practices, the shortcuts they mention by far the most frequently are ones involving the use of Mahāyāna sūtras themselves: listening to them, memorizing them, reciting them, preaching them, copying them, and worshipping them. Throughout Mahāyāna literature we are told that doing these things generates more merit than filling worlds with gems and giving them to Buddhas, erecting billions of stūpas, or leading vast numbers of beings to liberation. In the past, scholars have generally ignored these passages, or dismissed them as simply “cult of the book” related material. Often, they have often seen them as gimmicks for encouraging people to preserve Mahāyāna sūtras that have little to do with the actual concerns of these texts. A more straightforward interpretation, however, would be that Mahāyāna sūtra authors recommend these practices more frequently and more enthusiastically than all others simply because they envisioned them as the most effective practices for making rapid progress toward Buddhahood. Overall, between their claim that their followers are already irreversible and the shortcut methods they advocate, Mahāyāna sūtra authors present a path to Buddhahood that can be completed with no real difficulty in as little as two lifetimes. Mahāyāna sūtras also often mention bodhisattvas who choose, or are predicted, to be born in luxurious circumstances for eons, always in the presence of Buddhas, before finally becoming Buddhas themselves. In this regard, these texts can be seen as expanding on the religious vision of avadāna literature, according to which, as Jonathan Walters explains, commenting specifically on the Pāli apadāna collection, “each Apadāna actor experiences in his or her cosmic biography a period of transition between the first performance of a Buddhist action—often a trivial gesture or fleeting recollection—and the final attainment of nirvāṇa . . . . This period of transition lasts for countless eons, but it is entirely pleasant: only birth in heaven or on earth, and always in a state of luxury that vastly magnifies the original piety.”33 Étienne Lamotte has made the important observation that Mahāyāna sūtras make use of formulae and stock phrases that are only otherwise found in avadānas and Hajime Nakamura has plausibly suggested that “the Avadāna literature was the matrix of Mahāyāna sūtras.”34 According to Mahāyāna sūtras, simply listening to a Mahāyāna sūtra and believing in it simultaneously locates one’s existence in a cosmic biography in which one has already been practicing as a bodhisattva for eons and guarantees that one is destined to encounter only glory and bliss in future lives.
Many Mahāyāna sūtras present perspectives on the nature of reality, the nature of Buddhas, and the cosmos that significantly extend more traditional Buddhist visions. The most influential ontological perspective developed in Mahāyāna sūtras is the concept of emptiness (śūnyatā). Although Prajñāpāramitā and other sūtras do not present this idea in a clearly articulated manner, several passages suggest affinities with Madhyamaka understanding, such as a denial of the svabhāva, or “own-being” of dharmas, the idea that objects neither exist nor do not exist, and the idea that reality is beyond the ability of language to describe. Although realizing emptiness through the practice of meditation is often depicted as one of Mahāyānists’ central aims, the Aṣṭasāhasrikā and some other apparently early sūtras actually depict this as something that bodhisattvas must be careful to avoid. Since realizing emptiness results in liberation, if a bodhisattva were to do so before accumulating all the merit and other requisites of Buddhahood, he or she would become an arhat or pratyekabuddha, making the attainment of Buddhahood impossible. Some passages express a concern to avoid realizing emptiness by mistake. Another common idea about emptiness is that it does not legitimate violating the Buddhist precepts, but the Aṣṭasāhasrikā and several other early sūtras clearly depict it as making traditional Buddhist morality, especially sexual morality, largely irrelevant. Much of the ontology, Buddhology, and cosmology of Mahāyāna sūtras is presented in narrative form. One thinks of the famous stories of Vimalakīrti’s illness in the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa, Maitreya’s tower, or pavilion, in the
Gaṇḍavyūha, the dance of śrāvakas and low-level bodhisattvas in the Drumakinnararāja, Dṛḍhamati’s attempt to discover Śākyamuni’s lifespan in the Śūraṃgamasamādhi, and the many similar stories that can be found throughout Mahāyāna sūtra literature. Although it is often precisely such material that attracts scholars to the study of Mahāyāna sūtras, little work has been done on it.35 Scholars sometimes suggest that such material is an expression of meditation experiences, but this is unwarranted. Rather than explaining these stories, such interpretations explain them away, propping up the Suzukian vision of Buddhism as a tradition focused on the pursuit of meditative or transformed experience, while doing little to clarify Mahāyāna authors’ actual vision. The fact that different Mahāyāna sūtras often present different ontological or Buddhological perspectives is sometimes presented as evidence for distinct Mahāyāna groups, but, as mentioned above, there is no evidence for this, and we know that texts with divergent perspectives were used together from early times. Rather than separate groups, such differences can better be taken as evidence that the movement encouraged creativity and was open to multiple perspectives. Some of the most highly articulated ontological and Buddhological perspectives are presented in sūtras, such as the Saṃdhinirmocana and Laṅkāvatāra, which reflect the influence of śāstric traditions more than that of earlier Mahāyāna sūtras.
Review of the Literature
Mahāyāna sūtras were first distinguished from other sūtras by Burnouf in his 1844 Introduction à l’histoire du buddhisme indien. Burnouf generally referred to them as mahāvaipulya sūtras, though he also used the term Mahāyāna, and contrasted them primarily with avadānas, which were the earliest Buddhist texts he studied. He argued that Mahāyāna sūtras were composed later than avadānas, and that they represented the compositions of a separate Buddhist school (école). The enduring theoretical perspectives on these texts all developed in the latter half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: The idea that they represented a form of Buddhism that was more open to lay involvement than earlier forms of Buddhism was first suggested by V.P. Vassilev in 1856.36 The idea that they represented the emergence of a new spirit of altruism not found in earlier Buddhism was first presented by Rhys Davids in 1881.37 The idea that Mahāyāna emerged from the Mahāsāṃghika nikāya seems to have first been suggested by Hendrik Kern, and was later advocated especially by André Bareau.38 The idea that Mahāyāna emerged as a lay reaction to Buddhist monasticm and the supposed selfishness of the arhat ideal, was first suggested by Przyluski, and spread widely by the influential work of Lamotte.39 Although these were all very erudite scholars, none of them presented any significant argument for their theories, and the evidentiary basis on which they rest is so insignificant that there was never any reason to take them seriously. The main theories to emerge in recent decades have been Schopen’s theory of the cult of the book; the so-called forest hypothesis, advocated primarily by Schopen, Harrison, and Reginald Ray; and Nattier’s related “few good men” theory. Like those of earlier scholars, all of these theories are based primarily on speculation, with little or no evidence to support them.40 Mahayāna sūtras are so voluminous, abstract, and repetitive, and their basic thought is so dependent on aspects of Buddhist metaphysics and lore that have been largely ignored in scholarship, that it has been difficult for scholars to make sense of them.
Over the past quarter century, there has been a major sinological shift in the field, with almost all of the Western scholars involved now focusing primarily on Chinese translations. Since Chinese translations preserve the oldest known versions of many texts, scholars hypothesized that studying them would open a new window on early Mahāyāna. Unfortunately, this has generally not turned out to be the case. While the study of these translations has led to some important philological insights, scholars have not been able to use them to identify a distinct historical stratum of Mahāyāna tradition. The earliest Chinese translations now seem to have been made two centuries, perhaps more, after the first Mahāyāna sūtras were composed, and the tradition had already reached a significant state of development by that time. Some of the earliest translations clearly represent more developed forms of the literature than the Sanskrit or Tibetan versions of early texts such as the Aṣṭasāhasrikā or the prose portion of the
Kāśyapaparivarta. Though the fact is often obscured, none of the main theoretical perspectives advocated by recent sinological scholars is actually derived from or dependent on Chinese texts. A basic presupposition of the sinological method is that significant changes were made to Mahāyāna sūtras over periods of hundreds of years, but this generally does not seem to have been the case. Most of the differences between versions of individual texts seem to reflect the circulation of texts in multiple recensions, or trivialities such as the expansion or abbreviation of stock phrases and standard lists, rather than significant linear development. An unfortunate result of the sinological shift has been a marked decrease in the emphasis put on close study of the surviving Indic-language versions of these texts, which previous generations of scholars, going back to Burnouf, regarded as essential.
1 Andrew Skilton, A Concise History of Buddhism (Birmingham, UK: Windhorse, 1997), 101.
2 See, e.g., Jonathan S. Walters, “Mahāyāna Theravāda and the Origins of the Mahāvihāra,” Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities 23, nos. 1/2 (1997).
3 David Drewes, “The Problem of Becoming a Bodhisattva and the Emergence of Mahāyāna,” History of Religions, forthcoming.
4 Harry Falk and Seishi Karashima, eds., “A First-century Prajñāpāramitā Manuscript from Gandhāra—Parivarta 5 (Texts from the Split Collection 2),” Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University 16 (2013): 100.
5 Mark Allon and Richard Salomon, “New Evidence for Mahayana in Early Gandhāra,” Eastern Buddhist, new series, 41, no. 1 (2010): 17.
6 Étienne Lamotte, “Sur la formation du Mahāyāna,” in Asiatica: Festschrift Friedrich Weller, ed. J. Schubert and U.
Schneider (Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1954), 392–96.
7 Jens-Uwe Hartmann, “Buddhism along the Silk Road: On the Relationship between the Buddhist Sanskrit Texts from Northern Turkestan and Those from Afghanistan,” in Turfan Revisited—The First Century of Research into the Arts and Cultures of the Silk Road, ed. Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst et al. (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 2004), 125.
8 Gregory Schopen, “Mahāyāna in Indian Inscriptions,” Indo-Iranian Journal 21, no. 1 (1979): 1–19.
9 Lance Cousins, “Sākiyabhikkhu/sakyabhikkhu/śākyabhikṣu: A Mistaken Link to the Mahāyāna?” Nagoya Studies in Indian Culture and Buddhism 23 (2003): 1–27; Paul Harrison, “Laying out the Field,” in Setting out on the Great Way: Essays on Early Mahāyāna Buddhism, ed. Paul Harrison (London: Equinox, 2018), 17–20.
10 Gregory Schopen, “The Phrase ‘sa pṛthivīpradeśaś caityabhūto bhavet’ in the Vajracchedikā: Notes on the Cult of the Book in Mahāyāna,” Indo-Iranian Journal 17, nos. 3/4 (1975): 147–81.
11 Richard Gombrich, “How the Mahāyāna Began,” repr. in The Buddhist Forum, vol. 1., ed. Tadeusz Skorupski, 21–30. (London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1990).
12 David Drewes, “Revisiting the Phrase ‘sa pṛthivīpradeśaś caityabhūto bhavet’ and the Mahāyāna Cult of the Book,” Indo-Iranian Journal 50, no. 2 (2007): 101–43.
13 Gregory Schopen, “The Book as a Sacred Object in Private Homes in Early or Medieval India,” in Medieval and Early Modern Devotional Objects in Global Perspective: Translations of the Sacred, eds. Elizabeth Robertson and Jennifer Jahner (New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2010), 49, 53.
14 David Drewes, “Oral Texts in Indian Mahāyāna,” Indo-Iranian Journal 58, no. 2 (2015): 117–41.
15 David Drewes, “Dharmabhāṇakas in Early Mahāyāna,” Indo-Iranian Journal 54, no. 4 (2011): 331–72.
16 Schopen, “The Phrase ‘sa pṛthivīpradeśaś caityabhūto bhavet,’” 181.
17 Schopen, “The Book as a Sacred Object,” 54.
18 T. W. Rhys Davids, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Some Points in the History of Indian Buddhism (London, 1881), 110–12, 254–55; T. W. Rhys Davids, Buddhism: Its History and Literature, 3rd rev. ed. (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1909), 200–205.
19 See, e.g., J. Przyluski, La légende de l'empereur Açoka (Açoka-Avadāna) dans les textes indiens et chinois (Paris: Paul Geuthner), 203–4; J. Przyluski, Le Bouddhisme (Paris: Rieder, 1932), 48.
20 Jan Nattier, A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path According to The Inquiry of Ugra (Ugraparipṛcchā) (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2003), 147.
21 Paul Harrison, “Some Reflections on the Personality of the Buddha,” Ōtani gakuhō 74, no. 4 (1995): 19.
22 Robert H. Sharf, “The Zen of Japanese Nationalism,” revised version in Curators of the Buddha: The Study of
Buddhism under Colonialism, ed. Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 107–60; Robert H. Sharf, “Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience,” Numen 42, no. 3 (1995): 228– 83.
23 Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, “Zen as Chinese Interpretation of the Doctrine of Enlightenment,” Eastern Buddhist 2, no. 6 (1923), 301–2.
24 David Drewes, “The Forest Hypothesis,” in Setting out on the Great Way.
25 Padmanabh S. Jaini, “A Note on ‘Mārabhāṣita’ in Abhidharmadīpa [235d],” in Early Buddhism and Abhidharma Thought: In Honor of Doctor Hajime Sakurabe on His Seventy-seventh Birthday, 101–13 (Kyoto: Heirakuji Shoten, 2002).
26 Étienne Lamotte, Le traité de la grande vertu de sagesse de Nagarjuna (Mahāprajñāpāramitāśāstra), 5 vols. (Louvain: Université de Louvain, Institut Orientaliste, 1944–1980), 2:701.
27 Ledi Sayadaw, A Manual of the Excellent Man, Uttamapurisa Dīpanī, trans. U Tin Oo (2000, repr., Kandy:
Buddhist Publication Society, 2007), 88.
28 Gregory Schopen, “Sukhāvatī as a Generalized Religious Goal in Sanskrit Mahāyāna Sūtra Literature,” IndoIranian Journal 19, nos. 3/4 (1977): 177–210.
29 Gregory Schopen, Figments and Fragments of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India: More Collected Papers (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2005), 189; Gérard Fussman, “La place des Sukhāvatī-vyūha dans le bouddhisme indien,” Journal Asiatique 287, no. 2 (1999): 564–78.
30 Paul Harrison, “Women in the Pure Land: Some Reflections on the Textual Sources,” Journal of Indian Philosophy 26, no. 6 (1998): 564.
31 Paul Harrison, “Mediums and Messages: Reflections on the Production of Mahāyāna Sūtras,” Eastern Buddhist, new series, 35, nos.1–2 (2003): 142, 121–22.
32 Jan Nattier, “The Realm of Akṣobhya: A Missing Piece in the History of Pure Land Buddhism,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 23, no. 1 (2000): 91, 99, 101.
33 Jonathan S. Walters, “Stūpa, Story, and Empire: Constructions of the Buddha Biography in Early Post-Aśokan India,” in Sacred Biography in the Buddhist Traditions of South and Southeast Asia, ed. Juliane Schober (Honolulu:
University of Hawai‘i Press, 1997), 178.
34 Étienne Lamotte, History of Indian Buddhism: From the Origins to the Śaka Era, trans. Sara Webb-Boin (Louvain-la-Neuve: Université Catholique de Louvain, Institut Orientaliste, 1988), 591; Hajime Nakamura, Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Bibliographical Notes (1980, repr., Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1996),153.
35 But see Luis O. Gómez, “The Bodhisattva as Wonder Worker,” in Prajñāpāramitā and Related Systems: Studies in Honor of Edward Conze, ed. Lewis Lancaster, 221–61 (Berkeley: Berkeley Buddhist Studies Series).
36 V. Vassilief, Le Bouddisme, ses dogmes, son histoire et sa littérature, trans. G. A. La Comme (Paris, 1865), 156.
37 Rhys Davids, Lectures, 254–55.
38 Hendrik Kern, Histoire du Bouddhisme dans l’Inde, trans. Gédéon Huet, 2 vols (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1901– 1903), 2:440; André Bareau, Les sectes bouddhiques du Petit Véhicule (Paris: École française d'Extrême-Orient, 1955), 296–305.
39 Przyluski, La légende, 203–4; Przyluski, Le Bouddhisme, 48; Lamotte, “Sur la formation du Mahāyāna,” 378–79; Lamotte, Le traité, 3:xxvi-xxvii.
40 Drewes 2007, “Revisiting the Phrase,” “Forest Hypothesis”, “Problem of Becoming a Bodhisattva.”