Jump to Content Jump to Main Navigation

Buddhism Mahayana
by
Daniel Boucher

Introduction

The origin, nature, organization, and influence of the collection of Buddhist movements subsumed under the label Mahayana (Great Vehicle) have long been a matter of scholarly and insider debate. The Mahayana is most essentially thought to be characterized by a commitment to the bodhisattva path along with an acceptance of the canonical authority of at least a certain number of Mahayana texts. Scholarly consensus generally dates the appearance of this movement to roughly the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE, though the earliest clearly datable evidence for its literature is the translation of a corpus of its texts into Chinese starting in the late 2nd century CE. These movements are generally believed to have started as a loose confederation of small monastic fraternities within Mainstream environments and to have remained very much a minority for the first several hundred years. The Mahayana appears prominently in the epigraphical and art historical record around the 5th century CE and becomes increasingly mainstreamed within Indian monastic culture thereafter. Much of its most profound influence, however, took place outside of India, particularly in Tibet and East Asia.

General Overviews

Despite a century and a half of scholarship on the Mahayana, there have until recently been few comprehensive treatments of the complex of traditions it represents. The best and most up-to-date survey is Williams 2009, which focuses upon doctrine but gives due weight to the best scholarship on the formative period as well as developments that take place outside of India. Durt 1994 is more narrow in focus but especially valuable for Chinese sources on Mahayana history. Berkwitz 2010 is a survey of South Asian Buddhism generally but includes substantial coverage of the Mahayana. Williams and Tribe 2000 on the history of Indian Buddhist thought is also very useful, primarily for connecting the Mahayana both to the preceding Mainstream tradition and to the subsequent tantric developments. Katsuzaki, et al. 1997 treats Mahayana literature comprehensively (in Japanese). Hirakawa 1990 also includes a useful overview of early scriptures, though its thesis on the lay origins of the Mahayana institutionally situated at stupa sites is now seriously questioned in more recent scholarship.

  • Berkwitz, Stephen C. South Asian Buddhism: A Survey. London and New York: Routledge, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Very up-to-date survey of the range of South Asian Buddhist traditions, with significant coverage of the Mahayana (pp. 68–125).

    Find this resource:

  • Durt, Hubert. “Daijō.” In Hōbōgirin: Dictionnaire encyclopédique du bouddhisme d’après les sources chinoises et japonaises. Vol. 7. Edited by Sylvain Lévi, Jacques Gernet, and Hubert Durt, 767–801. Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Overview of Mahayana sources with focus on materials available in Chinese, especially the large commentary on the Perfection of Wisdom, the Da zhidu lun. In French.

    Find this resource:

  • Hirakawa, Akira. A History of Indian Buddhism: From Śākyamuni to Early Mahāyāna. Translated and edited by Paul Groner. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Most of this book treats earlier Buddhism, but Part 3 (pp. 223–311) deals with the author’s very influential thesis concerning the lay origins of the Mahayana, particularly at prominent cultic centers. This thesis has been challenged several times in recent scholarship.

    Find this resource:

  • Katsuzaki Yūgen, Komine Michihiko, Shimoda Masahiro, and Watanabe Shōgo, comps. Daijō kyōten kaisetsu jiten 大乗経典解説事典. Tokyo: Hokushindō, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Overview with extensive bibliographical notes on the major genres of Mahayana sutra literature, including commentaries and citations in larger compendia. In Japanese.

    Find this resource:

  • Williams, Paul. Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. 2d ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Single best introduction to the breadth and depth of this tradition. Originally published in 1989, the second edition has been updated considerably in light of the most recent scholarship.

    Find this resource:

  • Williams, Paul, with Anthony Tribe. Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Broad introduction to the intellectual history of the Indian Buddhist tradition with considerable attention to the Mahayana (pp. 96–191).

    Find this resource:

Reference Works

Hastings 1908–1926 and Jones 2005 both offer a number of entries related to Mahayana themes in general fashion. The best widely accessible source for a variety of topics on Buddhism generally, including many entries related to the Mahayana, is the Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Buswell 2004). Relevant entries include those on various buddhas and bodhisattvas, schools of thought, doctrinal concepts, important monastic authors, and significant texts, among others. A survey of the field of Buddhist studies can be found in de Jong 1997. An overview of Buddhist canons, where most Mahayana literature is rendered in Chinese and Tibetan, can be found in Grönbold 1984. Ono 1933–1936 offers useful data on specific texts, especially as they appear in Chinese sources. For a useful bibliography of Mahayana texts translated into Western languages, see Pfandt 1986.

  • Buswell, Robert E., Jr., ed. Encyclopedia of Buddhism. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Excellent entries by many of the best scholars working in Buddhist studies today. Many articles on topics related to Mahayana Buddhism; see especially Gregory Schopen’s entry on the Mahayana with accompanying bibliography.

    Find this resource:

  • de Jong, J. W. A Brief History of Buddhist Studies in Europe and America. Tokyo: Kōsei, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Survey of the history of Buddhist scholarship from its emergence in early 19th-century Europe to the late 20th century. Includes a very helpful bibliography of many of the most important works in Buddhist studies (pp. 120–172). Very much a who’s who of the field.

    Find this resource:

  • Grönbold, Günter. Der Buddhistische Kanon: Eine Bibliographie. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1984.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A handy survey of Buddhist canonical collections in Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Manchu, and Tangut. Gives publication data, references to important commentaries and catalogues, and even important studies on some texts.

    Find this resource:

  • Hastings, James, ed. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. 13 vols. New York: Scribner, 1908–1926.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Though obviously dated, many of the articles on Buddhism (especially those by the Belgian master Louis de La Vallée Poussin, whose other works are generally only available in French) are still worth consulting. It is not always superseded by Jones 2005.

    Find this resource:

  • Jones, Lindsay, gen. ed. Encyclopedia of Religion. 15 vols. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    More up-to-date than Hastings 1908–1926, with state-of-the-art entries by contemporary scholars, often with substantial bibliographies. The articles, however, are of mixed quality.

    Find this resource:

  • Ono Genmyo, ed. Bussho kaisetsu daijiten 佛書解說大辭典. 14 vols. Tokyo: Daitō Shuppansha, 1933–1936.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Generally comprehensive information on East Asian Buddhist texts (most of which are Mahayana), with equivalents provided in Sanskrit and Tibetan when available. Arranged in Japanese syllabic order according to Japanese pronunciation of Chinese titles.

    Find this resource:

  • Pfandt, Peter. Mahāyāna Texts Translated into Western Languages: A Bibliographical Guide. Bonn, Germany: Religionswissenschaftliches Seminar der Universität Bonn, 1986.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Alphabetical listing by Sanskrit title of Mahayana texts translated into Western languages (which is a very small minority of them). Gives references to extant Sanskrit and Tibetan versions as well as Chinese translations by Taishō number. Especially useful for finding partial translations of texts that might be hidden in journal articles. Indexed also by Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese readings of titles.

    Find this resource:

Anthologies

There are two kinds of anthologies related to Mahayana Buddhist sources. Insider-produced collections of canonical citations organized and commented upon for an insider audience will be dealt with under the subheading Digests. There are also a number of modern anthologies of Buddhist primary sources in translation that include short citations of Mahayana classics. These are most frequently intended for classroom use at colleges and universities (Beyer 1974, Lopez 1995, Lopez 2004, and Strong 2008). Gómez and Silk 1989 offers three important studies and translations of Mahayana texts. Chang 1983 includes a partial translation of an indigenous Buddhist anthology, many texts from which have not been translated elsewhere.

  • Beyer, Stephan. The Buddhist Experience: Sources and Interpretations. Encino, CA: Dickenson, 1974.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Eclectic assemblage of sources from a number of lesser known but often very interesting texts.

    Find this resource:

  • Chang, Garma C. C. A Treasury of Mahāyāna Sūtras: Selections from the Mahāratnakūṭa Sūtra. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1983.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Assortment of translations from the collection of the forty-nine texts contained in the Mahāratnakūṭa anthology of sutras in the Chinese canon. Many of the translations have significant elisions, and the annotations are sometimes problematic. Several texts included here that have not been translated elsewhere.

    Find this resource:

  • Gómez, Luis O., and Jonathan A. Silk, eds. Studies in the Literature of the Great Vehicle: Three Mahāyāna Buddhist Texts. Ann Arbor: Collegiate Institute for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, 1989.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Includes a translation of the first four chapters of the important Samādhirāja-sūtra with extensive bibliography; a new edition and translation of the Vajracchedikā-sūtra found at Gilgit; and a study, critical edition, and translation of Śāntarakṣita’s Madhyamakālaṁkāra.

    Find this resource:

  • Lopez, Donald S., Jr., ed. Buddhism in Practice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Anthology of a variety of Buddhist texts, many from the Mahayana traditions across Asia, with authoritative introductions and bibliographies.

    Find this resource:

  • Lopez, Donald S., Jr., ed. Buddhist Scriptures. London: Penguin, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Convenient anthology of diverse Buddhist canonical texts translated authoritatively. Many are from Mahayana traditions across Asia.

    Find this resource:

  • Strong, John. The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Short selections of classic texts accompanied by useful introductory remarks.

    Find this resource:

Problem of Origins

The formation of the Mahayana has vexed scholars for at least two centuries, with two fundamental problems remaining at the heart of most controversies: the origin of its distinctive doctrinal formulations and its social organization vis-à-vis Mainstream Buddhism (on which see Bechert 1973 and Harrison 1987). The now classic scholarly divide is between those who see the early bodhisattva movement as a lay-centered development situated at traditional cultic centers (Hirakawa 1963) and those who have seen it as a loose confederation of monastic fraternities congregating around written scriptures or the preachers who recited them (Schopen 1975). Both positions have been contested and modified (Kent 1982 and Shimoda 2006). Other scholars have noted an ascetic current in some of its literature, suggesting that some bodhisattva monks may have had strong, though not exclusive, proclivities toward forest reclusion (Harrison 1995). One thing that is clear is that no single etiology is likely to be adequate to account for the diversity seen in its literature (on which see especially Silk 2002).

  • Bechert, Heinz. “Notes on the Formation of Buddhist Sects and the Origins of Mahāyāna.” In German Scholars on India. Vol. 1. Edited by the Cultural Department of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, 6–18. Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1973.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues for considerable continuity between earlier Buddhist schools and the emergence of self-identified Mahayanists, particularly at the level of monastic organization.

    Find this resource:

  • Harrison, Paul. “Who Gets to Ride the Great Vehicle? Self-Image and Identity among the Followers of the Early Mahāyāna.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 10.1 (1987): 67–89.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Attempts to reexamine a number of common assumptions about the nature of the early Mahayana in light of a small corpus of texts translated into Chinese in the late 2nd century CE, constituting thus the earliest datable representatives of this movement.

    Find this resource:

  • Harrison, Paul. “Searching for the Origins of the Mahāyāna: What Are We Looking For?” Eastern Buddhist, n.s., 28.1 (1995): 48–69.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Convenient overview of competing theories on origins with a recognition of the significant place of forest asceticism in some Mahayana texts.

    Find this resource:

  • Hirakawa, Akira. “The Rise of Mahāyāna Buddhism and Its Relationship to the Worship of Stūpas.” Memoirs of the Research Department of the Tōyō Bunko 22 (1963): 57–106.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Classic study attempting to place early bodhisattva fraternities at stupa sites and to see a strong lay influence in the intended audience of many of the texts. This thesis is contested in Schopen 1975.

    Find this resource:

  • Kent, Stephen A. “A Sectarian Interpretation of the Rise of the Mahayana.” Religion 12 (1982): 311–332.

    DOI: 10.1016/0048-721X(82)90052-5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A scholar of the English Quakers, Kent applies a sociological analysis to two of the classic texts of the Mahayana to reflect on their internal group dynamics and relationships with outsiders.

    Find this resource:

  • Schopen, Gregory. “The Phrase ‘Sa Pṛthivīpradeśaś Caityabhūto Bhavet’ in the Vajracchedikā: Notes on the Cult of the Book in Mahāyāna.” Indo-Iranian Journal 17 (1975): 147–181.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00221011Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Response to Hirakawa 1963. Argues for centrality of the dharma preacher to the cultic locus of the early Mahayana and in his stead the use of the written book as an alternative site to the stupa cult. Partially qualified in Buswell 2004 (cited under Reference Works).

    Find this resource:

  • Shimoda, Masahiro. “The State of Research on Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Mahāyāna as Seen in the Developments of the Study of Mahāyāna Sūtras.” Acta Asiatica 96 (2006): 1–23.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Careful overview of the various theories on the origins of the Mahayana in light of the studies of the earliest sutra literature. Many references to both Japanese and Western scholarship.

    Find this resource:

  • Silk, Jonathan A. “What, if Anything, Is Mahāyāna Buddhism? Problems of Definitions and Classifications.” Numen 49 (2002): 355–405.

    DOI: 10.1163/156852702760559705Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Attempt to reconsider the traditional classification of Buddhist groups into Hinayana (Mainstream) and Mahayana in favor of an alternative, no-essentialist method that takes into account the tremendous variety of traditions subsumed under these labels.

    Find this resource:

Canonical Literature

Mahayana sutra literature is massive. It is unlikely that anyone—Buddhist or modern scholar—has ever read it all. Even knowing the contours of the “canon” is difficult, since it is clear from some of the literature that even insiders sometimes rejected the authority of some texts. Another problem for modern readers is discerning which texts in this enormous literature were truly influential. And dating all of this literature is notoriously difficult, even in a relative chronology. It is almost certain, for instance, that we do not have the earliest texts of this movement, since the vast majority of what is extant reflects an already well-developed literature. Scholars are still trying to discern what the recurring motifs, injunctions, and intellectual threads are so as to establish at least a literary classification into discrete genres. Only a few of these threads can be listed here.

Perfection of Wisdom

Texts in the prajñāpāramitā (Perfection of Wisdom) genre are often cited as among the earliest Mahayana texts, especially the version in eight thousand lines, which is known from Chinese translation to predate at least the mid-2nd century CE (Conze 1973a). This literature is extremely diverse, but it is seemingly unified by an interest in explicating the Mahayana notion of sunyata (emptiness) as a distinctive philosophical critique of metaphysical essentialism. Edward Conze has been the preeminent scholar of this literature in the West (Conze 1973b and Conze 1975 include the translations of several classics from this genre). Conze 1960 has a very useful overview of the genre, though some important studies, editions, and translations have been done since his bibliography (e.g., Harrison 2006). Hikata 1958 offers a translation of a medium-sized Perfection of Wisdom text accompanied by an introductory essay on the development of the genre, especially as reflected in Chinese sources. Lancaster 1977 is an anthology of studies related broadly to themes raised in this and allied literature. Nattier 1992 attempts to show how one of the smallest texts in this literature may in fact be a back translation from Chinese to Sanskrit before assuming a life of its own in Indian and Tibetan commentaries. This literature laid the basis for the development of Mādhyamika philosophy (on which see Philosophical Developments).

  • Conze, Edward. The Prajñāpāramitā Literature. The Hague: Mouton, 1960.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Survey of the entire corpus of texts that fall under this genre of Mahayana canonical literature. Includes references to all extant versions in Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese along with commentaries and scholarship.

    Find this resource:

  • Conze, Edward. The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines and Its Verse Summary. Bolinas, CA: Four Seasons Foundation, 1973a.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra, arguably one of the earliest Mahayana sutras, though clearly reflecting an already well-developed intellectual tradition and several long-standing debates on religious praxis. Includes a translation of the Prajñāpāramitā-ratnaguṇa-saṃcaya-gāthā, the verse summary of the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines.

    Find this resource:

  • Conze, Edward. Perfect Wisdom: The Short Prajñāpāramitā Texts. London: Luzac, 1973b.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation of an assortment of smaller texts in this genre, including the Suvikrāntavikrāmi-paripṛcchā, the Perfection of Wisdom in Seven Hundred Lines, the Diamond Sūtra, and the Heart Sūtra, among others.

    Find this resource:

  • Conze, Edward. The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom with the Divisions of the Abhisamayālaṁkāra. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation of the Pañcaviṁśatisāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra, the Perfection of Wisdom in Twenty-Five Thousand Lines, from a composite of versions of the genre.

    Find this resource:

  • Harrison, Paul. “Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā: A New English Translation of the Sanskrit Text Based on Two Manuscripts from Greater Gandhāra.” In Buddhist Manuscripts. Vol. 3. Edited by Jens Braarvig, 133–159. Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection 7. Oslo, Norway: Hermes, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Excellent and well-annotated translation from new manuscript finds from northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan of an important short text within this genre. Comparison to Chinese and Tibetan translations included along with introduction on the history of work on this text. Preceded in this volume by an edition of the Sanskrit manuscripts in collaboration with Shōgo Watanabe (pp. 89–132).

    Find this resource:

  • Hikata Ryusho, ed. Suvikrāntavikrāmi-paripṛcchā Prajñāpāramitā-sūtra. Fukuoka, Japan: Kyushu University, 1958.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Edition of the Sanskrit of a medium-length text within this genre. Includes an important introductory essay on the development of the Perfection of Wisdom literature.

    Find this resource:

  • Lancaster, Lewis R., ed. Prajñāpāramitā and Related Systems: Studies in Honor of Edward Conze. Berkeley Buddhist Studies Series 1. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Collection of articles on various texts and related themes in this genre of Mahayana literature.

    Find this resource:

  • Nattier, Jan. “The Heart Sūtra: A Chinese Apocryphal Text?” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 15.2 (1992): 153–223.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Nattier makes a strong case for the possibility—and perhaps strong likelihood—that one of the shortest of the perfection of wisdom texts was extracted from one of the larger versions in China and back translated into Sanskrit, perhaps by the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang, who traveled to India in the first half of the 7th century.

    Find this resource:

Forest Vocation/Ascetic Praxis

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries scholars have increasingly drawn attention to a significant strand in Mahayana literature that emphasizes forest reclusion and commitment to rigorous discipline. This vocational emphasis is also found in Mainstream Buddhism, and Ray 1994 has highlighted the way this ascetic praxis has been used to contest traditional monasticism throughout the history of Buddhism in India. Some Mahayana authors seem to have attempted to reinvigorate this monastic option as a way of critiquing disciplinary laxity among their monastic confrères, sravakas and bodhisattvas alike (Schopen 1999). Texts with such a strong forest orientation include the Kāśyapa-parivarta (Pāsādika 1977–1979), the Ratnarāśi (Silk 1994), the Rāṣṭrapāla-paripṛcchā (Boucher 2008), the Ugra-paripṛcchā (Nattier 2003), and the Samādhirāja (Mitsuhara 1996), among others.

  • Boucher, Daniel. Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahāyāna: A Study and Translation of the Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā-sūtra; Studies in the Buddhist Traditions. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of strategies by which the monastic authors of the Rāṣṭrapāla sought to expose laxity among their fellow monks while arguing for the value of imitating the Buddha’s own rigorous path toward enlightenment. Translation is from the Sanskrit with extensive references to the Tibetan and three Chinese translations.

    Find this resource:

  • Mitsuhara Hōshū. “Biku no kōsō: ‘Sanmaiōkyō’ o chūshin to shite” “比丘の抗争—「三昧王経」を中心として.” Nihon bukkyō gakkai nenpō 日本仏教学会年報 Journal of the Japanese Buddhist Research Association 61 (1996): 75–89.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of friction between monastic factions vis-à-vis disciplinary regulations in the Samādhirāja-sūtra.

    Find this resource:

  • Nattier, Jan. A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path according to the Inquiry of Ugra (Ugraparipṛcchā-sūtra). Studies in the Buddhist Traditions. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Important text set in the household with a lay protagonist that argues strongly for the necessity of renunciation to the forest to adequately pursue the bodhisattva path. Translation is from the Tibetan with reference to the three Chinese translations and extensive Sanskrit citations.

    Find this resource:

  • Pāsādika, Bhikkhu. “The Dharma Discourse of the Great Collection of Jewels: The Kāśyapa-Section, Mahāratnakūṭadharmaparyāya—Kāśyapaparivarta.” Lihn-Son Publication, D’études bouddhique 1–9 (1977–1979).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Serial annotated translation of entire Sanskrit text of the Kāśyapaparivarta in nine issues of this journal.

    Find this resource:

  • Ray, Reginald. Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examination of the subterranean forest vocation that percolates up throughout the history of Buddhism. Ray argues that this vocation represents a critique of traditional sedentary monasticism and its typical disciplinary strictures.

    Find this resource:

  • Schopen, Gregory. “The Bones of a Buddha and the Business of a Monk: Conservative Monastic Values in an Early Mahāyāna Polemical Tract.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 27 (1999): 279–324.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1004408307207Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examination of the Maitreya-mahāsiṃhanāda-sūtra in light of its critique of the kind of socially and economically engaged monastic behavior prescribed in the Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya.

    Find this resource:

  • Silk, Jonathan S. “The Origins and Early History of the Mahāratnakūṭa Tradition of Mahāyāna Buddhism with a Study of the Ratnarāśisūtra and Related Materials.” PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1994.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Thorough study of a little-known voice within the Mahayana genre of forest texts. Very heavily annotated translation from the Tibetan together with editions of the Tibetan and Chinese translations.

    Find this resource:

Change of Sex Sutras

A significant number of texts, several of which are contained in a collection called the Mahāratnakūṭa (Great Heap of Jewels), present an episode in which a young girl engages in profound philosophical repartee with an advanced bodhisattva over the nature of the emptiness of all things (see Schuster 1981 for several examples of this motif). To make her point, the young female protagonist magically transforms herself into the body of a male bodhisattva and then in many cases makes a further transformation into the body of a buddha to demonstrate the fallacy of dualistic thinking about gender, among other topics. Chang 1983 (cited under Anthologies) includes a few texts in translation that include such episodes, such as the Vimaladattā-paripṛcchā and the Aśokadattā-vyākaraṇa. Paul 1985 includes other such stories, including the Sumatidārikā-paripṛcchā. The most famous and by far most important text including the change of sex motif is the Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa-sūtra (see Lamotte 1976 and Thurman 1976). A complete Sanskrit manuscript for this sutra has recently been discovered (Takahashi 2006), and several translations of it are in production.

  • Lamotte, Étienne. The Teaching of Vimalakīrti (Vimalakīrtinirdeśa). Translated by Sara Boin. London: Pali Text Society, 1976.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation of l’enseignement de Vimalakīrti (Louvain, Belgium, 1962). Heavily annotated translation from the Tibetan with extensive reference to the Chinese translations, especially that of Xuanzang. Extensive introduction to the background and influence of the text as well. Masterful study.

    Find this resource:

  • Paul, Diana Y. Women in Buddhism: Images of the Feminine in the Mahāyāna Tradition. 2d ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Collection of translations from Mahayana primary sources related to views of women and the feminine. Includes excerpts from famous texts, such as the Lotus Sutra and the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines as well as from lesser-known texts, such as Candrottarā-dārikā-vyākaraṇa-sūtra.

    Find this resource:

  • Schuster, Nancy. “Changing the Female Body: Wise Women and the Bodhisattva Career in Some Mahāratnakūṭasūtras.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 4.1 (1981): 24–69.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the antidualism of Mahayana philosophy led to a more positive attitude toward women in Mahayana sutra literature—a position that not all scholars would accept.

    Find this resource:

  • Takahashi Hisao, ed. Vimalakīrtinirdeśa: A Sanskrit Edition Based upon the Manuscript Newly Found at the Potala Palace; Study Group on Buddhist Sanskrit Literature, the Institute for Comprehensive Studies of Buddhism, Taisho University. Tokyo: Taisho University Press, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Edition of a recently discovered complete Sanskrit manuscript of this important sutra.

    Find this resource:

  • Thurman, Robert A. F. The Holy Teaching of Vimalakīrti: A Mahāyāna Scripture. University Park: Pennsylvanian State University Press, 1976.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from the Tibetan. Well annotated, helpful appendixes of doctrinal categories used frequently throughout the text. Introduction is much less thorough—and in places more problematic—than that in Lamotte 1976.

    Find this resource:

Pure Land and Samādhi Sutras

Central to Mahayana ideology is the notion that bodhisattvas will spend aeons working toward eventual buddhahood so as to establish a purified Buddha field (buddhakṣetra) in which other sentient beings may be reborn. This is the hallmark of the Mahayana ideal of compassion, the bodhisattva’s commitment to save innumerable beings by giving them access to the dispensation of a living buddha. Though this presumption occurs widely in Mahayana literature, several sutras are particularly focused on the vows by which a particular bodhisattva becomes a buddha and the nature of the purified realm he simultaneously establishes. Important buddha fields include Akṣobhya’s Abhirati (Dantinne 1983, Nattier 2000; see also Strauch 2010 for a recently discovered, very early manuscript describing Akṣobhya’s field), Amitābha’s Sukhāvatī (Gómez 1996, Fussman 1999), and Bhaiṣajyaguru’s field (Birnbaum 1989). A number of texts emphasize the ecstatic techniques (samādhi) by which a practitioner can gain access to these realms in this life (Harrison 1990, Lamotte 1998). The cult of buddhas in alternative realms became especially central to East Asian Buddhism.

  • Birnbaum, Raoul. The Healing Buddha. Boston: Shambala, 1989.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discussion of the cult of Bhaiṣyaguru Buddha with translation of three Chinese translations of texts dedicated to his cult. Originally published 1979.

    Find this resource:

  • Dantinne, Jean. La splendeur de l’inébranlable (Akṣobhyavyūha), tome I (chapitres I–III): Les auditeurs (Śrāvaka). Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium: Institut Orientaliste, 1983.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation into French of the opening section of the core text dedicated to the cult of Akṣobhya with detailed introduction and annotation. Translation is from the Tibetan and two Chinese translations, presented in synoptic fashion.

    Find this resource:

  • Fussman, Gérard. “La place des Sukhāvatī-vyūha dans le bouddhisme indien.” Journal asiatique 287.2 (1999): 523–586.

    DOI: 10.2143/JA.287.2.556480Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Critical appraisal of the textual, inscriptional, and art historical evidence for a cult of Amitābha in early Indian Buddhism.

    Find this resource:

  • Gómez, Luis O. The Land of Bliss: The Paradise of the Buddha of Measureless Light; Sanskrit and Chinese Versions of the Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtras. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Authoritative translations with extensive annotation and introductions of the core texts in Sanskrit and Chinese dedicated to the extremely influential cult of Amitābha Buddha.

    Find this resource:

  • Harrison, Paul. The Samādhi of Direct Encounter with the Buddhas of the Present: An Annotated English Translation of the Tibetan Version of the Pratyutpanna-Buddha-Saṁmukhāvasthita-Samādhi-Sūtra. Studia Philologica Buddhica Monograph Series 5. Tokyo: International Institute for Buddhist Studies, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from the Tibetan with reference to the early Chinese translations of an important text in the samādhi genre, in which specific meditational states are utilized to achieve ecstatic contact with living buddhas.

    Find this resource:

  • Lamotte, Étienne. Śūraṁgamasamādhisūtra: The Concentration of Heroic Progress. Translated by Sara Boin-Webb. Surrey, UK: Curzon, 1998.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translated from the 5th-century translation of Kumārajīva. Important text emphasizing the acquisition of the meditative concentration necessary to achieve direct access to the insights about the nature of reality requisite for achieving buddhahood. Translation of La concentration de la marche héroïque (Brussels, 1965).

    Find this resource:

  • Nattier, Jan. “The Realm of Akṣobhya: A Missing Piece in the History of Pure Land Buddhism.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 23.1 (2000): 71–102.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues convincingly for the priority of the cult of Akṣobhya among texts dedicated to the explication of Buddha fields.

    Find this resource:

  • Strauch, Ingo. “More Missing Pieces of Early Pure Land Buddhism: New Evidence for Akṣobhya and Abhirati in an Early Mahayana Sutra from Gandhāra.” Eastern Buddhist 41.1 (2010): 23–66.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses a recently discovered kharoṣṭhī manuscript from northern Pakistan that is related to but not identical with extant versions of the Akṣobhyavyūha-sūtra.

    Find this resource:

Lotus Sutra

The Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapuṇḍarīka-sūtra) has likely received more attention than any other canonical Mahayana text, in large part because of its tremendous influence in Japanese Buddhism and by extension the influence of Japanese scholars on Western scholarship. Moreover, manuscript remains from Nepal, Gilgit, and central Asia are among our most extensive for any Mahayana text (on which see Baruch 1938 and Yuyama 1970). The Sanskrit text has been translated twice into Western languages (see Burnouf 1852 and Kern 1884), and Kumārajīva’s 5th-century Chinese translation has been translated numerous times (see Kubo and Yuyama 2007 for one of the most reliable translations). The scholarship on this text in Japanese is massive (see Tsukamoto 2007 for a bibliography of many of the most important works), and it continues to attract significant attention in the West (see Teiser and Stone 2009).

  • Baruch, Willy. Beiträge zum Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1938.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of the recensional differences between the Nepalese manuscripts and the then newly discovered Gilgit manuscripts of the Lotus Sutra. Includes comparison between the Chinese translations of Dharmarakṣa (3rd century) and Kumārajīva (5th century) as well.

    Find this resource:

  • Burnouf, Eugène. Le lotus de la bonne loi. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1852.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    First complete translation of the Lotus Sutra in a Western language based on Nepalese Sanskrit manuscript. Extensive appendixes detailing thematic elements raised in the text. Reprinted 1989.

    Find this resource:

  • Kern, Hendrik. Saddharmapuṇḍarīka; or, The Lotus of the True Law. Oxford: Clarendon, 1884.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    First and to date only English translation of the Lotus Sutra from Sanskrit.

    Find this resource:

  • Kubo, Tsugunari, and Yuyama Akira. The Lotus Sutra. 2d rev. ed. BDK English Tripiṭaka 13-I. Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from Kumārajīva’s 5th-century translation. One of the most readable and accurate of the many available translations from the Chinese.

    Find this resource:

  • Teiser, Stephen F., and Jacqueline I. Stone, eds. Readings of the Lotus Sūtra. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Collection of essays on the interpretation and role of the Lotus Sutra in India, China, and Japan, including its expression of gender roles, its use in devotional contexts, and its popularity in artistic representation.

    Find this resource:

  • Tsukamoto Keishō. Source Elements of the Lotus Sūtra: Buddhist Integration of Religion, Thought, and Culture. Tokyo: Kōsei, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from Japanese of Hokekyō no seiritsu to haikei (1986). Attempts to place major themes of the Lotus Sutra within the religious context of ancient India (particularly in the northwest, where the author posits its composition). Includes an extensive bibliography of studies on manifold aspects of the text.

    Find this resource:

  • Yuyama Akira. A Bibliography of the Sanskrit Texts of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1970.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Important compilation of extensive manuscript remains of this sutra from Nepal, Gilgit, and central Asia. A number of important editions have been published since this bibliography.

    Find this resource:

Miscellaneous Texts

There are a number of other texts that do not neatly fall into any of the categories previously mentioned but that are worthy of note nonetheless. In many cases their influence is uncertain in India even when they are known to have exerted considerable influence in Tibet or East Asia, for example, the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra (Shimoda 1997), the Suvarṇabhāsottama-sūtra (Emmerick 1990), the Daśabhūmika-sūtra (Honda 1968), and the Avataṃsaka-sūtra (Cleary 1993, Osto 2008). In other cases, we can be certain that some sutras were heavily relied on as proof texts for various philosophical compendia, for example, the Bodhisattvapiṭaka (Pagel 1995), the Upāli-paripṛcchā (Python 1973), and the Akṣayamati-nirdeśa-sūtra (Braarvig 1993). Only a few that have received some scholarly attention can be mentioned here.

  • Braarvig, Jens. Akṣayamatinirdeśa Sūtra: The Tradition of Imperishability in Buddhist Thought. 2 vols. Oslo, Norway: Solum Forlag, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Two-volume study and translation from the Tibetan of a text of considerable importance to later Indian Buddhist compendia. Known from Chinese translation to date from at least the 3rd century.

    Find this resource:

  • Cleary, Thomas. The Flower Ornament Scripture: A Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Boston: Shambala, 1993.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from Chinese of a massive text central to the Chinese Huayan school. Final section often circulated and was cited independently as Gaṇḍavyūha.

    Find this resource:

  • Emmerick, Ronald E. The Sūtra of Golden Light, Being a Translation of the Suvarṇabhāsottamasūtra. 2d rev. ed. Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from Sanskrit of an important text famous for its chapters on the confession of sins, advice to kings, and previous birth story about the Buddha.

    Find this resource:

  • Honda Megumu. “Annotated Translation of the Daśabhūmika-Sūtra.” In Studies in South, East, and Central Asia Presented as a Memorial Volume to the Late Professor Raghu Vira. Edited by Denis Sinor. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1968.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from Sanskrit of classic text on the ten stages of the bodhisattva path.

    Find this resource:

  • Osto, Douglas. Power, Wealth, and Women in Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra. London: Routledge, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of the role prominent women play in the final section of the large Avataṃsaka-sūtra. Argues for a royal audience for the text.

    Find this resource:

  • Pagel, Ulrich. The Bodhisattvapiṭaka: Its Doctrines, Practices, and Their Position in Mahāyāna Literature. Tring, UK: Institute of Buddhist Studies, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of a large text in the Mahāratnakūṭa collection together with a translation of chapter 11 from the Tibetan. Attempts to situate intellectual and practice motifs of the text within the bodhisattva path known to other Mahayana sutras.

    Find this resource:

  • Python, Pierre. Vinaya-viniścaya-Upāli-paripṛcchā: Enquȇte d’Upāli pour une exégèse de la discipline. Paris: Adrien-Masionneuve, 1973.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from Tibetan with reference to two Chinese translations of a text dedicated to morality and confession in a Mahayana context. Cited by later Indian Buddhist intellectuals.

    Find this resource:

  • Shimoda Masahiro. Nehangyō no kenkyū: Daijō kyōten no kenkyū hōhō shiron 涅槃経の研究:大乗経典の研究方法試論. Tokyo: Shunjūsha, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Massive study of a text important to medieval Chinese Buddhism, including review of the theories on the origins of the Mahayana, the formation and stratification of the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, and the doctrinal shifts embodied in its textual evolution. Includes a long English summary.

    Find this resource:

Philosophical Developments

As the Mahayana achieved greater intellectual maturity, a number of its source texts became inspirations for more systematic reflection on the ontological and epistemological implications of certain core doctrines. The process of systematizing Mahayana doctrine began probably with Nāgārjuna (c. 2nd century), who was the putative author of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and continued with the formation of the idealist school of the Yogācāra. Ruegg 1981 gives the best overview of Mādhyamika literature. Lindtner 1986 discusses the problem of reliable attribution of treatises to Nāgārjuna and edits and translates a number of key works. Powers 1991 provides a bibliography of the Yogācāra school. Schmithausen 2007 remains one of the best discussions of the ālayavijñāna (storehouse consciousness), the core doctrine of the Yogācāra. Nagao 1991 contains important studies related to both of these schools. The best discussion of the tathāgatagarbha tradition is still Ruegg 1969, though see also Brown 1991 for a broader discussion of the conceptions of Buddha-nature in Mahayana philosophy, especially in relation to the doctrine of ālayavijñāna.

  • Brown, Brian Edward. The Buddha Nature: A Study of the Tathāgatagarbha and Ālayavijñāna. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Includes a study of both the tathāgatagarbha and the Yogācāra ālayavijñāna in several sutras and śastras, including the Śrīmālā-sūtra, the Ratnagotravibhāga, the Laṅkāvatāra-sūtra, and the Cheng weishi lun (Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi). See also Williams 2009 (cited under General Overviews).

    Find this resource:

  • Lindtner, Christian. Master of Wisdom: Writings of the Buddhist Master Nāgārjuna. Berkeley, CA: Dharma Publications, 1986.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides editions, translations, and studies of several key texts attributed to Nāgārjuna in an attempt to establish his corpus of works.

    Find this resource:

  • Nagao, Gadjin M. Mādhyamika and Yogācāra: A Study of Mahāyāna Philosophies. Edited, collated, and translated by Leslie S. Kawamura. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Collection of essays by one of the premier scholars in Japan of Buddhist philosophy on both the Madhyamaka and the Yogācāra schools.

    Find this resource:

  • Powers, John. The Yogācāra School of Buddhism: A Bibliography. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Survey of scriptural sources in Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese along with commentaries on them, major treatises, and secondary studies by contemporary scholars.

    Find this resource:

  • Ruegg, David Seyfort. La théorie du tathāgatagarbha et du gotra: Études sur la sotériologie et la gnoséologie du Bouddhisme. Paris: École Française d’Extrême-Orient, 1969.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Classic study on the notions of gotra (spiritual lineage) and tathāgatagarbha, especially in relation to Yogācāra sources. Very authoritative.

    Find this resource:

  • Ruegg, David Seyfort. The Literature of the Madhyamaka School of Philosophy in India. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1981.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An authoritative survey of Madhyamaka literature from Nāgārjuna and his commentators through medieval systematization and synthesis with Yogācāra thought. Includes useful appendixes detailing modern Sanskrit and Tibetan editions of works of this school.

    Find this resource:

  • Schmithausen, Lambert. Ālayavijñāna: On the Origin and Early Development of a Central Concept of Yogācāra Philosophy. 2 vols. Studia Philologica Buddhica Monograph Series 4. Tokyo: International Institute for Buddhist Studies, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Critical study of the core doctrine of storehouse consciousness as expressed in one of the earliest sources of the Yogācāra school, the Yogācārabhūmi.

    Find this resource:

Madhyamaka

The Mādhyamika (Middle Way) tradition, perhaps the first identifiable attempt to systematize Mahayana reflections on ontology, is most centrally associated with the denial of inherent existence (svabhāva) in all dharmas (basic building blocks of existence). This school takes its inspiration from the Perfection of Wisdom literature and attempts to make its case by a kind of reductio ad absurdum form of syllogistic reasoning. The tradition begins with the great master Nāgārjuna and his classic work, the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (Garfield 1995). His intellectual and presumed monastic background is discussed in Walser 2008. Lindtner 1986 (cited under Philosophical Developments) is the most authoritative discussion of his hypothesized corpus of works. Much of the later tradition is dedicated to commenting on his work and its implications. Tibetan authors have identified several subschools and sub-subschools (most notably, Prāsaṅgika and Svātantrika), but it is not clear that these divisions were known to Indian Buddhist intellectuals. A very authoritative survey of the literature of this school can be found in Ruegg 1981 (cited under Philosophical Developments). On Candrakīrti (c. 600–650), widely viewed as one of the most important of commentators on Nāgārjuna in the Prāsaṅgika tradition, see Huntington and Wangchen 1989 and May 1959. On the Svātantrika thinker Bhāvaviveka, see Eckel 1992 and Eckel 2008. A number of sources are translated first or, in some cases, only in Chinese; on these materials see Robinson 1967.

  • Eckel, Malcolm David. To See the Buddha: A Philosopher’s Quest for the Meaning of Emptiness. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interesting analysis of the 6th-century Mādhyamika philosopher Bhāvaviveka (identified with the Svātantrika branch of Madhyamaka in Tibet) in the broader context of the soteriological goals of his philosophical mission.

    Find this resource:

  • Eckel, Malcolm David. Bhāviveka and His Buddhist Opponents. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contains a translation (with autocommentary) of chapters 4 and 5 of Bhāviveka’s Heart of the Middle Way, including an extensive introduction and edition of the Sanskrit and Tibetan texts.

    Find this resource:

  • Garfield, Jay. The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from the Tibetan with extensive commentary of the foundational text of the Mādhyamika school.

    Find this resource:

  • Huntington, C. W., Jr., with Geshe Namgyal Wangchen. The Emptiness of Emptiness: An Introduction to Early Mādhyamaka. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Thorough analysis of the philosophical language of the Mādhyamika tradition with a particular emphasis on the work of Candrakīrti (who is regarded as the principal representative of the Prāsaṅgika branch of the school). Includes a complete translation of Candrakīrti’s Madhyamakāvatāra with extensive notes.

    Find this resource:

  • May, Jacques, trans. Candrakīrti, Prasannapadā Madhyamakavṛtti: Douze chapitres traduits du sanscrit et du tibétain, accompagnés d’une introduction, de notes et d’une édition critique de la version tibétaine. Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1959.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    French translation from Sanskrit and Tibetan of chapters 2–4, 6–9, 11, 23–24, and 26–27 of Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā. Heavily annotated with an edition of the Tibetan as an appendix.

    Find this resource:

  • Robinson, Richard. Early Mādhyamaka in India and China. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents an overview of the Indian Mādhyamika tradition and a discussion of the Chinese translation of several important works by Kumārajīva and their exegesis by native scholar monks.

    Find this resource:

  • Walser, Joseph. Nāgārjuna in Context: Mahāyāna Buddhism and Early Indian Culture. Rev. ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Attempts to situate the philosopher Nāgārjuna within the broader context of the South Indian monastic culture in which he is likely to have found himself as a Mahayana adherent.

    Find this resource:

Yogācāra

The Yogācāra is the second major Mahayana philosophical school, famous for its idealist position concerning the relationship between consciousness and the perceived external world. Some of its foundational concepts can be seen in sutra literature, such as the Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra (Lamotte 1935), but its systematization is usually attributed to Asaṅga and his half brother Vasubandhu (c. 4th century CE). Asaṅga is said in some hagiographies to have received instruction from the future Buddha Maitreya in the Tuṣita heaven and as a result to have composed some of the major treatises of this school, including the Mahāyānasūtrālaṁkāra (Jamspal, et al. 2004) and the Mahāyānasaṁgraha (Lamotte 1973, Griffiths, et al. 1989). As in the Madhyamaka tradition, various subschools of Yogācāra emerged, particularly the Valabhī tradition represented by Sthiramati (see Stcherbatsky 1970) and the Nālandā tradition represented by Dharmapāla, preserved most extensively in Xuanzang’s translation of Vasubandhu’s Triṃśikā with the commentary of Dharmapāla, among others (see La Vallée Poussin 1929). Yogācāra syntheses with Madhyamaka were also attempted in the medieval period, and distinctive Yogācāra positions on the underlying purity of consciousness were developed outside of India, particular in the works of Paramārtha and Xuanzang.

  • Griffiths, Paul, Noriaki Hakayama, John Keenan, and Paul Swanson. The Realm of Awakening: Chapter Ten of Asaṅga’s Mahāyānasaṃgraha. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Running translation from the Tibetan followed by annotated translations of Vasubandhu’s commentary from Tibetan and multiple Chinese translations and Asvabhāva’s commentary preserved in Tibetan. Chapter is dedicated to a Yogācāra discussion of the trikaya doctrine.

    Find this resource:

  • Jamspal, L., R. Clark, J. Wilson, L. Zwilling, M. Sweet, and R. Thurman, trans. The Universal Vehicle Discourse Literature (Mahāyānasūtrālaṁkāra) by Maitreyanātha/Āryāsaṅga Together with Its Commentary (Bhāṣya) by Vasubandhu. New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2004.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from the Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese of a classic text by the founder of the Yogācāra school, Asaṅga (c. 4th century CE).

    Find this resource:

  • Lamotte, Étienne, trans. Saṃdhinirmocana-sūtra. Louvain, Belgium: Bibliothèque de l’Université, 1935.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Heavily annotated translation from the Tibetan of the text that serves as one of the canonical foundations of Yogācāra thought.

    Find this resource:

  • Lamotte, Étienne, trans. La somme du grand véhicule d’Asaṅga (Mahāyānasaṁgraha). 2 vols. Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium: Université de Louvain, Institut Orientaliste, 1973.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation into French of a classic Yogācāra treatise from Tibetan with reference to four Chinese translations and to commentaries preserved in Tibetan and Chinese. Emphasis is on delineating the characteristics of the ālayavijñāna (storehouse consciousness), refuting earlier Buddhist positions on the nature of consciousness, and elucidating the bodhisattva path according to the Yogācāra school. First published in 1938.

    Find this resource:

  • La Vallée Poussin, Louis de. Vijñaptimātratāsiddhi: La Siddhi de Hiuan-Tsang. 2 vols. Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1929.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation by the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang of Vasubandhu’s classic text, the Triṃśikā, together with commentaries on it, especially that of Dharmapāla, who represented the Nālandā tradition in which Xuanzang had been trained.

    Find this resource:

  • Stcherbatsky, Theodor, trans. Madhyānta-Vibhanga: Discourse on the Discrimination between Middle and Extremes Ascribed to Bodhisattva Maitreya and Commented upon by Vasubandhu and Sthiramati. Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio Verlag, 1970.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Core text of the Yogācāra school, purported received by Asaṅga from the future Buddha Maitreya together with the commentary of Vasubandhu and the sub-commentary of Sthiramati. Aims to refute both Mainstream dharma theory and Madhyamaka notions of emptiness. Originally published in 1936.

    Find this resource:

Tathāgatagarbha/Buddha-Nature

The tathāgatagarbha (womb/matrix of the Realized One) tradition in Indian Mahayana in all likelihood never constituted a self-conscious school in quite the same way that Mādhyamika and Yogācāra thinkers understood themselves and their opponents. This tradition makes the case that all sentient beings possess an inherent capacity for enlightenment, that buddhahood is already at hand and merely needs to be realized. The earliest text representing this view is probably the Tathāgatagarbha-sūtra (see Zimmermann 2002). This idea shows up in other sutras as well, including the Śrīmālādevī-siṃhanāda-sūtra (Wayman and Wayman 1974), the Laṅkāvatāra-sūtra, where it is fused with Yogācāra thought (Suzuki 1932), and the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, where it is qualified by the proposition that some individuals, icchantikas, are devoid of spiritual potential (Liu 1984). One of the most important systematic expositions on this tradition is in the Ratnagotravibhāga (Takasaki 1966, see Ruegg 1969, cited under Philosophical Developments). A convenient overview of this motif in the literature can be found in Brown 1991 (cited under Philosophical Developments) (with additional emphasis on its fusion with the Yogācāra notion of ālayavijñāna [storehouse consciousness]).

  • Liu Ming-wood. “The Problem of the Icchantika in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa-Sūtra.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 7.1 (1984): 57–81.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Details the various strata of the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra in which seemingly contradictory views on the universal capacity for enlightenment of all sentient beings and the view that some beings (icchantikas) are beyond salvation are reconciled.

    Find this resource:

  • Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro. The Lankavatara Sutra: A Mahayana Text. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1932.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from Sanskrit of an important text that fuses core doctrines of the Yogācāra school with tathāgatagarbha thinking. Becomes a central text of the Chinese Chan tradition.

    Find this resource:

  • Takasaki, Jikidō. A Study on the Ratnagotravibhāga (Uttaratantra). Rome: Instituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1966.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from the Sanskrit of the principle treatise on tathāgatagarbha thought. Argues for the ultimate identity of tainted Suchness (tathatā) and pure Suchness (dharmakāya) in order to assert that even beings suffering from defilements still possess the Buddha’s pure, nondual consciousness within.

    Find this resource:

  • Wayman, Alex, and Hideko Wayman. The Lion’s Roar of Queen Śrīmālā: A Buddhist Scripture on the Tathāgatagarbha Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 1974.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the classic texts on the notion of the innate enlightenment of all beings in the context of an advocacy for the One Vehicle, that all Buddhist paths ultimately lead to the Mahayana.

    Find this resource:

  • Zimmermann, Michael. A Buddha Within: The Tathāgatagarbhasūtra; The Earliest Exposition of the Buddha-Nature Teaching in India. Bibliotheca Philologica et Philosophica Buddhica 6. Tokyo: International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study and translation of the Tathāgatagarbha-sūtra from the Tibetan with reference to the Chinese translations. Heavily annotated.

    Find this resource:

Maturity and Domestication

While the traditions subsumed under the label Mahayana in all likelihood began as a cluster of minority movements within Mainstream monasteries, these movements appear to have become much more public and perhaps even dominant beginning in roughly the 5th century CE. This ascendency can be charted, albeit imperfectly, in manifold sources: the appearance of scholastic compendia, often connected to philosophical schools, as monastic handbooks; the emergence of inscriptions recording donations by or to Mahayana adherents as well as Mahayana-inspired art; and the eye witness reports of Chinese pilgrims who visited India from the early 5th to the late 7th centuries, in which changes in affiliation can be noted, though again with nothing approaching consistency. The Mahayana in India gradually comes to be subsumed into later tantric movements before declining almost entirely on the subcontinent along with Buddhism generally during the first few centuries of the second millennium.

Digests

There are a number of anthologies from the more mature phase of Mahayana Buddhism in India that assemble numerous scriptural citations in the service of explicating the bodhisattva path as understood in medieval monasticism. Some of these anthologies could fall within a discussion of philosophical developments, since in some cases they attempt to describe the means by which liberating gnosis is acquired (Pāsādika 1978–1982, Pāsādika 1989). Others focus on the necessity of compassion and the practices that generate the merit requisite for eventual buddhahood (Tucci 1986). Some fulfill both roles, as is characteristic of the works by the 7th- to 8th-century monastic author Śāntideva (Bendall 1970, Bendall and Rouse 1971, Crosby and Skilton 1995). Most of these represent an attempt to systematize a wide range of scriptures into a coherent spiritual path.

  • Bendall, Cecil, ed. Śikṣāsamuccaya: A Compendium of Buddhistic Teaching Compiled by Śāntideva Chiefly from Earlier Mahāyāna-Sūtras. Bibliotheca Buddhica 1. Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio Verlag, 1970.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Anthology in nineteen chapters of scriptural citations from the 7th to 8th centuries detailing the practices leading to eventual buddhahood primarily for monastic practitioners.

    Find this resource:

  • Bendall, Cecil, and W. H. D. Rouse, trans. Śikṣā-Samuccaya: A Compendium of Buddhist Doctrine. 2d ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1971.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from Sanskrit, originally published 1897–1902. Includes an appendix listing scriptures cited by name.

    Find this resource:

  • Crosby, Kate, and Andrew Skilton. Śāntideva: The Bodhicaryāvatāra. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Treatise on the bodhisattva path describing the generation of the aspiration for enlightenment and the practice of the six spiritual perfections that lead to it.

    Find this resource:

  • Pāsādika, Bhikkhu. “The Sūtrasamuccaya: An English Translation from the Tibetan Version of the Sanskrit Original.” Linh-Son Publications, D’études bouddhiques 2–20 (1978–1982).

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from Tibetan of Pāsādika 1989 in serial publication.

    Find this resource:

  • Pāsādika, Bhikkhu. Nāgārjuna’s Sūtrasamuccaya: A Critical Edition of the Mdo Kun Las Btus Pa. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1989.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Less systematic than other treatises, emphasis is on the rareness of opportunities to make spiritual progress. Cites seventy-one texts. Attribution to Nāgārjuna, the author of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, is highly unlikely.

    Find this resource:

  • Tucci, Giuseppe. Minor Buddhist Texts. Parts One and Two. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Includes Sanskrit and Tibetan text of Kamalaśīla’s Bhāvanākrama (The stages of contemplation) emphasizing the centrality of compassion to the bodhisattva path.

    Find this resource:

Art, Archeology, and Material Culture

Evidence for Mahayana affiliation appears quite late in the epigraphical and art historical record. With only one clear exception (Schopen 1987), evidence for donations to or from individuals associated with the Mahayana do not appear until about the 5th century (see Schopen 1979 on the epigraphical evidence). A number of attempts have been made to identify Mahayana bodhisattvas in the art historical record of Gandhāra (northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan; see Rhi 2006), though evidence marshaled to support this has not been conclusive (Boucher 2008). Clear evidence is found in the caves in the western Deccan of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara from the 5th century (Yamada 1979, Schopen 2005).

  • Boucher, Daniel. “Is There an Early Gandhāran Source for the Avalokiteśvara Cult?” Journal asiatique 296.2 (2008): 297–330.

    DOI: 10.2143/JA.296.2.2036304Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues against any clear identification of Mahayana bodhisattva figures in the early art historical record of Gandhāra.

    Find this resource:

  • Rhi, Juhyung. “Bodhisattvas in Gandhāran Art: An Aspect of Mahāyāna in Gandhāran Buddhism.” In Gandhāran Buddhism: Archeology, Art, Texts. Edited by Pia Brancaccio and Kurt Behrendt, 151–182. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2006.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Attempts to establish criteria by which to identify bodhisattva images in Gandhāran art. Compare Boucher 2008.

    Find this resource:

  • Schopen, Gregory. “Mahāyāna in Indian Inscriptions.” Indo-Iranian Journal 21 (1979): 1–19.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses formulas by which Mahayana affiliation is determined with a list of many of the known inscriptions. See also the addendum to this paper reprinted in Schopen 2005, pages 244–246.

    Find this resource:

  • Schopen, Gregory. “The Inscription on the Kuṣān Image of Amitābha and the Character of the Early Mahāyāna in India.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 10.2 (1987): 99–134.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Edition, translation, and study of the earliest known epigraph dedicated to establishment of a Mahayana buddha image (2nd century CE).

    Find this resource:

  • Schopen, Gregory. “The Ambiguity of Avalokiteśvara and the Tentative Identification of a Painted Scene from a Mahāyāna Sūtra at Ajaṇṭā.” In Figments and Fragments of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India: More Collected Papers. By Gregory Schopen, 278–298. Studies in the Buddhist Traditions. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Schopen identifies a scene in a painting in cave number 10 at Ajaṇṭā as depicting an episode from chapter 24 of the Sanskrit text of the Lotus Sutra. If confirmed, this would be the only known artistic depiction based on a Mahayana sutra in India.

    Find this resource:

  • Yamada Kōji. “Indo no kannon shonankyūsai zu” “インドの観音諸難救済図.” Bukkyō geijutsu 仏教芸術 125 (1979): 48–64.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of medieval representations of the Avalokiteśvara surrounded by depictions of eight of the perils from which the bodhisattva saves those who invoke his name.

    Find this resource:

Transformation and Absorption

The appearance of individuals and groups affiliated with the Mahayana can be discerned by the relatively sudden emergence of inscriptions dedicated by such followers and by artistic representations depicting clearly Mahayana buddhas and bodhisattvas from approximately the 5th century CE. We can also take note of the rising prominence of the Mahayana in the eyewitness accounts of Chinese pilgrims who traveled to India between the early 5th and late 7th centuries. These pilgrims note affiliations of monasteries (which were sometimes mixed or changed over time), cult practice, the presence of lay practitioners, and the availability of Mahayana scriptures (Li 1996, Li 2000, and Li 2002). After the 7th and 8th centuries, Mahayana groups appear to have been gradually subsumed into tantric traditions, though the details of the relationship between these groups are not well understood yet. Davidson 2002 is by far the best discussion of this transition. It is also common to see Hindu motifs in later Mahayana literature (Regamey 1971), again suggesting that assimilation was increasingly the strategy of survival prior to the almost complete disappearance of Buddhism on the subcontinent from approximately the 13th century. See Hazra 1995 on the sociopolitical fluctuations of especially this latest phase.

  • Davidson, Ronald M. Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although focused on the latest phase of Indian Buddhism, the development of the tantric/Vajrayāna traditions, Davidson has one of the best discussions of the medieval Buddhist ethos in modern scholarship—precisely the time when the Mahayana was in ascendency.

    Find this resource:

  • Hazra, Kanai Lal. The Rise and Decline of Buddhism in India. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharial, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the history of Buddhism through the political history of India, charting its changing fortunes under different rulers and dynasties. Includes extended discussion about possible causes of the decline of Buddhism in India.

    Find this resource:

  • Li Rongxi, trans. The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions. BDK English Tripiṭaka 79. Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1996.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from the Chinese of Xuanzang’s travel account through central Asia to India and back from 629 to 645 CE. Includes extensive discussion of the pilgrim’s scholastic training at Nālandā.

    Find this resource:

  • Li Rongxi, trans. Buddhist Monastic Traditions of Southern Asia: A Record of the Inner Law Sent Home from the South Seas by the Śramaṇa Yijing. BDK English Tripiṭaka 93-I. Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Translation from the Chinese of Yijing’s account of his travels to India and Southeast Asia in the late 7th century. Contains many details about monastic culture.

    Find this resource:

  • Li Rongxi. Lives of Great Monks and Nuns. BDK English Tripiṭaka 76-III–VII. Berkeley, CA: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2002.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Includes translation from the Chinese of The Journey of the Eminent Monk Faxian, who went to India from 399 to 414 and returned with a cache of texts to translate. The first account of such a pilgrim that we know of. Mentions Mahayana cult practice dedicated to the bodhisattvas Mañjuśrī and Avalokiteśvara.

    Find this resource:

  • Regamey, Constantin. “Motifs vichnouites et śivaïtes dans le Kāraṇḍavyūha.” In Études tibétaines dédiées à la mémoire de Marcelle Lalou. Edited by Marcelle Lalou, 411–432. Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1971.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of a late Mahayana text dedicated to glorifying the cult of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, which Regamey argues draws from the mythology associated with Hindu deities.

    Find this resource:

Transmission Outside of India

While it took at least half a millennium for Mahayana Buddhism to establish itself successfully within mainstream Indian monastic culture, it was much more successful implanting itself quickly outside of India, starting with its transmission to Greater Gandhāra by the 1st century CE (Allon and Salomon 2010) and to China in the 2nd century CE (Zürcher 1959, Zürcher 1990, Tsukamoto 1985), followed by its transmission to Tibet in the 7th century (Snellgrove 1987, Kapstein 2000, Davidson 2005). In both of the latter cases the translation of Indian texts into the local language was central to the reception of Buddhism and the eventual emergence of native commentaries and new schools. The scholarship for the transmission and acculturation of Mahayana Buddhism in both China and Tibet is huge, as many of the scholastic and practical developments continue to the present day in traditions such as the Pure Land, Chan/Zen, and Gelugs pa, among others.

  • Allon, Mark, and Richard Salomon. “New Evidence for Mahayana in Early Gandhāra.” Eastern Buddhist 41.1 (2010): 1–22.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discussion of a very recently discovered manuscript remains in the kharoṣṭhī script and in the Gāndhārī language of early Mahayana sutras found in northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan.

    Find this resource:

  • Davidson, Ronald M. Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces emergence of an organized and systematized Tibetan Buddhism through the early period of translation and assimilation of Indian texts.

    Find this resource:

  • Kapstein, Matthew T. The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism: Conversion, Contestation, and Memory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Superb study of the ways Buddhism infiltrated Tibetan culture with particular attention to the social and political dimensions of the process. Includes discussion of mythic strategies of legitimation and contributions from non-Indic (particularly Chinese) sources as well.

    Find this resource:

  • Snellgrove, David. Indo-Tibetan Buddhism: Indian Buddhists and Their Tibetan Successors. 2 vols. Boston: Shambala, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study of the later phases of Indian Buddhism, the rise of the Mahayana and tantric traditions, and their transmission to Tibet beginning in the 7th century.

    Find this resource:

  • Tsukamoto Zenryū. A History of Early Chinese Buddhism: From Its Introduction to the Death of Hui-yüan. 2 vols. Translated by Leon Hurvitz. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1985.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Massive study of the first four centuries of the transmission to and assimilation within China of Buddhism with emphasis on the translators and their teams.

    Find this resource:

  • Zürcher, Erik. The Buddhist Conquest of China: The Spread and Adaptation of Buddhism in Early Medieval China. 2 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1959.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The most authoritative study of the transmission of Buddhism to China during the first four centuries of the Common Era. Third edition with new forward and bibliographic supplement by Stephen F. Teiser was published in 2007.

    Find this resource:

  • Zürcher, Erik. “Han Buddhism and the Western Regions.” In Thought and Law in Qin and Han China: Studies Dedicated to Anthony Hulsewé on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday. Edited by W. L. Idema and E. Zürcher, 158–182. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1990.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the spread of Buddhism from India to China was not a gradual process of contact diffusion but a long-distance transmission necessitated by the lack of economic resources in the intermediate zone of the Tarim Basin that would have made possible the implantation of Buddhism during the earliest phase of its transmission to the east.

    Find this resource:

LAST MODIFIED: 08/26/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195393521-0018

back to top

Article

Up

Down