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Mahāyāna sūtras are a very broad genre of Buddhist scriptures of which the Mahayana Buddhist tradition claim that they are original teachings of the Buddha. The Theravada and the other Early Buddhist Schools claim that the Mahayana Sutras are later compositions, not taught by the Buddha.

Historicity and Background

Place in the Canon

Various Mahayana Sutras have been included in the Tibetan Canon and the Chinese Canon. Although similar, these two canons differ in the sutras they include.

The Mahayana sutras are not included nor mentioned in the Agamas and the Sutta Pitaka, which represent the oldest stratum of Buddhist scriptures, which some scholars claim[1][2] are linked historically to Gautama Buddha.

Composition and Origin

Generally, scholars conclude that the Mahayana scriptures were composed from the first century CE onwards[3], five centuries after the historical Gautama Buddha, with some of them having their roots in other scriptures, composed in the first century BCE. But it took until after the 5th century CE before the Mahayana Sutras started to influence the actual behavior of mainstream Buddhists in India.[4]

The commonly expressed misconception that Mahayana started as a lay-inspired movement[5] is based on a selective reading of a very tiny sample of extant Mahayana Sutra literature[6]. Currently scholars have moved away from this limited corpus of literature, and have started to open up early Mahayana literature which is very ascetic and expounds the ideal of the monks' life in the forest.[7] A scholarly consensus about the origin of the Mahayana has not yet been reached, but it has been suggested that when Mahayana became popular in the fifth century AD, it had become what it originally most strongly objected to: a fully landed, sedentary, lay-oriented monastic institution[8]. Before that, the Mahayana movement may well have been either a marginalized ascetic group of monks living in the forest, or a group of conservatives embedded in mainstream, socially engaged early Buddhist monasteries[9].

Some scholars contend that the Mahayana sutras were mainly composed in the south[10] of India, and that later the activity of writing additional scriptures was continued in the east[11] and north[12] of India.

Most of the Mahayana Sutras kept evolving over the course of many centuries, from the 2nd century AD up until the 11th century AD when India was conquered by Muslim armies, and many Buddhist monks were murdered. In these 10 centuries additional information was added to and removed from the Mahayana Sutras, and new Mahayana Sutras were written as the need for them was felt. As a result of this, many different versions exist of the same Mahayana Sutras. These different versions of the same sutras display a large variety in content and length (for example: the lotus sutra and the prajnaparamita sutra have both extremely short and extremely long versions).

Scholars' opinion on historicity

Scholar Andrew Skilton summarizes the prevailing view of the Mahāyāna sutras:

These texts are considered by Mahāyāna tradition to be buddhavacana, and therefore the legitimate word of the historical Buddha. The śrāvaka tradition, according to some Mahāyāna sutras themselves, rejected these texts as authentic buddhavacana, saying that they were merely inventions, the product of the religious imagination of the Mahāyānist monks who were their fellows. Western scholarship does not go so far as to impugn the religious authority of Mahāyāna sutras, but it tends to assume that they are not the literal word of the historical Śākyamuni Buddha. Unlike the śrāvaka critics just cited, we have no possibility of knowing just who composed and compiled these texts, and for us, removed from the time of their authors by up to two millenia, they are effectively an anonymous literature. It is widely accepted that Mahāyāna sutras constitute a body of literature that began to appear from as early as the 1st century BCE, although the evidence for this date is circumstantial. The concrete evidence for dating any part of this literature is to be found in dated Chinese translations, amongst which we find a body of ten Mahāyāna sutras translated by Lokaksema before 186 C.E. – and these constitute our earliest objectively dated Mahāyāna texts. This picture may be qualified by the analysis of very early manuscripts recently coming out of Afghanistan, but for the meantime this is speculation. In effect we have a vast body of anonymous but relatively coherent literature, of which individual items can only be dated firmly when they were translated into another language at a known date.[13]

Thus, the accounts of the texts specific to the Mahayana school (the Mahayana Sutras) are seen by scholars to not represent a true historic account of the life of the Buddha.[14] The traditional account of why these accounts are not preserved in the older Tripitaka texts (the Pali Canon and the Agamas) of Early Buddhism asserts that the Mahayana teachings were given to, and preserved by, beings in other realms (either supernatural beings or Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on other planes of being). The teachings were not generally taught in this realm due to the fact that most of the Buddha's early disciples were not at an advanced enough spiritual level to understand them.[15]. The scholar A. K. Warder gives the following reasons for not accepting the Mahayana Sutras as giving a historical account of events in the life of Gautama Buddha[16]:

  1. It is a curious aspersion on the powers of the Buddha that he failed to do what others were able to accomplish 600 years later.
  2. Linguistically and stylistically the Mahayana texts belong to a later stratum of Indian literature than the Tripitaka known to the early schools.
  3. Everything about early Buddhism, and even the Mahayana itself (with the exception of the Mantrayana), suggests that it was a teaching not meant to be kept secret but intended to be published to all the world, to spread enlightenment.
  4. We are on safe ground only with those texts the authenticity of which is admitted by all schools of Buddhism (including the Mahayana, who admit the authenticity of the early canons as well as their own texts), not with texts accepted only by certain schools.
  5. Mahayana developed gradually out of one, or a group, of the eighteen early schools, and originally it took its stand not primarily on any new texts but on its own interpretations of the universally recognised Tripitaka.

The scholar John W. Pettit, while agreeing that "Mahayana has not got a strong historical claim for representing the explicit teachings of the historical Buddha", also argues that the basic concepts of Mahayana do occur in the Pali Canon and that this suggests that Mahayana is "not simply an accretion of fabricated doctrines" but "has a strong connection with the teachings of Buddha himself".[17].

A striking example of the differences between the Mahayana literature and at least some of the Pali/agama literature is seen in a comparison of two different texts with the same title: the Mahaparinibbana Sutta of the Pali Canon (referred to here by its Pali title) and the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra (referred to by its Sanskrit title):

  • The Pali Mahaparinibbana Sutta is biographical; it gives an account of the events surrounding the end of the Buddha's life, of which scholars have said that it displays attention to detail and has been resorted to as the principal source of reference in most standard studies of the Buddha's life[18].
  • The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra takes the events of the last period of the Buddha's life, and uses them as a setting for an extended religious discourse[18]. It displays a disregard for historic particulars and a fascination with the supernatural.[18].

It should be noted that the weak claim to historicity that the Mahayana Sutras hold, doesn't mean that all scholars believe that the Pali Canon is historical; some scholars believe that it is not[19][20][21].

Beliefs of Buddhists

Early Buddhist Tradition on the Origin of the Mahayana Sutras

The various early Buddhist schools (including Theravada) declared the Mahayana sutras to be heretical, saying they are late compositions which were never proclaimed by the historical Buddha. They claimed that Mahayana sutras contain various untruths and falsifications, and therefore do not represent the life and teachings of the historical Gautama Buddha[22].

That the members of the Early Schools felt this way is also evident in some early Mahayana Sutras, in which "disbelieving" members of the Early schools are condemned for their rejection of the Mahayana Sutras as authentic teaching of the Buddha[23].

Mahayana Tradition on the Origin of the Mahayana Sutras

Mahayana Buddhists traditionally believe that the Mahayana sutras, with the possible exception of those with an explicitly Chinese provenance, are an authentic account of the life and teachings of the Buddha. These sutras form the basis of the various Mahayana schools, and devotees of Mahayana Buddhism accept them as transmitting the genuine doctrines of Gautama Buddha.

Mahayana Buddhists believe the Mahayana Sutras present the more profound teachings of the Buddha and the path he revealed (Buddhadharma). Mahayana Buddhists accept both the older sutras from the Tipitaka as well as the new Mahayana sutras as original teachings, even though they generally do not study the teachings of the older sutras well since the Mahayana Sutras teach that the older sutras are incomplete.

The traditional telling about the transmission of the Mahayana sutras claims that many parts were actually written down at the time of the Buddha and stored for five hundred years in the realm of the nagas (serpent like supernatural beings who dwell in another plane of being). The reason given for the late disclosure of the Mahayana teachings is that most people were initially unable to understand the Mahayana sutras at the time of the Buddha (500 BCE) and suitable recipients for these teachings had still to arise amongst humankind[24].

One Mahayana tradition holds (based on the Sandhinirmocana Sutra) that Gautama Buddha's teachings may be divided into three general hierarchical categories, known as the "three turnings of the wheel of dharma" – the Hinayana turning, and two Mahayana turnings: the Prajna Paramita (Perfection of Wisdom), and Yogacara. The Mahayana Sutras would thus belong to the two later turnings, and not form part of the 'Hinayana' turning.

The Japanese scholar-monk D.T. Suzuki states that it doesn't matter if the Mahayana Sutras can be historically linked to the Buddha or not, since Mahayana is a living tradition and its teachings are followed by millions of people.[25]

Other teachers take the view that all teachings that stem from the fundamental insights of Gautama Buddha constitute Buddhavacana (the Buddha's speech), whether they are explicitly the historical words of the Buddha or not. There are scriptural supports for this perspective even in the Pali Canon. There the Buddha is asked how the disciples should verify, after his death, which of the teachings circulating are his. In the Mahaparinibanna Sutta (DN 16) the Buddha is quoted as saying: "There is the case where a bhikkhu says this: 'In the Blessed One's presence have I heard this, in the Blessed One's presence have I received this: This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher's instruction.' His statement is neither to be approved nor scorned. Without approval or scorn, take careful note of his words and make them stand against the Suttas (discourses)and tally them against the Vinaya (monastic rules). If, on making them stand against the Suttas and tallying them against the Vinaya, you find that they don't stand with the Suttas or tally with the Vinaya, you may conclude: 'This is not the word of the Blessed One; this bhikkhu has misunderstood it' — and you should reject it. But if... they stand with the Suttas and tally with the Vinaya, you may conclude: 'This is the word of the Blessed One; this bhikkhu has understood it rightly.'"

The Pali Canon itself is a reconstruction of the Buddha's life, composed and organized to be easily chanted and transmitted orally, not to be a word for word record of what the Buddha said. The Pali contains a fair amount of "supernatural" and hagiographical material, and was finalized centuries after the Buddha's death. On this basis it is arguable that the "fictional" aspect of the Pali Canon versus the Mahayana scriptures is a matter of degree, and the true criteria of what counts as the Buddha's word is as said above in the Mahaparinibbana sutta: those teachings that are deemed by the inquirer to be consistent with the intention and content of the earliest records.

Nature of the Mahayana Sutras

Diversity

The teachings as contained in the Mahayana Sutras as a whole have been described as a loosely bound bundle of many teachings, which was able to contain the various contradictions between the varying teachings it comprises[26]. Because of these contradictory elements, there are very few things which can be said with certainty about Mahayana Buddhism[27][28].

Polemical

Part of many Mahayana Sutras contains a polemical section of varying length, criticizing either the earlier doctrine of the "Hinayana" for being limited or its followers for being unable to understand or accept the Mahayana teachings due to fear, arrogance, or ignorance.

Collections of Mahayana Sutras

The Mahayana Sutras survive predominantly in primary translations in Chinese and Tibetan from original texts in Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit or various Prakrits. From these Chinese and Tibetan texts, secondary translations were also made into Mongolian, Korean, Japanese and Sogdian.

Mahayana Canon

Although there is no definitive Mahayana canon as such, the printed or manuscript collections in Chinese and Tibetan, published through the ages, have preserved the majority of known Mahayana sutras. Many parallel translations of certain sutras exist. A handful of them, such as the Prajñāpāramitā sutras like Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra, are considered fundamental by most Mahayana traditions.

The standard modern edition of the Buddhist Chinese canon is the Taisho Tripitaka, redacted during the 1920s in Japan, consisting of eighty-five volumes of writings which, in addition to numerous Mahayana texts, both canonical and not, also include Agama collections, several versions of the Vinaya, Abhidharma and Tantric writings. The first thirty-two volumes contain works of Indic origin, volumes thirty-three to fifty-five contain works of native Chinese origin, volumes fifty-six to eighty-four contain works of Japanese composition. the eighty-fifth volume contains miscellaneous items including works found at Dunhuang. A number of apocryphal sutras composed in China are also included in the Chinese Buddhist Canon, although the spurious nature of many more was recognized, thus preventing their inclusion into the canon. The Sanskrit originals of many Mahayana texts have not survived to this day, although Sanskrit versions of the majority of the major Mahayana sutras have survived.

Divisions

Mahayana sutras are divided into a number of traditions. Some, like the Prajñāpāramitā sutras, are almost completely philosopical in nature. Others are texts based on lives of Bodhisattvas and Buddhas outlining their vows for sentient salvations, or are made for the benefits of suffering beings. The later two classes usually contains specific dharana and mantras.

List of some Mahayana Sutras

In the Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon [1] they have a list of 74 sutras, appart from stotras, sastras and tantras, and even if almost more of them are Mahāyāna Sutras, there are also some vinaya sutras, regarding monastic rules, belonging to other extinct schools like Mahāsānghikā and Sarvāstivāda, and of some specific Mahāyāna schools, like Madhyamaka.

Brief descriptions of some Sutras

Proto-Mahayana Sutras

Early in the 20th Century, a cache of texts was found in a mound near Gilgit in Pakistan. Amongst them was the Ajitasena Sutra. The Ajitasena Sutra appears to be a mixture of Mahayana and pre-Mahayana ideas. It occurs in a world where monasticism is the norm, which is typical of the Pali Suttas; there is none of the usual antagonism towards the Shravakas (also called the Hinayana) or the notion of Arahantship, which is typical of Mahayana Sutras such as the White Lotus, or Vimalakirti Nirdesha. However, the sutra also has an Arahant seeing all the Buddha fields, it is said that reciting the name of the sutra will save beings from suffering and the hell realms, and a meditative practice is described which allows the practitioner to see with the eyes of a Buddha, and to receive teachings from them that are very much typical of Mahayana Sutras.

Perfection of Wisdom Texts

These deal with prajñā (wisdom or insight). Wisdom in this context means the ability to see reality as it truly is. They do not contain an elaborate philosophical argument, but simply try to point to the true nature of reality, especially through the use of paradox. The basic premise is a radical non-dualism, in which every and any dichotomist way of seeing things is denied: so phenomena are neither existent, nor non-existent, but are marked by sunyata, emptiness, an absence of any essential unchanging nature. The Perfection of Wisdom in One Letter illustrates this approach by choosing to represent the perfection of prajñā with the Sanskrit/Pali short a vowel ("अ", IPA: [[WP:IPA|[[[schwa|[ə]]]]]]) -- which, as a prefix, negates a word's meaning (e.g., changing svabhava to asvabhava, "with essence" to "without essence"; cf. mu); which is the first letter of Indic alphabets; and which, as a sound on its own, can be seen as the most neutral/basic of speech sounds (cf Aum and bija).

Many sutras are known by the number of lines, or slokas, that they contained.

Edward Conze, who translated all of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras into English, identified four periods of development in this literature:

  1. 100BCE-100CE: Ratnagunasamcayagatha and the Astasaharika (8,000 lines)
  2. 100-300CE: a period of elaboration in which versions in 18,000, 25,000, and 100,000 lines are produced. Possibly also the Diamond Sutra
  3. 300-500CE : a period of condensation, producing the well known Heart Sutra, and the Perfection of Wisdom in one letter
  4. 500-1000CE : texts from this period begin to show a tantric influence

The Perfection of Wisdom texts have influenced every Mahayana school of Buddhism.

Saddharma-pundarika

Also called the Lotus Sutra, White Lotus Sutra, Sutra of the White Lotus, or Sutra on the White Lotus of the Sublime Dharma; Sanskrit: Saddharmapundarīka-sūtra; 妙法蓮華經 Cn: Miàofǎ Liánhuā Jīng; Jp: Myōhō Renge Kyō. Probably composed in the period 100 bce100 ce, the White Lotus proposes that the three yanas (Shravakayana, Pratyekabuddhayana, and Bodhisattvayana) are not in fact three different paths leading to three goals, but one path, with one goal. The earlier teachings are said to be 'skilful means' in order to help beings of limited capacities. Notable for the (re)appearance of the Buddha Prabhutaratna, who had died several aeons earlier, because it suggests that a Buddha is not inaccessible after his parinirvana, and also that his life-span is said to be inconceivably long because of the accumulation of merit in past lives. This idea, though not necessarily from this source, forms the basis of the later Trikaya doctrine. Later associated particularly with the Tien Tai in China (Tendai in Japan) school and the Nichiren schools in Japan.

The earliest scripture that mentions the word "Mahayana" is the Lotus Sutra.

Pure Land Sutras

There are three major sutras that fall into this category: the Infinite Life Sutra, also known as the Larger Pure Land Sutra; the Amitabha Sutra, also known as the Smaller Pure Land Sutra; and the Contemplation Sutra, or Visualization, Sutra. These texts describe the origins and nature of the Western Pure Land in which the Buddha Amitabha resides. They list the forty-eight vows made by Amitabha as a bodhisattva by which he undertook to build a Pure Land where beings are able to practise the Dharma without difficulty or distraction. The sutras state that beings can be reborn there by pure conduct and by practices such as thinking continuously of Amitabha, praising him, recounting his virtues, and chanting his name. These Pure Land sutras and the practices they recommend became the foundations of Pure Land Buddhism, which focus on the salvific power of faith in the vows of Amitabha.

The Vimalakirti Nirdesha Sutra

Composed some time before 150CE., the Bodhisattva Vimalakirti appears in the guise of a layman in order to teach the Dharma. Seen by some as a strong assertion of the value of lay practice. Doctrinally similar to the Perfection of Wisdom texts, another major theme is the Buddhafield (Buddha-kshetra), which was influential on Pure Land schools. Very popular in China and Japan where it was seen as being compatible with Confucian values.

Samadhi Sutras

Amongst the very earliest Mahayana texts, the Samadhi Sutras are a collection of sutras which focus on the attainment of profound states of consciousness reached in meditation, perhaps suggesting that meditation played an important role in early Mahayana. Includes the Pratyutpanna Sutra, Samadhiraja-Sutra and the Shurangama Samadhi Sutra.

Confession Sutras

The Triskandha Sutra, and the Suvarnaprabhasa Sutra (or Golden Light Sutra), which focus on the practice of confession of faults. The Golden Light Sutra became especially influential in Japan, where one of its chapters (on the Universal Sovereign) was used by the Japanese emperors to legitimise their rule, and it provided a model for a well-run state.

The Avatamsaka Sutra

A large composite text consisting of several parts, most notably the Dasabhumika Sutra and the Gandavyuha Sutra. Probably reached its current form by about the 4th Century CE, although parts of it such as those mentioned above, are thought to date from the 1st or 2nd century CE. The Gandavyuha sutra is thought to be the source of a cult of Vairocana that later gave rise to the Mahavairocana-abhisambodhi tantra, which became one of two central texts in Shingon Buddhism, and is included in the Tibetan canon as a carya class tantra. The Avatamsaka Sutra became the central text for the Hua-yen (Jp. Kegon) school of Buddhism, the most important doctrine of which is the interpenetration of all phenomena.

Third Turning Sutras

Sutras which primarily teach the doctrine of vijnapti-matra or 'representation-only', associated with the Yogacara school. The Sandhinirmocana Sutra (c 2nd Century CE) is the earliest surviving sutra in this class. This sutra divides the teachings of the Buddha into three classes, which it calls the "Three Turnings of the Wheel of the Dharma." To the first turning, it ascribes the Agamas of the Shravakas, to the second turning the lower Mahayana sutras including the Prajna-paramita Sutras, and finally sutras like itself are deemed to comprise the third turning. Moreover, the first two turnings are considered, in this system of classification, to be provisional while the third group is said to present the final truth without a need for further explication (nitartha). The well-known Lankavatara Sutra, composed sometime around the 4th Century CE, is sometimes included in this group, although it should be noted that it is somewhat syncretic in nature, combining pure Yogacara doctrines with those of the tathagata-garbha system, and was unknown or ignored by the progenitors of the Yogacara system. The Lankavatara Sutra was influential in the Chan or Zen schools.

Tathagatagarbha Class Sutras

Especially the Tathagatagarbha Sutra, the Shrīmālādevi-simhanāda Sūtra (Srimala Sutra) and the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra (which is very different in character from the Pali Mahaparinibbana Sutta). These texts teach that every being has a Tathagatagarbha: variously translated as Buddha nature, Buddha seed, Buddha matrix. It is this Buddha nature, Buddha Essence or Buddha Principle, this aspect of every being which is itself an indwelling potency or element that enables beings to be liberated. One of the most important responses of Buddhism to the problem of immanence and transcendence. The Tathagatagarbha doctrine was very influential in East Asian Buddhism, and the idea in one form or another can be found in most of its schools. The Buddha in these sutras insists that the doctrine of the Tathagatagarbha is ultimate and definitive (nitartha) - not in need of "interpretation" - and that it takes the Dharma to the next and final, clarifying step regarding the Emptiness (shunyata) teachings.

Collected Sutras

Two very large sutras which are again actually collections of other sutras. The Mahāratnakūta Sūtra contains 49 individual works, and the Mahāsamnipāta Sūtra is a collection of 17 shorter works. Both seem to have been finalised by about the 5th century, although some parts of them are considerably older.

Transmigration Sutras

A number of sutras which focus on the actions that lead to existence in the various spheres of existence, or which expound the doctrine of the twelve links of pratitya-samutpada or dependent-origination.

Discipline Sutras

Sutras which focus on the principles which guide the behaviour of Bodhisattvas. Including the Kāshyapa-parivarta, the Bodhisattva-prātimoksa Sūtra, and the Brahmajāla Sūtra.

Sutras devoted to individual figures

A large number of sutras which describe the nature and virtues of a particular Buddha or Bodhisattva and/or their Pure Land, including Mañjusri, Ksitigarbha, the Buddha Akshobhya, and Bhaishajyaguru also known as the Medicine Buddha.

Vaipūlya Sūtras devoted to all Tathāgatas

The most widely used (in liturgy) of these is the Bhadra-kalpika Sūtra, available in various languages (Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, etc.) in variants which differ (very slightly) as to the number of Tathāgatas enumerated. (The Khotanese version, e.g., is the proponent of a 1005-Tathāgata system.) There is a use in the Shingon school a sūtra naming some 10,000 Tathāgatas, distinguishing the longer-lived (after enlightenment) ones (the same as in the approximately 1,000 in the Bhadra-kalpika) as "Sun-Buddhas", and the shorter-lived ones as "Moon-Buddhas".

Authentication

In 1995, Donald Lopez published a paper which addresses the issue of its orality, as opposed to its authority [29].

See also

References

  • Bareau, André, Recherches sur la biographie du Buddha... les derniers mois, le parinirvana et les funérailles, PEFEO, vol. LXXVII, 2 vol, Paris, 1970 et 1971
  • Bareau, André, Les récits canoniques des funérailles du Buddha et leurs anomalies : nouvel essai d'interprétation, BEFEO, t. LXII, Paris, 1975, pp. 151-189.
  • Bareau, André, La composition et les étapes de la formation progressive du Mahaparinirvanasutra ancien, BEFEO, t. LXVI, Paris, 1979, pp. 45-103.
  • Nakamura, Hajime. 1980. Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Bibliographical Notes. 1st edition: Japan, 1980. 1st Indian Edition: Delhi, 1987. ISBN 81-208-0272-1
  • Warder, A. K. Indian Buddhism. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi. 3rd revised edition: 1999.
  • Dutt, Nalinaksha. Buddhist Sects in India, Motilal Banararsidass, Delhi, 2nd Edition, 1978
  • Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Macmillan, 2004.

Notes

  1. While parts of the Pali Canon clearly originated after the time of the Buddha, much must derive from his teaching. Harvey, Peter (1990). An Introduction to Buddhism. pp. 3. 
  2. I am saying that there was a person called the Buddha, that the preachings probably go back to him individually... that we can learn more about what he meant, and that he was saying some very precise things. Gregory, Kathleen. "Interview with Professor Richard Gombrich". http://www.ordinarymind.net/Interviews/interview_jan2003.htm. Retrieved 2008-10-03. 
  3. large numbers of Mahayana sutras were being composed in the period between the beginning of the common era and the fifth century. MacMillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004, page 494
  4. But outside of texts, at least in India, at exactly the same period, very different — in fact seemingly older — ideas and aspirations appear to be motivating actual behavior, and old and established Hinnayana groups appear to be the only ones that are patronized and supported. MacMillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004, page 494
  5. One of the most frequent assertions about the Mahayana ... is that it was a lay-influenced, or even lay-inspired and dominated, movement that arose in response to the increasingly closed, cold, and scholastic character of monastic Buddhism. This, however, now appears to be wrong on all counts. MacMillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004, page 494
  6. MacMillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004, page 494
  7. As scholars have moved away from this limited corpus, and have begun to explore a wider range of Mahayana Sutras, they have stumbled on, and have started to open up, a literature that is often stridently ascetic and heavily engaged in reinventing the forest ideal, an individualistic, antisocial, ascetic ideal that is encapsulated in the apparently resurrected image of “wandering alone like a rhinoceros.” MacMillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004, page 494
  8. At this point we can only postulate that the Maha�ya�na may have had a visible impact in India only when, in the fifth century, it had become what it had originally most strongly objected to: a fully landed, sedentary, lay-oriented monastic institution
  9. either a collection of marginalized ascetic groups living in the forest, or groups of cantankerous and malcontent conservatives embedded in mainstream, socially engaged monasteries, all of whom continued pouring out pamphlets espousing their views and values, pamphlets that we now know as Mahayana Sutras. We simply do not know. MacMillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004, page 494 and 495
  10. ‘The south (of India) was then vigorously creative in producing Mahayana Sutras’ – AK Warder, Indian Buddhism, 3rd edition, 1999, p. 335.
  11. Mahayanism in all probability germinated in the south, where the offshoots of the Mahasanghikas had their centres of activities, but where it appeared more developed was a place somewhere in the eastern part of India, a place where the Sarvastivadins were predominant.' Buddhist Sects in India, Nalinaksha Dutt, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Delhi), 2nd Edition, 1978, p. 243)
  12. ‘The sudden appearance of large numbers of (Mahayana) teachers and texts (in North India in the second century AD) would seem to require some previous preparation and development, and this we can look for in the South.’ AK Warder, Indian Buddhism, 3rd edition, 1999 p. 335.
  13. Skilton, Andrew T. (1999). "Dating the Samadhiraja Sutra." Journal of Indian Philosophy. Vol. 27, Number 6, December 1999, pg 635
  14. With the best will in the world we cannot accept this or similar accounts as historical facts. – A.K. Warder, Indian Buddhism, 3rd edition, 1999, page 4
  15. Some of our sources maintain the authenticity of certain other texts not found in the canons of these schools (the early schools). These texts are those held genuine by the later school, not one of the eighteen, which arrogated to itself the title of Mahayana, 'Great Vehicle '. According to the Mahayana historians these texts were admittedly unknown to the early schools of Buddhists, but many had been been promulgated by the Buddha. [The Buddha’s] followers on earth, the sravakas ('pupils'), had not been sufficiently advanced to understand them, and hence were not given them to remember, but they were taught to various supernatural beings and then preserved in such places as the Dragon World. Indian Buddhism, 3rd edition, page 4
  16. Indian Buddhism, A.K. Warder, 3rd edition, page 4-5
  17. "Mahayana has not got a strong historical claim for representing the explicit teachings of the historical Buddha; its scriptures evince a gradual development of doctrines over several hundred years. However, the basic concepts of Mahayana, such as the bodhisattva ethic, emptiness (sunyata), and the recognition of a distinction between buddhahood and arhatship as spiritual ideals, are known from the earliest sources available in the Pali canon. This suggests that Mahayana was not simply an accretion of fabricated doctrines, as it is sometimes accused of being, but has a strong connection with the teachings of Buddha himself.". Mipham's Beacon of Certainty: Illuminating the View of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, by John W. Pettit. pg 44
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 The Doctrine of Buddha-nature in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, by Ming-Wood Liu, in: Buddhism: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, Paul Williams, Published by Taylor & Francis, 2005. page 190
  19. Bareau, André, Les récits canoniques des funérailles du Buddha et leurs anomalies : nouvel essai d'interprétation, BEFEO, t. LXII, Paris, 1975, pp.151-189.
  20. Bareau, André, La composition et les étapes de la formation progressive du Mahaparinirvanasutra ancien, BEFEO, t. LXVI, Paris, 1979, pp. 45-103.
  21. Shimoda, Masahiro, How has the Lotus Sutra Created Social Movements: The Relationship of the Lotus Sutra to the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, in A Buddhist Kaleidoscope, (pp320-22) Ed Gene Reves, Kosei 2002
  22. The early schools, wherever they were strongly established, adhered to the textual tradition of their Tripitaka and denounced the Mahayana sutras as fabrications, 'not the words of the Buddha'. AK Warder, Indian Buddhism, 3rd edition, p. 393.
  23. for example: "Thinking in this way, they deprecate these Sūtras. They reject them, condemn them, speak badly of them, and also engage in interpolation." Sandhi-nirmocana-sūtra, John Powers trans, Dharma Publishing 1995 (title: Wisdom of the Buddha), p125)
  24. ‘though the Buddha had taught them (the Mahayana Sutras) they were not in circulation in the world of men at all for many centuries, there being no competent teachers and no intelligent enough students: the sutras were however preserved in the Dragon World and other non-human circles, and when in the 2nd century AD adequate teachers suddenly appeared in India in large numbers the texts were fetched and circulated. ... However, it is clear that the historical tradition here recorded belongs to North India and for the most part to Nalanda (in Magadha)’– AK Warder, Indian Buddhism, 3rd edition, 1999
  25. D. T. Suzuki, Outline of Mahayana Buddhism, (London, 1907), page 15
  26. It has become increasingly clear that Mahayana Buddhism was never one thing, but rather, it seems, a loosely bound bundle of many, and — like Walt Whitman — was large and could contain, in both senses of the term, contradictions, or at least antipodal elements., Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004, page 492
  27. There are, it seems, very few things that can be said with certainty about Mahayana Buddhism, Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004, page 492
  28. But apart from the fact that it can be said with some certainty that the Buddhism embedded in China, Korea, Tibet, and Japan is Mahayana Buddhism, it is no longer clear what else can be said with certainty about Mahayana Buddhism itself, and especially about its earlier, and presumably formative, period in India., Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism, 2004, page 492
  29. Lopez, Donald S. (1995). "Authority and Orality in the Mahyna". Numen 42 (1): 21–47 (27). doi:10.1163/1568527952598800. 

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