Bones, Stones, and Buddhist Monks: Collected Papers on the Archaeology, Epigraphy, and Texts of Monastic Buddhism in India

By Gregory Schopen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
Monks and the Relic Cult in the Mahāparinibbāna-sutta
An Old Misunderstanding in Regard to Monastic Buddhism

IT IS ALMOST always instructive to look at the actual evidence for what are taken to be established facts in the history of Indian Buddhism. If nothing else, such an exercise makes it painfully obvious that most of those established facts totter precariously on very fragile foundations. One example only will concern us here.

It is--and has been--consistently asserted that there was in early Buddhism a fundamental difference between the religious activities of monks and the religious activities of lay persons, especially in regard to worship and participation in cult. Moreover, this fundamental difference is said to distinguish not only the religious lives of monks from the religious lives of lay persons in early Buddhism, it is also said to distinguish the Mahāyāna monk from his non- Mahāyāna coreligionists. All of this is, of course, asserted as fact, and far-reaching implications are made to follow from it. But this so-called fact--as I have pointed out several times now--stands in jarring contrast to everything we know from Indian epigraphy and archaeology.1 It is, indeed, the accumulating weight of this epigraphical and archaeological material that, in the first instance, forces us to reexamine the evidence on which the fact of this asserted difference is founded. That evidence--not surprisingly given the history of Buddhist Studies--turns out to be exclusively literary. But it is not just exclusively literary evidence on which this fact rests: it rests entirely, it seems, on a less-than-careful

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