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 VIII
On the Buddha and His Bones The Conception of a Relic in the Inscriptions of Nāgārjunikoṇḍa

NāGāRJUNIKOṆḌA, WHICH LIES NOW at the bottom of a man-made lake, was a rich source not only of Buddhist and Hindu archaeological and art historical remains, but also of inscriptions. It has proved to be, as a consequence, an equally rich source of conundrums and a well-watered ground for speculation. There has been a persistent series of attempts, for example, to see elements of the Mahāyāna in the early phases of Nāgārjunikoṇḍaa, in spite of the fact that there is no actual epigraphical or art-historical evidence for this movement anywhere in the Andhra area prior to the f ifth or sixth centuries C.E., and in spite of the fact that what epigraphical and art-historical evidence we actually have richly documents the presence there of non-Māhāyana groups.1

The inscriptions from Nāgārjunikoṇḍaa are difficult. They are difficult because of "the want of precision of which they show ample evidence." Vogel has noted that, "considering that these inscriptions were meant to be perpetual records of pious donations made by ladies of royal blood, the careless manner in which they have been recorded is astonishing."2 They are also difficult because they are, in many ways, atypical. They contain a number of phrases and formulae not found elsewhere in Indian Buddhist inscriptions so that we do not have, in many cases, parallels to assist us.3 This difficulty is offset in part by the fact that these inscriptions tend to be highly repetitive; there are frequently numerous "copies" of the same basic inscription. I would like here to look at one of these atypical phrases that has important implications for Buddhist doctrinal history and to exploit the advantage that the existence of multiple copies presents us with.

Most of the pillar inscriptions connected with the Mahācetiya4 are structured

Originally published in Journal of the American Oriental Society 108 ( 1988):527-537. Reprinted with stylistic changes with permission of American Oriental Society.

-148-

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