On Monks, Nuns, and "Vulgar" Practices The Introduction of the Image Cult into Indian Buddhism
THERE IS A CURIOUS consistency in the way in which major doctrinal changes and innovations in the history of Indian Buddhism have been explained. Some variant of a single explanatory model has been used to account for such diverse phenomena as the initial split within the Buddhist community that produced the Mahāsāṅghika and the beginnings of Buddhist sectarianism, the appearance and growth of relic worship and the stūpa cult, and the appearance of the Mahāyāna, "celestial bodhisattvas," the cult of images, and Buddhist tantric practices. The same model has been used, as well, to account for the disappearance of Buddhism from India.
It is equally curious that we owe the most recent and perhaps most clearly articulated statement of this model to a classicist working in "late antiquity." Brown, in talking about the rise of the cult of the saints in Latin Christianity, speaks of "a particular model of the nature and origin of the religious sentiment," which he calls the " 'two-tiered' model." In this model:
The views of the potentially enlightened few are thought of as being subject to continuous upward pressure from habitual ways of thinking current among "the vulgar" . . .
When applied to the nature of religious change in late antiquity, the "twotiered" model encourages the historian to assume that a change in the piety of late-antique men, of the kind associated with the rise of the cult of saints, must have been the result of the capitulation by the enlightened elites of the Christian church to modes of thought previously current only
Originally published in Artibus Asiae 49:1-2 ( 1988- 1989): 153-168. Reprinted with stylistic changes with permission of Artibus Asiae.