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 XII
The Buddha as an Owner of Property and Permanent Resident in Medieval Indian Monasteries

PROBABLY ALL WOULD AGREE that understanding the way in which the person of the Buddha was understood is central to any attempt to characterize the Indian groups that came to coalesce around that person. In fact, understanding how that person was understood or perceived has, it appears, oftentimes determined how a great many other matters were understood. The old Anglo-German school of Pāli scholarship, for example, saw the Buddha as a kind of sweetly reasonable Victorian Gentleman. Such a view dominated not only the scholarly world, but as Almond has recently shown,1 the popular press of the day. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the "religion" attributed to him was understood as an orderly system of sweetly reasonable, rational Victorian ethics, a system that--significantly--was seen to carry an implicit "native" criticism of the actual, observable religions of nineteenth century India, and to point up their "decline."2

This view, like virtually every other one that followed it, was built up almost exclusively from a particular, if not peculiar, selected reading of literary sources. The later views, the views of the so-called Franco-Belgian school, in this regard at least differed not at all. They treated later sources, to be sure, but still literary sources only. They took seriously the works of the later Vasubandhu, of Asaṃga and Haribhadra--works of the early medieval and medieval periods. They determined, for example, that "the extreme Mahāyāna reduced the Buddha to two elements: . . . indescribable reality and the suprarational intuition of this reality"; that the Buddha was understood to have not one, but two, three, or--eventually-- four bodies, each thought of in ever-increasing abstract terms; that, finally, the real Buddha was thought to be "the Dharmakāya which has no flesh or blood or bones."3 In light of this understanding of the Buddha, the Buddhism of this period was understood as a collection of loosely connected, increasingly convo-

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Originally published in Journal of Indian Philosophy 18 ( 1990):181-217. Reprinted with stylistic changes with permission of Kluwer Academic Publishers.

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