Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations

By Reginald A. Ray | Go to book overview
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alternatives--attempting to provide definitive answers to the large questions (as earlier scholars tried to do) and abandoning these questions as unanswerable (the prevailing trend)--students of Buddhism have missed a third and much more interesting and promising alternative. This is to acknowledge the essential importance of the large questions to our understanding of Buddhism and therefore the ongoing need to reflect upon and debate them, but to carry out that reflection and debate with an appreciation that they likely will remain beyond the reach of our individual or collective minds to resolve in any final sense.

This introduction contains a general orientation to this study in the main body of the text and a discussion of bibliographic and other more technical matters in the notes.
That is, the sects (nikāya) of the "eighteen schools," what is usually but infelicitously termed "pre-Mahāyāna" (there is uncertainty as to when the Mahāyāna originated and what, within these schools, historically precedes the Mahāyāna) or "Hīnayīna Buddhism" (a term of Mahāyānist deprecation, at best referring to a very limited number of phenomena within the historical Nikāya schools).
As we shall see, each of these types in turn has its subtypes. For example, buddhas include not only Śākyamuni Buddha but also buddhas of the past and future and, in the Mahāyāna, celestial buddhas presently presiding over different buddha fields (buddhakṣetra) throughout space. The pratyekabuddhas, or "solitary buddhas," are found, according to tradition, as one or the other of two major subtypes, living alone or in groups. To the type of the arhant belong saints of two, three, five, or more subtypes. The bodhisattvas likewise include beings of different sorts: those who are human and those who have transcended the human sphere; those who live in cities, those who live in forests, and monastics. And the siddhas also include a variety of types of Tantric saint, including wandering yogins, monks, and laypeople.
The intention behind this study is to identify what Joachim Wach defined as "ideal types"(see 1951)--in the present context, the Buddhist saint or one of the subtypes (buddha, pratyekabuddha, etc.). These forms are not inert phenomena but rather formulations of identity that were, presumably, taken on by certain people and, at the same time, experienced and understood as such by ancient Indian society.

One may seek ideal types on a potentially infinite number of levels of generality. For example, this study seeks, on the most general level, the ideal type of the Buddhist saint, more specifically of buddhas, pratyekabuddhas, arhants, and bodhisattvas, and more specifically still, of subcategories of these types of saint. Any given ideal type, such as those dealt with here, are arrived at through a dialectical interaction of three levels of analysis. First, one identifies and analyzes the various images of the saint in question in the texts. Second, one seeks to interpret the significance of what one finds. Third, one attempts to arrive at a valid picture of the saint, focusing on that inner logic and meaning that defines the saint as a type.

a. From an examination of the evidence one compiles an inventory of elements of the saint, a kind of statistical picture detailing the features that are contained by all, most, some, or only a few saints of the type one is seeking. This picture reveals no more than how the texts explicitly represent the type.
b. In the second level of analysis, one attempts to put together the various images of the type into a coherent picture. This level requires arriving at an understanding of the significance of the


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