The Buddhist Saints and the Stūpa
In the examination of the Buddha and other Buddhist saints in preceding chapters, attention has been focused upon the living saints, as defined by their hagiographies, ascetic traditions, and cults. However, for most Indian Buddhists, the saints while alive probably provided a less frequent reference point for religious devotion than when they had passed away and were venerated in their stūpas. This is because while they were alive, the saints may often have been relatively inaccessible: they spent much of their time in seclusion in remote places. Moreover, they typically had no fixed abode but wandered from place to place without definite itinerary, and their wandering could carry them to far-flung places. Thus the suppliant's longing to see and venerate the living saints must, by its very nature, have remained to some extent unfulfilled. But when the saints had passed beyond and their relics were enshrined in stūpas, they finally became available to all and could become the objects of an ongoing cult. It is perhaps for this reason that within a few centuries of the Buddha's passing stūpas were to be found throughout the Indian subcontinent, becoming for Buddhism "the religious edifice par excellence" ( Foucher 1905-22, 1:59) and even "the chief emblem of the Buddhist faith" ( Mitra 1971, 21).
In considering the place of the stūpa within the Indian Buddhist cult of saints, an immediate problem arises. So far in this book, the Buddha and the other Buddhist saints have been treated as belonging to an overarching category, that of the "Buddhist saint." What has been said about the general structure, hagiography, ascetic traditions, and cult of the Buddha has been found to apply, mutatis mutandis, to the other types of Buddhist saint. The stūpa, however, seems at first glance to provide an exception to this general pattern: the great preponderance of available evidence concerns stūpas of the Buddha. Is it not correct, then, to see the stūpa as primarily a reflection of the cult of Buddha Śākyamuni rather than as a typical feature of the cult of the Buddhist saints as such?
A wide range of evidence, some of which will be cited below, suggests that stūpas are as characteristic of the other Indian Buddhist saints as they are of the Buddha. Indeed, in the earlier chapters of this book, frequent reference has been made to the stūpas not only of the Buddha but also of other buddhas as well as of the pratyekabuddhas and arhants. Bareau comments that in our earliest datable evidence of the stūpa cult, deriving from the middle of the third century B.C.E.