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

By Reginald A. Ray | Go to book overview
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Conclusion: Toward a Threefold
Model of Buddhism

This study has involved the identification and interpretation of various strands of evidence bearing upon the Buddhist saints. It has been noted that, when taken individually and considered from the viewpoints of texts and canons espousing different ideals, these strands may seem neither particularly coherent nor significant. However, when set alongside one another and considered within their own frames of reference, they exhibit a striking coherence and begin to tell an engrossing story, one with implications for the understanding of Indian Buddhist history at every level. It is hoped that the foregoing has, at the least, pointed to the importance of the Buddhist saints as specific objects of research. The saints represent a still largely unexplored field of evidence; this study will have been worthwhile if, in both what it has been able to accomplish and what it has not, it stimulates others to carry out further research into this area. As the process of bringing forward and interpreting the evidence of the Buddhist saints goes on, one may anticipate that it will increasingly challenge, energize, and revitalize our understanding of Indian Buddhism.

One particularly important area of needed research that I would like to single out concerns the question of the continuity of forest Buddhism from early to modern times. The evidence cited in this study reveals the existence of forest Buddhism in the formative history of both Nikāya and Mahāyāna traditions. It is also clear that forest Buddhism has existed and played a significant role in Buddhism in subsequent history right down to the present day, in both the Theravāda and Mahāyāna. This certainly raises the likelihood of a continuity of this genre of Buddhism from the early to the recent period, but of such an intervening history we know practically nothing. The filling in of this vast, trackless expanse of Indian and extra-Indian Buddhist history is surely one of the primary desiderata of contemporary and future Buddhist scholarship.

The preceding has made it clear that the two-tiered model is not adequate as an objective, scholarly model of Indian Buddhism as a whole. Strictly speaking, its validity does not extend beyond its ability to reflect certain dominant monastic ways of conceiving Buddhism within the Theravāda, both in some key classical texts and in the subsequent history of the Theravādin school, particularly after the


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