Two Problems in the History of Indian Buddhism
The Layman/Monk Distinction and the Doctrines of the Transference of Merit
IN AN AREA like Indian Buddhist doctrinal history, where there is constant discussion but little proof, it might sometimes be useful if we try to draw up lists of what we actually know. Such lists might be even more useful if we distinguish clearly, in so far as this is possible, what we know from what we have conjectured or reconstructed or hypothesized. This is what I have tried to do here in regard to two particular problems: the problem of the Layman/Monk Distinction in Indian Buddhism, and the problem of the Doctrine, or Doctrines, of the Transference of Merit in Indian Buddhism. If, however, we begin with the purpose of limiting ourselves to what we can actually know in regard to these problems, then the conventional evaluation and use of literary sources in discussions of Buddhist doctrinal history becomes, in fact, our first problem, and it is here that we must begin.
We know, and have known for some time, that the Pāli canon as we have it--and it is generally conceded to be our oldest source--cannot be taken back further than the last quarter of the first century B.C.E., the date of the Alu-vihāra redaction, the earliest redaction that we can have some knowledge of,1 and thatc--for a critical history--it can serve, at the very most, only as a source for the Buddhism of this period. But we also know that even this is problematic