On Avoiding Ghosts and Social Censure Monastic Funerals in the Mālasarvāstivāda-vinaya
FUNERAL RITES and burial practices in Indian Buddhist monasteries have received very little scholarly attention. This is perhaps because such rites and practices, like those in so many other religious traditions, call clearly into question the degree to which purportedly official and purportedly central doctrines were known to the members of actual Buddhist monastic communities, or, if known, the degree to which they had actual impact on behavior. This may be particularly annoying to modern scholars of Buddhism because they seem to like official literary doctrine and seem to want to think--in spite of the apparent absence of good evidence--that it somehow had importance beyond a narrow circle of scholastic specialists. It is, however, perhaps more certainly true that certain statements made by early and good scholars did little to direct attention toward such rites and practices. Oldenberg, as early as 1881, said " . . . the Vinaya texts are nearly altogether silent as to the last honours of deceased monks. To arrange for their cremation was perhaps committed to the laity."1 T. W. Rhys Davids went even further only eighteen years later. "Nothing is known," he said, "of any religious ceremony having been performed by the early Buddhists in India, whether the person deceased was a layman, or even a member of the order. The Vinaya Piṭaka, which enters at so great length into all details of the daily life of the recluses, has no rules regarding the mode of treating the body of a deceased Bhikkhu."2
That such statements would not have encouraged further research would hardly be surprising. If, too, they were entirely correct, there would be little need for it. But they are not. There are at least two things wrong with statements
Originally published in Journal of Indian Philosophy 20 ( 1992):1-39. Reprinted with stylistic changes with permission of Kluwer Academic Publishers.