Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview

3
The Mahāyāna and its Scholastic Tradition

a. EARLY EXPONENTS OF THE Mahāyāna

WITH the monk-scholars of the Mahāyāna, we enter upon another phase and a divergent tradition of monk-scholarship.

The sects of Hīnayāna Buddhism are known to have made 'canons' in which the traditions of the Lord and his teachings were enshrined, although only one of these has come down to us in a complete collection, that of the Theravāda. The Theravāda, as we have seen, regarded its canon as the 'Bible' of the religion, the accepted standard of reference for the faithful in all matters of doctrine and rule.1 We may presume the same regard on the part of other sects for their own respective canons.

Their texts were closed; Hīnayānist scholarship was spent on their exegesis and amplification or on original works grounded in them. Their works amounted almost wholly to analysis or synthesis of the rules and doctrines. Speculative philosophy was not the cue of this scholarship. Mahāyānist tradition was different--separated from the Hīnayānist by a Great Divide as it were.

The Mahāyāna movement started with the Sūtras: like the Hīnayānist suttas, they claimed to be the ipsisimma verba of the Lord (Buddhavacana). Asaṅga in the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṅkār is at pains to affirm and establish this authentic character of Mahāyāna Sūtras: '(Some say) the Mahāyāna is not Buddhavacana--how then can it be admired? To meet this doubt, this initial śloka (verse), by way of an analysis of the reason, is put forth, in order to raise perfect credence that the Mahāyāna is really Buddhavacana.'2

But in Mahāyāna thought the Buddha was an essentially dissimilar concept, different in essence and attributes. While the Theravāda is oriented to a personal tradition of him, which it seeks to keep alive by recalling in its legends the great names associated with the tradition,3 the Mahāyānist Buddha-concept is extra-traditional. Without actually denying the personal and temporal tradition, the position taken up by it is that, if the Lord had lived on earth and in a parti-

____________________
1
See Part IV, Sec. 2, p. 250.
2
Naivedaḿ Mahāyānaḿ Buddhavacanaḿ: Kutas-tasyāyaḿ anuśaḿso bhaviṣyatyatra vipratipannās-tasya Buddhavacanatva-prasādhanārthaḿ kāraṇavibhājyam ārambhaślokaḥ--Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṅkār (Levi's Ed.). p. 3.
3
See Part I, Sec. 2, p. 47.

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