Modern buddhology has long recognized that Indian Buddhism shows a particular predilection for its saints, who are many and various. 1 In fact, one cannot examine any piece of Buddhist evidence without coming across one or another of these figures, typically associated as they are with the important texts, places, events, lineages, teachings, practices, schools, and movements of Indian Buddhism. The Buddhist saints, at least within the traditional perspective, are an unfailing source of illumination and creativity, and whatever is good may ultimately be traced to them. It is, then, an ironic fact that modern scholarship has paid relatively little attention to the Buddhist saints.
There seem to be two reasons for this neglect: the place of the saints in the Buddhist texts themselves and certain modern scholarly presuppositions concerning the saints. Although in what follows each of these factors will be explored in detail, some initial comment will be useful.
In spite of the fact that Buddhist saints do appear throughout the evidence, in the scenario described by most Indian Buddhist texts--and particularly those best known in the West--the saints simply do not stand out. Rather, they are part of the assumed background and context, in relation to which the history of the dharma (P., dhamma) unfolds. Often enough, Buddhist texts focus their attention upon other matters, such as doctrinal exposition, philosophical or psychological analysis, refutation of false theories, clarification of the conventions and procedures of Buddhist monastic life, and so on. When the saints do occupy the foreground, typically they are either seen to have lived in a remote bygone era or understood as significant because they embody a state in the far distant future to which contemporary Buddhists may aspire.
There is another reason why the saints have not been given more attention in modern scholarship, namely, certain attitudes and beliefs that scholarly interpreters take for granted in treating the Indian evidence. Though appearing in the texts, the saints do not impress because scholars of Buddhism have learned to see them as not significant. Or, perhaps more accurately, we have learned to see them as not having specific, important, and recognizable roles within Indian Buddhist history. Even where prominent in the texts, they are not clearly seen, either because we tend to bypass just that evidence where they appear or because, when we do examine such evidence, our questions and interests are elsewhere and we look past them.
This second reason for the saints' invisibility can be illuminated by the psychoanalytic metaphor. When scholars took up the study of Buddhism in the nineteenth century, for specific historical and cultural reasons that I shall touch upon,