Ascetic Traditions of Buddhist Saints
So far this study has dealt primarily with two of the three dimensions of the Buddhist saints, their hagiographic paradigms and their cults. This chapter raises the issue of the third dimension, the specific ascetic traditions typically followed by the saints themselves. The preceding chapters have already indicated what is most important about these ascetic traditions: they are traditions of forest renunciation. The Buddha himself emerges from a tradition of retirement to the forest and homeless wandering. Mahākāyapa, at least in most sources, also follows a wandering, ascetic way of life in the forest. The later patriarch Upagupta is a forest saint who lives on Mount Urumuṇḍa--famed for meditation--far from Aśoka's capital. Piṇḍolabhāradvāja is a forest saint who wanders about, begging food and meditating. Devadatta is a forest renunciant, who is criticized for wanting to reconfirm the ancient forest way of life in its purity in the face of change. And even Śāriputra, prototypical embodiment of settled monastic values and orientation, has forest features in his history and personality.
We also saw that the saints of the Theragāthā and Therīgāthā live in the forest, as do many of the arhants mentioned by the Chinese pilgrims. The pratyekabuddha likewise follows a forest way of renunciation and so do the the bodhisattvas examined in the previous chapter. The habitual association of saint with forest is important; it is the forest, we seem to be told, that is the natural habitat of the saint, the environment where saints are produced. The converse is also suggested: living saints are not typically or naturally associated with the settled monastery of town and village. 1 In light of the preceding chapters, this should come as no surprise. As we have seen, it is by meditation that, in Buddhism, realization and realized people become possible, and those who would practice meditation intensively must withdraw to the forest. 2
An important aspect of the identity of Buddhist forest traditions are specific codes of ascetic practice that relate to, among other things, a forest renunciant's dress, sustenance, and habitation and sometimes speech, meditation, seclusion, and basic attitudes of renunciation. As we shall see, these codes appear in a considerable variety of forms and are found in a wide selection of texts of both Nikāya and Mahāyāna Buddhism. This chapter sets out some of the more promi-