Speaking for Buddhas

Speaking for Buddhas: Scriptural Commentary in Indian Buddhism

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 312
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    Speaking for Buddhas
    Book Description:

    Buddhist intellectual discourse owes its development to a dynamic interplay between primary source materials and subsequent interpretation, yet scholarship on Indian Buddhism has long neglected to privilege one crucial series of texts. Commentaries on Buddhist scriptures, particularly the sutras, offer rich insights into the complex relationship between Buddhist intellectual practices and the norms that inform-and are informed by-them. Evaluating these commentaries in detail for the first time, Richard F. Nance revisits-and rewrites&mdashthe critical history of Buddhist thought, including its unique conception of doctrinal transmission.

    Attributed to such luminaries as Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Dignaga, and Santideva, scriptural commentaries have long played an important role in the monastic and philosophical life of Indian Buddhism. Nance reads these texts against the social and cultural conditions of their making, establishing a solid historical basis for the interpretation of key beliefs and doctrines. He also underscores areas of contention, in which scholars debate what it means to speak for, and as, a Buddha.

    Throughout these texts, Buddhist commentators struggle to deduce and characterize the speech of Buddhas and teach others how to convey and interpret its meaning. At the same time, they demonstrate the fundamental dilemma of trying to speak on behalf of Buddhas. Nance also investigates the notion of "right speech" as articulated by Buddhist texts and follows ideas about teaching as imagined through the common figure of a Buddhist preacher. He notes the use of epistemological concepts in scriptural interpretation and the protocols guiding the composition of scriptural commentary, and provides translations of three commentarial guides to better clarify the normative assumptions organizing these works.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52667-8
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    CLASSICAL INDIAN śāstras (treatises) regularly enjoin aspiring authors to announce at least two things at the outset of their works, so as to secure the interest of judicious readers. The first of these is what in Sanskrit is termed the abhidheya, or, roughly, the work’s topic: what it’s about. According to Sanskrit commentators, authors should state this explicitly so that their audiences do not presume their texts to be meaningless or incoherent. Additionally, authors are told to make explicit their work’s prayojana: its point. Unless a point is specified up front, a prospective audience is likely to ignore a text,...

  5. ONE Models of Speaking: Buddhas and Monks
    (pp. 14-44)

    THE CHINESE PILGRIM Yijing (635–713 C.E.), in his seventh-century account of Buddhist monastic life in India, records that during his stay at the great Indian monastery of Nālandā, he was particularly impressed by two hymns and the formal ceremonies in which they were chanted.¹ Yijing refers to these hymns as the Śatapañcāśatka (Hymn in one hundred and fifty verses) and the Catuḥśataka (Hymn in four hundred verses).² Both, he tells us, are by the Buddhist poet Mātṛceṭa (second–third century C.E.), and both are regularly taught to novices shortly after their admission to the monastic community: “In all five...

  6. TWO Models of Instruction: Preachers Perfect and Imperfect
    (pp. 45-80)

    IN THE PREVIOUS chapter, two models of and for “right speech” were sketched. In sketching the first model, which portrays Buddhas as right speakers par excellence, I drew principally from the corpus of Buddhist sūtra literature. In sketching the second model, which portrays Buddhist monks as speakers normatively (if not always actually) constrained by formalized monastic regulations, I drew principally from the Prātimokṣasūtra—a work classified by the tradition under the broad heading of vinaya. These models do not embody all the lessons that a monk might learn from sūtra or vinaya texts regarding how to speak and how not...

  7. THREE Models of Argument: Epistemology and Interpretation
    (pp. 81-97)

    IN A REMARKABLE passage that occurs late in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra, Śākyamuni suddenly notices that his faithful and long-serving attendant Ānanda has gone missing:

    Then, the Blessed One, though knowing [the answer], said to Kauṇḍinya: “Where is Ānanda now?” Kauṇḍinya said: “O Blessed One, Ānanda is away from the sal forest, twelve yojanas from this assembly, and is surrounded by 64,000 billion Māras. All these Māras are transforming themselves into the Tathāgata. They say that everything is dependently arisen, or that everything is not dependently arisen; or that everything dependently arisen is eternal, or that everything dependently arisen is not...

  8. FOUR Models of Explication: Commentarial Guides
    (pp. 98-122)

    THE PREVIOUS CHAPTERS have surveyed numerous texts in which normative assumptions regarding the practices of commentary are stated and implied. These texts have ranged from devotional hymns to āgamic narratives; from vinaya literature to Mahāyānā sūtra texts; from abhidharmic treatises to scriptural commentaries. We have also examined Buddhist epistemological treatises in order to discover what they offer—and what resources they were presumed to offer—for answering interpretive questions. Taken together, these texts point toward a network of interconnected and shifting views regarding what it might mean to endeavor to speak for Buddhas. For all the richness of the texts...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 123-128)

    LIKE ANY READERS, Indian Buddhist commentators approached their texts already bearing interpretive presuppositions. These presuppositions served to guide their readings, influencing the questions they held to be worth asking, the answers they found acceptable, and their views regarding those to whom they might turn for guidance in these matters. In the previous chapters, I have sketched some of these presuppositions and their impacts on Indian Buddhist textual practice. I hope this material will help us to better understand not only Indian Buddhist scriptural commentaries, but also those who composed them—those who, for more than a millennium in India, disseminated...

  10. APPENDIX A The Vyākhyāyukti, Book I
    (pp. 129-152)
  11. APPENDIX B The Abhidharmasamuccayabhāṣya (Excerpt)
    (pp. 153-166)
  12. APPENDIX C The Vivaraṇasaṃgrahaṇī
    (pp. 167-212)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 213-258)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-286)
  15. Index of Texts
    (pp. 287-290)
  16. Index
    (pp. 291-298)