Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahāyāna

Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahāyāna: A Study and Translation of the Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā-sūtra

Daniel Boucher
Copyright Date: 2008
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    Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahāyāna
    Book Description:

    Bodhisattvas of the Forest delves into the socioreligious milieu of the authors, editors, and propagators of the Rastrapalapariprccha-sutra (Questions of Rastrapala), a Buddhist text circulating in India during the first half of the first millennium C.E. In this meticulously researched study, Daniel Boucher first reflects upon the problems that plague historians of Mahayana Buddhism, whose previous efforts to comprehend the tradition have often ignored the social dynamics that motivated some of the innovations of this new literature. Following that is a careful analysis of several motifs found in the Indian text and an examination of the value of the earliest Chinese translation for charting the sutra’s evolution. The first part of the study looks at the relationship between the bodily glorification of the Buddha and the ascetic career—spanning thousands of lifetimes—that produced it within the socioeconomic world of early medieval Buddhist monasticism. The authors of the Rastrapala sharply criticize their monastic contemporaries for rejecting the rigorous lifestyle of the first Buddhist communities, an ideal that, for the sutra’s authors, self-consciously imitates the disciplines and sacrifices of the Buddha’s own bodhisattva career, the very career that led to his acquisition of bodily perfection. Thus, Boucher reveals the ways in which the authors of the Rastrapala authors co-opted this topos concerning the bodily perfection of the Buddha from the Mainstream tradition to subvert their co-religionists whose behavior they regarded as representing a degenerate version of that tradition. In Part 2 Boucher focuses on the third-century Chinese translation of the sutra attributed to Dharmaraksa and traces the changes in the translation to the late tenth century. The significance of this translation, Boucher explains, is to be found in the ways it differs from all other witnesses. These differences, which are significant, almost certainly reveal an earlier shape of the sutra before later editors were inspired to alter dramatically the text’s tone and rhetoric. The early Chinese translations, though invaluable in revealing developments in the Indian milieu that led to changes in the text, present particular challenges to the interpreter. It takes an understanding of not only their abstruse idiom, but also the process by which they were rendered from an undetermined Indian language into a Chinese cultural uh_product. One of the signal contributions of this study is Boucher’s skill at identifying the traces left by the process and ability to uncover clues about the nature of the source text as well as the world of the principal recipients. Bodhisattvas of the Forest concludes with an annotated translation of the Rastrapalapariprccha-sutra based on a new reading of its earliest extant Sanskrit manuscript. The translation takes note of important variants in Chinese and Tibetan versions to correct the many corruptions of the Sanskrit manuscript.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6165-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxiv)

    The study of the collection of Buddhist movements known as the Great Vehicle is in need of some methodological direction. It seems to me there have been enough general theories of its origins. Some, particularly Japanese, scholars have seen a lay-centered development in the texts, a pseudo-Reformation against monastic elitism. Others see it as riding the wave of bhakti devotionalism sweeping across India at the turn of the Common Era—as if Hindus and Buddhists alike suddenly discovered that the gods were open for business. Still others have emphasized the philosophical innovations of the Mahāyāna and its seeming tendency to...

  6. Part I: Asceticism and the Glorification of the Buddha’s Body:: The Indian Text of the Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā-sūtra
    • CHAPTER ONE The Physiognomy of Virtue
      (pp. 3-19)

      For the ancients—and, I suspect, lingering just under the radar of our collective contemporary conscience—bodily perfection was only the most obvious sign of moral superiority, a plenitude in the soul “radiating youth, vigor, and beauty.”² The formula “beauty is only skin deep” in our modern parlance attempts to undermine this physiognomy of virtue at the same time it betrays its hold. The classical Indian world also formulated an essential connection between bodily and moral attainment. Brahmanical writers, especially indharmaśāstraliterature, regularly saw bodily appearance as an indicator of character and virtue.³

      All of our hagiographies are agreed...

    • CHAPTER TWO Former Life Narratives and the Bodhisattva Career
      (pp. 20-39)

      The glorification of the Buddha’s body discussed in the previous chapter was viewed as the direct result of his long and often grueling bodhisattva career, a career that focused on his continuous practice of a series of moral and spiritual perfections. Because fifty of the Buddha’s former lives are referred to explicitly in theRāṣṭrapāla, it is relevant at this point to note their relationship with other, almost certainly earlier, genres of Buddhist literature that may have provided their inspiration. We will also want to understand how thesejātakareferences function within the narrative program of theRāṣṭrapāla, specifically its...

    • CHAPTER THREE Wilderness Dwelling and the Ascetic Disciplines
      (pp. 40-63)

      It will be clear to readers already that I take the fundamental orientation of theRāṣṭrapālato be ascetic, expressed as a commitment to the practice of the “qualities of purification” (dhutaguṇas) within the context of a retreat to the wilderness. This chapter will attempt to flesh out this orientation in more detail, in relationship both to Mainstream Buddhist literature as well as to other voices within the Mahāyāna fold. Despite the significance of this asceticizing strand within a number of early Mahāyānasūtras, other texts within this literature will sharply qualify, if not outright reject, wilderness dwelling as an...

    • CHAPTER FOUR “Profit and Honor”: A Critique of Sedentary Monasticism
      (pp. 64-84)

      TheRāṣṭrapālais in many ways a Puritan tract. Its authors were clearly disillusioned with what the institution of Buddhist monasticism had become in their day. Like the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century reformers in the Church of England, they championed an ascetic vision, a return to the righteous times of the first disciples. Sharp-tongued and curmudgeonly, the authors of theRāṣṭrapālaset out to defend the Buddha’s Dharma against the tide of monastic laxity and wantonness to which they saw it succumbing. Accusing their monastic confrères of fawning after patrons and consorting with householders, they describe asaṅghathat had accommodated...

  7. Part II: Indian Buddhism through a Chinese Lens:: Dharmarakṣa’s Translation of the Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā-sūtra
    • CHAPTER FIVE The Role of Translation in Reconstructing the Early Mahāyāna
      (pp. 87-100)

      It would be impossible to exaggerate the importance of translation to the study of the world’s religious literature. From the rendering of the Hebrew Bible into Greek to the King James Bible of seventeenth-century England, translation has been at the vanguard of religious transmission and transformation. The history of the transmission of Buddhism has also in many ways been the history of its translations. Regardless of which language the Buddha himself spoke, a source of ongoing scholarly debate, he certainly did not preach in any of the languages in which his purported sayings are preserved. Although not frequently brought to...

    • CHAPTER SIX Mistranslation and Missed Translation
      (pp. 101-110)

      In Chapters 1 through 4 I have attempted to recover the disguised forms of exchange represented in the fully elaborated version of theRāṣṭrapālaas it has come down to us in the extant Sanskrit redaction as well as in the Tibetan and the two later Chinese translations. My goal was to lay bare the socioreligious milieu of a subgenre of early Mahāyānasūtraliterature as it influenced the Indian authors and editors of theRāṣṭrapāla. In this chapter I will want to consider its earliest Chinese translation, the third-century rendering by Dharmarakṣa, particularly for what it can reveal about...

  8. Part III: An Annotated Translation of the Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā-sūtra
    • One: The Questions of Rāṣṭrapāla Prologue
      (pp. 113-141)

      [1] Homage to all buddhas, bodhisattvas, nobleśrāvakasandpratyekabuddhas

      Listen respectfully to thissūtra, theRāṣṭrapāla, a bridge over the stream of existence, an ancient, meritorious, and noble course—complete and true—in which the Lord of the Sages made clearly manifest² that winding stairway to the great heaven, which is the abode of the Well-Accomplished One, the most excellent accomplishment in the Triple World, studded with a variety of luminous jewels of the True Dharma.³

      Thus have I heard at one time⁴ when the Blessed One [bhagavan] was dwelling in Rājagṛha on Vulture’s Peak Mountain, together with a...

    • Two: The Story of Puṇyaraśmi
      (pp. 142-170)

      [34] These, Râṣṭrapāla, will as a rule be the faults of those persons who are on the bodhisattva vehicle.¹ The undisciplined will pay homage to the undisciplined. The deceitful will pay homage to the deceitful. The ignorant will think the ignorant should be honored. They will value worldly goods, have numerous attachments,² be avaricious for upper-class patrons, as well as deceitful, impudent,³ loquacious, hypocritical, and covetous of reputation.⁴ They will extort profit through mutual praise,⁵ and they will enter a village for the sake of seeking profit, not for the sake of bringing sentient beings to [spiritual] maturity or out...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 171-250)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-282)
  11. Index
    (pp. 283-287)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 288-289)