Early Mahayana

David Drewes

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Early Mahayana

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In recent decades the study of early Mahayana has witnessed significant upheaval. Western scholars have abandoned the old theories that the Mahayana originated from a lay reaction to the arhat ideal or from the Mahāsāṃghika nikāka and advanced a range of new ideas. Gregory Schopen suggested in 1975 that the Mahayana developed with the creation of special shrines dedicated to the worship of Mahayana sutras. Following Schopen, other scholars have argued that the shift from oral to written textuality enabled or influenced the development of the Mahayana in various ways. In place of the lay origin theory, most scholars now believe the exact opposite, that forest-dwelling or ascetic monks were the Mahayana’s primary agents. Several scholars in recent years have shifted attention away from Sanskrit versions of Mahayana sutras to early Chinese translations, which often preserve more primitive forms of these texts. A 1st-century Prajñāpāramitā manuscript and a 1st- or 2nd-century manuscript of a previously unknown Mahayana sutra have recently been discovered that promise to shed new light on early Mahayana, the former manuscript now being the oldest datable evidence for Mahayana that we possess.

Article.  7199 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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