Mahāyāna Sūtras and Their Preachers: Rethinking the Nature of a Religious Tradition

Drewes, David Donald, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Lang, Karen, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Groner, Paul, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Hueckstedt, Robert, Department of Middle Eastern and South Asia, University of Virginia
Germano, David, Department of Religious Studies

This dissertation is a study of Mahāyāna sutras as religious literature. It examines what the available evidence, primarily Mahāyāna sutras themselves, can tell us about how these texts were used, the religious significance attached to them, and the people who used them. On the basis of this examination it develops a new basic model for making sense of Indian Mahāyāna itself. Part one considers the Mahāyāna "cult of the book." It argues that the nature of the cult has been misunderstood and suggests that it was less important than is usually imagined. Part two argues that rather than a distinct school or sect, early Mahāyāna can better be thought of as a textual phenomenon that developed within the institutional context of mainstream Buddhism. It points out some important problems with three versions of the now popular theory that forest-dwelling ascetics were responsible for the development of the Mahāyāna. It also examines how Mahāyāna sūtras depict their relevance to the bodhisattva path and the pursuit of Buddhahood. Part three surveys some of the available material on a group of people known as dharmabhāṇakas, textual specialists who memorized Mahāyāna sūtras, preached them in public, and transmitted them to groups of students who followed them. It suggests that these people were the central agents of the early Mahāyāna movement.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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