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Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahāyāna

A Study and Translation of the <i>Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā-sūtra</i>

Daniel Boucher

Publication Year: 2008

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii-viii

My debt to friends and colleagues who have contributed so much to making this a better book is immense, and my gratitude to them all is impossible to express fully. Let me begin, however, with some appropriate institutional thanks. First, to Cornell University, where this book was written in its entirety, for providing a wonderful teaching and research environment. I am grateful to my colleagues in...


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xxiii

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...

Part I: Asceticism and the Glorification of the Buddha’s Body: The Indian Text of the Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā-sūtra

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1. The Physiognomy of Virtue

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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...

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2. Former Life Narratives and the Bodhisattva Career

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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...

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3. Wilderness Dwelling and the Ascetic Disciplines

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pp. 40-63

It will be clear to readers already that I take the fundamental orientation of the Râṣṭrapâla to be ascetic, expressed as a commitment to the practice of the “qualities of purification” (dhutagunas) 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...

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4. “Profit and Honor”: A Critique of Sedentary Monasticism

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pp. 64-84

The Râṣṭrapâla is 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 the Râṣṭrapâla set...

Part II: Indian Buddhism through a Chinese Lens: Dharmarakṣa’s Translation of the Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā-sūtra

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5. The Role of Translation in Reconstructing the Early Mahāyāna

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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...

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6. Mistranslation and Missed Translation

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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 the Râṣṭrapâla as 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 Mahâyâna sûtra literature as it influenced the...

Part III: An Annotated Translation of the Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā-sūtra

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1. Prologue

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pp. 113-141

Thus have I heard at one time⁴ when the Blessed One [bhagavan] was dwelling in Râjagrha on Vulture’s Peak Mountain, together with a great assembly of 1,250 monks and 5,000 bodhisattvas,⁵ all of whom possessed eloquence free of attachment, obtained tolerance, subdued the enemy Mâra,⁶ who have become very close to all buddha qualities,⁷ who are bound to only one more...

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2. The Story of Punyaraśmi

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pp. 142-170

These, Râṣṭrapâla, 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...


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pp. 171-250


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pp. 251-282


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pp. 283-287

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861650
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824828813

Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 436158460
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahāyāna

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Subject Headings

  • Tripiṭaka. Sūtrapiṭaka. Rāṣṭrapālaparipr̥cchā -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
  • Mahayana Buddhism -- India -- History.
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