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Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahayana_Buddhism 100414

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Origin of the name Mahāyāna
Early Mahāyāna Buddhism
Earliest Mahāyāna sutras
Earliest inscription related to Mahāyāna
Late Mahāyāna Buddhism

UKT: My interest in Mahayana Buddhism is because most of its text are in Sanskrit. My interest is therefore purely linguistic (scientific) and not religious.

Passages worthy of note in this file:
Sscholars have noted how the cryptic Dharani passages within the Lotus sutra represent a form of the Magadhi dialect that is more similar to Pali than Sanskrit.

UKT notes
Lotus Sutra Newar Buddhism Vajracharya

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UKT: The beginnings of the split between the various schools of Buddhism probably had its beginnings at the very first synod held soon after the demise of the Gautama Buddha. There had been signs of fracture within the Buddhist Order even during his life time - the most serious being the one led by the cousin (brother-in-law in lay life) of the Buddha which fizzled out in a short time. Buddha foresaw that fractures within a movement is a natural inevitable process, and had refused to form a unified Order sanctioning small independent groups led by its own teacher. And so he would probably take the split into Mahāyāna {ma.ha ya-na.} 'greater vehicle', and Hīnayāna {hi-na. ya-na.} aka Theravāda {ht-ra.wa-da.} as nothing but a natural process. - UKT101118

Mahāyāna (Skt: महायान, mahāyāna {ma.ha-ya-na.} literally "great vehicle") is one of the two main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. It was founded in India. The name "Mahāyāna" is used in three main senses:

1. As a living tradition, Mahāyāna is the larger of the two major traditions of Buddhism existing today, the other being Theravāda. This classification is largely undisputed by all Buddhist schools.

2. According to the Mahāyāna method of classification of Buddhist philosophies, "Mahāyāna" refers to a level of spiritual motivation[1] (also known as "Bodhisattvayāna"[2]). According to this classification, the alternative approach is called "Hīnayāna", or "Śravakayāna". Mahāyāna in this sense is also recognized by Theravāda Buddhism, but is not considered very relevant for practice.[3]

3. According to the Vajrayāna scheme of classification of practice paths, Mahāyāna refers to one of the three routes to enlightenment, the other two being Hīnayāna and Vajrayāna. This classification is a teaching of Vajrayāna Buddhism {waiz~za ya-na.} and is not recognized by Mahāyāna and Theravāda Buddhism.

UKT: See my note on Newar Buddhism of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. It is Mahayana-Vajrayana Buddhism practiced by the Newar ethnic community.

Although the Mahāyāna movement traces its origin to Gautama Buddha, scholars believe that it originated in India in the 1st century CE,[4][5] or the 1st century BCE.[6][7] Scholars hold that Mahāyāna only became a mainstream movement in India in the fifth century CE, since that is when Mahāyānist inscriptions started to appear in epigraphic records in India.[8] Before the 11th century CE (while Mahāyāna was still present in India), the Mahāyāna sutras were still in the process of being revised. Thus, several different versions may have survived of the same sutra. These different versions are invaluable to scholars attempting to reconstruct the history of Mahāyāna.

In the course of its history, Mahāyāna spread throughout East Asia. The main countries in which it is practiced today are Tibet, China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. The main schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism today are Pure Land, Zen (Chan), Nichiren Buddhism, Shingon, Tibetan Buddhism and Tendai. The latter three schools have both Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna practice traditions.

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Origin of the name

The historical source of the name "Mahāyāna" is polemical,[9] having its origin in a debate about what the real teachings of the Buddha were.[10] As such, its use in any context except as that pertaining to a living tradition is controversial amongst Theravādin practitioners and some scholars.

The earliest known mention of "Mahāyāna" occurs in the Lotus Sutra between the first century BCE and the first century CE.[dubious ][11] However, some scholars such as Seishi Karashima suggest the term first used in an earlier Gandhāri Prakrit version of the Lotus Sutra was not "mahāyāna" but the Prakrit word "mahājāna" in the sense of "mahājāna" (great knowing). At a later stage when the early Prakrit word was converted into Sanskrit, this "mahājāna", being phonetically ambivalent, was mistakenly converted into "mahāyāna", possibly by contamination arising through proximity to the famous Parable of the Burning House which talks of carts (Skt: yāna).[12]

Mahāyāna Buddhism in India can be divided into two periods:
Early Mahāyāna Buddhism and Late Mahāyāna Buddhism.[13]

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Early Mahāyāna Buddhism

The period of early Mahāyāna Buddhism concerns the origins of Mahāyāna and the contents of early Mahāyāna sutras.[14]

The origins of Mahāyāna are still not completely understood.[15] Although the Mahāyāna movement traces its origin to Gautama Buddha, scholars believe that it originated in south India in the 1st century CE,[4][5] or the 1st century BCE.[6][7] Other scholars point to evidence that Mahāyāna originated in north-west India in the 1st century CE.[16] Some scholars say that Mahāyāna could have initially developed in the south-east of India as a non-monastic tradition, and that later it underwent a process of monasticization and emerged in the north-west of India as a monastic movement.[17] Mahāyāna was first propagated into China by Lokakṣema, the first translator of Mahāyāna sutras into Chinese during the second century CE.[18]

Three sources appear to have made significant contributions to the rise of Mahāyāna Buddhism:[15]

1. The early Buddhist schools. Some important Mahāyāna texts such as the Prajāpāramitā often refer to doctrines associated with the Sarvāstivāda, which were mentioned or incorporated into Mahāyāna texts.[19] In terms of content, however, the Mahāsaṅghika doctrine is closer to Mahāyāna thought,[19] particularly those of the sub-schools such as the Lokottaravādins.[20]

2. Biographical literature of the Buddha composed by people said to have belonged to "the vehicle that praised the Buddha". This literature (comprising the jātakas, avadānas and other texts describing the life of Buddha) may have had its origins in the various early schools, but developed in ways that transcended the existing sectarian lines and contributed to the rise of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Buddhist poets wrote their work with purposes different from those of scholars who were concerned with doctrinal issues, and they used literary expressions which transcended doctrinal lines between the schools.[21]

3. Stūpa worship. Stūpas which were initially mere monuments to Gautama Buddha increasingly became places of devotion and of spreading Buddhism to the masses, the majority of whom were illiterate laymen. On the inside wall of a stūpa, pictures were drawn or sculpted depicting the life of Buddha and his previous lives as a bodhisattva. This has given rise to devotion to the Buddha and the bodhisattvas,[22] distinct from the purely monastic saṅgha of the Early Buddhist schools. However, this theory has been rejected by a number of scholars.[23] Early Mahāyānists may well have used the stūpas that were not affiliated with the early Buddhist schools as a basis for proselytizing.[24]

The commonly expressed misconception that Mahāyāna started as a lay-inspired movement[25] is based on a selective reading of a very tiny sample of extant Mahāyāna sutra literature.[26] Currently scholars have moved away from this limited corpus of literature, and have started to open up early Mahāyāna literature which is very ascetic and expounds the ideal of the monk's life in the forest.[27] A scholarly consensus about the origin of the Mahāyāna has not yet been reached, but it has been suggested that by the time Mahāyāna in India became mainstream in the 5th century CE, "it had become what it originally most strongly objected to: a fully landed, sedentary, lay-oriented monastic institution".[28] Before that, the Mahāyāna movement may well have been either a marginalized ascetic group of monks living in the forest, or a group of conservatives embedded in mainstream, socially engaged early Buddhist monasteries.[29] Most scholars conclude that Mahāyāna remained a marginal movement until the 5th century CE.[30][31]

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Earliest Mahāyāna sutras

The earliest sutras which show some Mahāyāna influence are the Proto-Mahāyāna sutras such as the Ajitasena Sūtra. These sutras contain a mixture of Mahāyāna and pre-Mahāyāna ideas, and occur in a world where monasticism is the norm, which is typical of the Pāli Suttas; there is none of the antagonism towards the śrāvakas or the notion of arahantship, which is typical of many later Mahāyāna sutras such as the Lotus Sutra, or Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa. However, the sutra also has an arahant seeing all the Buddha fields, it is said that reciting the name of the sutra will save beings from suffering and the hell realms, and a meditative practice is described which allows the practitioner to see with the eyes of a Buddha and to receive teachings from Buddhas in ways that are very much typical of Mahāyāna sutras.

The earliest Mahāyāna sutras proper were the very first versions of the Perfection of Wisdom series and texts concerning Akṣobhya Buddha, which were probably composed in the first century BCE in the south of India.[21][32][33] Some slightly later early Mahāyāna sutras are the Chinese translations made by the Kushan monk Lokakṣema in the Chinese capital of Luoyang between 178 and 189 CE.[18] He translated the following sutras: Aṣṭasāhasrikā, Aksobhyatathagatasyavyuha, Śūraṅgama Samādhi Sūtra, an early version of a sutra connected to the Avataṃsaka Sūtra, Drumakinnararajapariprccha, Bhadrapalasutra, Ajatasatrukaukrtyavinodana and the Kasyapaparivarta,[34] which were probably composed in the north of India in the first century CE.[35] Thus scholars generally think that the earliest Mahāyāna sutras were mainly composed in the south of India, and later the activity of writing additional scriptures was continued in the north.[36]

However, the assumption that the presence of an evolving body of Mahāyāna scriptures implies the contemporaneous existence of Mahāyāna as a distinct religious movement may be a serious misstep.[37]

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Earliest inscription related to Mahāyāna

The earliest stone inscription containing a recognizably Mahāyāna formulation and a mention of the Buddha Amitabha was found in the Indian subcontinent in Mathura, and dated to around 180 CE. Remains of a statue of a Buddha bear the Brahmi inscription:

"Made in the year 28 of the reign of king Huvishka, ... for the Buddha Amitabha" (Mathura Museum).

However, this image was in itself extremely marginal and isolated in the overall context of Buddhism in India at the time, and had no lasting or long-term consequences.[38]

The epigraphical evidence for Mahāyāna in the period before the 5th century is very limited in comparison to the multiplicity of Mahāyāna writings transmitted from Central Asia to China at that time. [39] [40]




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Late Mahāyāna Buddhism

During the period of late Mahāyāna Buddhism, four major types of thought developed: Madhyamaka, Yogācāra, Buddha nature (Tathāgatagarbha), and Buddhist logic as the last and most recent.[41] In India, the two main philosophical schools of the Mahāyāna were the Madhyamaka and the later Yogācāra.[42] Although Harvey claims that there were no great Indian teachers associated with Buddha nature thought,[43] others such as Williams point out the centrality of Ratnagotravibhāga (Uttaratantra) to the Buddha nature tradition.[44] However, he states: "One of the features of Tibetan Buddhism in contrast with that of East Asia is the strong tendency to approach the sutras indirectly through the medium of exegetical treatises if at all. The Ratnagotravibhāga has played a relatively small role in East Asian Buddhism, where the primacy has always been given to sutra study."[45]

From the 5th century CE onwards, Mahāyāna was a strong movement in India, possibly owing to support by the Gupta dynasty. It spread from India to South-East Asia, and towards the north to Central Asia and the Far East. The influence of Mahāyāna in China seems to have been reached at an earlier time than in India, where Mahāyāna remained an obscure group until the 5th century.

The late stage of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India is found largely in the Vajrayāna schools. These were replaced in India and Central Asia after the early milliennium by Islam (Sufism etc) and Hinduism, and in south-east Asia by Theravāda Buddhism from Sri Lanka and Islam. They continued to exist in certain regions of the Himalayas. The earlier stage forms of Mahāyāna such as Pure Land Buddhism are still popular in East Asia, where many new religious movements and syncretisms have also been formed with Mahāyāna elements.

UKT: More in the Wikipedia article.

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UKT notes

Lotus Sutra

From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_Sutra 101118

The Lotus Sūtra (Skt: Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra) is one of the most popular and influential Mahāyāna sūtras, and the basis on which the Tiantai and Nichiren sects of Buddhism were established.


The earliest known Sanskrit title for the sūtra is the Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra, which translates to "Sūtra on the White Lotus of the Sublime Dharma." In English, the shortened form Lotus Sūtra is common. The Lotus Sūtra has also been highly regarded in a number of Asian countries where Mahāyāna Buddhism has been traditionally practiced. Translations of this title into the languages of some of these countries include:

Sanskrit: सद्धर्मपुण्डरीकसूत्र Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra
Chinese: 妙法蓮華經 miofǎ linhu jīng, shortened to 法華經 fǎhu jīng
Japanese: 妙法蓮華経 myōhō renge kyō, shortened to 法華経 hōke kyō
Korean: 묘법연화경 myobeop yeonhwa gyeong, shortened to 법화경 beophwa gyeong
Vietnamese: Diệu php lin hoa kinh, shortened to Php hoa kinh

History and background

The oldest parts of the text (Chapters 1-9 and 17) were probably composed between 100 BCE and 100 CE: most of the text had appeared by 200 CE.[1]

The Lotus Sutra presents itself as a discourse delivered by the Buddha toward the end of his life. The tradition in Mahayana states that the sutra was written down at the time of the Buddha and stored for five hundred years in a realm of nāgas. After this they were reintroduced into the human realm at the time of the Fourth Buddhist Council in Kashmir. The sutra's teachings purport to be of a higher order than those contained in the āgamas of the Sūtra Piṭaka, and that humanity had been unable to understand the sutra at the time of the Buddha, and thus the teaching had to be held back.

UKT: Fourth Buddhist Council is the name of two separate Buddhist council meetings. The first one was held in the first century BC, in Sri Lanka. In this fourth Buddhist council the Theravadin Pali Canon was for the first time committed to writing, on palm leaves. The second one was held by the Sarvastivada school, in Kashmir around the first century AD.
... ... ...
Scholars believe that it was also around this time that a significant change was made in the language of the Sarvāstivādin canon, by converting an earlier Prakrit version into Sanskrit. Although this change was probably effected without significant loss of integrity to the canon, this event was of particular significance since Sanskrit was the official holy language of Brahmanism in India, and was also being used by other thinkers (regardless of their specific religious or philosophical allegiance), thus enabling a far wider audience to gain access to Buddhist ideas and practices. For this reason, all major (Sarvastivad and Mahayana) Buddhist scholars in India thereafter wrote their commentaries and treatises in Sanskrit.
-- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Buddhist_council#Fourth_Buddhist_Council_in_Kashmir 101118

The Lotus Sutra was originally translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Dharmarakṣa, aka Zhu Fahu in 286 CE in Chang'an during the Western Jin Period (265-317 CE) (E. Zurcher The Buddhist Conquest of China, 57-69). However, the view that there is a high degree of probability that the base text for that translation was actually written in a Prakrit language has gained widespread acceptance. Jan Nattier (Nattier 2008) has recently summarized this aspect of the early textual transmission of such Buddhist scriptures in China thus, bearing in mind that Dharmarakṣa's period of activity falls well within the period she defines: "Studies to date indicate that Buddhist scriptures arriving in China in the early centuries of the Common Era were composed not just in one Indian dialect but in several . . . in sum, the information available to us suggests that, barring strong evidence of another kind, we should assume that any text translated in the second or third century CE was not based on Sanskrit, but one or other of the many Prakrit vernaculars."

This early translation by Dharmarakṣa was superseded by a translation in seven fascicles by Kumārajīva in 406 CE, although it is known that Kumārajīva made extensive use of the earlier version to the extent of borrowing readings directly from Dharmarakṣa's version. The Chinese title is usually abbreviated to 法華經, which is read Fǎ Hu Jīng in Chinese and Hokekyō in Japanese, Beophwagyeong in Korean, and Php Hoa Kinh" in Vietnamese. The Sanskrit copies are not widely used outside of academia. It has been translated by Burton Watson. According to Burton Watson it may have originally been composed in a Prakrit dialect and then later translated into Sanskrit to lend it greater respectability.

Modern scholars have not released much of the sutra on early fragments, except to say that they are not dependent on the Chinese or Tibetan Lotus sutras. Furthermore, other scholars have noted how the cryptic Dharani passages within the Lotus sutra represent a form of the Magadhi dialect that is more similar to Pali than Sanskrit. For instance, one Dharani reads in part: "Buddhavilokite Dharmaparikshite". Although the vilo is attested in Sanskrit, it appears first in the Buddhist Pali texts as "vilokita" with the meaning of "a vigilant looker" from vi, meaning eager like a passionless bird, and lok, meaning "look".


This sutra is known for its extensive instruction on the concept and usage of skillful means (Sanskrit: upāya, Japanese: hōben), the seventh paramita or perfection of a Bodhisattva mostly in the form of parables. It is also one of the first sutras to use the term Mahāyāna, or "Great Vehicle", Buddhism. Another concept introduced by the Lotus Sutra is the idea that the Buddha is an eternal entity, who achieved nirvana eons ago, but willingly chose to remain in the cycle of rebirth (samsara) to help teach beings the Dharma time and again. He reveals himself as the "father" of all beings and evinces the loving care of just such a father. Moreover, the sutra indicates that even after the Parinirvana (apparent physical death) of a Buddha, that Buddha continues to be real and to be capable of communicating with the world.

The idea that the physical death of a Buddha is the termination of that Buddha is graphically refuted by the movement and meaning of the scripture, in which another Buddha, who passed long before, appears and communicates with Shakyamuni himself. In the vision of the Lotus Sutra, Buddhas are ultimately immortal. A similar doctrine of the eternality of Buddhas is repeatedly expounded in the tathāgatagarbha sutras, which share certain family resemblances with the teachings of the Lotus Sutra.

The Lotus Sutra also indicates (in Chapter 4) that emptiness (śūnyatā) is not the ultimate vision to be attained by the aspirant Bodhisattva: the attainment of Buddha Wisdom is indicated to be a bliss-bestowing treasure that transcends seeing all as merely empty or merely labeled.

In terms of literary style, the Lotus Sutra illustrates a sense of timelessness and the inconceivable, often using large numbers and measurements of time and space. Some of the other Buddhas mentioned in the Lotus Sutra are said to have lifetimes of dozens or hundreds of kalpas, while the number of Bodhisattvas mentioned in the "Earth Bodhisattva" chapter number in the billions, if not more. The Lotus Sutra also often alludes to a special teaching that supersedes everything else that the Buddha has taught, but the Sutra never actually states what that teaching is. This is said to be in keeping with the general Mahāyāna Buddhist view that the highest teaching cannot be expressed in words.

The ultimate teaching of the sutra, however, is implied to the reader that "full Buddhahood" is only arrived at by exposure to the truths expressed implicitly in the Lotus Sutra via its many parables and references to a heretofore less clearly imagined cosmological order. Skillful means of most enlightened Buddhas is itself the highest teaching (the "Lotus Sutra" itself), in conjunction with the sutra's stated tenets that all other teachings are subservient to, propagated by and in the service of this highest truth and teaching aimed at creating "full Buddhas" out of pratyekabuddhas, lesser buddhas and bodhisattvas. The text also implies a parent-child relationship between the innumerable Buddhas and human beings and other types of beings, with an explicit indication that all religions and paths are in some way or another part of the skillful means of this highest teaching, which reaches its fullest expression in the Lotus Sutra. The various religious institutions and their doctrinal proponents notwithstanding, all paths are then, officially speaking, part of the skillful means and plan of Buddhism, thus the sutra's former disavowal of all competitive doctrinal disputes.

Crucially, not only are there multiple Buddhas in this view, but an infinite stream of Buddhas extending through unquantifiable eons of time ("thousands of kotis of kalpas") in a ceaseless cycle of creations and conflagrations.

In the vision set out in this sutra, moreover, not only are Buddhas innumerable, but the universe encompasses realms of gods, devas, dragons and other mythological beings, requiring numerous dimensions to contain them. Buddhas are portrayed as the patient teachers of all such beings.

Some sources consider the Lotus Sutra to have a prologue and epilogue: respectively the Innumerable Meanings Sutra (無量義經 Ch: W Ling Y Jīng Jp: Muryōgi Kyō) and the Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Worthy (普賢經 Ch: Pǔ Xin Jīng Jp: Fugen Kyō).

UKT: More in the original Wikipedia article.

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Newar Buddhism

From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newar_Buddhism 100801?

Newar Buddhism is the form of Mahayana-Vajrayana Buddhism practiced by the Newar ethnic community of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. It has developed unique socio-religious elements, which include a non-monastic Buddhist society based on a caste system and patrilinial descent. The ritual priests, Bajracharya or Vajracharya, and their Shakya assistants form the non-celibate religious sangha while other Buddhist Newar castes serve as the laity. Although there was a vibrant regional tradition of Buddhism in the Kathmandu Valley during the first millennium, the transformation into a distinctive cultural and linguistic form of Buddhism appears to have taken place in the fifteenth century, at about the same time that similar regional forms of Indic Buddhism such as those of Kashmir and Indonesia were on the wane. As a result, Newar Buddhism seems to preserve some aspects of the Indian Buddhism that were not preserved in Buddhist schools elsewhere. Newar Buddhism is characterized by its extensive and detailed rituals, a rich artistic tradition of Buddhist monument and artwork, and by being a storehouse of ancient Sanskrit Buddhist texts, many of which are now only extant in Nepal. According to the authors of Rebuilding Buddhism: The Theravada Movement in Twentieth-century Nepal: "Today traditional Newar Buddhism is unquestionably in retreat before Theravada Buddhism."[1] Although Newar Buddhism was traditionally bound to the Kathmandu Valley and its environs, there is at least one new Newar Buddhist monastery in Portland, Oregon.[2]

UKT: End of Wikipedia stub.

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From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bajracharya 101118

A Bajracharya or Vajracharya is a Vajrayana Buddhist priest among the Newar communities of Nepal. Vajracharya means 'vajra holding priest'. They are also commonly called Guru-ju or Gu-bhaju (a short form for Guru Bhaju) which are Nepali terms related to the Sanskrit term guru, and translate as 'teacher' or 'priest'. The Bajracharya is the highest ranking of the Newar castes that are born Buddhist.[1] To become a professional Guruju, a person of the bajracharya caste must go through a number of rituals. The bajracharya boy goes through a ritualistic process of initiation known as Bajravishekha[2], including shaving off the head as the buddha and asking for alms, at a minimum of seven houses a day in different places, in the tradition of monks since the time of Gautama Buddha.

Sometimes tantric Newar Buddhism is referred to as 'Vajracharya Buddhism'.

The writers of Rebuilding Buddhism: The Theravada Movement in Twentieth-century Nepal explore the unusual relationship of the Vajracharyas and their assistant Shakyas with Buddhist monasticism:

Unlike Vajracharyas, Shakya men may not be priests for others, but together with Vajracharya men they are the members of the traditional Newar Buddhist monasteries, known honorifically as vihara and colloquially as baha or bahi. In so far as Shakya and Vajracharya men filled their roles in the monastery, they were monks. In effect, they were married, part-time monks.[3]

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