Classics of Indian Buddhism
Translations of Foundational Texts From the Buddhist Traditions of South Asia
Classics of Indian Buddhism
The flourishing of Buddhism in South Asia during the first millennium of the Common Era produced many texts that deserve a place among the classics of world literature. Exploring the full extent of the human condition and the limits of language and reason, these texts have the power to edify and entertain a wide variety of readers. The Classics of Indian Buddhism series aims to publish widely accessible translations of important texts from the Buddhist traditions of South Asia, with special consideration given to works foundational for the Mahāyāna.
Andy Rotman (chair), Smith College
Paul Harrison, Stanford University
Jens-Uwe Hartmann, University of Munich
Sara McClintock, Emory University
Parimal Patil, Harvard University
Akira Saitō, University of Tokyo
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In the forty-five years the Buddha spent traversing northern India, he shared his wisdom with everyone from beggar women to kings. Hundreds of his discourses, or sutras, were preserved by his followers, first orally and later in written form. Around thirteen hundred years after the Buddha’s enlightenment, the sutras were translated into the Tibetan language, where they have been preserved ever since. To date, only a fraction of these have been made available in English. Questioning the Buddha brings the reader directly into the literary treasure of the Tibetan canon with thoroughly annotated translations of twenty-five different sutras. Often these texts, many translated here in full for the first time, begin with an encounter in which someone poses a question to the Buddha.
Peter Skilling, an authority on early Buddhist epigraphy, archaeology, and textual traditions, has been immersed in the Buddhist scriptures of diverse traditions for nearly half a century. In this volume, he draws on his deep and extensive research to render these ancient teachings in a fresh and precise language. His introduction is a fascinating history of the Buddhist sutras, including the transition from oral to written form, the rise of Mahayana literature, the transmission to Tibet, the development of canons, and a look at some of the pioneers of sutra study in the West.
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In this profound work of five hundred verses, we encounter a presentation of Buddhism that integrates both the worldly and the transcendent. The clear and sagacious advice laid out on every page serves as a road map to one’s highest goal—whether that goal is a better life, here called the Dharma of ascendance, or the ultimate one of spiritual freedom, the Dharma of the highest good. The verses, written for an unnamed ruler, touch on questions of statecraft, but their broader themes speak to us today because they tackle the difficulty of integrating one’s spiritual journey with the social and political demands of daily life.
Nāgārjuna was an Indian Buddhist teacher, probably of the second century CE, who was renowned for his astute articulation of the philosophy of the Middle Way (Madhyamaka). His thoroughgoing critique of all forms of essentialism became a touchstone for Mahāyāna Buddhism in India, Tibet, and throughout East Asia, and his importance for the development of the Mahāyāna tradition can scarcely be exaggerated.
Divine Stories is the inaugural volume in the Classics of Indian Buddhism series. The stories here, among the first texts to be inscribed by Buddhists, highlight the moral economy of karma, illustrating how gestures of faith, especially offerings, can bring the reward of future happiness and ultimate liberation. Originally contained in the Divyāvadāna, an enormous compendium of Sanskrit Buddhist narratives from the early Common Era, the stories in this collection express the moral and ethical impulses of Indian Buddhist thought and are a testament to the historical and social power of narrative. Long believed by followers to be the actual words of the Buddha himself, these divine stories are without a doubt some of the most influential stories in the history of Buddhism.
Nāgārjuna’s renowned twenty-seven-chapter Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā) is the foundational text of the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy. It is the definitive, touchstone presentation of the doctrine of emptiness. Professors Siderits and Katsura prepared this translation using the four surviving Indian commentaries in an attempt to reconstruct an interpretation of its enigmatic verses that adheres as closely as possible to that of its earliest proponents. Each verse is accompanied by concise, lively exposition by the authors conveying the explanations of the Indian commentators. The result is a translation that balances the demands for fidelity and accessibility.
Ancient Buddhist literature is filled with tales of past lives. The Buddha, surrounded by his followers, is asked how it came to be that a certain person has met a particular fate. With his omniscience, the Buddha looks into eons past and uncovers the events that led to the present outcome and foretells the future as well. With stories of wicked wives, patricidal princes, and shape-shifting serpents, Divine Stories offers a fascinating illustration of the law of karma—the truth that the power of good and bad deeds is never lost. These are some of the oldest Buddhist tales ever committed to writing, illuminating the culture of northern India in the early centuries of the Common Era and bringing to life the Buddhist values of generosity and faith.
In the years following Alexander the Great’s conquest of the East, a series of empires rose up along the Silk Road. In what is now northern Pakistan, the civilizations in the region called Gandhāra became increasingly important centers for the development of Buddhism, reaching their apex under King Kaniska of the Kusanas in the second century CE. Gandhāra has long been known for its Greek-Indian synthesis in architecture and statuary, but until about twenty years ago, almost nothing was known about its literature. The insights provided by manuscripts unearthed over the last few decades show that Gandhāra was indeed a vital link in the early development of Buddhism, instrumental in both the transmission of Buddhism to China and the rise of the Mahāyāna tradition. The Buddhist Literature of Ancient Gandhāra surveys what we know about Gandhāra and its Buddhism, and it also provides translations of a dozen different short texts, from similes and stories to treatises on time and reality.