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Meditation in an Indian Buddhist Monastic Code

  • Author(s): Bass, Jeffrey Wayne
  • Advisor(s): Schopen, Gregory R
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation centers on an attempt to bring questions of a sociological nature to the modern academic conversation on the place of meditation in Indian Buddhism. It also involves a shift away from sutra and commentarial literature to vinaya literature. My primary source for examining the treatment of contemplative practice in the Indian tradition is the Ksudrakavastu, the largest section of the monastic code (S. vinaya) of the Mulasarvastivadins. Narratives found in the Ksudrakavastu can offer a new perspective on the practice of meditation in north Indian Buddhism from the beginning of the Common Era to the fifth century. Here we find that meditation was not as central to the religious tradition as we might expect, given the emphasis that meditation has received in modern discussions of the Indian tradition. To begin with, in Mulasarvastivadin hagiographical accounts that include instances of enlightenment--and a great many of them do--meditation is almost never mentioned as the immediate cause. In the overwhelming majority of instances in which enlightenment occurs, the followers are said to have been hearing the dharma preached by the Buddha, or by a senior monk or nun. We find no evidence that periods of meditation were built into the daily schedule of the monks, and meditation is never presented as an obligatory practice. Furthermore, meditation is most often discussed as occurring outside the monastery. And the meditation specialists who leave the monastery to practice are consistently depicted as a liability to the larger community. The picture that emerges from our source is one of a monastic community centered on the recitation of texts, rather than the practice of meditation. Finally, I argue that the meditation monks described in Mulasarvastivadin literature may have played a role in the development of Mahayana Buddhism in India.

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