Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “authenticity of buddhist literature” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

Appendix 1 - The authenticity of Buddhist literature

The criterion of authenticity varies considerably among Buddhist scholars. The question of its variations has been posed by L. de La Vallée Poussin, Opinions, p. 138–145; Nirvāṇa, p. 24.

a. The traditional orthodox point of view is that of the pious Aśoka in the edict of Bairat (Senart, Piyadasi, II, p. 208; Hultsch, Aśoka, p. 173; Smith, Aśoka, p. 172): “All that the Blessed Buddha has said is well said.” (e kechi bhaṃte bhagavatā Budhena bhāsite sarve se subhāsite).

As a result, in order to know if a doctrine or a text is the word of the Buddha, the translators of the canon say that it must be compared with the collections of Buddhist scriptures which alone are authoritative.

A Pāli sūtra, dedicated to the four great authorities (mahāpadeśa), found in Dīgha, II, p. 123, and Aṅguttara, II, p. 167, considers as the word of the Buddha any text conforming to the Sūtras and the Vinaya: “When a text is proposed on the authority of the Buddha, a community (saṃgha), a group of Elders (thera) or an individual Elder, it is necessary to see if this text (padavyañjāni) occurs in the Sūtras (sutte otaranti) and appears in the Vinaya (vinaye sandissanti). If yes, it must be accepted as being the word of the Buddha (bhagavato vacanaṃ); if no, it must be rejected.”

For the expression mahāpadesa, see Dīgha, tr. Rh. D., II, p. 123; tr. Franke, p. 220, n. 4; Aṅguttara, tr. Woodward, II, p. 174; L. de La Vallée Poussin, Mahāpadeśa, Kālāpadeśa, HJAS, III, 1038, p. 158–160.

The same phrase, but more elaborate in form, requires that the controversial text must not only be found in the Sūtras and in the Vinaya, but also that it must not contradict the nature of things (or the truth). This modified formula occurs in the Chinese Dīrghāgama, Tch’ang a han, T 1, k. 3, p.17c. (cf. T 5, k. 1. p.167a; T 6, k. 1, p. 182c; T 7, k. 1, p. 195c; Ken pen chouo… tsa che, T 1451, k. 37, p. 389b–390b). It is quoted in Sūtrālaṃkāra, ed. Lévi, p. 4: “The characteristic mark of the word of the Buddha is that is found in the Sūtras, that it appears in the Vinaya and that it does not contradict the truth” (buddhavacanasyedaṃ laṣaṇaṃ yat sūtre ‘vatarati vinaye saṃdṛśyate dharmatāṃ ca na vilomayati). The same principles are repeated in Pañjikā, p. 431: “That which comes down to us as the word of the Buddha traditionally by succession of teachers and students, that which occurs in the Sūtras, that which appears in the Vinaya and does not contradict the truth (dharmatā), that is the word of the Buddha and none other” (yad guruśiṣyaparaṃparayāmnāyāyātaṃ… buddhavacanaṃ nānyat). – According to Kośa, IX, p. 252, the dharmatā which the text cannot contradict is the law of dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda).

The requirements increase in the Chinese Ekottara, (Tseng yi a han, T 125, k. 20, p. 652b. For this sūtra, the four authorities (mahāpadeśa) in the matter of authenticity are the Sūtras, the Vinaya, the Abhidharma and the Precepts (śīla).

b. With the development of Buddhist literature, the criterion of authority loses its power. More and more it is the intrinsic value of a text that will decide if it should be accepted or rejected. A sūtra unknown to the Pāli tradition, the Sūtra of the Four Refuges (pratisaraṇa), cited below by the Mppś, k. 9, p. 125a, encourages the exegetist to have recourse to the truth in himself, not to authority, whatever it may be, even of the Buddha (dharmaḥ pratisaraṇaṃ na pudgalaḥ). Already the Suttanipāta, III, 3, defines the characteristics that allow recognition of the “Good Word” (subhāsita), the irreproachable word: “It is well said and not badly said (subhāsitañ ñeva bhāsati no dubbhāsitaṃ); agrees with salvation and is not contrary to salvation (dhammañ ñeva bhāsati no adhammaṃ); pleasant and not unpleasant (piyañ ñeva bhāsita no appiyaṃ); true and not false (saccañ ñeva bhāsati no alikaṃ).”

c. Finally, the criterion of authenticity is completely abandoned. To accept a sūtra, one need no longer be troubled to know if it was preached by the Buddha in such and such a place to such and such a person; one need only ask whether or not the doctrines which it contains are useful and profitable. This is the triumph of the inner critic over the outer critic, of subjectivity over objectivity. The early phrase: “All that the Buddha said is well said” is reversed, and it is generally proclaimed: “Everything that is well said has been said by the Buddha.” In the following pages, the Mppś resolutely defends this point of view with supporting texts. One could add other citations to the ones it brings. The Madhyāśayasaṃcodanasūtra, cited in Śikṣāsamuccaya, p. 15, and Pañjikām, p. 431–432, says: “Every word of the Buddha may be recognized by four characteristics: it is endowed with usefulness and not hurtfulness; it agrees with the Dharma and does not contradict the Dharma; it destroys the passions and does not increase them; it shows the qualities and benefits of nirvāṇa and does not show the qualities and benefits of saṃsāra. Whoever teaches or will teach a doctrine presenting these four characteristics should be regarded as a Buddha by the faithful, sons and daughters of good family. They should consider him to be their teacher and listen to his doctrine. Why? Because all that is well said has been said by the Buddha (api tu, maitreya, caturbhiḥ kāraṇaiḥ… subhāṣitaṃ sarvaṃ tat buddhabhāṣitam).

d. When the Greater Vehicle comes to flood the Buddhist literature with its innumerable sūtras, the adepts of the Lesser Vehicle protest: “These texts are not authentic; they are not the words of the Buddha.” The scholars of the Greater Vehicle have only arguments of reasoning to oppose them. They say: “The Mahāyāna leads to supreme enlightenment; this is why we know that they are the words of the Buddha.” All their argumentation in the end leads back to this single affirmation. See Mahāyānasaṃgraha, p. 9; Sūtrālaṃkāra, I, v. 7, p. 3; Siddhi, p. 176–178; Hien yang cheng kiao louen, T 1602, k. 20, p. 581b; Dutt, Mahāyāna, p. 68–75.