Textual History of the Mahāyāna-Mahāparinirvāṇa-Sūtra by Stephen Hodge

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Textual History of the Mahāyāna-Mahāparinirvāṇa-Sūtra by Stephen Hodge
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Citation: Page, Tony. "Textual History of the Mahāyāna-Mahāparinirvāṇa-Sūtra by Stephen Hodge." Nirvana Sutra: Appreciation of the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra." Updated August 2019. http://www.nirvanasutra.net/historicalbackground.htm.

There are three extant versions of the Mahāyāna-mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, each translated from various Sanskrit editions: the shortest and earliest is the translation into Chinese by Faxian and Buddhabhadra in six juan (418 CE), the next in terms of development is the Tibetan version (c. 790 CE) by Jinamitra, Jnanagarbha, and Devacandra, and the extended version in 40 juan by Dharmakshema (422) which was also translated into Tibetan from the Chinese. There also exists a secondary Chinese version in 36 juan of Dharmakshema's translation, produced by polishing the style and adding new section headings and completed in 453 CE. It is also known from Chinese catalogues of translations that at least two other Chinese translations were done, slightly earlier than Faxian, but these are no longer extant. Though a complete version of the entire text in Sanskrit has not yet been discovered, some fragments of original Sanskrit versions have been discovered in Central Asia, Afghanistan and Japan.

The text contained in the Faxian and Tibetan translations is roughly equivalent to just the first quarter of the greatly expanded Dharmakshema version. Given that all known Sanskrit fragments correspond solely to material found in the Faxian and Tibetan versions, and the corresponding part of Dharmakshema, it is generally accepted that this portion of the text was compiled in India, possibly as the text itself hints, somewhere in southern India, before it was transferred to Kashmir. The additional material in the long Dharmakshema version would seem to be of Central Asian origin.

Like the majority of Mahāyāna sūtras, the Mahāyāna-mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra evidently underwent a number of stages in its composition, which is of some importance for any discussion of the Tathāgata-garbha and Buddha-nature (buddha-dhātu) doctrines. The leading scholar in this field is the Japanese scholar Masahiro Shimoda, who posits a short proto-Mahāyāna-mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, which was probably not distinctively Mahāyāna, but quasi-Mahāsāṇghika in origin and would date to 100 CE if not even earlier. A developed version of this core text was then developed and would have comprised chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7 of the Faxian and Tibetan versions, though in their present state there is a degree of editorial contamination from the later developments.

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