The Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa-Sūtra: The Text and Its Transmission

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The Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa-Sūtra: The Text and Its Transmission
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Citation: Hodge, Stephen. "The Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa-Sūtra: The Text and Its Transmission." Corrected and revised version of a paper presented in July 2010 at the Second International Workshop on the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra held at Munich University, 2012. https://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg.de/pdf/5-personen/hodge/the-textual-transmisssion-of-the-mpns.pdf

Abstract

Although the textual study of Mahāyāna sūtras has made gradual progress over the past few decades, there are a number of major sutras of considerable importance for an understanding of the development of Mahāyāna doctrinally and socially which still remain rather neglected in the West, such as the Tathāgataguhyaka, the Samādhi-rāja, and the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa. Of these, the Mahāyāna Mahā-parinirvāṇa-sūtra (hereafter MPNS), when not casually dismissed as a Hinduizing aberration, until recently has attracted interest almost solely as a source for studies of the so-called “Buddha-nature” or tathāgata-garbha doctrine. Moreover, the value of such studies has often been compromised by an uncritical, synchronic use of the text, completely ignoring the problems of stratification and interpolation which I shall highlight in this paper.
      Yet the significance of the MPNS goes well beyond that restricted topic, despite its interest to many. For example, when utilized to the fullest, the available textual materials for the MPNS allow unique insights into the creation, development & transmission of Mahāyāna texts in general. Additionally, I believe that the composition of the main elements of the MPNS can be reliably dated to a narrow period from the middle decades to the end years of the 1st century CE, whrn [sic] read in conjunction with the small group of associated texts (the Mahāmegha-sūtra, Mahā-bherī-sūtra and the Aṅgulimālīya-sūtra), due to the specific mention in them of the Sātavāhana ruler Gautamīputra Sātakarṇi in conjunction with the timetable of a dire eschatological prophesy. There would also seem to be biographical details of a certain individual who may have been the founder or author of the MPNS “movement”. In sum, this situation seems to be virtually unique among all Mahāyāna sutras and, if properly understood, should have far-reaching ramifications for the study of the early Mahāyāna movements, for the MPNS may now be taken as a fixed reference point for constructing a relative chronology for many other early Mahāyāna sutras, though with the usual caveats concerning interpolated material. (Hodge, introduction, 1)