SOAS University of London

SOAS academic publishes new book on Indian Buddhism

23 May 2017

Dr Vincent Tournier, Chair of the Centre of Buddhist Studies and The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Collaborative Research Fellow in Buddhist Studies, has published a new book, bearing the title La formation du Mahāvastu et la mise en place des conceptions relatives à la carrière du bodhisattva. This books examines monastic lineages, the canonical corpora, and the soteriology of Indian Buddhism.

Dr Tournier said: “Speculations about buddhas and bodhisattvas flourished between the 1st and the 6th century CE. This so-called “Middle Period” of Indian Buddhism is characterized by the growth of the Bodhisattvayāna, the movement promoting the path to perfect Awakening (samyaksambodhi), understood as a realisation far superior to that achieved by the Worthy Ones (arhants) such as the personal disciples of buddhas. My book traces these “buddhological” developments within the literature of the Mahāsāṅghika-Lokottaravāda, a monastic order that was influential in Magadha and in the Northwest of South Asia during the first millennium of the Common Era. ”

Dr Tournier’s historical enquiry is rooted in a philological praxis. In particular, this study scrutinises the formation and the vicissitudes of an integral part of the school's canon, namely the “Great Chapter” (Mahāvastu) of the Basket of Monastic Discipline (Vinayapiṭaka). The Mahāvastu, dealing with the lengthy bodhisattva career and the last rebirth of the Buddha Śākyamuni, is vast and composite. The reconstruction of distinct phases in its composition necessarily entails a close examination of the witnesses transmitting the work and of its earliest copy, a 12th century CE palm-leaf manuscript preserved in Nepal. The study, which forms the first part of this book, is grounded on the new annotated edition and French translation of carefully selected sections of the Mahāvastu, featuring as part two. The close study of these key sections uncovers the editorial and rhetorical practices of Mahāsāṅghika milieux, as well as some of their core doctrines.

The book was published last month by the French School of Asian Studies.