Scriptural Commentary in Indian Buddhism
Buddhist intellectual discourse owes its development to a dynamic interplay between primary source materials and subsequent interpretation, yet scholarship on Indian Buddhism has long neglected to privilege one crucial series of texts. Commentaries on Buddhist scriptures, particularly the sutras, offer rich insights into the complex relationship between Buddhist intellectual practices and the norms that informand are informed bythem. Evaluating these commentaries in detail for the first time, Richard F. Nance revisitsand rewrites&mdashthe critical history of Buddhist thought, including its unique conception of doctrinal transmission.
Attributed to such luminaries as Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Dignaga, and Santideva, scriptural commentaries have long played an important role in the monastic and philosophical life of Indian Buddhism. Nance reads these texts against the social and cultural conditions of their making, establishing a solid historical basis for the interpretation of key beliefs and doctrines. He also underscores areas of contention, in which scholars debate what it means to speak for, and as, a Buddha.
Throughout these texts, Buddhist commentators struggle to deduce and characterize the speech of Buddhas and teach others how to convey and interpret its meaning. At the same time, they demonstrate the fundamental dilemma of trying to speak on behalf of Buddhas. Nance also investigates the notion of "right speech" as articulated by Buddhist texts and follows ideas about teaching as imagined through the common figure of a Buddhist preacher. He notes the use of epistemological concepts in scriptural interpretation and the protocols guiding the composition of scriptural commentary, and provides translations of three commentarial guides to better clarify the normative assumptions organizing these works.
"...particularly instructive for Buddhists who find themselves in these early stages of receiving and interpreting the dharma in the West." — Buddhadharma
"Meticulously situating his sources within the institutional and cultural landscape of their creation, Nance explores these questions with clarity, intelligence, and even humor. This work will be an especially welcome resource for graduate students of Buddhism and other Indian traditions." — Choice
"Impressive. Nance's project is welcome and overdue in Buddhist and premodern Indian textual studies." — Philosophy East and West
"Deftly engaging Indian Buddhist texts that represent a wide range of genres and intellectual disciplines, Richard Nance's nuanced and beautifully written book attends carefully to the ways in which Buddhist intellectuals variously elaborated and exemplified the norms (interpretive, epistemic, pedagogical, and moral) meant to determine which acts of speech and writing ought to count as authoritatively Buddhist. Nance's sensitive readings are guided throughout by a sophisticated concern& mdash;of great timeliness for the fields of religious studies& mdash;with the question of how religiously normative rhetoric affects history. Refuting the idea that we can sharply distinguish questions of what historical Buddhists 'actually did' from normative accounts of what they ought to have done, Nance compellingly shows how Indian Buddhist commentators and other intellectuals authored texts that at once transmitted and constituted a tradition -- while showing, too, the problem with thinking about their intellectual activity in only one of these ways. This important book should be read not only by students of Buddhist thought and history but also by students of religious studies who aim to overcome the facile dichotomy of 'theory' and 'practice.'" — Dan Arnold, Divinity School at the University of Chicago, and author of Buddhists, Brahmins, and Belief: Epistemology in Indian and Buddhist Philosophy and Brains, Buddhas, and Believing: The Problem of Intentionality in Classical Buddhist and Cognitive-Scientific Philosophy of Mind
Read the >introduction to Speaking for Buddhas.