Book: Setting Out on the Great Way
Chapter: Early Mahāyāna: Laying out the Field
This chapter begins with some general observations about the study of early Mahāyāna Buddhism and of its origins. It goes on to consider briefly a number of issues which continue to pose challenges to our understanding. These include the controversial role of araṇyavāsins or ‘forest-dwellers’; the role of the laity; the periodization of Mahāyāna sūtra-literature (and of this form of Buddhism as a whole); the relationship between Mahāyāna engagement and nikāya affiliation; and the problem of the archaeological and art-historical record. True to the ambiguity of its title, the chapter concludes by asking whether early Mahāyāna and Mahāyāna origins remain worthwhile objects of study in the 21st century, or whether they should be prepared for burial.