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Book: Setting Out on the Great Way

Chapter: How the Unborn was Born: The Riddle of Mahāyāna Origins

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.24511


As it developed in South Asia, ‘the Mahāyāna’ is a complex package made up of systems of thought, practice and training. In terms of practice and orientation, it encourages the individual to aim for Buddhahood by setting out on the bodhisatva path. Its signature product was a copious and exuberant literature, an outpouring of sūtras that is unparalleled in Indian or world literature. The production of sūtras began in the second to first centuries BCE, and soon enough was supplemented by cognate śāstras and treatises. In this chapter, the author ruminates on two distinctive and recurrent themes of Mahāyāna literature and ideology as possible clues to the riddle, ‘How was the unborn born?’

Chapter Contributors

  • Peter Skilling ( - peterskilling)