The Phrase dharmaparyāyo hastagato in Mahāyāna Buddhist Literature Rethinking the Cult of the Book in Middle Period Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism

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James B. Apple

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This article examines the occurrence of the phrase dharmaparyāyo hastagato, “having the enumeration of the teaching in one’s hand,” in a select number of texts classified as Mahāyāna sūtras and theorizes its occurrence in relation to the use of the book (pustaka) in the religious cultures of middle period (Common Era to fifth/sixth centuries) Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism. In recent scholarly discourse, the “cult of the book” in Mahāyāna Buddhist formations has been hypothesized to occur in relation to shrines (caitya) or not even to have occurred at all. This article suggests an alternative hypothesis. The paper first analyzes the syntax and composition of the terms dharmaparyāya and the participle hastagata as well as their occurrences within Indian Buddhist literature in Indic languages and in Tibetan and Chinese translations. The paper then identifies the occurrence of the phrase dharmaparyāyo hastagato in a select number of Mahāyāna sūtras and relates this phrase to an observable gradual process of bibliofication, a process where texts increasingly reference themselves as protective objects, that is detectable in the layers of accretion found within the comparative analysis of extant manuscripts. Based on this analysis, the paper concludes that the “cult of the book,” rather than being a stable or local cult phenomena, was comprised of highly mobile and translocal textual communities who carried their object of veneration with them.




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