Collett Cox, "What’s in a Name? School Affiliation in an Early Buddhist Gāndhārī Manuscript"


Recently discovered Gāndhārī Kharoṣṭhī manuscripts offer unprecedented evidence for the early development of Indian Buddhist literary genres. In particular, Gāndhārī commentaries and early scholastic texts, with their varied formats and explicatory strategies, have proven invaluable for illuminating the evolution of the exegetical genre, the context in which exegetical texts emerged, and their relationship to early Buddhist schools. These Gāndhārī exegetical texts call into question the frequent assumption that early Buddhist doctrinal elaboration was guided by sectarian concerns that produced texts expressing the interests of contending school groups. Such a “school-centered” approach, which assumes a defining school identity for each text, has yielded a static, ahistorical matrix into which actual texts seldom fit. In contrast, an “issue-centered” approach, which is focused not on school identity but on contentious doctrinal issues across a range of texts, better accommodates the actual historical complexities as suggested by the Gāndhārī texts. An examination of one Gāndhārī exegetical text, British Library fragment 28, reveals deviations from school positions found in other scholastic texts and suggests that the texts reflect an environment in which doctrinal positions were in active revision and school identities were not yet fully formed.