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Indo-Iran J (2007) 50: 101143

DOI 10.1007/s10783-007-9052-z

Revisiting the phrase sa prthivpradesas caityabhuto

bhavet and the Mahayanacult of the book

David Drewes

Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Since the publication of Gregory Schopens article The Phrase sa prthivpradesas

caityabhuto bhavet in the Vajracchedika: Notes on the Cult ofthe Book in
Mahayana in this journal in 1975, it has become widely accepted that a cult of
the book was an important feature of Indian Mahayana.1 Schopen was not the first
to associate the veneration of sutras with the Mahayana. Charles Eliot, for example,
wrote already in 1921:
The old practice of reciting the scriptures was not discontinued but no objection was made to preserving and reading them in written copies. . . . But though
the Buddhists remained on the whole true to the old view that the important
thing was to understand and disseminate the substance of the Masters teaching and not merely to preserve the text as if it were a sacred formula, still we
see growing up in Mahayanist works ideas about the sanctity and efficacy of
scripture which are foreign to the Pali canon. Many sutras (for instance the
Diamond Cutter) extol themselves as all-sufficient for salvation: the Prajaparamita commences with a salutation addressed not as usual to the Buddha
but to the work itself, as if it were a deity, and Hodgson states that the Buddhists of Nepal worship their nine sacred books (2:50).

1 This article also appeared as a chapter of Schopens masters thesis (Schopen 1975b, 75-129).

An early version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of
Religion in Atlanta in 2003. I would like to thank Richard Salomon for reading a draft of the section
dealing with archaeological evidence and making valuable suggestions. I would also like to thank
Jonathan Silk for sending some helpful suggestions as this paper was entering the press.
D. Drewes ()
University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, R3T 5V5, Canada


D. Drewes

Several other scholars, including Monier Monier-Williams, Louis de La Valle

Poussin, L.A. Waddell, Moriz Winternitz, S. Paranavitana, Nalinaksha Dutt, Edward J. Thomas, W.Y. Evans-Wentz, Edward Conze, Jean Filliozat, tienne Lamotte,
Akira Hirakawa, and Andr Bareau, had also identified the veneration of books or
the dharma as a Mahayana practice.2 Although the idea that Mahayanists venerated
sutras was well established, however, no one had yet seriously addressed the question of how they did so or the significance of sutra worship for the Mahayana as a
whole. Stepping into this gap, Schopen argued that the veneration of sutras played a
key role in the development of early Mahayana and its institutional structure. Taking
issue with Akira Hirakawas theory that stupa sites served as the primary institutional bases of early Mahayana, he argued that early Mahayanists in fact rejected the
veneration of stupas and relics and developed new places of worship of their own
where they venerated Mahayana sutras. In the first, oral tradition period of the cult,
these shrines were established by the simple recitation of sutras at particular places
(1975a, 170, 179). Later, desiring more permanent places of worship, Mahayanists
wrote their sutras down and deposited them at particular sites in order to establish
permanently located source[s] of power (179-80). It was these new centersand
not stupa sitesthat served as the, or one of the, institutional bases . . . out of which
early Mahayana arose (1975a, 181).3 In the more than thirty years since the initial
publication of Schopens paper, little additional work has been done on Mahayana
book veneration, and Schopens views have not received in-depth critique.4 With the
2 Monier-Williams 1889, 178; de La Valle Poussin 1898, 227; Waddell 1912-13, 176; Winternitz 1927,

2:300-302, 320; Paranavitane/a 1928, 44-45 and 1933, 204-5; Dutt 1930, 108-9; Thomas 1933, 188; EvansWentz 1947, 18-19; Conze 1951, 79, cf. 85; Renou and Filliozat 1947-53, 2:607-8; Lamotte 1954, 383-86;
Hirakawa 1963, 86-87; Bareau 1966, 199. Schopen himself (1975a, 168n38) cites de La Valle Poussin
(1898), Renou and Filliozat (1947-53), and Lamotte (1954, but pages 393-96). He also cites Mudiyanse
(1967, 91-92). Though its publication date is 1976, see also Lamotte (1944-80, 4:1862-63).
3 Schopen states that there is a very real possibility of there having been more than one institutional

basis of early Mahayana. Although he does not suggest what other basis or bases there may have been, he
comments that it is reasonable to assume that the early Mahayana texts . . . could not be taught . . . or kept
in the usual monastic centers (1975a, 181). In a more recent publication Schopen allows that some early
Mahayana groups were marginalized, embattled segments still institutionally embedded in the dominant
mainstream monastic orders and states that others may have been marginal in yet another way: they
may have been small, isolated groups living in the forest at odds with and not necessarily welcomed by
the mainstream monastic orders. He points out that taking Mahayanists to have lived in the forest would
make it possible to account for the absence of early donative epigraphs associated with the Mahayana at
established Buddhist sitesthe only kinds of sites known and so far studied. . . and account too for the
attempted redefinition of Buddhist sacred sites found in so many Mahayana Sutras (2000b, 23). These
comments seem to suggest that Schopen envisions Mahayana book shrines as having been situated in
4 Several scholars have, however, taken issue with some of Schopens ideas. Paul Harrison states that in

his view Schopen over-emphasizes the negative attitude displayed by Mahayana sutras toward stupa
worship and suggests that the aim of Mahayana sutras is not to promote [stupa worship], nor even to
forbid it, but to compare it unfavorably with other religious activities or values, e.g., the realization of
the praja-paramita, the memorisation of sutras, or the practice of samadhi (1995, 62 and n23). Harrison
also takes issue with Schopens basic contention that the Vajracchedika makes reference[s] to book shrines.
See note 18. Richard Gombrich comments that Schopens otherwise brilliant article is slightly marred by
an occasional failure to distinguish the book as a written object from texts in general; and I think he
may lay too much stress on the localization of the cult (1988, 29). Hisashi Matsumura argues that not all
early Mahayanists rejected the stupa cult (1985, 144, see also 147n31). Tilmann Vetter argues that early

Revisiting the cult of the book


recent reprinting of this paper in a collection of Schopens articles (2005a, 25-62), it

is perhaps an appropriate occasion to revisit and reconsider his ideas.
Schopens argument is based primarily on a close reading of a group of rather
cryptic passages found in several Mahayana sutras that say that places where people memorize, recite, or teach sutras, or keep them in written form, will become
caityabhuta. The Vajracchedika Prajaparamita, for instance, says at one point,
in Conzes translation, that spot of earth where one has taken from this discourse
on dharma but one stanza of four lines, taught it or illuminated it, that spot of earth
would be like a shrine [sa prthivpradesas caityabhuto bhavet] for the whole world

with its Gods, men and Asuras
(1957, 74). The word caityabhuta is a compound
of the words caitya and bhuta. The word caitya means shrine, or sacred place or
object, and typically refers to stupas. It can also refer to non-Buddhist shrines; the
akyamuni and other Buddhas are traditionally believed to have
bodhiman.d.a, where S
sat on the night they attained Buddhahood; other places associated with the life of
akyamuni and other Buddhas; and certain other sacred places or objects. Previous
scholars tended to take the word bhuta in the compound to indicate a comparison
and thus, like Conze, to read passages like the Vajracchedikas as stating merely that
places where people do things with sutras are like caityas. Schopen argues that this
interpretation makes little sense and that the term caityabhuta in these passages refers
to actual caityas which served as early Mahayana cult sites (150-52, 176-77). Altogether, Schopen analyses six caityabhuta passages and several other passages that
seem to be modeled on them in light of related material from a range of South Asian
Buddhist texts. From this analysis he draws a remarkably specific picture of the nature and history of the cult of the book. He writes:
It is clear . . . that the relic cult had a clearly defined organizational center; i.e.,
the stupa. It was around the stupa that the activity of the worshipper turned and
it was the erection of such a structure which allowed a stable localization of
the cult. It is equally clear from the [As..tasahasrika Prajaparamita] etc. that
the organizational center of the cult of the book was first of all the book and,
Mahayanists practiced stupa worship and that the cult of the book was a later development. He also argues
that the Saddharmapun.d.arka does not show a negative attitude toward the stupa/relic cult (1994, 126672). Jan Nattier also suggests that the cult of the book was not part of the earliest forms of Mahayana
(2003, 184-86). Although he accepts that the cult of the book was important for the authors of the As..ta and
Aks.obhyavyuha, Egil Fronsdal writes that explicit reference[s] to a cult of the book are absent from most
of the other translations of Lokaks.ema. He suggests that the cult of the book was not pervasive within
the early bodhisattva movement(s) and that perhaps Schopen was a bit hasty to claim that the cult of the
book was the institutional base for the origin of the Mahayana (1998, 192-93 and n24). Schopen himself
comments in a recent publication that the cult of the book clearly . . . must be revisited. Though he seems
to continue to maintain most of his original views, he argues that the cult was not part of Mahayanas
initial formation, but a somewhat later development. He writes: It may well be safe to say that the actual
cult of the book is probably later than I had originally suggested, though perhaps not by too much, and
although it probably was an important component of the organizational and cultic developments of the
Mahayana(s) in India, such development was probably much slower and later than previously thought
(2005c, 153n118). Elsewhere he comments that he was almost certainly wrong . . . in seeing . . . only an
attempt by the new movement to substitute one similar cult (the cult of the book) for another similar
cult (the cult of relics). That such a substitution occurredand perhaps rather quicklyis likely, but it
now appears that it is very unlikely that this was the original or fundamental intention (2003, 497). For
Schopens views on the original intention, see mainly 2005c. On Schopens current views, see also note 3.


D. Drewes

by extension, the prthivpradesa where the book was recited, set-up or circulated. It should benoted, for example, that in all occurrences of our formula
[i.e., the phrase sa prthivpradesas caityabhuto bhavet and its variants] it is the
 and not the book which becomes caityabhuta and is to
prthivpradesa in itself

be worshipped, etc. . . . Apart, however, from the difference in focal point, the
texts describe the structure of the two cults in exactly the same terms: placing the relics in a stupa; honoring, revering them, etc., with flowers, incense,
rows of lamps; writing the dharmaparyaya and making it into a book, setting
it up; honoring, revering it with flowers, incense, rows of lamps. It seems obvious, then, that the cult of the book was in structure patterned closely on the
structure of the earlier relic cult or, expressed differently, that the former took
over from the latter the prescribed forms of activity while at the same time substituting a distinctly different object toward which they were directed (1975a,
We are, perhaps, also able to account for the . . . shift . . . from an orientation emphasizing the oral tradition to one primarily emphasizing a written tradition. In
the former case the development and maintenance of new cultic centers would
depend on the periodic visits of wandering bhan.akas or reciters. This was, at
best, an unstable mechanism. If centers were to be established which would
have a more permanent character and which would, by that fact, make possible the development of a cult in a more truly sociological sense of the term, it
was necessary to have a more permanent, more specific object to serve as the
focal point of the cult. The shift to a primarily written tradition is perhaps to
be accounted for by this need. Once the book was in written form, it could be
deposited permanently at the places where the bhan.akas were in the habit of
teaching and reciting and thus, even in the absence of the bhan.akas, it would
provide a permanently located source of power (179-80).
[The cult of the book] did not develop in isolation. It had to contend at every
step with the historical priority and the dominance of the stupa/relic cult of
early Buddhism in the milieu in which it was attempting to establish itself. . . .
At [As..ta] 71.5ff and 94.13ff, the justification of the cult of the book is articulated not in terms of its own inherent value, but in terms of its value relative
to the stupa/relic cult . . . . At [Kasyapaparivarta] 158-59, [Vimalakrtinirdesa]
XII, 4-6, etc., the merit derived from the cult of the book is always expressed
in terms of its comparative superiority to that derived from the stupa/relic cult.
These passages and others like them are indicative of a confrontation of the two
cults or, at the least, a situation of competition between them; and this situation is not surprising when it is kept in mind that the compilers of the [As..ta],
etc. were attempting to introduce a radical innovation in the face of an established cult form of central importance which, in addition, had the sanction of
the dominant sector of the Buddhist community (168-69).
Such prthivpradesa h. may well have formed one of the institutional bases

leaving room for the very likely possibility of there having been
more than one) out of which early Mahayana arose. A corollary to this would
be the assumption that, since each text placed itself at the center of its own

Revisiting the cult of the book


cult, early Mahayana (from a sociological point of view), rather than being an
identifiable single group, was in the beginning a loose federation of a number
of distinct though related cults, all of the same pattern, but each associated with
its specific text (181).
What is perhaps most notable about Schopens argument in support of these theses
is that the only evidence that he cites for the existence of Mahayana book shrines is his
caityabhuta passages and their variants. A key question, then, is whether or not these
passages actually make reference to shrines. What I will try to suggest is that they do
not, and that they are in fact similes or metaphors, as scholars before Schopen tended
to think. Before turning to Schopens caityabhuta passages themselves, however, it
will be helpful to make a few observations on a number of passages in South Asian
Buddhist texts that unambiguously compare people or things to caityas.
Passages that compare people or things to caityas are fairly common in South
Asian Buddhist literature and can be found in texts belonging to a variety of time
periods and genres. A simple example occurs at the end of the Pali Milindapaha.
Here we are told that after the arahant Nagasena had answered all of Milindas questions, Milinda was so impressed that he built him a vihara and gave him various
gifts. He then left his kingdom to his son, became a monk, and went on to attain
arahantship himself. After giving this account, the text closes with three verses extolling the virtues of paa (Skt. praja), the last two of which read as follows, in
Trenckners Pali Text Society edition and I.B. Horners translation:
. khandhe .thita paa sati yattha anunaka |
pujavisesassa dharo aggo so va anuttaro ||
tasma hi pan.d.ito poso sampassam
. attham attano |
paavantabhipujeyya cetiyam
pujiyan ti ||
In whom wisdom is firmly set,
where mindfulness never fails,
He is foremost in deserving honour,
he is unexcelled.
Therefore let the man who is wise,
beholding his own good,
Greatly honour those who have wisdom
as to be honoured is a shrine (Trenckner 1880, 420; Horner 1963-64, 2:305;
cf. Schopen 1975a, 176n54).
The most obvious point of this passage is to give the moral of the story of Milindas
veneration of Nagasena and his subsequent attainment of arahantship: one brings
benefits to oneself by venerating people like Nagasena. What is most important here
for our purposes is the phrase cetiyam
. viya pujiyan, which Horner translates as to
be honoured is a shrine. The word cetiya is an exact cognate of Sanskrit caitya and
viya unambiguously means like or similar to, so the passage is clearly drawing
a simile. The basic idea is that just as the veneration of caityas produces merit, so
too does the veneration of people who possess paa like Nagasena. Although it is
not clear from Horners translation, the simile also seems to work on a deeper level
to provide the reason why venerating people like Nagasena provides benefits. In her


D. Drewes

translation, Horner glosses over the word khandha (Skt. skandha) in the first verse,
rendering it as whom. In this context, however, what the word specifically means is
torso, or perhaps body. What the passage actually says, then, is that any torso or
body in which paa is established is like a caitya that is to be worshipped. The idea
seems to be that people like Nagasena are like caityas because paa is established
in their bodies in the same way in which relics are established in caityas. Paa thus
seems to be imaged in this passage as a sort of homologue of the Buddha, or of the
Buddhas relics, that makes whoever possesses or contains it like a human stupa or
caitya. Veneration of such people thus produces benefits in the same manner as the
veneration of caityas.
Similar passages can be found in the Samadhiraja and Drumakinnararajapariprc
cha sutras. Discussing the practice of bodily restraint (kayasam
. vara) in the Kayava n manah.sam
. vara chapter of the Samadhiraja, the Buddha states that among a number of other benefits, such as acquiring certain characteristics of a Buddha and immunity from various forms of danger, a person trained in bodily restraint will become
a caitya for the whole world [caitiyu sarvaloke] (Dutt 1941-54, 600). Although the
text does not explicitly say how becoming a caitya is beneficial, the idea seems to be
that those who practice bodily restraint metaphorically become caityas in the sense
that they contain restraint in their bodies. In a rather humorous passage in the Drumakinnara that illustrates the inferiority of sravakas to advanced bodhisattvas, King
Druma plays a vn.a (pi wang), a traditional Indian musical instrument similar to a
sitar, in a manner that causes the sravakas and others in the assembly to lose control
and start dancing. A bodhisattva then says sarcastically to Mahakasyapa:
Since the venerable Mahakasyapa is old; aged; feeble; with few desires; content; a holder [dzin pa, Skt. *dhara] of the like a caitya [mchod
rten du gyur pa] for the world with its gods, people, and asuras, how is he not
able to control his own body, and [how], being an elder, is he made to appear
as if he were dancing like a little boy? (Harrison 1992b, 58, my trans.).
In the midst of this passage Mahakasyapa is compared to a caitya, interestingly
enough by being called mchod rten du gyur pa, a Tibetan translation of what in
the original text was probably the word caityabhuta.5 The passage seems to compare
him to a caitya on the basis of the fact that he is a holder of the, a group
of special ascetic practices sanctioned in early Buddhist texts that were optional for
monks and nuns.6 Like the Samadhiraja passage, this passage clearly presents be-

5 The word mchod rten du gyur pa (or mchod rten du gyur) is used to render caityabhuta in Tibetan
translations of several texts; see, e.g., Schopen (1975a, 148, 155, 160) and Harrison and Hartmann (2000,
214-15). On this passage, see also Schopen (2005c, 111). The word mchod rten du gyur pa here can be
translated as a true shrine, as Schopen suggests, but the passage clearly constitutes either a simile or a
6 Mahakas yapa is traditionally identified as the foremost of the Buddhas monks who practiced the See, e.g., Morris and Hardy (1885-1900, 1:23 and n4) and n4/Woodward and Hare (1932-36,
1:16). For additional references see Silk (2003, 178-79n11). For more on the see Dantinne

Revisiting the cult of the book


ing like a caitya as something positive, but does not indicate what precisely is good
about it.7
Some of the most interesting caitya comparisons are found in some versions of the
story of the Buddha-to-be in his mothers womb. Tellers of the legend of the Buddha
often dwell on this story at some length and reveal a deep fascination with the idea
of a virtual Buddha dwelling inside of a human body. The authors of the versions of
the story contained in the Mahavastu, Nidanakatha, and Lalitavistara each compare
Maya during her pregnancy to a caitya. The Mahavastu, for instance, describes Maya
as receiving the veneration of various classes of gods:
Again, when the Bodhisattva has entered his mothers womb all the Suparn.a
kings and lords, the Caturmaharajika devas, the Trayastrim
. sa devas, the Yama
devas, the Tus.ita devas, the Nirman.arati devas, the Paranirmitavasavartin devas,
and the Brahma devas enter her abode and sprinkle her with celestial powder
of the sandal-wood and the aloe-wood. They sprinkle her with celestial powder of tamala leaves, with celestial showers of blossoms, and laud her with
perfect, consummate and absolutely pure praise. Then saluting her thrice from
the right they go their way. (All this is) through the power of the Bodhisattva
[bodhisatvasya eva tejena] (Jones 1949-56, 2:14; Senart 1882-97, 2:16).
Here all the gods of the Buddhist universe come to worship Maya by sprinkling her
with fragrant powders, showering her with celestial flowers, singing her praises, and
circumambulating her. Particularly interesting are the facts that it is Maya herself
and not the bodhisattvathat is said to be worshipped, and that Maya is said to be
worshipped because of the power of the bodhisattva. The overall image is one of
Maya being worshipped as a sort of human stupa. Gods come to worship her because
she contains a (future) Buddha and the worship they offer is described in the same
manner in which Buddhist texts commonly describe stupa worship.
The equation of Maya and a stupa is made more explicit as the passage continues:
Again, when the Bodhisattva has entered his mothers womb he does not occupy a position that is either too high or too low. He does not lie on his face,
nor on his back, nor on his left side, nor squatting on his heels. But he sits in
his mothers right side with his legs crossed. . . . He is able to see his mother,
while she in her turn can see the Bodhisattva in her womb like a body of pure
gold and is enraptured at the sight.
Just as though a gem of beryl in a crystal casket were placed in her curving
lap [yatha vaid.u ryasya man.i spha.tikasamudge kat.iutsam
. gasmim
. ] so does his
mother see the Bodhisattva like a body of pure gold illuminating her womb
(Jones 1949-56, 2:14-15; Senart 1882-97, 2:16).
Instead of developing slowly as a fetus, the bodhisattva is fully formed and able to sit
upright as soon as he enters his mothers womb. Mayas womb is said to be transparent, enabling him to see outside and be seen inside of it. Reflecting on the bodhisattva
7 For two additional passages of this sort see Aryaratnameghan

amamahayanasutra (2003, 223/112a,

quoted in Nance 2005, 12) and Dutt (1941-54, 481).


D. Drewes

living in this transparent womb, the author says that he was like a gem of beryl in
a crystal casket. The word Jones translates as crystal casket is spha.tikasamudga,
which seems to refer more specifically to a crystal reliquary. Buddhist reliquaries are
often made of crystal, and Michael Willis points out that s.amuga, equivalent to Sanskrit samudga, is one of a handful of words used to refer to reliquaries in inscriptions
found on Indian Buddhist reliquaries themselves (17). Inscriptions on two of the reliquaries Willis discusses refer to smaller crystal reliquaries found inside of them as
phaligas.amuga, which is precisely equivalent to Sanskrit spha.tikasamudga (Bhler
1894, 326, 328; Sarma 1988, 41-42).8 The overall simile that the passage suggests
is that just as caityas contain reliquaries that contain the Buddha in the form of his
relics, Maya contains her womb which contains the Buddha himself.
Along with comparing her to a caitya or stupa, the Mahavastu depicts the presence
of the future Buddha within Mayas body as providing her with a number of salutary,
protective, and other benefits.9 The text states:
Again, when the Bodhisattva has entered his mothers womb, his mother is
comfortable whether she moves, stands, sits or lies down, because of the power
of the Bodhisattva. No weapon can pierce her body, nor can poison, fire or
sword prevail against her, because of the power of the Bodhisattva. . . . She
obtains celestial perfumes, garlands, cosmetics and incenses, because of the
power of the Bodhisattva. . . . Nothing, not even a bird, passes over her. She
becomes sound and healthy. . . . She becomes rid of passion and lives an unimpaired, flawless, unspotted, untarnished and absolutely pure and chaste life. In
the heart of this preeminent woman no passion arises for any man, not even

for King Suddhodana.

She lives in accordance with the five moral precepts,
observing them to the full (Jones 1949-56, 2:13; cf. Senart 1882-97, 2:14-15).
While she is pregnant Maya enjoys freedom from all forms of desire, becomes a
paragon of virtue, and enjoys optimal health and protection from all possible harm.
Because the text explicitly states that these benefits result from the power (teja[s]) of
the bodhisattva, the picture we get is of a sort of radiant energy that proceeds from
the bodhisattva and pervades Mayas body with a purifying, healthful, and protective
The idea that beneficial energy proceeds from Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and relics
and provides protective and other benefits to things or places that in some sense contain them is common in Buddhist literature and thought. The Mahavastu itself, for
example, tells the story of the Buddha being invited to the city of Vaisa l to dispel a plague and states that the non-human beings (amanus.yakas) that were causing
it fled the city as soon as the Buddha stepped over its boundary (sma).10 When
8 For additional discussion of the terminology associated with reliquaries see Willis (2000, 17-21) and
Skilling (2005, 276). The word samudga is also used to refer to a reliquary in the Gilgit manuscript
of the Pacavim
. satisahasrika Prajaparamita (Kimura 1986-92, 2-3:58; Schopen 1977, 146). Another

reference to a crystal reliquary (sphat.ikamaya kumbha) can be found in the Sayan

asanavastu of the
Mulasarvastivada-vinaya (Gnoli 1978, 32/Schopen 2000a, 131, 195n17).
9 On this topic, cf. Durt (2003).
10 For a discussion of the plague of Vaisa l in Pali sources, see Malalasekera (1937-38, s.v. Vesali).

Revisiting the cult of the book


asked how he performed this feat, the Buddha tells a series of jataka stories of
how he rid other cities of plagues simply by entering them in previous lives (Senart
1882-97, 1:253-71, 283-90/Jones 1949-56, 1:208-25, 235-42). The Son.adan.d.a Sutta
of the Pali Dgha Nikaya states that people in any town or village where the Buddha
stays are not harmed by non-human beings (amanussa) (Rhys Davids and Carpenter
1890-1911, 1:116/Walshe 1987, 127-28). Almost the entire Purapravesa chapter
of the Samadhiraja is devoted to a description of wonders that occur in the city of
Rajagrha the moment that the Buddha crosses its threshold (indrakla), among them

the dispelling
of hunger and thirst and the curing of disease (Dutt 1941-54, 113-48).
Similar stories are common.11 In his account of his travels in India, Hsan-tsang
comments on a large number of stupas and other caityas and describes many of them
as emitting such things as light, music, fire, smoke, and perfume and as healing sickness and causing miraculous events in their surrounding areas (Beal 1884, e.g., 1:60,
66, 67, 94, 101, 103, 121, 138). The perception of stupas as vessels of radiant power
persists in contemporary Buddhism as well. Describing how stupas are understood
by Thai Buddhists, for example, Denis Byrne writes:
The radiant power . . . flows out though space. . . . The power, which ultimately is
the fiery power of the Buddha, not only moves out from the relic (or the objects
symbolizing it) to the fabric of the containing stupa but flows on outward to
the temple complex which contains the stupa, and even into the town which
contains the temple. . . .
The radiant flow may be further reified in local practice. When the That Phanom
shrine, a tower-like stupa located near the Mekong River in north-east Thailand,
was restored in 1901, fragments of brick and plaster which had exfoliated from
its surface were taken and used in the construction of a small stupa nearby.
Fragments were also taken by local people as objects of veneration, a custom
widespread in the north-east (1995, 271).
The Mahavastus account of Mayas pregnancy incorporates these ideas and yields
an overall picture of Maya as not only being structurally like a stupa, and as receiving
the sort of veneration typically paid to stupas, but as being irradiated by the Buddhas
fiery power just like actual stupas and other containers of Buddhas and relics.12
The Nidanakathas account of Mayas pregnancy is significantly shorter than the
Mahavastus but contains most of the same basic ideas. In N.A. Jayawickramas
translation it reads:
When the Bodhisatta had . . . taken conception, four deities with swords in hand
stood guard from the time of conception over the Bodhisatta and his mother to
ward off any danger. No lustful thoughts towards men arose in the Bodhisattas
11 For a few additional examples, see Bhattacharya (1939, 106-7); Braarvig (1994, 141-42); Gnoli (1978,
26)/Schopen (2000a, 125); Silk (1997, 200-201); and Dutt (1941-54, 498). On passages of this sort see
also Schopen (2000a, 185n10).
12 The idea that instantiations of the divine radiate power is by no means exclusive to Buddhism. George

Michell argues, for example, that the design of Hindu temples reflects an understanding of a radiation of
energy outwards from the centre of the sanctuary in four directions (1977, 66-67). The idea is perhaps a
cultural universal.


D. Drewes

mother; and she spent the time in great comfort and glory. She was happy and
underwent no physical hardship; and the Bodhisatta who lay in her womb was
clearly visible like a yellow thread passed through a clear crystal. Since the
womb in which a Bodhisatta has lain is like the relic chamber of a shrine [yasma
ca bodhisattena vasitakucchi nama cetiyagabbhasadisa], and no other being
can lie in it or occupy it, the mother of the Bodhisatta dies seven days after the
Bodhisattas birth and is reborn in the City of Tusita (Jayawickrama 1990, 69;
Fausbll 1877-96, 1:51-52).13
Like the Mahavastu, the Nidanakatha describes Mayas womb as transparent. Rather
than comparing it to a reliquary, however, it describes it as cetiyagabbhasadisa. In
this compound the word cetiyagabbha is equivalent to Sanskrit caityagarbha (womb
of a caitya, or caitya-chamber), and seems to refer, like the more common term
dhatugabbha, to a chamber inside of a stupa in which reliquaries are placed. The word
sadisa is equivalent to Sanskrit sadrsa and unambiguously means like. Maya is
 similar to a caitya or stupa. Just as stupas
thus again presented as being structurally
contain cetiyagabbhas that contain relics, Maya contains her womb which contains
the future Buddha. Like the Mahavastu, the Nidanakatha also depicts Maya as being safe, healthy, and mentally pure during her pregnancy. Though the text does not
explicitly say so, apart from the protection she receives from her guardians, these
benefits seem to be understood as resulting from the bodhisattvas power.
The Lalitavistaras account of Mayas pregnancy contains the same basic ideas as
the Nidanakatha and Mahavastus but presents them in a considerably more elaborate
way (Lefmann 1902-8, 1:54-76). Like the other two texts it depicts Maya as enjoying
ease and comfort during her pregnancy, and as being free from sexual desire, but
adds that anyone with any sort of illness could be cured by the mere sight of her
and states that the entire kingdom enjoyed prosperity and protection from strife. The
Lalitavistara also agrees with both the Mahavastu and Nidanakatha in presenting
Mayas womb as transparent, but goes further to depict the bodhisattva as inhabiting
a special dwelling in her womb, called a ratnavyuha, with three pavilions (ku.ta gara)
nested inside one another and a couch in the innermost pavilion for the bodhisattva
to sit on. After the bodhisattvas birth, Brahma and his accompanying gods take this
ratnavyuha to his heaven and he sets it up in, or as, an actual caitya (pratisthapayati
sma caityartham) (Lefmann 1902-8, 1:73, 83).
A different sort of caitya simile occurs as part of the discussion of the practice of buddhanussati (Skt. buddhanusmrti), or mindfulness of the Buddha, in Bud
dhaghosas Visuddhimagga. For Buddhaghosa
this practice constitutes one of forty
types of samatha meditation and involves a series of reflections on ten standard
epithets of the Buddha (arahant, fully-enlightened, endowed with knowledge and
conduct, etc.) (Warren and Kosambi 1950, 162-76/an.amoli 1975, 191-209). Unlike
other varieties of samatha meditation, which can enable one to develop meditative
absorption (appanasamadhi) and attain the four jhanas and even higher states, the
13 Most of the details of this story, though not the caitya comparison, are taken directly from canonical
suttas. See, e.g., the Mahapadana Sutta of the Dgha Nikaya (Rhys Davids and Carpenter 1890-1911,
2:12-14/Walshe 1987, 203-4) and the Acchariyabbhutadhamma Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya (Trenckner
and Chalmers 1888-99, 3:120-21/an.amoli and Bodhi 1995, 980-82).

Revisiting the cult of the book


highest state it leads to is access concentration (upacarasamadhi), a stage of samatha

one level below the first jhana. According to Buddhaghosa, however, it brings a number of other benefits. In an.amolis translation:
When a bhikkhu is devoted to this recollection of the Buddha, he is respectful
and deferential towards the Master. He attains fullness of faith, mindfulness,
understanding and merit. He has much happiness and gladness. He conquers
fear and dread. He is able to endure pain. He comes to feel as if he were living in the Masters presence. And his body, when the recollection of the Buddhas special qualities dwells in it, becomes as worthy of veneration as a shrine
room [buddhagun.a nussatiya ajjhavuttha cassa sarram pi cetiyagharam iva
. hoti]. His mind tends toward the plane of the Buddhas. When he
encounters an opportunity for transgression, he has awareness of conscience
and shame as vivid as though he were face to face with the Master. And if he
penetrates no higher, he is at least headed for a happy destiny (an.amoli 1975,
209; Warren and Kosambi 1950, 175).14
Appearing in the midst of this list of benefits is the claim that a practitioner of
buddhanussati is like a cetiyaghara (Skt. caityagrha). Although an.amoli translates
 caitya-house and refers specifthis term loosely as shrine room, it literally means
ically to a building containing a stupa, most typically one with a barrel-vaulted nave
terminating in an apse, a sort best known from the many examples which survive
amidst the rock-cut cave complexes of Western India.15 What Buddhaghosa has in
mind by drawing a comparison between a practitioner of buddhanussati and such a
building is made fairly clear by his statement that a persons body (sarra) is like
a cetiyaghara specifically when the recollection of the Buddhas special qualities
dwells in it. Just as cetiyagharas contain stupas, and stupas contain relics, a person
engaged in the practice of buddhanussati contains the mindfulness of the Buddhas
special qualities.
While this much is clear, what is less so is why Buddhaghosa presents being like
a cetiyaghara as a personal benefit that practitioners of buddhanussati should wish to
acquire. Why exactly should one want to become like a caitya? This question is especially interesting because we have seen roughly the same idea already in two other
texts, the Samadhiraja, which presents becoming a caitya for the whole world as a
benefit that can be gained from the practice of kayasam
. vara, and the Drumakinnara,
which presents being like a caitya for the world with its gods, people, and asuras
as a positive quality possessed by Mahakasyapa. The passages assertion that one becomes worthy of worship when ones body becomes like a cetiyaghara suggests that
14 This passage is also quoted by Paul Williams (1989, 218), Paul Harrison (1992a, 218), and Reginald
Ray (1994, 346), though these scholars do not comment on its caitya comparison. A passage very similar
aravattara Sutta. Here anyone who
to this one can be found in the very interesting, non-canonical, Pali Ak
writes or listens to the sutta is promised that he or she will become cetiyam
. viya pujaniya (Jaini corrects
pujaniya to pujaniyo) (Jaini 1992, 207/218-19). As Harrison points out, the idea that buddhanussati can
be used to provide freedom from fear and danger is found already in the Dhajagga Sutta of the Sam
. yutta
Nikaya (Feer 1884-98, 1:218-20/Bodhi 2000, 319-21).
15 On caityagrhas see, e.g., Sarkar (1966, 25-49) and D. Mitra (1971, 41-52). The term cetiyaghara and
close variantsare found in several inscriptions associated with caityagrhas. For references see Tsukamoto

(1996-2003, 2:37).


D. Drewes

practitioners of buddhanussati might have been able to expect to be venerated. Given

that Buddhaghosa presents buddhanussati as not enabling the attainment of any of
the jhanas, much less any form of liberation, and that he states that its practitioners
still need to penetrate higher, it seems unlikely that this is the case. Another possibility is suggested by the passages that compare Maya to a caitya discussed above. In
these passages the power of the future Buddha inside of Mayas body is depicted as
radiating outward, through her body (and, in the case of the Lalitavistara, throughout the entire kingdom), and as purifying her mind, providing her with a variety of
protective and salutary benefits, and causing her to be venerated by gods. Although
Maya actually had a Buddha(-to-be) living inside of her body, whereas practitioners
of buddhanussati have only mental images of the Buddhas qualities, it is possible
that Buddhaghosa imagines that such practitioners will receive similar benefits. Although Buddhaghosa does not specifically identify becoming like a caitya as their
cause, this is suggested by the fact that the other secondary benefits he mentions
having much happiness and gladness, conquering fear and dread, being able to endure pain, avoiding improper behavior, etc.are the same sort of benefits that Maya
is said to receive. Though the Samadhiraja and Drumakinnara present their caitya
comparisons with less context, their authors may also have understood becoming like
a caitya to involve a similar sanctification or purification and perhaps as entailing the
acquisition of protective and salutary benefits as well.
We are now able to turn to Schopens caityabhuta passages. The first, from the
Vajracchedika, occurs as part of a relatively lengthy passage in which the Buddha
describes tremendous benefits that can be gained from memorizing even a single
verse of the text. Immediately before the portion of the passage that Schopen quotes
we find the following exchange, in Conzes translation:
The Lord: What do you think, Subhuti, if there were as many Ganges rivers as
there are grains of sand in the large river Ganges, would the grains of sand in
them be many?
Subhuti: Those Ganges rivers would indeed be many, much more so the grains
of sand in them.
The Lord: This is what I announce to you, Subhuti, this is what I make known to
you,if some woman or man had filled with the seven treasures as many world
systems as there would be grains of sand in those Ganges rivers, and would
give them as a gift to the Tathagathas, Arhats, Fully Enlightened Ones,what
do you think, Subhuti, would that woman or man on the strength of that beget
a great heap of merit?
Subhuti: Great, O Lord . . . would be the heap of merit . . . .
The Lord: . . . if, Subhuti . . . a son or daughter of good family had taken up [i.e.,
memorized, udgrhya] from this discourse on dharma but one stanza of four
 demonstrate and illuminate it for others, then the latter indeed
lines, and were to
would on the strength of that beget a greater heap of merit, immeasurable and
The portion of the passage quoted by Schopen (1975a, 148-49) then immediately
Then again, Subhuti, that spot of earth where one has taken [i.e., memorized,
udgrhya] from this discourse on dharma but one stanza of four lines, taught it

Revisiting the cult of the book


or illuminated it, that spot of earth would be like a shrine [sa prthivpradesas
caityabhuto bhavet] for the whole world with its Gods, men andAsuras. What
then should we say [kah. punar vadah.] of those who will bear in mind [i.e., retain in memory, dharayis.yanti] this discourse on dharma in its entirety, who will
recite, study, and illuminate it in full detail for others? Most wonderfully blest,
Subhuti, will they be [paramen.a te . . . a scaryen.a samanvagata bhavis.yanti, lit.
they will be endowed with the highest miracle]. And on that spot of earth,
Subhuti, either the Teacher dwells, or a sage representing him [tasmim
. s ca
subhute prthivpradese sa sta viharaty anyataranyataro va vijagurusthanyah.]
(Conze 1957,
Schopen sees in this passage a reference to the semi-permanent public caityas of his
oral tradition period that were made sacred by the recitation of sutras (1975a, 170,
155-56, 158-59, 179-80). He argues that the formula sa prthivpradesas caityabhuto
 that once this was done
bhavet was inserted into texts like the Vajracchedika, and
the recitation, etc., of that text at a particular spot . . . would have, in effect, the effect
of authoritatively legitimating that spot as a cultic center (1975a, 179).
Although the passage is terse and not entirely clear, this interpretation is problematic. The portion of the passage that Schopen quotes continues in the same vein as the
material that precedes it and promises two different personal benefits to people who
do two different things with the sutra. A person who memorizes or teaches a single
gatha will receive the benefit of having the place where he or she does so become
caityabhuta. A person who memorizes and teaches the whole sutra will be endowed
with the highest miracle and will become like the Buddha him or herself. An important key to understanding the passage is the rhetorical question What then should we
say [kah. punar vadah.] of those who will [retain in memory] this discourse on dharma
in its entirety . . . and illuminate it in full detail for others? In Mahayana sutra literature, rhetorical questions of this sort introduced by the phrase kah. punar vadah. (lit.
what talk is there?) are found commonly in what we might call benefit passages
like this one that encourage particular practices, usually ones involving sutras, by
promising fantastic benefits to those who perform them. Benefit passages incorporating such questions typically begin by promising lavish benefits to those who perform
a very minor sutra-oriented activity (such as merely listening to a sutra, not rejecting it, or memorizing a single one of its verses) and then ask what then should we
say? about someone who performs one or more of the main sutra-oriented activities
that the text is trying to encourage: memorization of the complete text, preaching it
to others, etc. The implication of the rhetorical question is invariably that the benefits to be gained by the latter person would be dramatically greater. Sometimes such
passages end with the rhetorical question; sometimes they go on to state the actual
16 The meanings of the verbs ud grah and the causative of dhr are commonly misunderstood (e.g.,

Lalou 1956; Schopen 1977). For a discussion of these words and theclosely related verb pari ava a p, see
2003. Though the way he translates the term does not make it clear, Conze himself understood at
least ud grah to refer to the act of memorization (1957, 101). For manuscript variants for this passage and
the second passage Schopen quotes from the Vajracchedika discussed below, see Schopen (1975a, 148n2,
149n4) and the updated lists in the reprinted version of the article (2005a, 53n2, 54n4). It is not clear if
Schopen regards any of these variants as relevant to his interpretation.


D. Drewes

benefits that such a person will receive. Another passage from the Vajracchedika that
we will look at below, for instance, states that a person who merely does not reject

(prati ks.ip) the sutra will produce more merit than one who would renounce all that
he or she has for millions of kalpas and then asks what then should we say? (kah.
punar vadah.) about someone who would write, memorize, and recite it, the implication being that the benefits he or she would receive would be unimaginably vast.17
The idea in the passage under discussion, then, is that even a person who performs
the relatively insignificant action of memorizing or teaching a single stanza of the
text will receive the benefit of making the place where he or she does so caityabhuta,
whereas someone who memorizes, etc., the entire text, which is what the passage is
primarily trying to encourage, will receive the highest miracle and become a proxy
for the Buddha.
What we have here, then, is a passage that looks very similar to the passages from
the Samadhiraja, Drumakinnara, and Visuddhimagga discussed above. All four texts
present being or becoming like a caitya/caityabhuta either as a benefit that a person
can receive from performing a particular activity or as a positive quality that a person
can possess. The only significant difference in this case is that rather than stating that
someone is or will become like a caitya him or herself, the Vajracchedika passage
promises that this will happen to the place where someone memorizes or teaches a
verse of the text. Much like the other passages, it does not make it clear how it would
be in someones interest to have the place where he or she is become caityabhuta. In
a recent publication, Paul Harrison suggests that the Vajracchedikas claim may be
of the same order as English expressions like He worships the ground on which she
walks (2006, 148n57).18 In any case, Schopens idea that this passage makes reference to actual shrines, and his idea that the phrase sa prthivpradesas caityabhuto
 to use the text to estabbhavet was inserted into the text in order to make it possible
lish such shrines, seem doubtful. If the texts authors intended this passage to be used
for the creation of new shrines, it is difficult to understand why they would present
a places being made caityabhuta as a specifically personal benefit, and even more
difficult to understand why they would promise this benefit as the reward for memorizing or teaching a single verse of the sutra, in deliberate contrast to a greater reward
that would result from memorizing and teaching the entire text.
The second caityabhuta passage that Schopen discusses is also from the Vajracchedika and is quite similar to the first. Before the portion of the passage quoted
by Schopen, the text reads:
Furthermore, Subhuti, those sons and daughters of good family, who will take
up [i.e., memorize, udgrahs.yanti] this discourse on dharma, will bear it in
17 I have not made an attempt to collect examples from other sutras, but the Asta contains several similar
kah. punar vadah. passages. See, e.g., Wogihara (1932-35, 244, 251, 459, 468-70, 804-5, 858, 890). See
also Edgerton (1953, vol. 2, s.v. Vada). The phrase prag eva is used in a similar manner.
18 Harrison continues to suggest that this passage thus provides about as much evidence for the cult of

the book as a physical object, or of the particular places in which it is kept, recited, and so on, as the
aforementioned English locution furnishes proof of ground-worship (2006, 148n57). Though the passage
may have a sense that is slightly different from what he suggests, as far as I am aware Harrison is the only
other scholar who has yet argued that this passage does not refer to shrines.

Revisiting the cult of the book


mind, will recite it, study it, and illuminate it in full detail for others, they
have been known . . . by the Tathagata with his Buddha-cognition . . . . All these
beings, Subhuti, will beget . . . an immeasurable . . . heap of merit.
And if again, Subhuti, a woman or man should renounce in the morning all
they have and all they are as many times as there are grains of sand in the river
Ganges, and if at noon they should [do so again], and if in the evening [they
should do so again], and if in this way they should renounce all that they have
and all that they are for many hundreds of thousands of millions of milliards of
aeonsand if someone else, on hearing this discourse on dharma, would not
reject it,then the latter would on the strength of that beget a greater heap of
merit, immeasurable and incalculable. What then should we say of him who,
after writing it, would learn it, bear it in mind, recite it, study it, and illuminate
it in full detail for others? . . . Those who will take up this discourse on dharma,
bear it in mind, recite it, study it, and illuminate it in full detail for others, they
have been known, Subhuti, by the Tathagata with his Buddha-cognition . . . . All
these beings, Subhuti, will be blest with an immeasurable heap of merit . . . . All
these beings, Subhuti, will carry along an equal share of enlightenment. And
why? Because it is not possible, Subhuti, that this discourse on dharma could
be heard by beings of inferior resolve, nor by such as have a self in view, a
being, a soul, or a person. Nor can beings who have not taken the pledge of a
Bodhi-being either hear this discourse on dharma or take it up, bear it in mind,
recite or study it. That cannot be.
The portion of the passage quoted by Schopen (1975a, 149) then immediately follows:
And again, Subhuti, the spot of earth where this Sutra will be revealed
[prakasayis.yate], that spot of earth will be worthy of worship by the whole
world with its Gods, men and Asuras, that spot of earth will be worthy of being
saluted respectfully, worthy of being honoured by circumambulation,like a
shrine will be that spot of earth [caityabhutah. sa prthivpradeso bhavisyati].

After this the passage continues:
And yet, Subhuti, those sons and daughters of good family, who will take up
these very Sutras, who will bear them in mind, recite them, study them, and
wisely attend to them, and who will illuminate them in full detail for others,
they will be humbled, and they will be well humbled. And why? The impure
deeds which these beings have done in their former lives . . . in this very life they
will, by means of that humiliation, annul those impure deeds (Conze 1957, 7980/42-45).
Much like the first passage, this passage states that a place where the sutra will be
revealed will be caityabhuta. Like the first passage, it also presents having a place
become caityabhuta specifically as a personal benefit, which is made clear by the
fact that it occurs in the midst of a longer passage that promises other personal benefits. This passage thus presents the same problem as the first: if it is about actual
shrines why does it present a places being made caityabhuta specifically as a personal benefit?


D. Drewes

One thing different in this passage is the assertion that a place where the sutra
is revealed will be worthy of worship by the whole world with its Gods, men and
Asuras . . . worthy of being saluted respectfully, worthy of being honoured by circumambulation, which might appear to constitute a description of actual practice of a
sort that might take place at a cult site. While this may seem significant, it is important to note that similar ideas or assertions are associated with all of the caitya
comparisons we have looked at. The Milindapaha refers to Nagasena as being like
a caitya that is to be worshipped; the Samadhiraja states that one who practices
. vara will become a caitya for the whole world; the Drumakinnara says
that Mahakasyapa is caityabhuta for the world with its gods, people, and asuras;
and the Visuddhimagga states that one who practices buddhanussati becomes like
a cetiyaghara [that is] worthy of worship. Since it seems fairly clear that none of
these other passages are referring to actual shrines, there is no clear reason to take
the passage currently under discussion as doing so. The idea that caityas are to be
worshipped, or that they are for certain beings, seems simply to be a stock element
of passages of this sort.19 Apart from this, the passage does not seem to contain any
other clues that might enable us to make sense of it. The next caityabhuta passage
that Schopen cites is significantly more helpful.
The third and main caityabhuta passage that Schopen discusses is found in the
third chapter of the As..tasahasrika Prajaparamita (As..ta), which deals primarily with
protective benefits that the Prajaparamita can provide. After some brief introductory material, the chapter presents a series of benefit passages which describe mundane benefits that can be gained from various Prajaparamita-oriented activities.
After an intermediary section of peripherally related material, the chapter closes with
another series of benefit passages of the same type. All of the benefit passages take
a standard general format. In each, the Buddha presents a particular activity or group
of activities involving the Prajaparamita (e.g., memorization, recitation, preaching,
keeping a written copy of the text) and correlates this activity or these activities with
a particular benefit or benefits. In most cases the Buddha also gives an explanation
of what causes the promised benefits to come about. Except for two passages in the
chapters introductory and concluding sections, and a few passages in its intermediary section, the Buddha concludes each benefit passage by stating that the person
who performs the prescribed actions will get this immediate benefit [drs..tadharmika
 benefit pasgun.a] as well. Altogether, the chapter contains about twenty individual
sages, thirteen of which end with the statement that one who performs the practice
19 Phrasing of this sort is found in other caitya comparisons as well. In the Asta, for instance, the Buddhas
body is said to be caityabhuta, to be paid homage to, revered, attended to, honored, worshipped, adored,
and venerated (Wogihara 1932-35, 211). In the Aks.ayamatinirdesa Sutra the Buddha gives his robe to
the bodhisattva Aks.ayamati and Aks.ayamati responds by calling it a caitya for the world with its gods,
people, and asuras (Braarvig 1993, 1:154, my trans.; cf. 2:578-79). In the Ugrapariprccha Sutra, the
 for the world
Buddha lists ten benefits of monks robes, one of which is that they are said to be a caitya
with its gods, humans, and asuras (Nattier 2003, 285-86). The Ratnarasi Sutra states that anything given
to a stupa is a caitya for the world with its gods (Silk 1994, 447/332). The Gan.d.avyuha Sutra says
that bodhicitta is like a caitya for the world with its gods, people, and asuras (Suzuki and Idzumi
1934-36, 494-96). Passages in the Samadhiraja refer to Buddhas or bodhisattvas as caityas for the world
or for the whole world (Dutt 1941-54, 414, 447, 463, 464). A number of passages in the Mahavastu
and Lalitavistara refer to the Buddha as a caitya for the whole world, for the world, or for people
(Schopen 1975a, 176).

Revisiting the cult of the book


or practices the passage recommends will get a certain immediate benefit. A good
example is the following:
Wherever, Kausika, a son or daughter of good family, having copied this
Prajaparamita, having made it into a book, will set up the prerequisites of
worship and worship it, there Kausika . . . . as many gods as there are in the
spheres of desire and subtle matter in the billion-fold world system who have
set out for unsurpassed, complete enlightenment will decide to come there.
Having arrived there, they will see this Prajaparamita in book form, pay
homage to it, venerate it, memorize it, retain it in memory, recite it, learn
it, set it forth, preach it, explain it, expound it, and repeat it. Having seen it,
paid homage to it, venerated it, memorized it, retained it in memory, recited it,
learned it, set it forth, preached it, explained it, expounded it, and repeated it,
they will decide to set out again. Moreover, Kausika, the house, monastic cell,
or palace [grham
. va layanam
. va prasado va] of that son or daughter of good
family will 
be well protected and there will be no one to harm him or her, with
the exception of the ripening of previous karma. That son or daughter of good
family, Kausika, will get this immediate benefit [drs..tadharmika gun.a] as well

(Wogihara 1932-35, 254-58, my trans.; cf. Conze 1973,
Here the Buddha explains how the As..ta can be used to protect ones house, monastic
cell, or palace. He explains exactly what one needs to do and exactly how doing this
will provide the desired protection: One must copy the As..ta, make it into a book, and
set it up for worship in ones home. When one does this, a vast number of gods will
come to venerate the text, memorize it, etc., and while they are there they will protect
the area from beings that might harm the owner of the text. At the end of the passage,
the Buddha concludes by saying That son or daughter of good family, Kausika, will
get this immediate benefit as well. Other benefit passages from the same chapter
specifically enjoin activities associated with the memorization of the text. One passage, for example, states that anyone who memorizes, recites, and teaches the As..ta
can never be hurt by anyone, even in the midst of a battle, essentially because memorizing the text will have such a positive effect on that persons character that no one
will want to harm him or her (Wogihara 1932-35, 201-4/Conze 1973, 104).
20 In Sanskrit this passage begins: yatra khalu punah kausika kulaputro va kuladuhita va imam
. likhitva pustakagatam
. krtva pujapurvangamam
. sthapayis.yati pujayis.yati tatra

kausika . . . . The phrase pujapurvangamam
. sthapayis.yati has caused some confusion. Conze simply
omits the word pujapurvangama from his translation and reads the object of sthapayis.yati as the book.
He translates this opening portion of the passage Moreover, Kausika . . . the place where someone has put
up a copy of the perfection of wisdom, and worships it . . . (1973, 113). Schopen, discussing the phrase
. sthapayitva, which occurs in a similar passage earlier in the chapter, argues that it
means apart from previous worship (see the following note). This also seems incorrect. In the passage
currently under discussion (and in a similar passage on Wogihara 1932-35, 263) establishing (orsetting
aside) pujapurvangama occurs after making the Prajaparamita into a book and before worship ( puj) in
a list of actions that one is to perform. If pujapurvangama means previous worship then these passages
would be advising us nonsensically to make the Prajaparamita into a book, establish (or set aside) previous worship of it, and then worship it. Since establishing pujapurvanagama is clearly something that is to
be done prior to worshipping the text, it must mean something closer to what comes before worship, or
as I translate it, prerequisites of worship. Establishing pujapurvangama may refer to setting up the text
for veneration, perhaps together with certain ritual implements.


D. Drewes

Although the caityabhuta passage Schopen quotes (1975a, 154-55) from the As..ta
is long, I give it here in its entirety. I follow Schopen in quoting Conzes abridged
[The Buddha:] Further, where this perfection of wisdom has been written down
in a book, and has been put up and worshipped, where it has been taken up, etc.,
there men and ghosts can do no harm, except as a punishment for past deeds.
This is another advantage even here and now [drs..tadharmika gun.a].
 gone to the terrace of enJust, Kausika, as those men and ghosts who have
lightenment, or to its circumference, or its interior, or to the foot of the tree of
enlightenment, cannot be hurt by men or ghosts, or be injured by them, or taken
possession of, even with the help of evil animal beings, except as a punishment
for former deeds. Because in it the past, future and present Tathagatas win their
enlightenment, they who promote in all beings and who reveal to them fearlessness, lack of hostility, lack of fright. Just so, Kausika, the place in which
one takes up, etc., this perfection of wisdom, in it beings cannot be hurt by men
or ghosts. Because this perfection of wisdom makes the spot of earth where it
is into a true shrine for beings [prthivpradesah. sattvanam
. caityabhutah. krtah.
 worshipped and adored,into a shelter for
. . . bhavis.yati],worthy of being
beings who come to it, a refuge, a place of rest and final relief. This is another
advantage even here and now [drs..tadharmika gun.a].
 persons. One of the two, a son or daughter of

Suppose that there are two
good family, has written down this perfection of wisdom, made a copy of it; he
would then put it up, and would honour, revere, worship, and adore it with heavenly flowers, incense, perfumes, wreaths, unguents, aromatic powders, strips
of cloth, parasols, banners, bells, flags, with rows of lamps all round, and with
manifold kinds of worship. The other would deposit in Stupas the relics of the
Tathagata who has gone to Parinirvana; he would take hold of them and preserve them; he would honour, worship and adore them with heavenly flowers,
incense, etc., as before. Which one of the two, O Lord, would beget the greater
The Lord: I will question you on this point, and you my answer to the best of
your abilities. The Tathagata, when he had acquired and known full enlightenment or all-knowledge, in which practices did he train the all-knowledgepersonality which he had brought forth?

By the Lord training himself just in this perfection of wisdom has the
Tathagata acquired and known full enlightenment or all-knowledge.
The Lord: Therefore the Tathagata does not derive his name from the fact that
he has acquired this physical personality, but from the fact that he has acquired
all-knowledge. And this all-knowledge of the Tathagata has come forth from
the perfection of wisdom. The physical personality of the Tathagata, on the
other hand, is the result of the skill in means of the perfection of wisdom.
And that becomes a sure foundation for the (acquisition of the) cognition of the
all-knowing (by others). Supported by this foundation the revelation of the cognition of the all-knowing takes place, the revelation of the Buddha-body, of the
Dharma-body, of the Samgha-body. The acquisition of the physical personality
is thus the cause of the cognition of the all-knowing. As the sure foundation

Revisiting the cult of the book


of that cognition it has, for all beings, become a true shrine, worthy of being saluted respectfully, of being honoured, revered and adored. After I have
gone to Parinirvana, my relics also will be worshipped. It is for this reason
that the person who would copy and worship the perfection of wisdom would
beget the greater merit. For, in doing so, he would worship the cognition of the
all-knowing (Conze 1958, 24-25; Wogihara 1932-35, 205-11; cf. Conze 1973,
On Schopens reading, this passage, like the two passages from the Vajracchedika,
serves as evidence that shrines dedicated to particular sutras served as early
Mahayana cult centers. The main difference between this and the other two passages, for Schopen, is that the references to written copies of the Prajaparamita
in this passage indicate that the cult of the book has moved into its second, written
phase (1975a, 155-56, 168, 179-80).
The first thing to be noticed here is that the passages first two paragraphs each
constitutes a complete, distinct benefit passage. This can be seen clearly from the fact
that each paragraph ends with the Buddha asserting that its benefit is another advantage even here and now (drs..tadharmika gun.a), the same assertion that is used to

punctuate benefit passages throughout
the chapter. The benefit passage that comprises
the first paragraph is the shortest one in the chapter and makes a claim that is essentially the same as that of the home protection passage quoted above, namely, that any
place where one keeps the Prajaparamita in written form will be safe from humans
and non-humans.21 The benefit passage in the second paragraphwhich contains the
assertion that the Prajaparamita makes the place where it is caityabhutacontains
a list of activities of its own. In Conzes translation this list is abridged
to takes up,

etc., but in the actual text


memory (causative
a p),

setting forth (pra
pounding (ud dis),and repeating (svadhyayati). Interestingly, writing and written
copies of the sutra are not mentioned in this passage, just as they are not in the passages from the Vajracchedika. Because of this, even if it were possible to interpret
this passage as a reference to an institutional sutra cult, it should not be taken as
belonging to a new, written phase of this cult.22
21 In Sanskrit, this first benefit passage reads: punar aparam kausika yatra iyam prajaparamita an.
taso likhitva pustakagatam
. krtva pujapurvangamam
. sthapayitva na satkaris.yate na udgrahs.yate na
dharayis.yate na vacayis.yate .
. . . Schopen rightly criticizes Conzes translation for ignoring the antasas
and the string of negatives, but suggests that the passage should be translated Again, Kausika, where
this Prajaparamita is, [one] so much as having only written it down, having made it into a book [and],
apart from previous worship, one will not honor it, will not take it up, will not bear it in mind, will not recite it . . . (1975a, 155, Schopens brackets). In accordance with the comments made in the previous note,
however, a better translation would be Again, Kausika, where, having merely copied this Prajaparamita,
made it into a book, and set up the prerequisites of worship, one will not honor it, not memorize it, not
retain it in memory, not recite it . . . . The idea is that all that is necessary to obtain the promised benefits
is to have a physical copy of the text, presumably in ones home. One does not need to actually worship
the sutra or do anything else with it.
22 Of course writing is mentioned frequently in the Asta, but it is also mentioned in close proximity to
their caityabhuta passages in the Vajracchedika and Kasyapaparivarta, the two texts Schopen presents as
representative of an oral phase of the cult.


D. Drewes

The second thing that must be noticed is that because the second paragraph of this
passage ends with the assertion that the benefits it describes are an immediate benefit
that users of the Prajaparamita can receive, and thus constitutes a complete benefit
passage of its own, its contents are also separate from the subsequent material in the
passage. The benefit passage contained in the second paragraph is in fact the last of
the chapters first series of benefit passages, and the four paragraphs that follow begin the lengthy intermediary section of assorted, peripherally related material that is
interposed between the chapters first and second series of benefit passages. Because
of this, we cannot automatically presuppose that the material contained in the last
four paragraphs of Schopens quotation concerns the same topic as the material in the
Having separated the core of Schopens quotation from the material that surrounds
it, we can now try to make sense of it. A more precise translation than Conzes will
make the passage clearer:
punar aparam
. kausika tadyatha pi nama ye bodhiman.d.agata va bodhiman.d.aparisamantagata va . . . manus.ya va amanus.ya va tiryagyonigatan apy upadaya
yavan na te sakya manus.yair va amanus.yair va vihet.hayitum
. va vyapadayitum
hetoh. | tatra hy
va a vesayitum
attanagatapratyutpannas tathagata . . . abhisam
. bhotsyante abhisam
. budhyante
ca ye sarvasattvanam abhayam avairam anuttrasam
yanti | evam eva kausika yatra kulaputro va kuladuhita va imam
tam udgrahs.yati dharayis.yati vacayis.yati paryavapsyati pravartayis.yati desayis.yaty upadeks.yaty uddeks.yati svadhyasyati tatra hi kausika sattva na sakya
manus.yair va amanus.yair va vihet.hayitum
. va vyapadayitum
. va a vesayitum
va sthapayitva purvakarmavipakam
a eva hi kausika
prajaparamitaya prthivpradesah. sattvanam
. caityabhutah. krto vandanyo
mananyah. pujanyo rcanyo pacayanyah. . . . bhavis.yati . . .
| imam api sa
kausika kulaputro va kuladuhita va drs..tadharmikam
hn.a ti ||
. .

Moreover, Kausika, it is just like those humans and non-humans, even including
animals, who, at the bodhiman.d.a or in the area of the bodhiman.d.a . . . cannot
be hurt, injured, or possessed by humans or non-humans, with the exception of
the ripening of previous karma. Why? Because it is there that past, present, and
future Tathagatas . . . who increase and reveal safety, lack of hostility, and freedom from fear for all beings, become enlightened and will become enlightened.
In just this way, Kausika, where a son or daughter of good family will memorize this Prajaparamita, retain it in memory, recite it, learn it, set it forth,
preach it, explain it, expound it, and repeat it, there, Kausika, beings cannot be
hurt, injured, or possessed by humans or non-humans, with the exception of
the ripening of previous karma. Why? Because by this very Prajaparamita,
Kausika, a place will be made caityabhuta for beings, to be paid homage to,
honored, worshipped, adored, venerated, [etc.]. That son or daughter of good
family, Kausika, gets this immediate benefit as well (Wogihara 1932-35, 205-7,
my trans.).
Like most of the other benefit passages in the As..tas third chapter, such as the home
protection passage discussed above, this passage does two main things: it associates

Revisiting the cult of the book


a specific benefit with specific, Prajaparamita-oriented activities and explains how

this benefit comes about. The specific benefit is protection from being harmed or
possessed by humans and non-humans. The activities, as we have seen, are all mnemic/oral in nature: memorization, mnemic retention, recitation, preaching, etc. Key
for our purposes is that, rather than being the point of the passage, the assertion
that the Prajaparamita will make the place where one performs these activities
caityabhuta figures only as the explanation of how the As..ta can provide this benefit. Wherever one memorizes, recites, and/or teaches the Prajaparamita will be safe
from harm because the Prajaparamita will make that place caityabhuta. If we were
to take the word caityabhuta here as a reference to actual shrines the passage would
make little sense. It would say, in essence, that one can make a place safe by memorizing or reciting the Prajaparamita there because doing so will make that place
into a public shrine. If someone wished to establish a Mahayana shrine in a particular place it is difficult to imagine that his or her motivation for doing so would be
to make that place safe from danger. If we presume that the passage is describing a
way to use the text for personal or home protection, which seems more likely given
that all of the other benefit passages in the As..tas third chapter deal with personal or
home protection, it is hard to imagine anyone being so concerned to protect the place
where he or she is as to want to turn it into a public cult site. What seems more likely
to be going on in this passage is a sophisticated deployment of almost the entire range
of ideas we saw associated with the caitya comparisons discussed above. First, the
place where one memorizes or recites the Prajaparamita is like a caitya because it
contains, or is pervaded by, the Prajaparamita, which is repeatedly likened to a Buddha in Prajaparamita literature, just as a caitya contains relics, Nagasena contains
paa, Mahamaya contains the bodhisattva, a practitioner of buddhanussati contains
buddhanussati, etc.23 That this sort of container logic is at work here is strongly suggested by the fact that almost immediately after this passage, in the only other passage
in the text that uses the word caityabhuta, the Buddhas body is said to be caityabhuta
on the grounds that it is a basis or container (asraya) of omniscient cognition (sarvajajana) (Wogihara 1932-35, 211).24 Second, being like a caitya protects the place
23 On the equation of the Prajaparamita and the Buddha, see Schopen (1975a, 175) and Boucher (1991,
2, 17n9).
24 This assertion occurs within Schopens long quotation from the Asta quoted above. It is interesting

to note that in every case that has come to light in which the word caityabhuta is used outside of the
sa prthivpradesas caityabhuto bhavet formula and its variants it is used as a simile or metaphor. This
 the Astas passage on the Buddhas body being caityabhuta mentioned here, variants of this pasincludes
sage in longer versions of the Prajaparamita (e.g., Kimura 1986-92, 2-3:57), the passage from the Drumakinnara discussed above, the passage from the Gan.d.avyuha cited in note 19, and a passage from the
Ratnakaran.d.a Sutra recently cited by Schopen in which the place where Majusr stands is called mchod
rten du gyur (2005a, 61n54). On the Gan.d.avyuha passage, cf. Schopen (1975a, 175-76n54). Another passage, which Schopen quotes from the Lalitavistara, refers to the Buddha as cetibhu, which, as Schopen
suggests, seems to have a direct relationship to the compound caityabhuta (Lefmann 1902-8, 1:368;
Schopen 1975a, 175-76). There is also a very interesting passage from the Ajatasatrukaukrtyavinodana
 for one of
Sutra that uses the word caityabhuta, apparently twice, although the Sanskrit is only extant
its occurrences, within variants of the sa prthivpradesas caityabhuto bhavet phrase (Harrison and Hart this passage here, in neither case does the word caityabhuta
mann 2000, 214-16). Though I will not discuss
refer to an actual shrine.


D. Drewes

where the Prajaparamita is memorized or recited because the Prajaparamita, being equivalent to a Buddha, makes things which contain it safe, just as the Buddha
makes cities safe when he enters them, buddhanussati makes those who practice it
safe when it dwells in their bodies, the bodhisattva makes Maya safe while he is
in her womb, and so forth.25 What this passage thus seems to be saying is that one
can protect ones home, or any place one happens to be, by having someone recite
or preach the Prajaparamita there, or by memorizing or reciting it there oneself,
because the Prajaparamita makes any place where it is like a caitya, and things that
are like caityas are safe.26

25 On the basis of the fact that this passage compares places where people do things with the

Prajaparamita to the bodhiman.d.a, Schopen suggests that the people who established the cult of the
book, having rejected the stupa cult, tried to give their new cult legitimacy by linking it to the cult of
the bodhiman.d.a (1975a, 172-74, 179; 2000b, 23-24n49). It should be noted, however, that stupas were
built around the bodhiman.d.a and several reliefs associated with the great stupas of Sac, Bharhut, and
Amaravat depict the veneration of the bodhiman.d.a. Since the two cults seem clearly to have been practiced
by the same groups, it seems unlikely that the As..tas authors would reject the one and embrace the other.
What seems more likely is that places where one memorizes, recites, and teaches the Prajaparamita are
compared to the bodhiman.d.a because in traditional Buddhist lore the bodhiman.d.a is held to be the most
steadfast and safe place in the universe, immune to earthquakes, the attacks of Mara, etc. (on this see,
e.g., De Silva 1991, 146-47 and Lamotte 1976, 94-96n105). This interpretation is supported by the fact
that the point of the passage as a whole is that one can make a place safe by reciting the Prajaparamita
there and the fact that the only similarity that the passage claims to exist between the bodhiman.d.a and a
place where the Prajaparamita is recited is that both places are safe from danger. Schopen also attaches
significance to the fact that the Mahavastu and the Sanskrit version of the Mahaparinirvan.a Sutra refer to
the bodhiman.d.a as a prthivpradesa, the same term that Mahayana sutras use to refer to places they call

179). It should be noted, though, that prthivpradesa is a common general
caityabhuta (1975a, 173-74,

word in Buddhist Sanskrit for any particular place. In the As..ta, for example,
reference is made to a gem
that makes any prthivpradesa where it is placed cool when it is hot and warm when it is cold (Wogihara
 in the Saddharmapundarka we are told that there is not a single prthivpradesa as
1932-35, 274), and
akyamuni did not sacrifice his body
small as a mustard seed in the entire universe where S
for the benefit of
beings in former lives (Wogihara and Tsuchida 1935, 226). For a few more similar examples, see Wogihara
(1932-35, 435, 676) and Wogihara and Tsuchida (1935, 97, 99, 202, 207, 241).
26 The version of this passage contained in Lokaksemas second century translation of the Asta provides

additional support for this reading. Although it is focused on a written rather than a mnemic/oral version of
the text and does not make a caitya comparison, it says roughly the same thing as I argue that the Sanskrit
version does: Furthermore, Kausika, even though one cannot study or recite it, if one just maintains/holds
the scriptural roll of the prajaparamita then one will not be harmed either by people or by ghosts. [However] one cannot expect to overcome [retribution] for ones sins. As if one has entered the place where
akyamuni] first became a Buddha, one will not be harmed by ghosts or beasts. Ghosts and beasts will
be unable to accomplish any wish they might have to weaken or harm [such a person]. Why? Because
the place where the Buddha attained the Way is protected by the Buddhas spiritual power. The Buddhas
of the past, present and future all seek to become Buddhas so that others will search for and attain the
Buddha-Way. As a person who enters that place will have no fear, fright or dread, so it is [for those who
hold] the prajaparamita. This prajaparamita is a spiritual refuge because all the gods, humans, asuras,
ghosts and nagas shall worship, venerate and protect the place where the prajaparamita is established
(Fronsdal 1998, 186, Fronsdals brackets; Fronsdal cites T 224, 431c22-432a5). The fact that the Chinese
version of the passage links protection to the worship of gods suggests the possibility that a places being
made caityabhuta for beings, to be paid homage to, honored, worshipped, adored, [and] venerated by
this very Prajaparamita is to be understood as providing protection partly via the action of gods. This
is also suggested by the version of this passage contained in the Pacavim
. satisahasrika Prajaparamita,
which states that humans and non-humans will not be able to cause harm in the place where the sutra is
copied, memorized, etc., because gods will come there to copy the text, etc., and provide protection to

Revisiting the cult of the book


In addition to the passages from the Vajracchedika and As..ta, Schopen quotes
caityabhuta passages from two other sutras as evidence for his theory of institutional
sutra shrines; along with one passage from another sutra not preserved in Sanskrit
that uses the word mchod rten du gyur, which probably renders caityabhuta; and
five additional passages, four of which are found in the Saddharmapun.d.arka Sutra,
that do not use the word caityabhuta, but which seem to be patterned on passages
that do.27 With the exception of the Saddharmapun.d.arka passages, which we will
look at presently, these passages are all very similar to the passages from the Vajracchedika discussed above. Each states that places where the sutra is used will
become caityabhuta or a near equivalent (mchod rten du gyur or caityasammata).
They each also present a places becoming caityabhuta, etc., specifically as a personal benefit and occur in the context of longer passages promising other personal
benefits.28 They thus seem equally unlikely to be referring to actual shrines.
The four passages that Schopen cites from the Saddharmapun.d.arka all state that
stupas or caityas should be built in places where writing, recitation, and other activities associated with the sutra are performed. One passage states that a caitya should
be built wherever a person who retains the sutra in memory might stand, or sit, or
walk up and down (tis..thed va nis.ded va cankramed va). The same passage refers
to such a caitya as a Tathagata-stupa (Schopen 1975a, 165/Wogihara and Tsuchida
1935, 288; cf. Kern 1884, 324). Another passage, the corresponding verse version of
the first, states that one should build a stupa wherever a person who has memorized
the sutra might walk up and down, sit, lie down, or recite one of its gathas (Schopen
1975a, 165/Wogihara and Tsuchida 1935, 290-91; cf. Kern 1884, 327). A third passage states that a caitya should be made wherever the sutra might be recited, illuminated, preached, written, considered, spoken, repeated, or set up as a book, whether
in/at a park, monastery, house, grove, city, the foot of a tree, palace, monastic cell,
or cave (arame va vihare va grhe va vane va nagare va vrks.amule va prasade va

layane va guhayam
. va) (Schopen 1975a, 166/Wogihara and Tsuchida 1935, 330-31;
cf. Kern 1884, 367). Schopen presents these passages as clear evidence for the existence of book shrines and suggests that the fact that the specific kind of caitya which
is to be built is consciously equated with the stupa suggests that there was an attempted amalgamation of two distinct cults, the stupa cult and the book cult (1975a,
As with the other passages, there are some difficulties with this interpretation.
First, the first and second of these passages occur as part of long passages in which
those who memorize the sutra, because the text makes the spot where it is caityabhuta (Kimura 1986-92,
2-3:55-56/Conze 1975, 230).
27 Schopen also cites, but does not quote or discuss, similar caityabhuta passages in the Tibetan translations
of the larger Prajaparamita sutras. These passages are all very similar to the passage in the Sanskrit
version of the Pacavim
. satisahasrika mentioned in the previous note. See the original passages cited by
Schopen (1975a, 156n20).
28 See the original texts cited by Schopen (1975a, 157-62). Two of these passages identify writing or written

texts as things that make places caityabhuta, specifically a passage from the Aparimitayuh. Sutra, which
states that any place where they write or cause [others] to write the sutra will become caityabhuta (160),
and a passage from the Kasyapaparivarta, which states that any place where the text is spoken, preached,
copied, or set up as a book will become caityabhuta (157-58). For reasons that seem counterintuitive,
Schopen links the Kasyapaparivarta passage to the oral phase of the book cult (158-59).


D. Drewes

the Buddha describes wonderful qualities that people who memorize the sutra will
have and great benefits that they will receive. Deserving to have stupas built wherever
they go is clearly presented as one of the qualities such people will possess and, by
extension, that the sutras listeners can acquire by memorizing the text. The third
passage occurs within a longer passage in which the Buddha extolls the greatness
of the Saddharmapun.d.arka and can be interpreted simply as an attempt to magnify
the sutras glory. What is perhaps most salient about these three passages, however,
is the places where they say that caityas/stupas should be built. The first and second
passages state that stupas should be built wherever a person who has memorized
the sutra might go. The third passage states that a caitya should be built literally
wherever anyone does anything at all with the sutra and explicitly identifies the range
of such places as including houses, forests, caves, palaces, feet of trees, monastic
cells, etc. Since many of these places would not be suitable for the construction of
public shrines, it is difficult to read these passages as serious injunctions to build
them. What seems more likely is that they are simply hyperbolical assertions of the
sacrality of the sutra and those who memorize it.
The remaining passage from the Saddharmapun.d.arka is slightly more difficult to
interpret. It reads, in Schopens translation:
Then again, Bhais.ajyaraja, on which spot of earth this discourse on dharma
would be declared or explained or written or is written in the form of a book,
or would be recited or recited in chorus, on that spot of earth, Bhais.ajyaraja,
a Tathagata-caitya is to be madegreat, consisting of jewels, high, loftyand
relics of the Tathagata are not necessarily to be placed in it. What is the reason
for that? Just in it the entire Tathagata-relic is deposited. On which spot of earth
this discourse on dharma would be declared or explained or read or recited in
chorus or written or where written in the form of a book it would stand, on
that stupa [tasmin . . . stupe] veneration, honor by respect, worship and praise
is to be made with all flowers and incense and perfumes and garlands . . . with
all songs and instrumental music and dancing . . . worship is to be done. And
again, Bhais.ajyaraja, those beings who would get the opportunity to praise, to
worship, or to see this Tathagata-caitya, they all, Bhais.ajyaraja, are to be known
as having come near to excellent, complete and perfect enlightenment (Schopen
1975a, 164; Wogihara and Tsuchida 1935, 201; cf. Kern 1884, 220).
Perhaps more than any of the other passages Schopen cites, this passage seems clearly
to enjoin the construction of sutra shrines. Even here, however, there are problems
with reading the text in this way. First, much like the other three passages, this passage occurs in the midst of a lengthy passage that sings the praises of the sutra and
describes benefits that will accrue to those who use it. It thus seems quite likely that
it has a sense very similar to the others: the Saddharmapun.d.arka is so sacred that
a stupa should be built everywhere it is preached, etc. This reading is supported by
the fact that, like the others, this passage does not present anything like a realistic
prescription for the construction of an actual stupa. Rather than saying, e.g., that we
should build stupas and put manuscripts in them, it says that we should build a stupa
wherever people use the sutra in ordinary ways: reciting it, preaching it, reading it,

Revisiting the cult of the book


This reading is also supported by the passages use of the term Tathagata-caitya
for the stupas it tells us to build. Commenting on this term, Schopen writes: It is
perhaps noteworthy that caitya in the [Saddharmapun.d.arka] passages is almost
invariably qualified as not just a caitya, but as a tathagata-caitya. In other words,
the [Saddharmapun.d.arka] has a specific kind of caitya in mind (1975a, 166).29
The context in which this passage occurs, however, suggests a somewhat different
reading of this term. Immediately before the passage, the Buddha states that after
his parinirvan.a, devotees of the Saddharmapun.d.arka should be known as wearing
the Tathagata-robe (tathagatacvara) and that they will be those who live together
in Tathagata-monasteries (tathagatavihara) (Wogihara and Tsuchida 1935, 201;
cf. Kern 1884, 219-20). Two pages after the passage (in Wogihara and Tsuchidas
edition), the Buddha states that a bodhisattva should teach the Saddharmapun.d.arka
after having entered the monastic cell of the Tathagata (tathagatalayana), put on
the Tathagata-robe (tathagatacvara), and seated him or herself on the Tathagatas
throne (tathagatasya a sana). He then continues:
And what, Bhais.ajyaraja, is the monastic cell of the Tathagata? The monastic
cell of the Tathagata is, indeed, dwelling in friendliness for all beings [sarvasattvamaitrvihara]. That son of good family should enter that. And what,
Bhais.ajyaraja, is the Tathagata-robe? The Tathagata-robe is, indeed, delight
in great patience [mahaks.a ntisauratya]. That son or daughter of good family should put that on. And what, Bhais.ajyaraja, is the dharma-throne of the
Tathagata? The dharma-throne of the Tathagata is the entrance into the emptiness of all dharmas [sarvadharmasu nyatapravesa]. That son of good family
should sit on that, and, once seated, should illuminate this dharma-discourse
for the four assemblies (Wogihara and Tsuchida 1935, 203, my trans.; cf. Kern
1884, 222).
The Buddha never says what a Tathagata-caitya is, but the fact that he uses the
terms tathagatalayana, tathagatacvara, and tathagatasya a sana to refer not to actual dwellings, robes, or thrones, but to abstract, semi-doctrinal concepts, suggests
that we should be wary of taking the term, at least as it is used in this chapter, as a
reference to actual shrines.
Apart from the various caityabhuta passages and their variants just discussed,
Schopen does not cite any evidence that suggests the existence of Mahayana book
shrines. Commenting on the lack of textual evidence, he writes:
In approaching the problem of localization in the cult of the book, we are hampered, if by nothing else, by the scarcity of information bearing on the subject.
Practically the only clear reference to the matter is to be found in our formula
[i.e., the phrase sa prthivpradesas caityabhuto bhavet] and in the immediate
 formula is found. A possible explanation for this scarcity
contexts in which our
is that our formula represents an early standardization of a solution to the problem which, being formalized, rendered unnecessary any further or prolonged
29 Though one uses the similar term tathagatastupa, of the four passages from the Saddharmapundarka
that Schopen quotes, only the one currently under discussion uses the term tathagatacaitya.


D. Drewes

discussion of the matter. This explanation gains, perhaps, some plausibility

when one understands the incredible richness of meaning which is compacted
into our formula and its immediate contexts. However this may be, if we want
to know anything about the way in which the places where the cult took place
were conceived of, we must look primarily to our formula (1975a, 171-72).
Although Schopens comment that practically the only clear reference to localized
book shrines is to be found in his caityabhuta passages suggests that there are some
other references to them, he does not cite any, and I am aware of none.30
On the question of archaeological or epigraphical evidence, Schopen comments
in a recent publication that nonliterary evidence for the use of sutras as sacred objects or for copying and the religious use of books is, moreover, generally late, and
even very late (2005c, 153n118). As the reference for this assertion he cites one of
his own earlier articles in which he makes reference to an apparently eleventh century inscription from Sarnath which records a laywomans donation of a copy of the
As..ta; another apparently eleventh century inscription from Nalanda that states that a
certain monk made what appears to have been a revolving bookcase by means of
which the Mother of the Buddhas revolved continually in the great temple of the holy
Khasarppan.a (Avalokitesvara) ;31 the fact that several Pala period manuscripts are
identified in their colophons as religious gifts (deyadharma), the copying of which
was done as an act of merit; and the fact that the covers or first leaves of many
of these manuscripts are heavily stained and encrusted from continuous daubing
with unguents and aromatic powders (2000b, 4-5). Commenting on this, Schopen
writes: All of this, in short, testifies to the kind of book-cult which, for example,
the As..tasahasrika itself describes, and which one might therefore have expected near
the time of its composition at, perhaps, the beginning of the Common Era. But this
evidence is almost a thousand years later than it should be, and, apart from other
30 Schopen cites seven passages from the Asta as providing some additional evidence in support of his

views, specifically passages that occur on pages 56, 57, 77, 85, 88, 89, and 506 of Rajendralala Mitras edition of the text (1975a, 171n47; R. Mitra 1887). The material on pages 56 and 57 is included in Schopens
long quotation from the As..ta, and the material on pages 85 and 88 is included in the home protection passage discussed above. The passages on 77 and 89 do not have clear relevance. The passage on 506 occurs
within the Sadaprarudita story at the end of the text and makes reference to a pavilion (ku.ta gara) made by
the dharmabhan.aka Dharmodgata in which he keeps his own personal copy of the Prajaparamita. The
passage describes the pavilion as being venerated by gods and also by Sadaprarudita and his companions.
While this may seem to be a depiction of an institutional book shrine, the fact that both the pavilion and
the copy of the Prajaparamita kept within it are clearly presented as Dharmodgatas property, and the
additional fact that worship of the sutra is explicitly said to be done for the sake of revering Dharmodgata
himself, make this seem unlikely. For this passage see Wogihara (1932-35, 954-56)/Conze (1973, 288-89).
If this passage reveals anything about the way Mahayanists venerated books, it seems more likely to be
that veneration of copies of sutras owned by dharmabhan.akas sometimes formed part of preaching rituals.
Yael Bentor cites a passage from the Pratyutpanna Sutra as evidence for the veneration of sutras at shrines
(1995, 251). What the passage she cites actually states, however, is that after the Buddhas death people
will place the Pratyutpanna in a stupa,/ In the earth, under rocks, and in the mountains,/ And into the
hands of devas and likewise nagas in order to be able to return to this world to recover and preach it
roughly five hundred years after the Buddhas death (Harrison 1990/1978, 13K). As Schopen comments,
the stupa is not here depicted as an object of veneration, but merely as a hiding place (2005c, 110).
31 For more on this inscription see Schopen (2005b).

Revisiting the cult of the book


texts, there is no actual evidence for what it describes before this (2000b, 5).32
Along with being late, however, none of this material suggests the existence of institutional Mahayana sutra shrines. For this no evidence has come to light from any
There are of course many cases in which Buddhist textual material was interred in stupas. Most of the earliest known cases are brief texts associated with the
prattyasamutpada formula inscribed, stamped, or written on metal or brick.33 The
oldest of these forms part of the Kharos.t.h inscription on the Kurram Casket, from
the Kurram Valley in modern Pakistan, which contains a date of year twenty, quite
certainly of the Kanis.ka era, or probably roughly 148 CE.34 Along with identifying the donor, the inscription states that the reliquary contains a relic of the Buddha,
identifies the stupa in which the reliquary was enshrined as one associated with the
Sarvastivada lineage, and lists the twelve nidanas of the prattyasamutpada formula
(Konow 1929, 55, 57). Although it is fairly clear that in this case an actual relic
contained in the reliquary was the stupas primary object of veneration, the formula
must also have been seen as sacred and may have been seen as consecrating the
deposit. Similar inscriptions in late Brahm have been found in other stupas. A reliquary dating to the late fourth or early fifth century inscribed with a short sutra that
lists the twelve nidanas was found in a stupa at Devnimori in Northeastern Gujarat
(Mehta and Chowdhary 1966, 121-22; von Hinber 1985). As Oskar von Hinber
points out, though the wording is somewhat different, this sutra is essentially the
same as the sutta that begins the Nidanasam
. yutta of the Pali Sam
. yutta Nikaya (1985,
190). The Kasia Copper-plate, which seems to date to the fifth century, was found
covering the top of a reliquary enshrined in the Parinirvan.a Caitya in Kushinagar
in modern Uttar Pradesh and is inscribed with a similar non-Mahayana sutra (Pargiter 1910-11).35 Other similar, non-Mahayana, prattyasamutpada sutras inscribed
on clay tablets, or bricks, that seem to date to approximately the early sixth century,
were found within another stupa in the same region and also in small, votive stupas
at Nalanda in modern Bihar (Smith and Hoey 1896; Smith 1904; Johnston 1938;
Chakravarti 1931-32; Ghosh 1937-38).36 A very interesting recent discovery is an in32 There is additional evidence for book worship, though all of it that I am familiar with is roughly as late

as the material Schopen mentions. Most interesting are several sculptural reliefs from Eastern India, dating
from roughly the eighth through twelfth centuries, that seem to represent people venerating sutras set up
on pedestals and stands. For a discussion, see Kinnard (1999, 169-75; 2002, 102-6). For some additional
examples not mentioned by Kinnard, see Bautze-Picron (1998, nos. 186-89, 191, 193, 195, 197). I would
like to thank Peter Skilling for this reference. For more on Mahayana sutras manuscript covers smeared
with unguents, etc., see, e.g., Losty (1982, 30-33) and Lerner (1984, 87).
33 On the finds discussed in this paragraph, see also Boucher (1991, 4, 19n15-20) and Melzer (2006,

34 For the date of the Kaniska era, see Allon et al. (2006, 286-88) and the sources cited there. The Kurram

Casket inscription can be dated to the Kanis.ka era on the same grounds as the inscription on the Senior
manuscripts pot (see the references in note 41 below).
35 See also S
astr (1910-11, 63-66). The stupa is referred to as the [parini]rvan.acaitya in the inscription
on the Kasia Copper-plate itself.
36 Another remarkable find is the Golden Pali Text found in a large reliquary in a stupa in Sr
Ks.etra in
Burma. It is composed of twenty inscribed gold leaves containing eight excerpts from the [Pali] Canon,
most being from early core texts based on the Vinaya in pure canonical Pali that Lore Sander dates


D. Drewes

scription in late Brahm on a copper scroll that seems to date to the late fifth or early
sixth century (Melzer 2006). The inscription records the establishment by several
donors of a stupa containing relics and contains a quotation of the prattyasamutpada
matbrahman.pariprccha, a little-known Mahayana sutra, toformula from the Sr
gether with the two opening verses of Na
garjunas Mulamadhyamakakarikah.. While
the scrolls provenance and ritual significance are uncertain, Gudrun Melzer suggests
that it may come from Northern Afghanistan and that it appears to have been made
for depositing in a stupa, as a foundation deed as well as a consecrating inscription
(2006, 254).37
As Daniel Boucher points out (1991, 5), the practice of enshrining in stupas the
full prattyasamutpada formula and complete sutras containing it seems largely to
have lapsed by the end of the sixth century. In its stead there developed the practice
of enshrining tablets, usually made of clay, stamped with slightly different versions
of the verse commonly referred to as the Buddhist creed, or miniature clay stupas
either stamped with this same verse or containing tablets stamped with it. In the
Mahavastus Sanskrit version this verse reads ye dharma hetuprabhava hetun tes.a m
tathagato a ha/tes.a m
. ca yo nirodha evam
. vad mahasraman.ah. (The Tathagata states
the cause of those dharmas which arise from a cause and their cessation; the great
renunciant is the one who says this) (Senart 1882-97, 3:62).38 Beginning in the late
sixth or seventh century and for several centuries thereafter a vast number of such
tablets and miniature stupas were enshrined in stupas throughout much of South Asia,
with often large numbers being enshrined in individual stupas.39 Boucher cites texts
that identify this verse as equivalent to the body of the Buddha, and which make it
clear that it at least sometimes served as an object of veneration (1991, 7-14). Peter
Skilling points out that the ye dharmah. verse has long been used in ceremonies for
the consecration of stupas, statues, paintings, and books and suggests that in at least
some cases inscribed ye dharmah. verses may be seen as physical relics of cetiya
consecration rituals (2002, 173).
In some cases dharan.s stamped, inscribed, or written on clay, stone, copper, or
bark have been found in stupas. Such amulets are typically found along with ye
dharmah. tablets in small, subsidiary stupas associated with particular ritual centers.
What may be the oldest are several birch bark strips with versions of the Vimalos.n.s.a
Dharan. found, along with other things, including miniature stupas containing clay
tablets inscribed with the ye dharmah. verse, in two seventh century stupas from Gilgit
(Shastri 1939, 3-4, 8-9; von Hinber 1981, 166-67; 2004, 14-16). Schopen has identified two late Mahayana sutras that mention this dharan., one of which he quotes as
stating that memorizing it, retaining it in memory, writing it, reading it, or hearing
its name will rid one of the five deadly sins (*pacanantarya) and as referring to
to sometime between the mid-fifth and mid-sixth centuries (Stargardt 2000, 24-25). On this text, see also
Stargardt (1995). For a transcription of the plates see Falk (1997). For gold plates inscribed with nonMahayana Buddhist textual material that were found in stupas elsewhere in Southeast Asia, see Skilling
(2002, 164, 166).
37 I would like to thank Richard Salomon for this reference.
38 For an interesting early publication on this verse and some of its variants, see Sykes (1856).
39 For references to these finds see, e.g., Taddei (1970, 78-79) and Boucher (1991, 20-22n27-43).

Revisiting the cult of the book


the performance of these actions as a caitya empowering ritual (1985, 144). The
dharan. itself is an injunction to all Buddhas to protect ones life and purify ones sins
and it seems that enshrining it was most likely done for personal protection and purification. The Gilgit specimens incorporate the name of the king Navasurendraditya
into the text of the dharan., a fact which leads von Hinber and Grard Fussman to
suggest that they were enshrined as part of a ritual intended to prolong his life or cure
him of an illness (von Hinber 2004, 90; Fussman 2004, 115-16). Three terracotta
tablets with images of the Buddha in meditation, apparently dating to about the tenth
or eleventh century, one of which contained two small clay tablets stamped with this
same dharan., were found in one of more than a hundred small stupas surrounding a
temple in Paharpur in Northern Bengal. The stupa also contained several thousands
of miniature stupas containing tablets inscribed with the ye dharmah. verse, and about
fifty other terracotta tablets with an image of an eight-armed goddess or bodhisattva
(Chandra and Dikshit 1936, 125 and plate LIX, f; Dikshit 1938, 82-84 and plate LIX,
d and e; D. Mitra 1971, 243). Similar dharan. amulets have been found in other
stupas.40 Though the dharan.s must have been believed to be powerful, they seem
unlikely to have been objects of communal worship.
There are only a few known cases in which actual books in Indic languages seem to
have been interred in stupas, and only two cases in which the contents of these books
are known. The oldest case is that of the recently discovered Senior manuscripts, a
collection of twenty-four scrolls or scroll fragments containing a sizable number of
non-Mahayana sutras in Gandhar in Kharos.t.h script. The manuscripts were found
in a clay pot, the original provenance of which is uncertain. An inscription on the lid
of the pot identifies it as having been placed in a stupa (thu[ba]m[i]) by one Rohan.a
Masumatraputra in year twelve of what seems certainly to have been the Kanis.ka era.

a date of roughly 127-28 for the beginning of Kanis.kas reign, Richard
Salomon estimates the date of the pot and the sutras deposit at 140 CE, a date which
falls into the range of dates established by radiocarbon dating for the harvesting of the
manuscripts bark (Salomon 2003, 76-77; Allon et al. 2006, 286-88). Though the sectarian affiliation of the collection is not known, it is composed primarily of sutras of

a sort typically found in the Sam

The collection includes
. yutta/yukta Nikaya/Agama.
two index scrolls and part of the last line of the second scroll reads in all fiftyfive, 55, sutras (Salomon 2003, 83). On the basis of this fact, Salomon concludes
40 As noted by Schopen (1985, 141), Dikshit points out that the Vimalosnsa Dharan was also found at
.. .
Bodhgaya and Nalanda (1938, 84). Several tablets with a different dharan. or dharan.s, apparently dating
to sometime between the sixth and ninth centuries, were found along with ye dharmah. tablets in a stupa
at Nalanda (Ghosh 1941). Schopen has identified two Mahayana dharan. sutras that refer to the dharan.
found on at least two of these tablets as the Bodhigarbhalan.karalaks.a Dharan. and that advocate, among
other things, putting it into caityas and worshipping them (1985, 119-41). As Schopen points out in the
addenda to this article in its recent republication, this same dharan. was also found on tablets in two stupas
at Ratnagiri (2005a, 338-39; cf. D. Mitra 1981, 41-44, 98-100). Both stupas also contained tablets with
the ye dharmah. verse. Schopen also states that eight granite tablets inscribed with dharan.s, six of which
he identifies as containing parts of a dharan. that a Mahayana sutra advocates placing in a stupa, were
somehow connected with a stupa in 9th-century Ceylon, but the only apparent connection is that they
were buried at a spot to the south east of one (1982, 106, 100; cf. Mudiyanse 1967, 99-105). For a few
other finds of dharan.s in stupas, see Mudiyanse (1967, 92-95), OConnor (1966, 57-58), D. Mitra (1971,
89, 228, 246; 1981, 68-69).


D. Drewes

that the sutras represent a unified, organized collection (80) and suggests that they
might constitute an anthology of important or representative Buddhist texts (83).
This interpretation is also suggested by the fact that the entire collection seems likely
to have been copied by a single scribe (86). Some of the scrolls were discovered in
good condition, and Salomon suggests that the collection may have been copied for
the specific purpose of being enshrined in the stupa (77-78).
The birch bark Bower Manuscript, in late Brahm, was discovered in 1890 near
Kucha in Chinese Turkestan, in a building that A.F.R. Hoernle identifies as a stupa on
the basis of information provided by Hamilton Bower (Hoernle 1893-1912, iv-xiii).
Bower purchased the manuscript from a local resident who led him to the building in
which he claimed to have found it, and Bower describes this building and others like
it as solid, and built of sun-dried bricks and wooden beams now crumbling away,
and as resembling a gigantic cottage loaf, about 50 feet high. He comments additionally that the outside of this structure had a slight coating of a baked clayey nature
. . . and the documents [i.e., the Bower Manuscript] had been buried right in the centre of it (Hoernle 1893-1912, v). Though Bowers reference to wooden beams may
be cause for some doubt, Hoernles identification of the building as a stupa seems
likely to be correct. The manuscript contains an early recension of the Mahamayur,
a non-Mahayana dharan. sutra that claims to make those who recite it immune to
snakebite and various forms of illness, along with three non-Buddhist medical texts,
and two texts on divination with dice.41 The manuscript was written in two different styles of handwriting apparently during the first half of the sixth century (Sander
1987, 321). In two places it is identified as belonging to a certain Yasomitra. Hoernle suggests that the stupa in which the manuscript was found was dedicated to this
same Yasomitra and that the manuscript was placed in the stupa as a sort of grave
good (1893-1912, xxx, xxxvii). An alternate possibility is that it was ritually buried
as a dead manuscript, as Salomon suggests was the case for the British Library
Kharos.t.h fragments (1999, 81-84). In any case, the manuscripts composite, well
used, and largely non-Buddhist nature strongly suggest that it was not created as a
ritual item and that, if the building in which it was found was indeed a stupa, it was
not put there for worship. In all other cases in which manuscripts have reportedly
been found in stupas in South or Central Asia, either this identification seems to be
incorrect or the contents of the manuscripts are unknown.42 There is no known case
41 Because it contains dharans, the Mahamayur is often considered to be a Mahayana sutra. Peter Skilling
has drawn attention to the fact that many late non-Mahayana texts also contain dharan.s and argues that
the Mahamayur has no other characteristics to suggest that it is a Mahayana text (1992, 143).
42 G.M. Bongard-Levin reports that the apparently mostly fifth or sixth century Bairam Ali Manuscript,

a collection of notes and synopses of a number of non-Mahayana jatakas, avadanas, sutras, and the
Sarvastivada vinaya, was found in a stupa (1975-76, 78). Other scholars have repeated this identification. M.I. Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya states, however, that the manuscript was found along with a shattered
clay pitcher, which presumably contained it, among the lumps of earth when a small hill was removed
by a bulldozer during the leveling of a field (1999, 27; cf. 1979, 127-28), making this seem incorrect. An
apparently fifth or pre-fifth century Buddhist manuscript practically destroyed by termites was found
in a painted vase reportedly found in a stupa in Gyaur Kala in Merv in modern Turkmenistan (Frumkin
1970, 147-48; Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya 1979, 127; 1983, 64-65). Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya comments
that the manuscript is not restored and is not described but that it is, or was, kept in the restoration
department of the Ministry of Culture of RSFSR, now the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation,

Revisiting the cult of the book


in which an ancient Mahayana sutra manuscript has been found in a stupa in South
A number of scholars have suggested that the Gilgit manuscripts, which were
reported to have been discovered in a ruined stupa near the village of Naupur in
Gilgit in modern Pakistan, constitute evidence for the veneration of Mahayana sutras
at a stupa.43 In 1951 Conze suggested that the main Gilgit stupa was a caitya
that Buddhists worshipped because it contained portions of the Dharma-body of
the Buddha, in other words, of the Scriptures (79). Similar suggestions have been
made more recently by von Hinber (1983a, 55) and Yael Bentor (1995, 251 and
n18). The nature of the Gilgit find has, however, always been problematic. Already
in 1932 Sylvain Lvi suggested that the Gilgit manuscripts constituted a monasterys
library (26). Though he himself does not say so, if true, this would make it unlikely
that they were enshrined for ritual purposes. In 1981, in the most careful study of the
matter published to that date, Karl Jettmar asked why a whole library including the
texts used for practical regulations [i.e., vinaya texts] was withdrawn from utilization
by burying it in a stupa and suggested as the most likely answer that the manuscripts
were concealed in the stupa as a protective measure in response to warlike events
or political and/or religious change in the area (3-4, 14). A similar possibility was
also suggested by von Hinber (1983a, 50-51, 65). In 1988, and again in 2004, von
Hinber also suggested, without discussion, that the building in which the Gilgit manuscripts were discovered may not have been a stupa at all (1988, 40; 2004, 2). Jettmar
later changed his position and argued that the manuscripts were unlikely to have been
hidden quickly before the impending attack of an enemy because the construction
of such a stupa-shaped container needed time and a considerable labour force (1990,
307). Instead, he suggested that the manuscripts may have been enshrined after the
conquest, by the invaders themselves, as seeds of prosperity and blessing (1990,
312). Jettmar later also suggested that the manuscripts were buried as one of the
Concealed Treasures according to a concept strongly influencing the rise of esoteric
Buddhism (1993, 94). The mystery, however, now seems finally to have been solved

in Moscow (1979, 127). I have not been able to find out anything more about it. I would like to thank
Oleksandr Kondrashov for helping me with Vorobyova-Desyatovskayas publications in Russian and for
translating the passages cited here. Charles Masson reported finding twists of tuz-leaves in the reliquaries of several stupas. Salomon suggests that these were likely manuscripts in scroll form, but none of
these twists have survived in good enough condition to be read (1999, 59-61). Salomon also points out
that a similar text was found in a stupa by John Martin Honigberger, but this manuscript was not read and
is no longer extant (61-62). J. Barthoux seems to have found texts in stupas at Had.d.a, but they are now
lost and their contents are unknown (Salomon 1999, 63-65). A small booklet was also found inside of at
statue at Had.d.a, but the text was not read by its discoverers and it seems now to be lost (Salomon 1999, 65).
Hoernle argues that manuscripts in the Weber, Macartney, Petrovski, and perhaps also Godfrey collections
were found in a stupa as well, but this seems unlikely because the oldest accounts of the discovery of these
manuscripts state that they were found either in a versunkenes und vershttetes Haus or in a tower, and
that they were found along with the bodies of some cows, or a cow and two foxes standing, that turned
to dust when they were touched (Hoernle 1893-1912, vi-viii). Though stupas are often found to contain
unexpected things, that one might contain such animals, and contain them standing, does not seem possible. Hoernle comments on a set of manuscript fragments, some of which he edits, that he suggests were
found in a stupa, but the fragments were originally reported as having been found in a house (1916, 1).
43 For the initial reports, see Stein (1931) and Lvi (1932). See also Shastri (1939).


D. Drewes

by Fussman, who has reconsidered the available evidence and recently argued that
the building in which the Gilgit manuscripts were discovered was actually a sort of
house where a Buddhist a carya or lineage of a caryas lived and performed rituals for
people in the surrounding area. Though I will not attempt to reproduce his argument
here, he expresses his main conclusions as follows:
Lexamen des donnes architecturales relatives au btiment C et celui des livres
qui y furent trouves laissent la mme impression. Le btiment ntait pas un
stupa lev au-dessus des restes dune bibliothque prcieuse quil fallait protger du pillage. Il est plus simple de restituer une tour isole, avec une armature
de bois qui a des parallles nombreux dans les constructions de cette rgion.
Cette tour tait la fois le logis et la chapelle dune ligne dacarya dont certains excutrent des rites de protection demands par des notables de Gilgit,
pour leur souverain ou pour eux-mmes et leur famille. Les manuscrits de Gilgit
sont les ouvrages dont se servaient les a carya dans leur pratique monastique ordinaire, auxquels sajoutent des livres copis en don pieux et crmoniellement
remis au monastre, et des dharan. copies et rcites lors de rituels de protection. Lorsque pour une raison indtermine, la ligne dacarya steignit, le
btiment fut abandonn, le toit cessa dtre dblay aprs les chutes de neige et
finit par scrouler, donnant lensemble lapparence dun stupa (2004, 134).
In a similar case, John Holt suggests that seven gold plates inscribed with portions of the Pacavim
. satisahasrika Prajaparamita found during the excavation of
the Jetavanarama in Sri Lanka were enshrined in the Jetavanarama Stupa for worship (1991, 67). Although Holt states that these plates were found in the southwest
quadrant of the Jetavanarama Dagba (stupa), however, the pamphlet he cites states
not that they were found in the southwest quadrant of the stupa, but that they were
found in the southwest quadrant of the Jetavanarama itself (Ratnayaka et al. 1983,
no page numbers). As M.H.F. Jayasuriya makes clear, the plates were in fact found
deposited in an earthen vessel that was simply buried in the ground of the Vihara
complex (1988, 4).44 Holt also cites the fact that a group of copper plates inscribed
with extracts from the Pacavim
. satisahasrika and Kasyapaparivarta Sutra, which
Paranavitana dates to the eighth or ninth century, were found at the ya
Dagba at Mihintale (1991, 67). While these plates were found at the stupa, however, they were not found inside of it. According to Paranavitana, when the plates
were discovered the stupa had already been opened by treasure-seekers and the
plates were found along with a range of other objects, including Dutch coins, scattered among the loose bricks. Paranavitana suggests on the basis of late South Indian
coins found in an earthen casket at the same time that even before being plundered
the stupa had been restored at a recent date, possibly during the Kandyan period,
i.e., in the late sixteenth century or after (1933, 200).
Although a more careful study of the archaeological evidence of ritual uses of
Buddhist texts in South Asia is certainly a desideratum, this brief survey suggests
a fairly clear general picture. First, actual books were deposited in stupas only
very rarely. When texts were put in stupas they were usually very short sutras or
44 On these plates see also von Hinber (1983b).

Revisiting the cult of the book


quotations from sutras pressed into or inscribed on clay or metal. Second, and more
important in the present context, the oldest enshrined texts, and the majority in all
periods, were non-Mahayana in nature. With the possible exception of the quotation
on the fifth or sixth century Brahm copper scroll foundation deed discussed above,
the Mahayana texts that were put into stupas seem invariably to have been dharan.s,
rather than sutras, and they seem typically to have been interred with specific personal
objectives, such as purification or the attainment of long life, rather than for worship.
One final point remains to be addressed, and this is Schopens assertion that there
was a confrontation or competition between Mahayana book worship and the
pre-existing cult of relics and stupas. The main evidence that Schopen presents in
support of this idea is a group of passages in Mahayana sutras that state that vastly
more merit can be made from sutra-oriented practices than from the worship of stupas
and relics. We have already seen one such passage in Schopens long quotation from
the As..ta discussed above. Within this quotation, immediately after the passage that
states that the Prajaparamita makes the place where it is memorized and recited

caityabhuta, Sakra
asks the Buddha:
Suppose that there are two persons. One of the two, a son or daughter of good
family, has written down this perfection of wisdom, made a copy of it; he would
then put it up, and would honour, revere, worship, and adore it with heavenly flowers, incense, perfumes, wreaths, unguents, aromatic powders, strips
of cloth, parasols, banners, bells, flags, with rows of lamps all round, and with
manifold kinds of worship. The other would deposit in Stupas the relics of the
Tathagata who has gone to Parinirvana; he would take hold of them and preserve them; he would honour, worship and adore them with heavenly flowers,
incense, etc., as before. Which one of the two, O Lord, would beget the greater
After a brief discussion the Buddha replies that the person who would copy and
worship the perfection of wisdom would beget the greater merit.45
45 Schopen reads this particular passage not only as evidence of competition between the cult of the book

and the stupa/relic cult, but also as supplying us with information on how the worship of books was
practiced (1975a, 168). He writes: Apart . . . from the difference in focal point, the texts describe the
structure of the two cults in exactly the same terms: placing the relics in a stupa; honoring, revering them,
etc., with flowers, incense, rows of lamps; writing the dharmaparyaya and making it into a book, setting
it up; honoring, revering it with flowers, incense, rows of lamps. It seems obvious, then, that the cult
of the book . . . took over from the [relic cult] the prescribed forms of activity while at the same time
substituting a distinctly different object toward which they were directed (170). Key to note, however, is
that the list of activities used to describe the worship of books and stupas in this passage is a more-or-less
formulaic list used freely in the As..ta and other texts to describe worship paid to anything and anyone. In the
As..tas sixth chapter, for instance, an almost identical list of activities is used to describe worship that gods
pay to the Buddha (Wogihara 1932-35, 366/Conze 1973, 132) and in chapter thirty, another almost identical
list is used to describe worship paid to the dharmabhan.aka Dharmodgata (Wogihara 1932-35, 956; this
passage is all but completely elided in Conzes translation, see 1973, 289). Because of this, we cannot take
this passage as evidence that sutra and stupa worship were performed in the same manner. If we were to
do so, we would have to conclude, e.g., that dharmabhan.akas were worshipped in the same way, being
decorated with flags and parasols, hung with bells, etc. On this issue, see also Matsumura (1985, 144).
As we saw above, however, several late manuscript covers have been found smeared with ointments and
powders. Mahayana sutras, especially those that seem likely to be early, generally provide little information


D. Drewes

As Schopen reads them, passages like these constitute clear evidence of competition between the cult of the book and the cult of relics and stupas (1975a, 168-70).
While this reading has a definite prima facie plausibility, it ignores the important fact
that the point of saying that something is better (or able to produce more merit, etc.)
than something else is not always that it is good and the other is bad. If one were
to say, for instance, that a certain airplane can fly faster than sound, one would not
be trying to make a point about sound at all, and certainly not the point that sound
is slow. Sound would be used in the comparison precisely because it is known to be
extremely fast.
Comparisons of this sort are common in South Asian Buddhist literature. In one
sutta in the Pali Sam
. yutta Nikaya, for example, the Buddha asks monks to consider
how long it would take for a blind turtle that surfaces only once every hundred years
to place its head, by sheer chance, into a wooden yoke floating in the ocean. He then
tells them that it would take longer for a person born in one of the lower realms
of rebirth to obtain rebirth as a human (Feer 1884-98, 5:455-56/Bodhi 2000, 1871).
In another sutta from the same collection, the Buddha asks monks what is greater,
the amount of tears that they have shed in sam
. sara or the amount of water in the four
great oceans. He then approves when they say that the amount of tears is greater (Feer
1884-98, 2:179-80/Bodhi 2000, 652-53). In the first of these passages there is no idea
that the amount of time that it would take for the turtle to put its head into the yoke
is short. Exactly the opposite: the image of the turtle and the yoke is carefully crafted
to convey an idea of as vast an expanse of time as possible. The second passage is
similar. The point is not to say anything at all about the volume of water in the four
oceans, much less that it is not great. The only point is that the volume of tears that the
monks have cried in sam
. sara is great. The volume of tears is compared to the volume
of water in the four oceans precisely because this latter volume is more-or-less the
greatest imaginable.
Although comparisons of this sort are common in the nikayas/agamas, they occur
with significantly greater frequency in Mahayana sutras and are used in significantly
more dramatic ways. They are very frequently used to illustrate the amount of merit
produced by certain Mahayana practices, primarily memorization, recitation, teaching, copying, worship, and/or training in the teachings of Mahayana sutras. Worship
is rarely the main sutra-oriented practice encouraged in such comparisons and in most
cases it is not mentioned at all. Although Schopen writes that the merit derived from
the cult of the book is always expressed in terms of its comparative superiority to that
derived from the stupa/ relic cult, the merit to be gained from sutra-oriented activities
is only relatively rarely compared to the merit gained from stupa/relic veneration. In
on how books were actually worshipped. Earlier sutras seem, however, to be aware of two basic forms:
worship in the home and worship in the context of preaching rituals. The As..tas home protection passage
quoted above, for example, makes explicit reference to home book worship and the passage from the As..tas
Sadaprarudita story discussed in note 30 depicts Sadaprarudita and his companions venerating a copy of
the Prajaparamita owned by the dharmabhan.aka Dharmodgata before he preaches it. For two other
passages that may constitute references to such rituals see Wogihara (1932-35, 468)/Conze (1973, 155)
and Braarvig (1993, 120/463). Later texts sometimes contain more detailed descriptions of book-oriented
rituals. See, e.g., Kurumiya (1978, 40-41) and de La Valle Poussin (1898, 186, 227). A more careful study
of this matter is a desideratum.

Revisiting the cult of the book


the As..ta this is done in only two of its many merit comparison passages.46 Other passages state that more merit can be gained from sutra-related activities than the merit
that would be produced by all the beings in Jambudvpa if they were all endowed with
the ten positive courses of action (karmapatha) (Wogihara 1932-35, 803-4/Conze
1973, 242); the merit that would be produced by establishing all the beings in as many
billionfold world systems as there are grains of sand in the Ganges in the ten positive
courses of action (Wogihara 1932-35, 288-91/Conze 1973, 120-21); the merit that
would be produced by establishing all the beings in as many billionfold world systems
as there are grains of sand in the Ganges in the four dhyanas, the four brahmaviharas,
the four a rupyasamapattis, and the five abhijas (Wogihara 1932-35, 291-97/Conze
1973, 121); the merit that would be produced by establishing all the beings in as
many billionfold world systems as there are grains of sand in the Ganges in streamenterership, once-returnership, non-returnership, arhatship, or pratyekabuddhahood,
or causing them to give rise to bodhicitta (Wogihara 1932-35, 300-18/Conze 1973,
122); the merit that would be produced by giving gifts to stream-enterers, oncereturners, non-returners, arhats, pratyekabuddhas, and Buddhas for as many kalpas
as there are grains of sand in the Ganges (Wogihara 1932-35, 702-3/Conze 1973,
210); and the merit that would be produced if all the beings in Jambudvpa would become humans, give rise to bodhicitta, worship all Buddhas for their entire lives, give
gifts to all beings, and dedicate those gifts to the attainment of unsurpassed, complete
enlightenment (Wogihara 1932-35, 792-93/Conze 1973, 238). Similar comparisons
can be found throughout Mahayana sutra literature. It seems highly doubtful that any
of these passages represent attempts to compete with or discourage any of the practices they mention. Rather, following the same basic pattern as the passages from
the Sam
. yutta Nikaya discussed above, these passages advocate sutra-oriented activities in a dramatic manner by comparing them to fantastically described practices that
would be understood by all to be vastly meritorious. When considered in light of these
passages it is difficult to read Schopens passages as evidence of confrontation or
competition with stupa worship. Rather, like giving rise to bodhicitta, causing others to do so, giving gifts to Buddhas and other beings, etc., stupa and relic worship
figure in these passages merely as part of the background, as standard Buddhist or
Mahayana practices the legitimacy of which is accepted without question.47 Most
46 These include the passage cited just above (Wogihara 1932-35, 208-12/Conze 1973, 105-6) and a pas-

sage on Wogihara 1932-35, 217-31/Conze 1973, 107-8. The latter compares the merit to be gained from
building and honoring vast numbers of stupas to the merit to be gained from a variety of Prajaparamitaoriented activities beside worship: hearing, memorizing, reciting, etc.
47 There are only two occurrences of the word stupa in the Sanskrit text of the Asta outside
of the two passages in which stupa worship is compared to book veneration. One is in the title of the third chapter, Reverence to the stupa of the paramitas holding immeasurable virtues
(aprameyagun.adharan.aparamitastupasatkara). The other occurs in a passage which states that anyone
who keeps a written copy of the Prajaparamita in his or her home will sleep pleasantly and not have
nightmares. It then goes on to list a number of things that the person will dream about, including Tathagatas
becoming enlightened and setting forth the dharma, arhats, bodhisattvas, bodhi-trees, the paramitas, and
stupas (Wogihara 1932-35, 261-62/Conze 1973, 114). The inclusion of stupas in this list of things that a
good Buddhist should want to dream about, without any particular emphasis or comment, again indicates
fairly clearly that the As..tas authors accepted the legitimacy of stupa worship without question. Schopen
also cites two other merit comparison passages, one from the Vimalakrtinirdesa and the other from the


D. Drewes

Mahayana sutras have little to say about stupa/relic worship, but when they do mention it they almost always either advocate it or depict it in a positive light. I am not
aware of any that attempt to disparage it.48
Overall, it seems that the veneration of books played a less significant role in Indian Mahayana than has been thought. Because it does not seem possible to take
Schopens caityabhuta passages and their variants as evidence for the existence of
book shrines, and because there does not seem to be any other evidence for their existence, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that such shrines simply never existed.
Given that the material Schopen cites as evidence of competition between the veneration of books and the cult of relics and stupas seems not to reflect such competition,
this competition also seems unlikely to have existed. In a recent article, Schopen
comments on Akira Hirakawas theory of the origin of Mahayana:
There is surely so little in early Mahayana sutra literature that concerns stupas
that one must wonder how Hirakawas theory connecting the emergence of
Kasyapaparivarta, as evidence for competition between the cult of the book and the stupa/relic cult (1975a,
169). Although these comparisons advocate other sutra-oriented activities, neither mentions worship. In
addition, both passages, along with the merit to be gained from erecting stupas, simultaneously compare
the merit to be gained from sutra-oriented activities to the merit to be gained from other activities that
are clearly to be understood as meritorious: serving Buddhas, building monasteries, etc. See the original
passages cited by Schopen and now also Vimalakrtinirdesa 2004, 470-74. As additional evidence for competition with the stupa/relic cult Schopen cites four passages from the As..ta that attempt to establish on
doctrinal grounds that the cult of relics was in fact an inferior form of the cult of the book (1975a, 169).
These passages assert that the Prajaparamita is more valuable as an object of veneration than relics, but
nevertheless assert that relics are worthy of veneration because they originate from or are pervaded by the
Prajaparamita. In what seems an obvious effort to avoid giving the impression of trying to discourage

relic worship, the author of the text has the god Sakra,
the Buddhas interlocutor, repeat four times in
the midst of these passages I do not, however, Bhagavan, have a lack of reverence for the relics of the
Tathagata. I have only reverence [gauravam eva me/mama], Bhagavan, for the relics of the Tathagata
(Wogihara 1932-35, 270, 273, 278, my trans.; cf. Conze 1973, 116-18).
48 Several other scholars have made similar observations. Paul Harrison comments that the Mahayana
sutras translated by Lokaks.ema provide evidence for the practice of relic worship (1993, 175). As we have
already seen, he elsewhere comments that in his view Schopen over-emphasizes the negative attitude
displayed by Mahayana sutras toward stupa worship (note 4). Peter Skilling comments that Mahayana
texts envision the veneration of stupas and relics, along with the veneration of living Buddhas, as an integral part of the Bodhisattva path (2005, 286). David Snellgrove argues that no traditional Buddhist of
any School appears to have discounted the importance of relics and states that even in Prajaparamita
sutras relics may even be regarded as the most prized things after the Perfection of Wisdom itself (Snellgrove 1987, 38). For some references to positive depictions of stupas in Mahayana sutras, see Skilling
(2005, 286-87) and Schopen (2005c, 110-13). To add just two more of a very large number of passages
that could be cited, in the Karun.a pun.d.arka Sutra the Buddha states that anyone who worships his relics
after his parinirvan.a will become an irreversible bodhisattva (Yamada 1968, 262) and in the Vinayaviniscayopalipariprccha Sutra the Buddha includes transgression of a stupa (stupapatti) in a list of activities for

which a bodhisattva
should perform repentance (Python 1973, 31-32/97-98). A sutra in which the Buddha
criticizes monastics/bodhisattvas for excessive devotion to stupas and relics, but also explicitly states that
stupa and relic worship produces good roots (*kusalamula) and can lead to heavenly rebirth, is discussed in
Schopen (1999). To the best of my knowledge, this is as close as any Mahayana sutra comes to expressing
a negative attitude toward stupas. A similar case is the Bhadrakalpika Sutra, in which the Buddha in one
passage criticizes monks who attach excessive value to acts of worship and says that the dharma is more
worthy of worship than the Buddhas body (The fortunate aeon 1986, 1:70/71). Later in the text, however,
he goes on to directly advocate stupa and relic worship (1:344/45, 1:476/77) and to give an account of the
stupas and relics associated with each of the 1,004 Buddhas of the Bhadrakalpa (vols. 2-4).

Revisiting the cult of the book


the Mahayana with the stupa cult could have arisen at all. It could not, it seems,
have arisen on the basis of what is actually found in early Mahayana sutra literature alone. Nor, it seems, could it have arisen from a consideration of the
earlier or even the contemporary archaeological or epigraphical records. The
most likely source for this description of the early Mahayana would therefore
appear to have been its authors preconceived ideal or vision of the early Buddhist monk and his religious behavior. Unless Hirakawa was already thoroughly
convinced thatin spite of the evidencethe early Buddhist monk did not promote and participate in the stupa cult, how could he have made so much of what
little he found in Mahayana sutra literature (2005c, 112-13)?
These comments, along with others that Schopen makes in the same article, are an
insightful response to Hirakawas theory. Ironically, however, given that the amount
of material on book shrines and the competition between the book and stupa cults is
surely far less than the amount of material on stupasfinally there seems to be none
at allthese remarks, mutatis mutandis, apply doubly to Schopen himself.
Putting book shrines and the cult of stupas and relics aside, it is in fact not clear that
sutra worship was especially important for the Mahayana at all. Although Mahayana
sutras commonly advocate the veneration of written sutras, they typically depict
it as less significant than other sutra-oriented practices. In a passage in the larger
Sukhavatvyuha Sutra, for instance, the Buddha advocates memorizing Mahayana
sutras, retaining them in memory, reciting them, etc., and then says that even if people merely copy and worship them (antasas likhitva pujayis.yanti) they will make
much merit (Ashikaga 1965, 63-64; cf. Gmez 1996, 108-9). Similar passages are
common.49 In addition, the archaeological evidence discussed above makes it clear
that non-Mahayana textual material was venerated from at least the first half of the
second century, roughly four decades prior to what is currently the oldest securely
datable textual evidence we have for the Mahayana, Lokaks.emas Chinese translations of the As..ta and Pratyutpannabuddhasammukhavasthitasamadhi Sutra of 179
CE, and roughly fourteen years prior to the oldest datable evidence we have for the
Mahayana of any sort, the Govindnagar Amitabha image pedestal, inscribed with a
date of Kanis.ka era 26.50 The practice of venerating written texts was thus certainly
not peculiar to the Mahayana and it seems quite doubtful that it was even original
to it.

49 See, e.g., Wogihara (1932-35, 250-51, 263-65, 468-69)/Conze (1973, 112, 114-15, 155); Wogihara
(1932-35, 220, 221, 223, 224-26, 227, 229, 230; these passages are elided from Conzes translation);
Wogihara and Tsuchida (1935, 290)/Kern (1884, 326); Fronsdal (1998, 192).
50 On this pedestal see, e.g., Schopen (1987). It is possible that this pedestal and/or Lokaksemas texts
may be eclipsed. The Bajaur Collection of mostly Gandhar manuscripts, recently discovered in a cell in a
monastery in the Bajaur Agency in Pakistan, seems to date from the second, or perhaps even first, century
and contains a Mahayana sutra related to the Aks.obhyavyuha. Forthcoming radiocarbon dating may make
it possible to date this collection more precisely (Strauch 2007). I am grateful to Richard Salomon for this


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