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Jan Nattier, A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path according to the Inquiry of Ugra

Jan Nattier, A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path according to the Inquiry of Ugra (Ugraparipcch) A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path according to the Inquiry of Ugra (Ugraparipṛcchā) by Jan. Nattier, Review by: Matthew Kapstein The Journal of Religion, Vol. 85, No. 3 (July 2005), pp. 528-530

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The Journal of Religion

contribution to the field that is almost on a par with his augmentation of our understanding of medieval Buddhist monks and their institutions. Schopen’s mining of vinaya and comparative sources is, as noted above, de- signed to prod us into reassessing long-held notions concerning what it was to be a medieval Indian Buddhist monk—the homeless propertyless monk, the meditating monk, the su¯tra writing monk—that in light of his writings now appear to be less than accurate. This being the case, can we come up with a more reasonable image of a medieval Indian monk after reading Buddhist Monks and Business Matters than the one held before our mind’s eye prior to the advent of Schopen’s critique? At the risk of oversimplification, we might, in light of his research and under the influence of Schopen’s sardonic wit, visualize a picture of a monk standing demurely in flowing robes, a cash reg- ister at his feet (chaps. 1–7); a judicial eye cocked, ever mindful of his repu- tation in the eyes of the laity and other supporters (96–97); a privy, a broom, a clock (chap. 9), and an inscribed stu¯pa (chap. 13) behind him. But this image of a medieval Indian Buddhist monk and his monastic institutions is, it seems, no more balanced than previous ones. Somehow, before, during, or after bal- ancing the monastic ledgers, appeasing lay supporters, announcing the time and day, cleaning the viha¯ra, and studying vinaya law, at least some monks found time to write and copy the many su¯tra, abhidharma, and commentarial texts studied so diligently by scholars. Presumably, they followed some, if not all, of the advice contained in those written works. Can we accordingly broaden Schopen’s reassessment of monks and their institutions, monks and their busi- ness matters, to give us a more well rounded picture of medieval Indian Bud- dhist monks and their monastic communities than has been set forth to date? Can we reconstruct a picture of the medieval monastic community that places literary monks and meditative monks right alongside of accountant and lawyer monks? If so, then, perhaps, this is one of our future tasks, and we offer thanks to Gregory Schopen for his many writings, some of which are reproduced in Buddhist Monks and Business Matters, that have poked and prodded us into re- orienting ourselves toward and reinvigorating ourselves for the work yet to be done. TIMOTHY LENZ, University of Washington.

NATTIER, JAN. A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path according to the Inquiry of Ugra (Ugraparip rccha¯). Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003. 370 pp. $30.00 (cloth).

As Jan Nattier argues in the introduction to this important study and transla- tion of a neglected Buddhist scripture, the Inquiry of Ugra, our vision of Indian Maha¯ya¯na Buddhism has been skewed in large part because the su¯tras usually cited by modern scholars as definitive of the Maha¯ya¯na have not been selected by sound methods of historical scholarship. There has been a tendency to emphasize texts preserved, thanks largely to the hazards of fortune, in Sanskrit versions, as well as works that have been popular in recent centuries in Japan, and this despite the fact that several of the earliest extant Maha¯ya¯na writings, whose influence is known to have been considerable as the tradition took shape, fill neither of these two criteria. For the historian of religions to ap- proach the investigation of the early Maha¯ya¯na (or, as Nattier prudently sug- gests, of those tendencies in early Buddhism that eventually came to be classed


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Book Reviews

under the broad rubric of Maha¯ya¯na), therefore, it is necessary first of all to take seriously the testimony of texts now preserved only in ancient translations, texts that sometimes dropped out of favor in later times. The Inquiry of Ugra, translated into Chinese on several occasions beginning as early as the second century, as well as into Tibetan in the eighth, is a case in point. A thorough analysis of the su¯tra, treating a wide variety of textual, historical, and doctrinal questions, occupies the entire first part of the book. The several versions of the Ugra, its Chinese and Tibetan translations, and the surviving fragments in Sanskrit, are surveyed in chapter 2, which considers the formation of the text and its place in Buddhist canonical literature. Nattier carefully delineates the pattern of variation in the texts of the Ugra themselves and argues convincingly that, although the precise origins of the work will probably never be known, it was likely first composed in the first century BCE in circles connected with the Dharmaguptaka school. Despite the overall soundness of the evidence adduced here, one rather small issue requiring correction (though in no way affecting Nattier’s larger arguments) concerns the treat- ment of the opening formulas of homage (26–28), placed at the beginning of Maha¯ya¯na su¯tras, such as “Homage to all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas.” Nat- tier notes that these are the most fluid elements of these texts and that they do not occur at all in Chinese translations but are always found in the Tibetan versions. This leads her to surmise that such salutations may have been a rel- atively late innovation. She mentions (27 n. 36) the variants in the formulas given in Sanskrit manuscripts of a single su¯tra and that none of these, in turn, correlates precisely with the Tibetan, which often uses a single form of salu- tation for all works of a given class. Though true enough, her discussion of this point seems to me nevertheless to imply a basic misunderstanding; for the opening salutation is not really an integral part of the text at all. While there may be some doubts regarding its role in India, where it may have reflected the wishes of patrons or of the copyists themselves, in Tibet the forms of usage for the opening salutations were stipulated by official translation committees in the early ninth century and thus are in no way to be read as a part of the Indian works whose Tibetan translations they adorn. (In Tibetan, the formal designation for the opening salutation in fact is ’gyur-phyag, the “translator’s homage.”) In chapter 3, “The Ugra as a Historical Source: Methodological Consider- ations,” Nattier supplies in essence a primer of the basic problems and prin- ciples of text interpretation: textual stratification, interpolation, the relation between prescription and description, and so forth. Though some readers may find this rehearsal of the elementary assumptions of text historical scholarship to be tedious, the chapter may be recommended, especially to beginning grad- uate students, for its particularly lucid statement of the application of well- known procedures of text criticism to the special concerns of Buddhist studies. Historians of religion will be most interested, however, in chapters 4–8, which present a thorough discussion of the Ugra’s implications for our under- standing of Buddhist institutional history, the formation of the conception of the bodhisattva, and the doctrinal features of early Maha¯ya¯na. In this, Nattier’s work joins a body of new scholarship on the origins and development of Ma- ha¯ya¯na Buddhism—one thinks in particular of the contributions of Gregory Schopen and Paul Harrison—that, taken together, substantially revises our view not just of how the Maha¯ya¯na may have begun, but, perhaps most importantly, of just what it is. Though celestial Buddhas and bodhisattvas, the rhetoric of


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The Journal of Religion

emptiness and the rhetorical assault upon the “Hı¯naya¯na,” and much more, became part of the baggage that the Great Vehicle carried in its train, Nattier argues that it has been a mistake to think of these as features that are essen-

tially constitutive of the Maha¯ya¯na, at least if we accept Ugra’s testimony (or the absence thereof) on these points. The Maha¯ya¯na as seen here is the way of the bodhisattva, the aspirant to buddhahood, and that is all. It is neither a novel philosophical theory nor a new sectarian movement. Just how it came to be understood and elaborated in the later tradition varied greatly, but in its point of departure, historically and doctrinally, the Maha¯ya¯na need not be strongly distinguished from other forms of early Buddhism, except in its as-

sertion that the human teacher

albeit a goal that will require countless lifetimes to attain. Part 2 of the book is taken up with the translation of the su¯tra itself (207–321). A philological tour de force, the style is remarkably clear and read- able for this sort of thing. What is thus potentially gained for the benefit of the non-Buddhologist reader, however, may be in part lost owing to Nattier’s evident scruple for philological detail. With almost eight hundred footnotes on critical matters and variations in font size in order to indicate textual var-

iants, this fine translation risks deterring all but those “bodhisattva-maha¯sattvas


meticulous presentation for scholars who work with the primary documents, an edition for general readers omitting much of the apparatus nevertheless seems desireable, particularly if one thinks to use this as a text for courses on Buddhism that are not intended exclusively for those being trained in the Buddhist studies field. As an important landmark in the ongoing revision of our knowledge of the early formation of the Maha¯ya¯na, Nattier’s Ugra deserves to be known among a wider circle of historians of religion than the Buddhol- ogists alone.


are liberated from all fear” (298). Despite the clear value of Nattier’s


S a¯kyamuni himself presents to us the best goal,

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ABEYSEKARA, ANANDA. Colors of the Robe: Religion, Identity, and Difference. Studies in Comparative Religion, edited by Frederick M. Denny. Columbia: Univer- sity of South Carolina Press, 2002. 271 pp. $44.95 (cloth).

The theoretical goals of Colors of the Robe are, in my reading, twofold. First, the author wishes to lay bare the colonialist foundations of recent scholarship by exposing the hidden universals that structure the studies. Toward this end, Ananda Abeysekara is both acute and accurate in his readings of the works he critiques. He provides provocative analyses of the arguments of such scholars as Stanley Tambiah, Gananath Obeyesekara, John Holt, Donald Swearer, and others. Acknowledging his indebtedness to David Scott, Abeysekara wants to offer an alternative to both essentialist approaches and also to approaches that cast culture as unbounded or essenceless (antiessentialist arguments): “It seems to me that if we are to resist the obviously problematic antiessentialist argument—without, at the same time, falling back on an earlier but problem- atic essentialist view of culture—and continue to interrogate the often nor- malized unity of culture and difference, we need to do something else. My purpose in this book is to propose such an alternative” (3). Abeysekara wishes to demonstrate how the relations between “Buddhism,


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