The Earliest Evidence for Buddhism

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.

The Earliest Evidence for Buddhism

Postby Bankei » Wed Jan 13, 2010 12:25 am

I am interesting in evidence for early Buddhism and would like to find out what the earliest inscription evidence reveals.

Does anyone know of what the earliest evidence is and what the inscriptions reveal?

What about the earliest manuscripts? I believe that the Gandhari ones being analysed by Richard Salomon may be the oldest dating to around the 1st century AD, and there are also other manuscripts called the Senior manuscripts.

The oldest Theravada manuscript is apparently a fragment of the vinaya from the 12th century found in Nepal. There have also been some small engravings found inside a Stupa from Burma dating from around the 6th century.

Its a fascinating topic and would love to know more if anyone has any details.

Bankei
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Re: The Earliest Evidence for Buddhism

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Jan 13, 2010 12:33 am

Greetings Bankei,

It's hard to go past...

The Edicts of King Asoka
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... el386.html

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Earliest Evidence for Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Jan 13, 2010 1:58 am

As shown above, the Edicts of Ashoka are the best physical, archeological evidence we have; written on stone pillars, engraved in the Pali language using the Brahmi script and dating to the 3rd century BC, very close to the time of the Buddha's parinibbana.

Also there are the British Museum Scrolls: http://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=B ... um_Scrolls
dating to about the 1st century AD.

Other evidence is the discovery of the ruins of the palace and cities, described in the Suttas.
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Re: The Earliest Evidence for Buddhism

Postby Kare » Wed Jan 13, 2010 5:52 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:As shown above, the Edicts of Ashoka are the best physical, archeological evidence we have; written on stone pillars, engraved in the Pali language using the Brahmi script and dating to the 3rd century BC, very close to the time of the Buddha's parinibbana.

Also there are the British Museum Scrolls: http://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=B ... um_Scrolls
dating to about the 1st century AD.

Other evidence is the discovery of the ruins of the palace and cities, described in the Suttas.


Well ... not exactly in Pali, but very close.
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Re: The Earliest Evidence for Buddhism

Postby dspiewak » Wed Jan 13, 2010 6:12 pm

Kare wrote:
David N. Snyder wrote:As shown above, the Edicts of Ashoka are the best physical, archeological evidence we have; written on stone pillars, engraved in the Pali language using the Brahmi script and dating to the 3rd century BC, very close to the time of the Buddha's parinibbana.

Also there are the British Museum Scrolls: http://dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=B ... um_Scrolls
dating to about the 1st century AD.

Other evidence is the discovery of the ruins of the palace and cities, described in the Suttas.


Well ... not exactly in Pali, but very close.

Yes, I always believed that it was in Magadhi Prakrit? Am I wrong? Magadhi Prakrit is somewhat newer than ancient Magadhi, which Buddhist scholars have always identified as being one and the same as Pali.
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Re: The Earliest Evidence for Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Jan 13, 2010 8:06 pm

dspiewak wrote:Yes, I always believed that it was in Magadhi Prakrit? Am I wrong? Magadhi Prakrit is somewhat newer than ancient Magadhi, which Buddhist scholars have always identified as being one and the same as Pali.


Apparently in several languages including Prakrit and Magadhi and one even in Greek! Another in Aramaic!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edicts_of_Ashoka

Prakit and Magadhi are pretty close to Pali, as Kare noted, but not the same.
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Re: The Earliest Evidence for Buddhism

Postby Gharchaina » Sat Jan 16, 2010 2:02 pm

Bankei wrote:I am interesting in evidence for early Buddhism and would like to find out what the earliest inscription evidence reveals.

Does anyone know of what the earliest evidence is and what the inscriptions reveal?

What about the earliest manuscripts? I believe that the Gandhari ones being analysed by Richard Salomon may be the oldest dating to around the 1st century AD, and there are also other manuscripts called the Senior manuscripts.

The oldest Theravada manuscript is apparently a fragment of the vinaya from the 12th century found in Nepal. There have also been some small engravings found inside a Stupa from Burma dating from around the 6th century.

Its a fascinating topic and would love to know more if anyone has any details.

Bankei


You might want to look at the work of Gregory Schopen for studies of the archaeology and epigraphy of early Buddhist sites in India. "Bones, Stones and Buddhist Monks," and other works. In particular, he is interested in comparing what can be learned from inscriptions at the sites with what is described in the texts, the differences and their implications.
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Re: The Earliest Evidence for Buddhism

Postby Bankei » Sun Jan 17, 2010 2:57 am

Thanks for all the posts.

I have most of Schopen's works, read them many years ago and am slowly re-going through them again one by one. Brilliant stuff.

I have also found an interesting work by Richard Salomon called. INDIAN EPIGRAPHY: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the Other Indo-Aryan Languages
Published in 1998 Oxford University Press. I am yet to start this book, but have skimmed through it.

Salomon mentions the Asokan inscriptions and it seems these are in a great many different languages and dialects or variations - at least 3 dialects (Eastern, Western and Northwestern=Gandhari) of Prakrit which is an early Middle Indo Aryan language. The scripts used are also varied and include Brahmi, but also Greek, Aramaic, KharosthI etc.

Salomon mentions that inscriptions in canonical Pali are very rare in India. He also says in relation to Sri Lanka "Pali inscriptions are, somewhat surprisingly, very rare." p 151.

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Re: The Earliest Evidence for Buddhism

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Jan 17, 2010 3:20 am

Gharchaina wrote:
You might want to look at the work of Gregory Schopen for studies of the archaeology and epigraphy of early Buddhist sites in India. "Bones, Stones and Buddhist Monks," and other works. In particular, he is interested in comparing what can be learned from inscriptions at the sites with what is described in the texts, the differences and their implications.


Schopen's work is definitely not just interesting, but quite essential reading for this sort of thing.

However, I personally feel he makes too much of the idea that somehow epigraphy shows "real buddhism" "on the ground", whereas texts are merely "what the monastics wanted" as prescriptive content. Epigraphy is also text, graphy = text, basically. And those who could afford to make such engravings are probably no more representative of "buddhism on the ground" as those scriptures written by scholarly monastics. ie. the wealthy and powerful, and the scholastic.

I also disagree with his emphasis on using the Tibetan version of the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya as what he thinks as one of the earliest Vinaya sources. I don't know how anybody can swallow that, quite frankly. I figure he's probably just more fluent in Tibetan than Pali or Chinese, so leans that way, then has to argue that this text is the most original.

I also don't think much of his ofttimes sarcastic condescending tone, either. He could say the same thing without needing to do this. It implies to me that he takes it too personally, like he is out there to debunk and prove others wrong, and taking delight in that. While testing theories is what scholarship is about, it should be done with respect.

Still, he does make some good points. So, still worth reading, for sure.
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Re: The Earliest Evidence for Buddhism

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sun Jan 17, 2010 3:23 am

dspiewak wrote:Yes, I always believed that it was in Magadhi Prakrit? Am I wrong? Magadhi Prakrit is somewhat newer than ancient Magadhi, which Buddhist scholars have always identified as being one and the same as Pali.


Conservative Theravadin scholars used to like to think that their Pali is the same as Magadhi.
Nowadays, I don't think many are so convinced. Maybe closely related, but not necessarily the exact same thing.
And remember, "pali" isn't even a "language". It refers to the "text", not the language".
So-called "pali texts" are written in a number of slightly different styles, some older and more Prakritic, some newer, some more Sanskritized (in the commentaries, etc.)
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