Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland

About Ugra and his Friends: a Recent Contribution on Early Mahayana Buddhism. A review article.


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Research in Mahayana sutras is a slow and painstaking process. Typically, it involves a careful study of multiple versions of individual texts, composed in different languages (Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan) as well as immersion in the voluminous but largely unchartered corpus of canonical literature preserved in the bKa' 'gyur and the Chinese ‘Tripi[tdotu ]aka’. Years may easily go by without any noteworthy publication. Thus, when a new book appears, scholarly expectation tends to be high. Jan Nattier's study of the Ugrapariprccha is no exception. Eagerly awaited among colleagues for its research on early Mahayana Buddhism – the Ugrapariprccha is widely recognised to rank among the first Mahayana sutras – Nattier's work promised to dispel at least some of the mist that continues to cloud this ill-understood period. Even though hers is not the first study and translation of the Ugrapariprccha (Nancy Schuster wrote her PhD dissertation on this text, 1976), Nattier managed to produce a remarkable, original piece of scholarship that brims with thought-provoking ideas about the formation of the Mahayana, persuasive refutations of old-seated misconceptions, well-conceived approaches to textual interpretation and a competently crafted translation of the Chinese and Tibetan versions. In short, it is a book that needs to be taken seriously.

(Published Online March 15 2006)