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Buddhadharma : Spring 2019
RICHARD SALOMON 55 The discovery of some random fragments of the literature of Gandharan Buddhism from the beginning of the Common Era is significant in part because it enables us to triangulate with the Pali and (partial) Sanskrit canons and begin to see all three as merely the surviving fragments of a vast tapestry of local Buddhisms and Buddhist literatures. Even from the tattered remnants of this grand tapestry, we can discern common threads in the form of shared basic texts, particularly among the sutras recognized, at least in theory, as authoritative by all schools, which still form a common core of beliefs and principles. But we also find differences—sometimes minor and technical, sometimes significant and surprising—among the texts of other genres, many of which seem to be locally composed materials: com- mentaries, scholastic treatises and debates, local stories, hymns of praise to the Buddha, and more, which together comprise as much as half of the Gandharan manuscript material. In short, we find a shared conceptual foundation on which the various regional and sectarian traditions have built their own superstructures. Some of the differences are merely formal, for example in their differing for- mulation and arrangement of the materials, while others are more substantial, as in the Gandharan reconception of the Vessantara story. multiple Buddhist Canons One of the clear messages these texts seem to have for contemporary practitioners is that it’s not helpful to think of Buddhism in terms of a contrast between a single original source and the implicitly inferior derivatives of that primal source. Rather, the complexity and vari- ability of Buddhist teachings appear to have been built in from the The Gift of Anathapindada, second to third century Gandhara (modern-day Pakistan) METROPOLITAINMUSEUMOFART,NEWYORK|SAMUELEILENBERGCOLLECTION,GIFTOFSAMUELEILENBERG,1987,ACCNo:1987.142.1