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Pure Land Buddhism and The Buddhist Historical Tradition

  • James D. Steadman (a1)


In this paper I will offer an analysis of what it means to be a ‘historical tradition’. My purpose in undertaking this analysis is to apply the result to a problem of modern Buddhology, namely, the important question as to whether the Sino-Japanese ‘Pure Land School’ of Buddhism is to be considered as part of the Buddhist Historical Tradition. Before defining the term ‘historical tradition’, let me remark that I shall be seeking a descriptive or ‘empiricist’ view of what constitutes a given historical tradition. I shall not deal with any particular theory of history containing non-empirical elements, such as for example the Marxist View of history. My view could also be described as the Earl‘ Buddhist View of history. One might ask, is there such a thing as ‘Early Buddhism’? I take it as having been demonstrated by Dr David J. Kalupahana that there is such a thing as ‘Early Buddhism’. His method is to compare those same suttas occurring in the Pali Nikayas and Chinese Āgamas. Since these sources are most likely the earliest historical material available to us, then it is reasonable for us to take any common and consistent doctrines we might find in them as the ‘Early Buddhist View’. As Dr Kalupahana very ably demonstrates, we do indeed find such a common doctrine, which amounts to a form of empiricist philosophy. Thus, we can label this as the Early Buddhist View.



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page 407 note 1 Kalupahana, D. J., Empiricism in Early Buddhism and William fames, found in The Nārada Felicitation Volume (Colombo: Buddhist Publication Society, 1979).

page 411 note 1 Sprung, M., Lucid Exposition of the Middle Way: The Essential Chapters from the Prasannapadd of Candrakfrti (Boulder: Prajñnā Press, 1979).

page 411 note 2 Matics, M. L., Entering the Path of Enlightenment (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1970).

page 411 note 3 Chang, G. C. C., The Buddhist Teaching of Totality (University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1974). See also Streng, F. J., Emptiness – A Study in Religious Meaning (New York: Abingdon Press, 1967).

page 416 note 1 I will not attempt to define the term ‘mental states’, or clarify the entire ‘mind-body’ problem. I refer the reader to a useful anthology of relevant articles, namely Readings in Philosophy of Psychology, Vol. I edited by Block, Ned (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1980).


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