Nice, thanks for the link. I got in touch with Prof Sarao when I was in Delhi, and would have had the chance to meet him, but alas I was too sick and stayed in bed instead!
It’s a detailed and interesting work. I like how he emphasizes the importance of both neutrality and empathy, something too often overlooked. Approaching ancient texts with empathy, we treat them as voices that actually have something to say if only we listen carefully enough.
One mistake I noticed, which appears to be an oversight, but might be confusing for anyone reading it. On page 26 he says:
In all the recensions of the Vinaya Piṭaka, it is pointed out that the Buddha died 100 or 110 years before the consecration of Asoka.
If this was really the case, there would be no controversy about the Buddha’s date! But in fact, Asoka is not mentioned in any of the Vinaya Piṭakas at all. The span of 100 or 110 years refers to the Second Council.
While Sarao makes a strong case for the the Short Chronology, which would place Asoka and the Second Council around the same time, the above fact is a problem for this theory. Given that all the Vinayas all mention the Second Council, why do none of them mention Asoka? If they are contemporary, why are the very frequent mentions of Asoka in Buddhist literature entirely confined to the post-canonical literature?
The proponents of the Short Chronology account for this by arguing that the date for the Second Council is actually too late, and should be shortened to about 60 years after the Parinirvana. This may be so, but I don’t find it a very compelling argument. The fact is, all the sources say it was 100 or 110 years. Sure, it’s an approximate date, but it should still serve as a median probability; what is it that compels us to shift it?
The main argument here is that too many of the Elders at the Second Council are said to be contemporaries of Ānanda. But there is no particular reason why students of Ānanda should not have been alive at the Second Council. He was, say, forty years younger than the Buddha, so may have died at around 40 AN. Given his character, it is likely that he still took students at quite an old age, following the example of his teacher, who took took on Subaddha immediately before his death. So if he took on young monks in their early twenties at 40 AN, they would be around 80—even less if novices are included—at the time of the Second Council if it took place in 100 AN. This seems not merely possible but probable. Surely any direct students of Ānanda would have had a special prestige in the Sangha, and would have played a major role in Sangha events. Over time, in the usual mythic manner, the number of such students may well have been exaggerated; but this is no reason to doubt that there may have been one or more actually present at the Second Council.
Anyway, this is just one line of reasoning, but I have to stay, I am still not comfortable with the Short Chronology’s overly brief gap between the Second Council and Asoka. Nonetheless, some of Sarao’s other arguments, particularly on the state of technology and urbanization at the time, are quite compelling.