How do we refer to sectarian literature on D&D?

Recently, I made a post:[quote=“Coemgenu, post:6, topic:5659”]
Futhering the likelihood that Ven Fǎxiǎn retrieved these from Abhayagirivihāra (where Sanskrit Mahāyāna and Pāli scriptures were studied)
[/quote]Framing EBT vs non-EBT classifications is a more complex issue than “Mahāyāna vs Pāli” (since, we we likely know, Sanskrit, Chinese, & Gāndhārī (and a host of unknown ones!) accompany/have accompanied Pāli amongst the “Dharma languages” of the EBTs), so I should have said differently (and will correct this shortly).

But that leaves a question: how do we refer to sectarian literature that is “early” (relatively speaking) but is not an “EBT” in the sense of having parallels, etc., and is decidedly not Mahāyāna literature?

Our only extant EBTs are from “sectarian Buddhism” (for the simple reason that the sectarian period preserves recensions of texts older than the sectarian period itself), if one will, and as such, how do we refer to these texts (for example the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma & the Theravāda Abhidhamma) which are themselves very old (older than Mahāyānasūtrāṇi, for instance), but not “oldest”, per se.

I suggest “Early Sectarian Texts” (ESTs) or “Early Buddhist Sectarian Texts” (EBST or EBsT), but is there a handy preëxisting term?


Absolutely fascinating questions, thanks!

Would a slight potential difficulty with either EST or EBST be the implication that those text stand in contrast to _non-_sectarian texts and as your post points out, no such texts exist?

Good question, and so far as I know, there is no term for this. We should make one up! If one is in the context of the pre-Mahayana schools, we could simply say “postcanonical texts”. But this doesn’t serve to distinguish it from Mahayana texts (which also, of course, exist in both canonical and postcanonical forms.)

This is technically correct, but I think it is an inaccurate and unhelpful way of framing the problem. Let’s say I buy a Toyota. A few years later, I take it to the mechanic, who swaps out a few parts for non-Toyota parts, changes a few things, fixes some things, and heck, maybe even breaks a few things. But when I get it back, it’s obviously still a Toyota. To almost anyone, the differences are irrelevant. Maybe to another mechanic who has to work with it a few years later when the modified parts start playing up, the differences matter. But for anyone else, who cares? It’s a Toyota.

The EBT so-called “sectarian” literature displays almost no features of sectarianism. Sure, there are differences between the texts, but those are rarely sectarian in nature. The sects inherited the texts from the pre-sectarian period, and saw their job as being to preserve and pass down the texts, not to modify them. And to a large degree, that is exactly what they did.

From a practical point of view, we have to name the different texts something, and by convention we use the names of the sects for that. It’s not a perfect solution, as it is by no means certain that there was one and only one edition of a certain text per school. But in any case, that is what we do. But it’s important not to allow this to create the impression that the texts themselves are primarily sectarian.

From a doctrinal point of view, the sectarian literature is the Abhidhamma—although even there, large amounts of it are not really sectarian—and the postcanonical literature. In fact, we could consider Abhidhamma, if used in the loose sense of “about the teachings”, as a blanket term for sectarian doctrinal literature after the EBTs. This, however, excludes a bunch of texts that are not doctrinal in nature, such as Vinaya or devotional or narrative texts.

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[quote=“sujato, post:3, topic:5668, full:true”][quote=“Coemgenu, post:1, topic:5668”]
Our only extant EBTs are from “sectarian Buddhism” (for the simple reason that the sectarian period preserves recensions of texts older than the sectarian period itself)

This is technically correct, but I think it is an inaccurate and unhelpful way of framing the problem.
[/quote]Indeed, if I may clarify what I meant: texts “from” (that is to say, copied and prominent during) a sectarian period of history, with their transmission lines maintained by sectarian parties (although this does not necessarily imply any great or small amount of “messing” with the Buddhavacana), the texts themselves predating the sectarianism of their keepers and transmitters.

On terms of the helpfulness or unhelpfulness of framing the issue this way, I will have to concede to you, but I think that this is an accurate description of the state of these texts with the above caveat in mind.

Any sectarianism in the suttas (although obv we can’t be 100% pre-assuming a “complete” lack of any later sectarian accruals) would have been in their interpretation, as pointed out above.

Occasional transmission errors (scribal or dating back to orality, evident oftentimes due to their sheer strangeness) seem more common in the literature than outright twisting and fabrication of Buddhavacana.

Example of this: the āgamas now studied as EBTs were maintained and preserved exclusively by Mahāyāna monks for many years with no substantial “tampering” with the doctrinal contents, despite those very same Mahāyāna monks having very different interpretations of Buddhadharma than presented in those texts alone.