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Buddhist Books and Texts: Exegesis and Hermeneutics


In the Buddhist tradition the practice and theory of scriptural interpretation faced conflicting sources and concepts of authority, a voluminous canon of relatively late compilation, and a complex history of interpretations that may be described as "hermeneutic pluralism." Furthermore, for some Buddhist traditions an emphasis on dharma (the eternal truths discovered by the Buddha) rather than on buddhavacana (the literal content of his message) reduces the significance of textual and historical constraints as part of a method of interpretation.

According to tradition, the Buddha was not the sole preacher of dharma. Even during the Buddha's life his disciples acted as missionaries, and their words were considered part of the "original" message of Buddhism. The texts affirm that at the Buddha's own behest the disciples began each sermon with the words "Eva mayā śrutam ekasmin samaye" ("Thus have I heard on one occasion"). This formula presumably served as a guarantee of authenticity, or rather, of faithfulness to the teaching of the Master. Yet, the same introductory formula came to be used indistinctly for sermons attributed to the Master, to his disciples, or to mythical sages and deities.

It was also believed that there had also been previous buddhas, who had their own disciples, all of whom could have preached the dharma. These "Buddhists" from the mythical past could speak to human beings. Their words, as well as the "inspired speech" (pratibhāa ) of ancient and contemporary is, gods, and spirits, could be regarded as dharma, and thus be prefaced by the famous formula.

Even traditions that believe that the canon was redacted and closed during the First Council at Rājagha, shortly after the Buddha's death (c. 483 bce), concede that not all Buddhist elders were present at that gathering, and that at least one group of "five hundred monks" insisted on keeping their own version of the teachings as they remembered them. All available evidence indicates that most of the canons were never closed. The Theravāda school, proud of its conservatism in scriptural matters, was still debating the content of its canon at least as late as the fifth century ce. Even today there is no complete agreement among Theravādins regarding the Khuddaka Nikāya section of their canon. Thus, it is not always possible to distinguish clearly between canonical, postcanonical, and paracanonical Buddhist literature.

All schools believe that at least some texts have been lost, truncated, or altered, and that a number of false or late texts have been incorporated into the canons of various schools. Even if occasionally these statements are used to bolster the position of one school over another, they probably represent an accurate description of the general state of things by the time the first scriptural collections were formally constituted. It is not difficult to see the impact that such a perception, combined with the mythology of revelation outlined above, would have on the tradition's view of the meaning of the scriptures and on the principles that should guide their interpretation.

Buddhist Exegesis: Methods of Interpretation

The Buddhist canons were the result of a long process of compilation and redaction that we can no longer reconstruct. For many centuries the task of interpretation was complicated by a shifting definition of canonicity. The first steps in understanding scriptural traditionsidentifying the limits and forms of scripturewere slow and hesitant.

It took roughly three centuries before the oral texts of specialized schools of reciters (bhāaka s) were brought together into collections (piakas ). Another century went by before the first canons were committed to writing (an early Theravāda canon was written down under King Vaagāmaī of Sri Lanka, c. 32 bce). Even then the canons were not closed; some of the extant collections (i.e., the Tibetan and Chinese "canons"), were not compiled until more than a millennium had passed since the life of the founder, and they have remained open to the introduction of new literature until recent times.

The canon

Most Buddhists came to accept the theoretical division of scripture into three sections, metaphorically called "baskets" (piaka )Sūtra (Pali, Sutta); Vinaya; and Abhidharma (Pali, Abhidhamma)hence the name tripiaka (Pali, tipiaka ), or "three baskets." But in practice the corpus of authoritative Buddhist texts is not always divided into these three categories. This division is in itself of secondary importance for the history of Buddhist exegesis, whereas the variety of canons that seem to have existed in ancient India, and their flexibility, are important factors in the development of Buddhist attitudes toward canonical authority and interpretation.

The earliest system of this type was the classification of Buddhist teachings (and texts) into two main divisions: dharma (instruction on doctrine and meditation) and Vinaya (monastic rules and discipline). This early classification of genres probably was followed closely in time by the introduction of a third type of sacred textthe mātkā, or numerical list.

Also ancient, and obviously precanonical, is a system of "genres" (aga ). The Theravāda tradition distinguishes nine such genres, whereas the Sanskrit tradition counts twelve (sūtra, geya, vyākaraa, gāthā, udāna, nidāna, ityukta, jātaka, vaipulya, adbhutadharma, avadāna, and upadeśa ). Although some of these terms are well known as words for literary genres or forms of canonical literature, the exact meaning of the items in these lists is not always transparent. The list clearly shows, however, an early interest in analyzing scripture by literary forms, themes, and, presumably, speaker and audience.

By the time Buddhists began compiling their "canons," several forms of exegesis had developed within the body of literature transmitted as sacred scripture. Beyond the implicit exegetical work of the redactors, which is more obvious in Buddhist scripture than it is in the Judeo-Christian Bible, important sections of the canons are composed of exegetical material. Some works considered to derive directly from the Master's mouth are, in structure and reference, major acts of interpretation or statements on the nature of interpretation. Such, for instance, are the Mahāpadesa Suttanta, on forms of appealing to authority; the Kālāma Sutta, a critique of authority and an affirmation of the hermeneutical value of meditation; the Alagaddūpama Sutta, on the instrumental value of doctrine; and the Pratisaraa Sūtra, on the criteria of interpretation. These texts reflect an early concern with the problems of transmission and interpretation. Other texts included in the tripiakas are frankly exegetical in character (although they may be of more recent vintage); these include two commentaries (the Niddesa s) incorporated into the Sutta Piaka of the Theravādins, two works of theoretical hermeneutics included in the Sutta sections of the Burmese tipiaka, the Sūtravibhaga section of the Vinaya Piaka (an exegesis of the prātimoka ), and of course the totality of the Abhidharma Piaka.

The abhidharma as exegesis

The abhidharma played a central role in the development of the practice and theory of exegesis in all schools of Indian Buddhism. The hermeneutical strategy of the abhidharma was itself derived from a practice attested frequently by the sūtras: dogmatic lists known as "matrices" (mātkā ). These may appear to be mere catechistic or numerical lists; but more than topical indices or lists defining the limits of canonicity they are digests or exegetical guides. Some, evidently the oldest, are preserved in the Sūtra Piaka (e.g., Sagīti Suttanta, Daśottara Sūtra ), and were the object of commentaries (e.g., Mahākauhila's Sagītiparyāya ).

The role of mātkās as early canons of orthodoxy and interpretation is revealed by a legend, according to which the Buddha's disciple Śāriputra composed the Sagīti Suttanta in order to prevent a division in the Buddhist order similar to the one he had seen in the Jain community. The basic list, however, is not only a model for a definition of orthodoxy, it is also a pattern for exegetical coherence. The mātkās provide the structure for abhidharmic exegesis; each text must fit one or more of the categories contained in a traditional "matrix" or sets thereof. The "matrices" provided a simple logic of classification; all items of doctrine can be understood by opposites (the duka s of Pali abhidhamma : anything is a or not a ) or by contraries (the īkā: x is a, or x is b, or x is neither a nor b ). Some of the earliest works of abhidharma, organized on this model (for instance, the Pali Dhammasaganī ), purport to reveal the underlying logic and structure of the sutta s.

Non-Mahāyāna exegetical literature

The abhidharma can be understood as a series of attempts at an exegesis of the whole body of Buddhist teachings (texts and practices). Some books, therefore, tried to preserve an explicit connection with the sūtras. But the abhidharma was more a work of philosophical hermeneutics than of exegesis. Accordingly, a different genre of literature was developed to carry out the difficult task of preserving, recovering, or eliciting the meaning of individual texts.

Two of the earliest Buddhist works of conscious exegesis have been incorporated into the canon in the Sutta Piaka. These are the Mahāniddesa and the Cullaniddesa, commentaries on the fourth and fifth books of the Suttanipāta. They date from approximately the third century ce. However, two other works of early but uncertain date occupy a much more important position in the development of Buddhist exegetical theories: the Nettippakaraa and the Peakopadesa, both attributed to a (Mahā) Kaccāyana (of uncertain date). These works may have been composed in South India or Sri Lanka. The Nettippakaraa formulates the principles of interpretation (netti ) common to both works on the basis of twelve techniques classified under the headings of "interpretation as to sense" (byañjana ) and "interpretation as to meaning" (attha ).

Earlier, at the beginning of the Common Era, the compilation of canonical collections and the explosion of abhidharma literature had created great works of synthesis on the Indian Peninsula. The most famous and influential of these was the Mahāvibhāā (c. 150200 ce), a work of collective scholarship that attempted to make sense of the complex abhidharma literature of the Sarvāstivādins, in particular the Jñānaprasthāna of Kātyāyanīputra (or Kātyāyana; c. first century ce). Although it resulted in an equally abstruse work of doctrinal systematics, the Mahāvibhāā became an important source for doctrinal and interpretive categories, even for those who criticized itespecially the Mahāyāna.

Mahāyāna exegetical literature

In addition to playing the more obvious roles of criticism, reform, and systematic construction, the Mahāyāna sūtras fulfilled an exegetical role as well. It is common for a Mahāyāna sūtra to attempt a redefinition or reinterpretation of a classical formula from pre-Mahāyāna literature. The Vajracchedikā-prajñāpāramitā, for instance, presents the Mahāyāna reinterpretation of the "Parable of the Raft." The same text, in fact, the entire body of prajñāpāramitā literature, is devoted to what amounts to an all-out criticism of pre-Mahāyāna abhidharma. The traditional order established by orthodox exegesis is deconstructed in a search for the "ultimate meaning" behind the words of the older doctrines. The Lakāvatāra Sūtra and the Tathāgataguhya Sūtra to quote another exampleradically change the meaning of a classical passage by identifying truth with "holy silence." The earlier, canonical passage stated that "from the night of his enlightenment to the night of his parinirvāa every word uttered by the Buddha was true." The two Mahāyāna sūtras changed the phrase to read "from the night of his enlightenment, to the night of his nirvāa, the Blessed One did not utter a single word."

These new departures, however, are not wholly the creation of Mahāyāna, for some of them are found in the literature of the Mahāsāghikas, one of the early nikāya schools. Some members of this school or community held that buddhas never pronounce a single word, yet living beings hear them preach. It was also claimed by some Mahāsāghikas that the Buddha can preach all things with a single word.

Another form of continuity within innovation occurs in Mahāyāna texts that follow the pattern of the abhidharma mātkā s as a way of redefining or expanding on earlier doctrine. Some of these sūtras may be rightly called "abhidharmic" Mahāyāna sūtras. Such are, for instance, the Dharmasagīti and the Akayamatinirdeśa.

Some texts make explicit pronouncements on the principles of interpretation or evaluation of Buddhist scripture in general. For instance, the Lakāvatāra Sūtra 's statement on the silence of the Buddha is extended to mean that all words of the Buddha have only a provisional value. They are pronounced only in response to the needs of living beings who cannot penetrate directly into the mystery of the Tathāgata's silence. The Mahāyāna-mahāparinirvāa Sūtra offers a model for a hierarchy in scriptural study and understanding. At the first level, one becomes "learned" in scriptural study by studying all of the twelve genres (aga ) of scripture. Subsequently, one may study only one aga the vaipulya (here equivalent to Mahāyāna) sūtras. Then one may study only the most subtle passages of the vaipulya section. But one may also study only one stanza of two lines from these sūtras and still be learned. Last, one becomes learned in scripture by understanding "that the Buddha never taught anything." The last of these is clearly, by implication, the most "learned."

Other statements with obvious implications for the interpretation of texts are those dealing with the relative value of various transmissions. Perhaps the best known of these formulations are those of the Saddharmapuarīka Sūtra (Lotus Sūtra ), which asserts that the Buddha has been in nirvāa eternally and denies that the Buddha ever "entered nirvāa," as claimed by earlier scriptural tradition. The Lotus also reduces the meaning of the human lives of the Buddha to a mere teaching device, developing the theory of "skillful means" (upāya ) as an explanation for the competing claims of its own brand of Mahāyāna and those of non-Mahāyāna Buddhists. Other texts establish criteria for authenticity that open doors to the new creative efforts of the Mahāyāna. The Adhyāśayasacodana Sūtra, for example, establishes the well-known principle that "whatever has been well said has been said by the Buddha." Such statements are evident signs of a break with tradition and became seeds for further, perhaps dangerously limitless, innovation.

Śāstras and commentaries

In India the methodology used in the composition of technical treatises (śāstras ) was modeled on the commentarial tradition of Indian linguistics, heavily influenced by Patañjali's Mahābhāya. But the disciplines of poetics and logic also played an important role in the creation of standards for the composition of com-mentaries.

As Indian technical literature evolved through commentaries, continuity was preserved by reference to a common "root" text, which could be a scriptural text (sūtra) or the conscious work of an individual (śāstra ). A certain latitude for variation was allowed in the commentaries of each school of thought, but the root text was authoritative. That is, the commentary had to be verbally faithful to the root text and had to recognize its authoritative status. But the śāstra s themselves required commentaries, and some of the śāstra s that became the object of commentaries acquired quasicanonical status almost equivalent to that of the sūtras.

The system of authoritative texts followed by authoritative commentaries also produced a plethora of subcommentaries. The hierarchy was not always well-defined and the terminology not always consistent, but it was normally assumed that a sūtra would be the object of a commentary called a bhāya, or a more detailed gloss known as vyākhyā or īkā. The root text of a śāstra, on the other hand, was often a versified treatise written in kārikā s or mnemonic verses (functionally parallel to the Hindu sūtras or prose aphorisms), and explicated in a bhāya or vtti (sometimes by the author of the root text).

The beginnings of the Mahāyāna commentarial literature seem to be coterminous with the development of independent philosophical or dogmatic treatises (śāstra s). But the exact dates of these events cannot be fixed with any certainty because an exact chronology depends in part on establishing the authorship of what may be the earliest major work in the genre, the commentary on the Pañcaviśatisāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā Sūtra (Perfection of wisdom in twenty-five thousand lines), traditionally attributed to Nāgārjuna, whose dates are equally uncertain. This work, the Mahāpraj-ñāpāramitā-upadeśa Śāstra (preserved only in Chinese translation under the title Ta-chih-tu lun ), set the tone for Chinese exegesis, and defined some of the most important issues of Buddhist exegetical and hermeneutical theory for East Asia.

The genres of commentary and treatise flourished in India beginning (approximately) in the fourth century of the Common Era with Asaga and Vasubandhu. Although the tendency was to force the text into established scholastic molds, or to use it as a pretext for the formulation of independent philosophical dogmatics, commentators sometimes showed unusual sensitivity to the forms and structures of the text (e.g., Kamalaśīla's commentary on the Avikalpapraveśa ). There was also room for the development of independent criteria and exegetical guides. A valuable example of this type of work is Vasubandhu's extensive treatise on the mechanics of the commentary, Vyākhyayukti (preserved only in Tibetan translation).

Exegetical categories

Outside of India the exegetical issue perhaps became more critical as communities lost some of the sense of continuity with the authoritative tradition of the land of origins. The need for exegetical and hermeneutical principles was especially acute in China. An exegetical schema attributed to an early scholar of Chinese Buddhism, Dao'an (312385), was based on three categories that supposedly reflected accurately the structure of all sūtras: the setting (nidāna ), the doctrinal and narrative core, and the transmission (parīndāna ). This basic schema was widely used in China (where it was known as the san-fen k'e-ching and was adopted by Zhiyi (538597) in his classical analysis of the Lotus Sūtra, the Miaofa lianhua jing su. The schema is not attested in India until later, as, for example, in Bandhuprabha's (sixth century ce) Buddhabhūmi Śāstra, a commentary on the Buddhabhūmi Sūtra. In practice, each of the three parts was itself subdivided to account for obvious and important elements of style, narrative development, and so forth, but also to signal those passages considered core or defining statements. The text was expected to satisfy the traditional requirements for a definition of the audience (in the nidāna section) and for a positive assessment of the value of the faith and practice inspired by it (usually in the transmission section). Other schemas, some evidently inspired by a similar conception, developed one or more of the three parts. For instance, the sixfold division of the introductory formula of the sūtras (eva mayā śrutam ) according to the manner proposed in the Mahāprajñāpāramitā-upadeśa Śāstra was extremely popular among East Asian exegetes. This led to multiple variations in the division of the text of the sūtras, such as Shandao's (613682) threefold introduction and Zhiyi's five parts of the introduction.

The most fruitful and innovative, though perhaps less rigorous, strategies were those that tried to discover metaphysical meanings in the structure of texts. Such was Zhiyi's "twofold approach"by way of the deep structure and by way of the surface structure (pen-chi erh men ) to a text. This doctrine was part of a more complex exegetical plan, the four exegetical methods of the Tiantai tradition (T'ien-t'ai ta-ssu-shih ), which brings us closer to broader hermeneutical issues. According to this doctrine, any scriptural passage can be treated from four perspectives: (1) the passage as expression of a particular relationship between the audience and the Buddha (the circumstances determining the intention); (2) the passage as embodying one of four methods of teaching; (3) classification of the passage into one of the categories of absolute or relative statement; and (4) the introspective readings of the passage (guanxin ). In this methodological schema one can see in outline some of the salient features of Mahāyāna hermeneutics: contextual meaning, levels of meaning, and meditation as a tool of understanding.

Buddhist Hermeneutics: Theories of Interpretation and Canonicity

In traditional terms the fundamental questions of Buddhist hermeneutics can be classified into three broad categories:

  1. If enlightenment (bodhi ) is at least theoretically open to all (or most) sentient beings, what is the role of sacred words and authoritative texts? How does one distinguish the exegesis of sacred texts from the actual transmission or realization of the dharma ?
  2. Since the Buddha preached in so many different ways, adapting his language, style, and even doctrine to the spiritual disposition and maturity of his audience, did he have a plurality of messages or did he have a single truth to offer? If the latter, what was it, and, if the former, how is one to choose among his many teachings?
  3. If Buddhism rejects conventional concepts of substance, self, possession, property, and referentiality, so fundamental to our conception of the world, is there a "higher language" that can be used to describe accurately reality as seen from the point of view of enlightenment?

From a modern perspective, one could characterize these three problems as defining the main subfields of Buddhist hermeneutics: the first statement addresses issues of Buddhist soteriologythe conflict between the ascetic-contemplative ideal and the institutional realities of Buddhism, between orthopraxy and orthodoxy. The second problem is that of Buddhist exegetical hermeneutics. Awareness of the late date and the diversity of "canonical" sources generates a "hermeneutical pluralism" that compounds the problem of determining the meaning of diversity and unity in tradition. The third item summarizes the problems of Buddhist philosophical hermeneutics: what are the relative positions and meanings of conventional language, its Buddhist critique, and "the silence of the sages"?

A better perception of the tone underlying the discussion of these issues can be derived from representative traditional responses to the problems:

  1. The Buddhist dharma is not dependent on the historical event of Śākyamuni's enlightenment, ministry, and nirvāa. Whether a Tathāgata arises in the world or not, the basic teachings of Buddhismimpermanence, suffering, no-self, and liberationremain facts of existence. Although the tradition initiated by Śākyamuni is a necessary aid to enlightenment, it is (in the metaphor of the Lakāvatāra Sūtra ) only a finger pointing at the moon. The moon is always there, waiting to be seen (whether there is a finger to point at it or not); the finger is not the moon. Nevertheless, some Buddhists, the Theravādins, for instance, would insist on the historical significance of Śākyamuni's life and ministry, and on the close connection between exact literal meaning of doctrinal statements and effective practice.
  2. The diversity of teachings is not due to confusion or weakness in the transmission. On the contrary, it is proof of Śākyamuni's wisdom and compassion, of his ability to adapt to the needs, capacities, and dispositions of living beings. According to the Mahāpraj-ñāpāramitā-upadeśa Śāstra, his teachings were of four types, according to their definite purport (siddhānta ): worldly (laukika ), or surface meaning; therapeutic (prātipakika ), or meaning intended as an antidote to mental afflictions and passion; personal (prātipauru-ika ), or meaning intended for particular individuals; and absolute (pāramārthika ), or ultimate meaning. This second point is further complicated by the Mahāyāna belief in multiple buddhas and in the timeless sabhogakāya ("body of bliss") of the buddhas, which eternally preaches in the heavens, and beyond, and is seen and heard in the visions of bodhisattva s and sages. Other Buddhists, however, (the Theravādins, for instance) emphasize canonical integrity, rejecting both the doctrine of multiple meanings and the doctrine of multiple buddhas. The Mahāsāghikas seem to have wanted to forestall exegetical pluralism and protect the integrity of scripture by claiming that all sūtras have only one explicit meaning.
  3. The above attitudes toward the sacred word are inseparable from Buddhist views on levels of meaning, whatever the historical or causal connections between these three problems may have been. The creation of abhidharmic technical language was the first step in separating two orders of truth and expression. Speculation about the nature of the path and the state of perfect freedom of buddhas further contributed to a theory of levels of meaning, since a progression in spiritual insight was taken to imply an increased capacity to penetrate behind the words of the doctrine.

The Mahāyāna insists that the higher sphere is only embodied in the silence of the āryas. The highest stage in the path, and, therefore, the highest order of meaning, can only be expressed in apophatic statements such as "appeasing all discursive thinking" (sarvaprapañcopaśama ) and "cutting out all doctrines and practices" (sarvavādacaryoccheda ). Still, all traditions, including the Mahāyāna, develop a language of the sacred (whether or not it is directly inspired by abhidharmic path theories), for it is necessary to explain holy silence in order to lead living beings to it. Thus, the culmination of this sort of speculation comes with the recognition that language, with all its limitations, is an important vehicle for salvation: language is upāya (e.g., in the Mādhyamika treatises, the Lakāvatāra, and the Tantras).

Criteria of authenticity

Early concepts of orthodoxy were based on doctrines of confirmation or inspiration, rather than on a literal definition of "the word of Buddha" (buddhavacana ). A disciple could preach, then receive the Buddha's approval, or the authority of his words could be implicit in the Buddha's request or inspiration. Although it may seem difficult to have maintained this fiction when the Buddha was no longer living among his followers, Buddhists did not always see things this way. Since the dharma is, after all, the Buddha's true body, and since it exists whether or not there is a human Buddha to preach it, one could assume that the preaching of dharma would continue after his death. This justification formed part of the context for the proliferation of texts and the elasticity of concepts of canonical authenticity. It may also explain in part why the abhidharma and, later, the commentarial literature achieved such a prominent role in the development of Buddhist doctrine.

Such flexibility does not mean, however, that no attempt was made to establish criteria or rules for determining the genuineness of any particular statement of doctrine. The Mahāpadesa Suttanta of the Dīgha Nikāya (and its parallel in the Aguttara Nikāya and in the Āgamas) recognizes four possible ways of appealing to or arguing on the basis of authority: one may appeal to the authority of the Buddha, a community of monks, several elders, or a single elder. The validity of these appeals and their potential sources of authority, however, must be confirmed by comparing the doctrinal statements attributed to these persons against the "sūtra" and the "Vinaya."

The Sanskrit recensions of the Mahāpadeśa Sūtra add a third criterion: statements of doctrine must conform "to the reality or nature of things" (dharmatā ). The same expansion is found in Pali literature in the Nettippakaraa, where the principles are actually applied to the analysis and evaluation of particular texts, and the three criteria are summarized in very suggestive language: "Which is the sūtra with whose approach [phrases and words] must agree? The four noble truths. Which is the Vinaya in which they must be seen? The Vinaya restraining covetousness, aversion, and delusion. Which is the dharma with which they must conform? The dharma of conditioned arising" (paras. 122124).

The principle implies, of course, that whatever agrees with sūtra, Vinaya, and dharma (i.e., conditioned arising) carries authority for the Buddhist. If applied to texts this could mean that any new creation that is perceived as a continuation of the tradition (secundum evangelium, as it were) could have canonical authority. Indeed, the Mahāyāna used it in just this way to justify the development and expansion of earlier teachings. Theravādins, on the other hand, would understand the broad definitions of the Nettippakaraa as references to the letter of the canon, not to its spirit. Ultimately, then, the issue remained one of setting the limits of the interpretability of scriptural tradition.

What then is buddhavacana ? The Nettippakaraa passage epitomizes the Buddhist tendency to use philosophical rather than historical arguments for authority. But the three tests do not form a complete system of criteria for textual authenticity. In the canonical versions they seem to refer to statements of doctrine and appeals to authority, not to texts. Most certainly if they were meant to constitute a system for establishing canonical authenticity their value would be limited, if not totally inexistent, for as tests of canonical authority the first (and original) two criteria would be tautological. One must accept that the teaching on the "four appeals to authority" was originally a method for determining orthodoxy, not a criterion of authenticity. Still, since Buddhist notions of the "word of Buddha" were elastic, the principle must have been ambiguous. That is to say, the circularity of the argument that "a genuine sūtra is one that agrees with the sūtra" may not be so obvious in the context of Buddhist notions of canonicityat least in the early stages in the formation of the corpus of scriptures.

Some Buddhists, the Mahāyānists in particular, came to consider "agreement with the sūtras," rather than "inclusion in the Sūtra Piaka," the ultimate test of authority. Thus, in China a distinction is made between, on the one hand, pseudepigrapha, or "spurious sūtras" (weijing ) that are nevertheless "canonical" (that is, in agreement with the spirit of the dharma and therefore to be accepted in the canon) and, on the other, those sūtras that are "false" (that is, in conflict with established Buddhist teaching) and therefore to be excluded from the canon. Both types of sūtra are not "genuine" only when contrasted to the "original" sūtras composed in India (which were themselves obviously much later than the time of the Buddha). Thus, given the history of the canon and the broad definition of "authoritative sūtra" current among all Buddhists, it must have been difficult to find any good reason for excluding a text only on historical groundsto say nothing of establishing those grounds.


Three major sets of principles become central to the latter development of Buddhist hermeneutics. These are the "four reliances" or strategies for understanding a text; the "four types of intentional and metaphoric language;" and the "four modes of reasoning." Since the last of these three doctrines falls more under the rubric of philosophy, we shall omit it from this discussion.

Authority and interpretation

The problem of establishing criteria of interpretation cannot be completely separated from that of the hierarchy of authority. The interaction of both spheres of hermeneutics is seen clearly in the doctrine of the four "points of reliance" (pratisaraa ). This doctrine is found in several Mahāyāna versions, the most popular of which is the Pratisaraa Sūtra, a text no longer preserved in the original Sanskrit except in quotations. According to this text there are four criteria of interpretation: (1) relying on the nature of things (dharma ), not on the opinion of a person; (2) relying on the meaning or purport (artha ) of a text, not its letter; (3) relying on those passages that explicitly express the higher doctrine (nītārtha ), not on those that do not express it explicitly; and (4) understanding by intuitive realization (jñāna ), not by conceptual thought (vijñāna ).

Some of these principles are restatements of the Buddhist tendency to emphasize personal realization as the ultimate source of understanding. But this tendency is not without significant implications for a theory of shared or communicable meaning. A sūtra now lost in the original Sanskrit but preserved in Chinese and Tibetan translations, the Adhyāśayasacodana Sūtra, says, "whatever is well spoken [subhāita ], has been spoken by the Buddha." This is perhaps the most extreme formulation of the Mahāyāna's view of the historical roots of its traditions. The system, nevertheless, is not totally open, for implicit in it are the earlier notions of the meaningfulness and appropriateness of the words of the Buddha (and by extension, of scripture). Conversely, then, "whatever is spoken by the Buddha has been well spoken" (as stated, for instance, by King Aśoka in his Bhābrā Rock Edict). Therefore, all passages of scripture must be meaningfulas well as agreeing with the dharma and leading to liberation. But it is not always apparent that scripture meets these standards. It is not evident that scripture speaks with one voice. The interpreter must therefore explain the hidden meanings that reveal the underlying unity of intention in scripture, whatever may be the grounds for its authenticity.

Types of intention

In his major works, Asaga mentions several methods of understanding that can be applied to scripture. Among these, the four types of explicit intention and the four types of implicit intention suggest the outlines of a hermeneutical theory. Implicit or contextual meanings (abhiprāya ) appear to be alternatives for decoding a passagewords intending an analogy, words intending another time frame, words intending a shift in referent, and words intended only for a specific individual. The four types of hidden intention (abhisadhi ) show another aspect of the process of decoding the sacred text: introductory hidden intention (where the meaning is relevant only for the beginner), metaphysical hidden intention (where the meaning is a statement on the nature of reality), therapeutic hidden intention (where the meaning is realized by following the instructions in combating unhealthy actions or states of mind), and metaphorical intention (where the meaning is not the literal meaning, and often is paradoxical in character; e.g., referring to a virtue as a vice).

The concept of intentional speech brings to mind the third of the four points of reliance and the third principle of Tiantai exegesis. The common problem in these doctrines is best expressed by the classical theory of the two levels of meaning: the implicit or interpretable meaning (neyārtha ) and the explicit or self-evident meaning (nītārtha ). This is perhaps the most important doctrine of Buddhist hermeneutics. Under this doctrine, passages or complete texts can be taken at face value as statements of the "ultimate" teaching of the Buddha or they can be understood as teachings preached in response to provisional or individual needs, and hiding the core teacher under the textual surface, which then requires interpretation or clarification. If a passage is considered to be of the first type, then it is in no need of further elucidation. Its meaning (artha ) has already been brought out (nīta ) by the text itself. If a passage belongs to the second group, then the higher meaning can be found only through interpretation. It must be brought out (neya ) from underneath the surface meaning, so to speak.

Only the Mahāsāghikas seem to have rejected this distinction, claiming that all words of the Buddha mean what they literally mean, and therefore need no interpretation. But this extreme position was rejected by other schools, including the more conservative Sthaviras (Theravādins, Sarvāstivādins, etc.).

This hermeneutical schema is closely related to the doctrine of the two levels of truth, the relative or conventional savtti and the absolute or ultimate paramārtha, arguably first developed in the Mādhyamika school. But the fundamental distinction in the case of implicit and explicit meaning is between modes of intention and meaning, rather than between levels of reality. The point at issue is not whether the words of the text are the ultimate truth (they are not), but whether or not they point directly and unambiguously to it.


Also central to Mahāyāna understanding of the religious text is the concept that all forms of discourse are ultimately savtti-satya (or at best a lower level of paramārtha ). This is based on both a radical critique of language (as in the Mādhyamika doctrine of "emptiness") and a revaluation of language as a means to an end. In the case of religious language, the end is liberationthe ultimate purpose and the ultimate meaning of all religious discourse. On the lips of the enlightened speaker, language becomes a "skillful means" (upāya ), pointing at or eliciting (udbhāvanā ) realization of the goal. The doctrine finds mythological expression when it is stated that the Buddha's preaching always conforms to the aspirations and maturity of his audience and that his pronouncements are instruments to guide sentient beings, not propositions expressing absolute truth. The religious text is upāya in at least three ways: it is a compassionate concession to the diversity, aspirations, and faculties of sentient beings; it is an instrument to be used in attaining the goal; and it is the expression of the liberating techniques of the Buddha.

Hermeneutics in the Tantras

Tantric hermeneutics presupposes Mahāyāna hermeneutics. Among other Mahāyāna principles, it accepts the four reliances and Asaga's eight types of intention. Of course, Tantric theories of interpretation also retain the fundamental distinction between implicit and explicit meaning. However, the intention is now clearly determined by the context of Esoteric practices. Thus we find again the close connection between interpretation and religious practice that characterizes much of Buddhist hermeneutics and that is also evident in scholastic speculations on the path (as in the abhidharma ); but here orthopraxy becomes central to textual interpretation. Here too, the traditions consider that the "root" text (mūlatantra ) requires an explanation (ākhyānatantra ), but as each text and school has specific practical contexts it is never assumed that a given hermeneutical scheme can be applied to all texts.

The Tantric Candrakīrti (c. 650 ce) explains in his Pradīpoddyotanā the basic principles of his school's hermeneutical system as applied to the Guhyasamāja Tantra. He explains this "root" text by means of seven analytic procedures called "ornaments" or "preparations" (saptaalakāra ). All seven are used directly or indirectly to bring out the meaning of the text in interpretation or practice, but only two sets appear to bear directly on the issue of interpretation, being at the same time exegetical topics, hermeneutical tools, and levels of meaning. These are the six alternative interpretations of the meaning of words in a passage (akoika vyākhyānam ; Tib., mtha' drug or rgyas bshad mtha' rnam pa drug ), and the "fourfold explanation" (caturvidham ākhyānam ; Tib., tshul bzhi or bshad pa rnam pa bzhi ).

The six alternatives (with slight alterations to the order of the original) are: (1) standard terms used in a literal sense (yathāruta ); (2) nonstandard or nonnatural terms (aruta or na yathāruta ; i.e. esoteric jargon); (3) implicit meaning requiring interpretation (neyārtha ); (4) explicit or evident meaning (nītārtha ); (5) intentional or metaphoric lan-guage (sadhyāya bhāitam, sadhyā bhāā ); and (6) non-intentional language (no sadhyā ). Western scholars are not in agreement as to the hermeneutical function of this "ornament," but the Tibetan tradition considers the six alternatives an integral part of the interpretation theory unique to Tantra.

The "fourfold explanation," on the other hand, is generally accepted as a hermeneutical schema. In this case Candrakīrti makes an explicit connection between levels of meaning and the stages of spiritual growth (particularly according to the schema of utpattikrama and sampannakrama, the latter being divided into five stages or pañcakrama ). The four explanations are: (1) literal, surface, or natural meaning (akarārtha ); (2) shared meaning (samastāgam ); (3) hidden (garbhī ) meaning; and (4) ultimate (kolikam ) meaning. The first type of meaning is shared by those on the path and those who have not entered it. The second type is shared by the Mahāyāna and the Tantra (specifically those in the "initial" or utpatti stage). The third type is open only to those in the first three stages of the fivefold higher path. The last level of meaning is open only to those who have advanced to the fourth and fifth stages.

This schema is a subtle application of the basic principle of the explicit and the interpretable meanings. One must note, however, that in Tantric exegesis a single text or passage can be both nīta and neya, depending on the receptor of the message. This entails not only a complex hermeneutics, but also the possibility that the so-called direct meaning (nīta ) of one level requires interpretation (i.e., is neyārtha ) for those who are at another level of the path.

Progressive revelation

The Tantric hermeneutical schema manifests, even more transparently than earlier theories, one of the basic assumptions of Buddhist views of meaning: meanings (and "truths") are a function of the audience as much as, or more than, a function of the intention of the author. If this principle is extended into the cosmic or historical dimension, then new hermeneutical concepts can be derived from the doctrine that the Buddha can preach simultaneously to various assemblies of celestial bodhisattva s, adapt his teaching to the needs and faculties of diverse living beings, or preach only one message (in words or silence) yet be understood in different ways. This doctrine, applied to the historical reality of the conflict of authorities, transmissions, and interpretations, provides reasons, albeit ex post facto, for choosing and justifying any particular version of the many "teachings of the Buddha."

The turnings of the wheel

In context, statements about relative teaching and ultimate teaching are more sectarian and polemical in spirit than their mere abstract formulations suggest. When a text states that all teachings of the Buddha are only skillful means or empty sounds there is always a conflicting claim to the ultimate validity of the text's own interpretation of the "one true teaching" underlying the "provisional teachings." This is evident in all the classical statementsthe Lotus Sūtra, the Lakāvatāra Sūtra, the Sadhinirmocana Sūtra, and others. In some of these texts we see attempts to formulate a historical argument in favor of doctrinal claims. The Buddha, the argument goes, preached in two (or three) major periods that divide his ministry as to location, audience, and depth of the teaching. These major divisions in the Buddha's ministry are called "turnings of the wheel of dharma." According to the most widely accepted doctrine (as presented in the Sadhinirmocana Sūtra ), there were three "turnings": the Buddha first preached the Hīnayāna teachings in Deer Park in Banaras. Then he preached the doctrine of "emptiness" (i.e., the Mādhyamika teachings) at Vulture Peak in Rājagha. Last, he preached, in the same place but when his disciples were more mature, the doctrine of "mind-only" (i.e., the Yogācāra doctrines).

There is, of course, a Mādhyamika version of this story in which the third turning is in fact that of emptiness and the second the "idealistic" doctrine of the Sadhinirmocana Sūtra. There is also a late Tantric version that adds a fourth turning: the revelation of Mantrayāna at Dhānyakaaka. Nevertheless, the scriptural weight of the Sadhinirmocana was such that the scholastics could not ignore its clear statement. Thus, Tsong kha pa (13571419), in his Legs bshad snying po, goes through the most subtle arguments to show that the sūtra's ordering of the turnings does not imply a privileged position for the doctrine of mind-only.

The formulation of pseudohistorical apologetics and hermeneutical strategies became popular in China. The Indian schema of the Three Turnings was adopted in the schools of Sanlun and Faxiang, while others developed autonomous systems: Huayan and Niepan (The Teachings of the Five Periods) and Tiantai (The Eight Teachings in Five Periods). The last of these, a synthesis created by the Tiantai monk Zhanran (711782), divided and interpreted the scriptures according to the four types of doctrine used in the Buddha's preaching (huafa : the doctrines of the tripiaka, the common doctrines, the special doctrines, and the perfect or complete doctrine) and his four teaching styles (huayi : direct, gradual, secret, and indeterminate or variable). These eight forms of teaching were used in different proportions and combinations during five periods (wushi ) in the Buddha's ministry: the Buddhāvatasaka cycle, the Deer Park cycle, the Vaipulya cycle, the Prajñāpāramitā cycle, and the cycle of the Lotus and Nirvāa sūtras.

This is traditionally taken to imply that a given passage or statement can have multiple levels of meaning. But the function of these "classifications of the teachings" (jiaopan ) was apologetic as well as hermeneutic. The method served as much to establish the preeminence of a particular school as to make sense of the diversity of teachings.

The ages of the dharma

A parallel development, based on Indian scriptures but characteristic of East Asian Buddhism, is the doctrine of the "Latter Age of the Dharma " (Chin., mofa ; Jpn., mappō ). The use of this doctrine as a hermeneutical device consists in proposing that changes in historical circumstances require a different interpretation of the tradition or a new definition of orthopraxy. This doctrine developed in China during the turbulent sixth century ce, which culminated in the persecutions of 574 and 578 and led many Buddhists to believe they were living in the last days of the Buddhist dharma.

Daochuo (562645), for instance, believed that the "difficult" practices that were at the heart of traditional Buddhist ascetic and contemplative discipline had become meaningless in the "Latter Age." He therefore proposed that the scriptures prophesying this age justified a new dispensation that would only require the "easier" practices of Pure Land devotion. Matching Indian prophecies on the future of the Buddhist religion with his historical circumstances, he felt he could derive the authority for doctrinal change from the canonical prophecies on the decline of the dharma, and indirectly from changing historical circumstances themselves.

Zen demythologization

A different form of adaptation, responding nevertheless occasionally to the issue of the "decay" of dharma, was the Chan (Zen) emphasis on a "return" to orthopraxy. Here the general four principles of the Adhyāśayasacodana are used in their most extreme forms. Partially inspired by Chinese interpretations of the Mādhyamika critique of language, partially moved by Daoist rhetoric, this was a movement that emphasized "ultimate meaning," "direct experience," and "freedom from words" to the point of appearingif not becomingiconoclastic. One can understand the movement as a process of adaptation of foreign ideas by demythologization (or, arguably, re-mythologization), assisted by the deconstructive tendencies built into Buddhist hermeneutical doctrines.

The basic object of meditation, the gong'an (Jpn., kōan ), stands for the sacred utterance of enlightened beings, an upāya, a finger pointing at the moon, and the embodiment of different aspects of the putatively single realization common to all buddhas. This is, after all, a tradition that claims "a transmission outside the scriptures, not relying on words." Nevertheless, the Chan (Zen) tradition continues, in its kōan collections, the Buddhist predilection for the classification and collection of words "well spoken." Furthermore, these collections, like the ancient sūtras, require commentaries, and in them Chan also revives, albeit in a new form, the tendency to develop numerical frames of reference. The Jen-t'ien yen-mu (compiled by Zhizhao, 1188 ce) contains a number of classificatory systems that can be understood as either guides to meditation or hermeneutical grids to interpret the student's progress in practice. Many of these "matrices" remain in use today. For instance, the elusive teachings of Linji Yixuan (d. 867 ce) are presented in formulas such as "Linji's Three Phrases," extrapolated from his Linji lu (Recorded sayings). Modern Zen masters still study the "Eighteen Questions of Fenyang" (Fengyang shih-pa wen ), a terse guide to the various ways one can "handle" (treat, investigate, and answer) a kōan, devised by the Song dynasty master Fenyang Shanzhao (9471024). Also central to modern-day practice, and outlined in the Jen-t'ien yen-mu, are the "Five Ranks" (wuwei ) of Dongshan (910990) and Caoshan (840901). One can see in these schemas a certain parallel to the techniques of abhidharma.

However, Zen also preserves the opposite Buddhist tendency, best represented by the teachings of the Japanese master Dōgen Kigen (12001253). Dōgen echoes a particularly novel interpretation of the doctrine of "whatever is well spoken" in his writings on sūtra (Shōbōgenzō ; "Okyō" and "Dōtoku"): all things are sūtras, in all things is manifested the enlightenment of the buddhas of all times. This vision, inspired by the Buddhāvatasaka Sūtra, also raises the question of how this "sūtra," which is found in all things, can be opened, read, and understood. The Zen tradition of Dōgen has tended to find the answer in silent meditation.

Dōgen also summarizes much of what is characteristic of the Zen view on interpreting the tradition in a few terse lines in his Gakudōyōshinshū : reliance on scripture only leads to confusion, to projecting one's own preferences on the text. The only way to correct understanding is by divesting oneself of the self.

Other approaches to Zen practice are not necessarily as distant as they seem from Dogen's deceptively simple recommendation. Traditional Chinese and Japanese classifications and methods of "handling" or "studying" kōan were systematized by Hakuin Ekaku (16861768) and his disciples. The resulting system of kōans (five levels of miscellaneous kōans, plus the five goi kōans, and the Ten Precepts) has all the marks of Buddhist catechistic instincts; Hakuin himself, in his essay "Goi kōketsu" in the Keisō dokuzui, established exact correlations between some of these stages and Indian scholastic categories. Still, the system also emphasizes the quest for meaning in practice and a gradual detachment from doctrinal conceptions, as well as from meditation experiences. The crowning piece of the system, the last kōan (matsugo no rōkan ) asks the disciple to reflect on the meaning of "completing" a system of kōans that is, what should be the last question, once the adept has answered all questions?

Hermeneutics and apologetics

All Buddhists tend, even today, to claim a certain immunity from history, partly justified by the emphasis on the presence of dharma in all things and all times, by the plurality of buddhas, and by the obvious diversity and plasticity of the tradition. When first faced with historical criticism, coming from non-Buddhists such as Tominaga Nakamoto (17151746) in his Shutsujō kōgo (1745), some Japanese Buddhists (e.g., Murakami Senshō [18511929] in Bukkyō tōitsu ron ) readily admitted that the Mahāyāna scriptures could not be the ipsissima verba of the Master. They based the orthodoxy of their tradition on concepts outlined above: the unity of the spirit, consistency in the goal, and the development of "skillful means." Some, for instance, Maeda Eun (18551930), also appealed to the doctrine that all teachings are implicit in the one, original, and ineffable teaching. The concept of levels of meaning is also used to preserve some form of religious discourse while claiming that the ultimate is beyond language and history. Mahāyāna Buddhists continue to appeal to these principles, relying fundamentally on the ancient apologetic and hermeneutic strategies outlined in this article. The Theravāda tradition, on the other hand, tends to build its hermeneutics on the reaffirmation of its conviction that its canon contains the words of the Buddha.

Buddhist hermeneutics and Western thought

At present, Buddhists in Asia tend to argue for their interpretations of traditional doctrines and texts using one or another of the above strategies. Attempts to develop or adapt more contemporary notions of hermeneutic theory or practice are generally rare. An interesting exception to this generalization is the adoption of positivistic notions of textual integrity and authenticity in a movement known as the "critical Buddhism" doctrine (Hihan Bukkyō ). Developed by a small group of Japanese scholars in the last decades of the twentieth century, the movement appeared at times to hide an apologetic favoring a philosophical and scholastic reading of the tradition based on Madhyamaka principles. The movement has remained primarily an intellectual curiosity. Some Western scholars, on the other hand, have made a few faint incursions into a postmodern reading of Buddhist thought; but, again, without persuading most of their colleagues, and certainly with, so far, a very limited impact, or no influence, on their Asian colleagues. It is too early to predict in which direction living Buddhist interpretive practices will move in the near future.

See Also

Buddhism, Schools of, article on Mahāyāna Philosophical Schools of Buddhism; Buddhist Philosophy; Hermeneutics; Language, article on Buddhist Views of Language; Treasure Tradition.


Bharati, Agehananda. "Intentional Language in the Tantras." Journal of the American Oriental Society 81 (1961): 261270. Interpretation of the meaning of sadhyā bhāā.

Bond, George D. "Word of the Buddha ": The Tipiaka and its Interpretation in Theravāda Buddhism. Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1982. This is a survey of Theravāda theories of exegesis, based primarily, but not exclusively on the Nettippakaraa.

Buddhadāsa. "Everyday Language and Dhamma Language." In Toward the Truth, edited by Donald K. Swearer, pp. 5686. Philadelphia, 1971. A modern Theravāda view on levels of language.

Cabezón, José I. "The Concepts of Truth and Meaning in the Buddhist Scriptures." Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 4 (1981): 723. Deals mostly with Mahāyāna views of levels of truth and meaning.

Chappell, David W. "Introduction to the ʿ T'ien-t'ai ssu-chiao-i'." Eastern Buddhist, new series 9 (1976): 7286. Although this paper is a survey of the content and history of a Tiantai scholastic manual, much of the discussion centers on the nature of Tiantai hermeneutical schemata.

Doherty, Gerald. "Form is Emptiness: Reading the Diamond Sutra." Eastern Buddhist, n. s. 16 (1983): 114123. A bold analysis of this famous sūtra from the point of view of deconstructive theory.

Gregory, Peter N. "Chinese Buddhist Hermeneutics: The Case of Hua-yen." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 51 (1983): 231249. On the philosophical presuppositions of Huayan hermeneutics.

Ishizu Teruji. "Communication of Religious Inwardness and a Hermeneutic Interpretation of Buddhist Dogma." In Religious Studies in Japan, edited by the Nihon Shukyo Gakkai, pp. 321. Tokyo, 1959. This paper is a good example of an extreme ahistorical view on the meaning of Buddhist doctrines.

Lamotte, Étienne. Sadhinirmocana Sūtra : L'explication des mystéres. Louvain, Belgium, 1935. Translation of one of the most important sources for the doctrine of the Three Turnings and the distinction of explicit and implicit meanings. Lamotte also translated the first and most important half of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā-upadeśa-śāstra as Le traité de la grande vertu de sagesse, 5 vols. (Louvain, Belgium, 19441980). This work is attributed to a Mahāyānist Nāgārjuna, who was evidently trained in the Sarvāstivāda tradition. Lamotte also has two studies on questions in Buddhist hermeneutics: "La critique d'authenticité dans le bouddhisme," in Indian antiqua, edited by F. D. K. Bosch, pp. 213222 (Leiden, 1947); and "La critique d'interprétation dans le bouddhisme," Annuaire de l'institut de philologie et d'histoire orientales et slaves, vol. 9: Mélanges Henri Grégoire, pp. 341361 (Brussels, 1949).

Lopez, Donald S., Jr. Elaborations on Emptiness: Uses of the Heart Sūtra. Princeton, 1996.

Lopez, Donald S., Jr., ed. Buddhist Hermeneutics. Honolulu, 1988.

MacQueen, Graeme. "Inspired Speech in Early Mahāyāna Buddhism." Religion 11 (1981): 303319; 12 (1982): 4965. An exploration of the importance of pratibhāa for Mahāyāna notions of canonical authenticity.

Ñāamoli, Bhikkhu, trans. The Guide. London, 1962. A translation of Kaccāyana's Nettippakaraa, the classical Theravāda manual of exegesis. The attribution of this work to Kaccāyana, the Buddha's disciple, has been questioned by modern scholarship.

Pye, Michael, and Robert Morgan, eds. The Cardinal Meaning : Essays in Comparative Hermeneutics ; Buddhism and Christianity. The Hague, 1973.

Ray, Reginald. "Buddhism: Sacred Text Written and Realized." In The Holy Book in Comparative Perspective, edited by Frederick M. Denny and Rodney L. Taylor, pp. 148180. Columbia, S.C., 1985

Schoening, J. D. "Sutra Commentaries in Tibetan Translation." In Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre, edited by José I. Cabezón and Roger R. Jackson, pp. 118ff. Ithaca, N.Y., 1996.

Steinkellner, Ernst. "Remarks on Tantristic Hermeneutics." In Proceedings of the Csoma de Kofrös Memorial Symposium, edited by Louis Ligeti, pp. 445458. Budapest, 1978. Outline of some aspects of Candrakīrti's exegetical and hermeneutical theory.

Thurman, Robert A. F. "Buddhist Hermeneutics." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 46 (1978): 1939. This is an outline of the principles of Buddhist hermeneutics based on the Legs bhsad snying po, a work translated by Thurman as Tsong Khapa's Speech of Gold in the Essence of True Eloquence (Princeton, 1984).

Wayman, Alex. "Concerning Sadhā-bhāā/sadhibhāā/samdhyā bhāā." In Mélanges d'indianisme à la mémoire de Louis Renou, pp. 789796. Paris, 1968. Summarizes much of the debate on this technical term. Wayman's own thesis was developed further in "Twilight Language and a Tantric Song," in his The Buddhist Tantra (London, 1973), pp. 128135.

Luis O. GÓmez (1987 and 2005)

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