The Journal of Buddhist Thought and Culture
Institute for Buddhist Studies

Abhidharma in early Mahayana


© Copyright 2012 Institute for Buddhist Studies. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published Online: Apr 01, 2019


There is a growing tendency among scholars to discard questions about the (single) origin of Mahayana as inappropriate. Schopen (1975: 181 [52]) was perhaps the first to surest a multiple origin, offering “the assumption that since each [Mahayana] text placed itself at the center of its own cult, early Mahayana (from a sociological point of view), rather than being an identifiable single group, was in the beginning a loose federation of a number of distinct though related cults, all of the same pattern, but each associated with its specific text” He was soon followed by Harrison (1978: 35), who observed that Mahayana “was from the outset undeniably multi-faceted.” Some thirty years after his first assumption, Schopen stated again (2004: 492): “it has become increasingly clear that Mahayana Buddhism was never one thing, but rather, it seems, a loosely bound bundle of many, and … could contain contradictions or at least antipodal elements.” Silk (2002: 371) reminds us that “various early Mahayana sutras express somewhat, and sometimes radically, different points of view, and often seem to have been written in response to diverse stimuli.