Organized Panel Session
Since the mid-1990s, hundreds of Buddhist manuscripts from ancient Gandhāra, modern northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, have been discovered. Dating as early as the first century BCE; these are the oldest extant Buddhist manuscripts. The existence of these documents challenges longstanding presumptions about early Buddhism such as the fact that Pāli texts are the most authoritative and earliest of Buddhist literatures or that Buddhist texts were first codified into fixed forms approximately at the turn of the millennium.
Although the recently discovered corpora of Gandhāran manuscripts contain information that can shed much light on the accuracy of these and other propositions, Gandhāran Buddhism remains an unincorporated feature of most university classes on Buddhism, introductory or advanced.
In this paper, I argue that Gandhāran Buddhist literature deserves a place in the classroom, and I offer ways to incorporate it into undergraduate and graduate classes on Buddhism and Asian religions. One reason teachers have avoided addressing the subject is the lack of accessible materials; Gandhāran studies are primarily philological. But with the publication by Wisdom Press of Richard Salomon’s The Buddhist Literature of Ancient Gandhāra, we now have a comprehensive review of available Gandhāran literature that is accessible to undergraduates and that tells the story of Buddhism through the unique lens of Gandhāra.
Introducing students to Buddhism through this lens helps them to avoid the pitfalls of traditional introductions to Buddhism and demonstrates a fluid cultural and literary tradition that responded to diverse political and social structures.