One of the salient doctrines of Mahāyāna Buddhism is the doctrine that all things are “emptiness” (śūnyatā). The locus classicus of this doctrine is The Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 Lines. But who came up with this doctrine? Why? Emptiness might be philosophically true, but lots of things are true. Why meditate on it? This talk will discuss three sets of clues left by the author and his community that allow us to make an educated guess as to where, why and by whom the text was written. Thus, the mystery of who wrote the Perfection of Wisdom will unfold in three acts.
Joseph Walser is Associate Professor of Religion at Tufts University. His first book Nagarjuna in Context, (Columbia, 2005) examines the social and institutional context of the second century CE Buddhist monk and scholar, Nagarjuna. He is finishing up two books presently. The first is on the origins of Mahayana and the social history of the emptiness doctrine. The second is a political history of meditation in India up to the Gupta Dynasty.
Photo: Bronze image of the Goddess of Perfection of Wisdom from Gilgit in Northern Pakistan donated by the Chief Queen Mangalahamsika of the Palola Shahi dynasty in the early 7th century CE (Courtesy of the Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University, vol. 10 (2007), plate 1)