A Summary of the Mahavastu Published

One of the most important texts we have for the development of the early Buddhist tradition is the Mahāvastu, or Great Story, which is roughly equivalent to the Pāḷi Mahākhandaka, a vinaya text tracing the beginning of the Buddha’s career.

The book itself is written is what in truly a mixed hybrid Prakrit-Sanskrit, and is around 1,000 pages long. The only English translation by J. J. Jones has been locked up in copyright since it was first made in the 1950s, and therefore the text has remained little known.

Before the translation was published B. C. Law made an excellent summary of the main contents of the work in his A Study of the Mahāvastu (renamed here as A Summary of the Mahāvastu), originally published in 1930.

The Mahāvastu itself is an editorial nightmare, being very diffuse, scrambled in places, and sometimes repetitious, and we can hardly keep track of the story it is telling because other stories keep getting interjected and breaking the flow of the text.

In Law’s Summary however he has presented the material under four main headings: telling about the previous Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the Buddha Gautama, and the stories from the Jātakas, and of the Disciples.

This much more accessible work is now made available on the Ancient Buddhist Texts website largely due to the efforts of Donny Hacker, who worked from an OCR of the text, and brought it up to publishable form. In representing the text I have made a number of changes, which are summarised in my Note to the Digital Edition, to which I refer readers.

I would really recommend this work for anyone trying to get an overview of the sort of differences that occur in the texts once we move outside the Pāḷi Canon and into the larger field of Early Buddhism.




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