My ongoing research project, supervised in Paris by Prof. Dr. Cristina-Anna Scherrer-Schaub (directeur d'études, EPHE), is focused on the history of the textual formation of the Mahāvastu-Avadāna, an extensive and complex collection of narratives, related to various aspects of the Buddha's personal and religious life, termed by the text at hand as part of the "Vinaya-piṭaka of the Mahāsāṃghika-Lokottaravādins", or in other words, the texts of monastic regulations of this old school (nikāya), which is well attested in epigraphical records and manuscripts findings, particularly of Northwest India and the present regions of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
My attention is centered upon the first part of the Mahāvastu (ed. Senart, I.1-338), which is mainly concerned with the career of the bodhisattva, from his first endeavours as an ordinary man moving towards the ultimate goal until his last birth as a Buddha-to-be. The specifics of the narratives are unique to the Lokottaravādin tradition, and are significant to understand the doctrinal orientations of this school. My study of those portions of the text which concern the career of the Buddha-to-be prior to his last rebirth, has uncovered a complex of narratives tied together by the schemes of the four careers (caryā) and the ten stages (bhūmi) of the bodhisattva.
Considering as a whole the extensive portion of Mahāvastu's first part, it has been felt necessary to focus my work on the careful and exhaustive philological study on a number of texts which I considered particularly significants for my enquiry. For my Gonda fellowship project, a set of four narratives, which I call Bahubuddhaka Sections or sections dealing with a multitude of Buddhas (Mvu I.46-63; III.224-250), will be considered with further details. Some of these narratives are included in the first part of the Mahāvastu and all of them are intimately linked to the main concern of the first part. There are three main reasons for this choice : (1) The necessity to select a limited portion of the text, as I am collating several Nepalese manuscripts in order to re-evaluate the already existing edition of the Mahāvastu, prepared by Émile Senart in the late nineteenth century. (2) The fact that for this portions of the text exist parallel versions in gāndhārī (at present being edited by Prof. Dr. R. Salomon) and Chinese which give us very precious markers to determine the chronological process of composition of this set of narratives and to understand the specific mechanisms leading to their inclusion in the present form within the Mahāvastu corpus. (3) The existence of figurative representations of various sets of "Multitudes of Buddhas" in North-West India and Central Asia which allows then for some fruitful comparison between texts and images, that are able to give us decisive hints in our endeavor to locate our text within actual communities as witnessed by archaeological data.
Thus I aim, through the representative "specimen" of the Bahubuddhaka Sections, at drawing a clearer image of the textual history of the Mahāvastu corpus and its place in Buddhist literature. The understanding of the transmission of ideas on the many Buddhas and the Bodhisattva's career that occurred within the compositional process of a major Lokottaravādin text is expected to contribute to this important task that can help us to understand a key period of the history of Buddhism.