Buddhist Studies Lectures

Rethinking the Da zhidu lun 大智度論: The Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa and the formation of early Prajñāpāramitā exegesis

Lecture by Stefano Zacchetti, the Numata Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Oxford, UK.
Drinks afterwards. Registration required.

The Da zhidu lun 大智度論 (*Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa) is an extensive commentary on the Larger Prajñāpāramitā (“Perfection of insight”) translated into Chinese by Kumārajīva at the beginning of the 5th century CE and traditionally ascribed to Nāgārjuna. Since the time of its appearance on the Chinese Buddhist scene, it has become established as one of the most influential scholastic works in East Asian Buddhism. Apart from its more immediate function as a commentary of the Prajñāpāramitā, the Da zhidu lun has always been regarded as a paramount authority in doctrinal matters, as well as an encyclopaedic reference work for all things Buddhist. Étienne Lamotte’s richly annotated French translation of the first part of this commentary (1944-1980) extended the Da zhidu lun’s influence to western Buddhist studies.

A hotly-debated issue in the modern research on the Da zhidu lun has been that of its authorship – i.e., whether or not it can be ascribed to Nāgārjuna, the founder of the Madhyamaka school. But an equally important – though less frequently asked – question is that of the nature of what is, in effect, a typologically unique commentary: what kind of text is the Da zhidu lun and which are its possible models? Recent research into the relationship between the Da zhidu lun and the text it comments upon (belonging to a vast textual family known as Larger Prajñāpāramitā) makes it possible to approach these issues from a new angle, bringing to light the innovative, experimental aspects of this great exegetical work.

Stefano Zacchetti is the Numata Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Oxford. Previously he worked at the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology (Tokyo) and at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. His research focuses on the transmission of Buddhism from India to China, on early Chinese Buddhist literature (particularly translations and commentaries), and on the history of the Chinese Buddhist canon. His publications include the monograph In Praise of the Light (Tokyo 2005), and several articles.

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