Buddhist Studies Lectures

Following the Śaila Trail. Towards a Regional History of Buddhism in Āndhra

Lecture by Vincent Tournier, Maître de conférences at the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO), Paris, France.

Drinks afterwards. Registration required.

This paper sketches the history of the Buddhist lineages bearing the name Śaila, who identified themselves, after the 4th century CE, as branches of the trans-regional Mahāsāṅghika order.

The Śailas dominated the Buddhist landscape of Āndhra (present-day Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) for most of the first millennium of the Common Era. Despite their prominent position in an important political and religious centre of ancient India, they remained largely elusive. In contrast with several of the main religious lineages of northern or northwestern South Asia (or Laṅkā), no scripture attributed to them has so far come down to us. As a result, there have been only few attempts at situating them in the Buddhist landscape of the time.

Still, three main sources of information at our disposal deserve to be scrutinised: (1) The epigraphic record eloquently testifies the Śailas’ regional prominence: out of the thirty-six inscriptions from (or related to) Āndhra that mention a religious order (nikāya), twenty-two name Śaila groups (variously called [purima-/apara-]mahāvinaseliya, aparaddāraseliya, pubbaseliya, and later pūrvaśaila and aparaśaila), of which nearly half have not been properly identified so far. (2) The scriptures of the Śaila schools are referred to and quoted from by several authors of Mahāyāna treatises, most prominently Bhāviveka (ca 500–570) and Candrakīrti (ca 600–650), who both stemmed from southern India. (3) Several historical or doxographic works discuss the origins of the Śaila schools and present their key doctrines. Of particular interest, in this respect, is the Kathāvatthu-aṭṭhakathā attributed to the Mahāvihāra master Buddhaghosa (4th/5th century CE), which attributes no less than seventy-two doctrinal stances to a group of four Andhaka schools that includes the Śailas.

The combined analysis of all relevant evidence allows reconstructing the genesis of the various Śaila lineages, and their spread across some of the key sites in Āndhra and beyond. We may also gain glimpses at the formation and the redefinition of their canon, and in particular at their adoption of scriptures and ideas developed within the Bodhisattva movement. Finally, we may investigate how Buddhaghosa — a master of South Indian origin, well-known for his critical role in the shaping of the Mahāvihāra “orthodoxy” in Laṅkā — perceived this important regional lineage.

Vincent Tournier is the Maître de conférences at the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO), Paris, France, since January 2018.
Born in 1982, Tournier studied first at the University of Strasbourg, where he completed two BAs in History and Anthropology (2003), and one MA in Sciences of Antiquity (2005). He then joined the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris for his doctoral training, under the supervision of Cristina Scherrer-Schaub. His doctoral thesis, on the The formation of the Mahāvastu and the development of the conceptions pertaining to the bodhisattva and his career (2012), was subsequently revised and published (in 2017) with the EFEO. During his PhD, Tournier carried out research stays at the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden (as Gonda fellow) and at the International Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Tokyo (as JSPS fellow). He has subsequently worked as post-doctoral researcher at the Leiden Institute for Area Studies (2012-2013). Before joining the EFEO, he was, from 2013 to 2017, the Seiyu Kiriyama Lecturer in Buddhist Studies and Director of the Centre of Buddhist Studies at SOAS University of London.

Tournier’s main field of interest is the history of Buddhism in Ancient and Early Medieval South Asia. He has investigated models and figures of human perfection; the history of Buddhist schools, lineages, and centres; processes of scriptural formation and authentication; Buddhist cosmology and narrative representations of the past; patronage and donors’ aspirations. Employing philological and historical methods, he works with a wide range of texts, from literary compositions to scholastic treatises. He makes use of manuscripts and epigraphical materials from the Indian subcontinent (including present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan), Sri Lanka, and Nepal.

His most recent project focuses on the history of Buddhism in the Deccan, especially in Āndhra and Maharashtra. He is thus the co-editor, with Arlo Griffiths, of the online corpus Early Inscriptions of Āndhradeśa ( His recent work focuses especially two issues: the formation, spread, and doctrinal profiles of Buddhist lineages of South India; the evolution of patronage practices and religious aspirations in the first half of the first millenium of the Common Era.

Registration required 
Please send an email to email