Buddhist Mahayana Texts

By E.B. Cowell

When I studied Chinese, Sanskrit, Pali and a few other East-Asian languages in Leyden, I was pretty interested in Buddhism. One of the books I bought at that time was this volume, a nice and durable reprint of the out-of-copyright Oxford University Press series published near the close of the nineteenth century, when scholars where scholars and books were books.

  • Author: E.B. Cowell
  • Title: Buddhist Mahayana Texts
  • Pages: 207
  • Published: 1988 (Dover first 1969, but first as Volume XLIX of “The Sacred Books of the East” by Clarendon Press, Oxford, in 1894)
  • Publisher: Dover
  • ISBN: 0-486-25552-2

This volume is also one of the reasons I quickly lost interest in Buddhism as a path for myself. The texts are rambling — the very opposite of the conciseness of the gospels — and then I realized that this was only a small selection from the Mahayana texts; Theravada Buddhism has the real interesting stuff, in the tripitaka, or three baskets. Tens of thousands of books… It’s not nothing.

Even so, that’s only my personal reaction. Just as personal is the fact that I can use the Pragñâ-pâramitâ-hridaya sûtra to form the basis for the philosophy of the evil sorcerer in my current WIP.

There’s much that is beautiful in these texts, of course, and the translations are very good, very careful. Possibly a little superceded since 1894, because the scholars are still working hard at a better understanding of Sanskrit, of Pali and of these texts (and more manuscripts keep getting discovered, too).

From a scholarly point of view, this selection of texts is a good introduction to the most important tenets of Mahayana Buddhism, I feel, but one should study it in concert with a good introduction to Buddhism, like Harvey’s, because otherwise interpreting the contents will be impossible.