Indian Studies and Buddhist Studies

1. About Indian Studies and Buddhist Studies

The term “Indian Studies,” or “Indology,” refers broadly to a group of scholarly fields dealing with the culture and materials (both literary and physical) of India. Indian Studies has its western origins in Europe, particularly in Great Britain, in the latter half of the 18th century. It includes and overlaps into the fields of philosophy, religion, linguistics, literature, art, history, and archaeology, but more broadly, as a type of area studies, it encompasses the study of the Indian Sub-continent and its surrounding regions, and the peoples who have inhabited it. Although Indian Studies encompasses Modern and Pre-modern India as well, Classical and Medieval India have traditionally been of primary interest to scholars in the field. More specifically, the work of a large portion of scholars in Indian Studies is aimed at investigating the thought and language of a diverse range of source texts, including classical Sanskrit works, the Brahmanical scriptures of the Vedas, Jaina literature, Buddhist texts in written in Sanskrit, Pali, and related languages, as well as poetry and narrative literature. Methodologically, Indian Studies is centered around philological and literary research, and largely employs the traditional methods used in Europe for the study of the Greek and Latin Classics, as well as Biblical Studies and Christian Hermeneutics, etc., in order to carry out an evidence-based, rational, and objective analysis of our subjects of study. Although this is still the basic attitude toward research, researchers are now experimenting with new methods, such as with the use of computers, and although in the past Indian Studies was focused on the Ancient and Medieval eras, after the Second World War, it has grown to include the Modern era as well.

In contrast, “Buddhist Studies,” or “Buddhology,” refers to the scholarly investigation of Buddhism. Since India is the birthplace of Buddhism and, broadly speaking, Buddhism falls under the category of Indian philosophy and religion, Buddhist Studies can also be regarded as a sub-field of Indian Studies. Therefore, Buddhist Studies, in the context of our Association, means the objective, modern, evidence-based study of Buddhism carried out, by in large, within the context of Indian Studies. This method of research was first introduced into the study of Buddhism in Japan by Nanjō Bun’yū 南条文雄 and Takakusu Junjirō 高楠順次郎, among others who travelled to Europe during the Meiji Period to learn the methods of modern Indian Studies there. Needless to say, however, Buddhism was not confined to India, and was transmitted to Tibet, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, China, the Korean Peninsula, Japan, etc., and developed unique identities and characteristics wherever it spread.

For this reason, Buddhism alone encompasses an extremely vast area of study, speaking both geographically and with respect to content, and the study of Buddhism includes not only the study of Indian Buddhism, but also the study of the Buddhism found in the rest of the world as well.

Although Buddhism goes beyond the regional and cultural framework of India, Buddhist Studies shares the same methodology of Indian Studies, and its focus on objective and evidence-based investigation.


2. Areas of Study within Indian Studies and Buddhist Studies

Although there are many sub-fields within Indian Studies and Buddhist Studies, let us now discuss some of the most important areas within the field.

As explained above, although Indian studies encompasses the disciplines of philosophy, religion, linguistics, literature, art, history, and archeology, the work of JAIBS members generally falls under the category of Indian philosophy, which deals with the various philosophical and religious systems of India, but also encompasses the fields of language and literature. Although it can be difficult to divide Indian history into specific “eras” or “time periods,” as there were few histories or precisely dated works written in India in the past, if we divide Indian history broadly into an Ancient or Classical period, a Medieval period, and a Modern period, in the Classical period, we first have Vedic Studies, which focuses on the earliest Indian text, the Rig Veda, as well as the later Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda as well as other early literature. Although Vedic literature also consists of the Saṃhitās, the Brāhmaṇas, the Upaniṣads, and the Aranyakas, it is the above four Vedas upon which the religious system of Brahmanism is based.

Although Brahmanism was the orthodox religion of Ancient India, there arose new religious and philosophical movements, free from the authority of Vedas, from the 6th Century BCE onwards. Among these schools of thought arose materialist groups, skeptics, fatalists, and others, including the religions of Buddhism and Jainism. There was an indivisible relationship between what we would now consider “religion” and “philosophy” in Ancient India, and these both fall under the term darśana or “points of view.” The principal darśanas, or philosophical schools, are termed the “six philosophical schools”—the Sāṃkhya, Yoga, Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Mīmāṃsā, and Vedānta Schools—and the study of their respective philosophies is an important subfield within Indian Studies. Additionally, there are the religions that developed after Brahmanism, broadly termed “Hinduism,” and generally divided into Vaishnavism (beliefs centered on the god Vishnu) and Shaivism (beliefs centered the god Shiva), that further evolved into many more sub-schools such as Tantrism from the Medieval period onward. All of these above are generally classified as “Indian Thought” or “Indian Philosophy,” and although there is a great deal of interest in these fields, especially among our members, Indian Studies is not limited to the study of philosophy.

As stated above, the subject matter covered by Buddhist Studies includes Indian Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, Korean Buddhism, and Japanese Buddhism, etc., and is largely divided according to geographic region. Looking more closely at Indian Buddhism, if we study its development as a historical progression, we have first what is known as the early period of Buddhism, followed by what is known as the sectarian period, which is then followed by the development of Mahāyāna Buddhism, with each of these movements able to be subdivided even further chronologically. For example, within Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism, we usually speak of an early, a middle, and a late period. If we instead divide the study of Buddhism according to its intellectual content instead of its historical development, we see that in each era, different schools of thought developed that emphasized, or specialized in, certain doctrines or practices. To again take the example of Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism, traditionally, this movement is divided into two major schools of thought: Mādhyamaka and Yogācara, and each of these schools is itself a broad sub-field within Buddhist Studies.

For Japanese Buddhism, we have the earliest forms of Buddhism that came to Japan from continental East Asia via the Korean peninsula, and then developed during the Kamakura Era (12th–14th CE) into what is sometimes called “Buddhism of the Patriarchs” (soshi bukkyō 祖師仏教) and is still present in Japan today. Even before modern research methods were introduced to Japan, each of these schools carried on a long tradition of Buddhist scholarship and sectarian Buddhological research based on texts in Chinese translation, the fruits of which continue to work to the advantage of Buddhist scholarship in Japan.