I am reading Doug Osto’s book Power, Wealth and Women in Indian Mahayana Buddhism:
The Gandavyuha-sutra Amazon
It is thorough, academic and requires concentration. but is very well written. I am finding it an absolute delight. I can imagine that Doug must be a superb teacher - lucky the students that populate his classes. Furthermore, one can feel his love of the text coming through. I am sure that putting together this work, while requiring a vast amount of research, study and reflection, was no chore even though it must have been a lot of work.
Many academic books are turgid. This one is exemplary in its clarity which is what makes it a pleasure to read. There are plenty of long complicated words, but all is explained, and in a manner that the intelligent general reader can handle. This is a gift.
The subject matter is the Gandhavyuha Sutra which tells the story of the pilgrim Sudhana who is sent by Manjushri to visit and learn from a series of spiritual friends (kalyanamtras) who are all in some sense emanations of Vairochana, the highest Buddha. In this story Vairochana is the “other power” and Sudhana is the “foolish being”, yet one who emerges as very spiritually advanced. This story became of immense importance in medieval Mahayana Buddhism as it displays in narrative form the whole devotional world view.
Osto’s treatment of the subject is not a straightforward commentary. He wants to position the narrative in terms of the society in which it came into being - India in the early centuries of the common era. In particular he clarifies the worldview of the sutra and shows what we can know from an analysis of its narrative structure and then draws out three particular dimensions - power, wealth and women - for special attention teasing out the connections between the content of the sutra and the society it was written in. As he says, “Power, wealth and gender are perennial concerns of every society.”