1.8.1 The Mahāyāna myth
. The post-Buddha Indian Buddhists responded with their own genius to the brahminical broadside on Buddhism in a number of ways. From our textual records and history, we can surmise that these responses are mainly philosophical, doctrinal, and ritual, each with their new myths. The main thread running through all these responses was that of making Buddhism more universalist and populist, even triumphalist.
Beginning around the 1st century BCE, we see the rise of the Perfection of Wisdom (prajñā,pāramitā) literature, a central concept of the newly emerged Mahāyāna. Although these texts often give inspiring accounts of meditation, their tone is predominantly philosophical, which are not easily comprehensible or practicable for the masses. Most of these great works, however, have come down to our times.
The new Mahāyāna mythology is rich and colourful with new Buddhas and paradises, the best known of which are clearly Amitābha Buddha and his Western Paradise of Sukhāvati. The earliest Mahāyāna texts often centred around meditation,
but the texts that follow are generally more ritualistic and apotropaic (magical). Many such texts deify the Buddha, so that he is endowed with omniscience and boundless powers, and inhabit various universes, besides ours.
The Mahāyāna mythology as a whole is unparallelled in the history of religion. However, if we look deeply into the threads that run through many of them, we could say that they reflect that their authors are struggling with the death of this historical Buddha. There is a general denial that such a great being as the Buddha could be mortal. This, anyway, is a common reaction of devout believers after the passing of their founders, who then are apotheosized.
The Mahāyāna authors are arguably great literati, living in urban monasteries, especially well versed in Buddhist texts and secular learning. Such urbanized settings, as a rule, are not home for the Buddhist contemplatives, who prefer to live in smaller groups in remote forests, or as eremites (solitary wanderers).
Lacking the detachment of the eremites, these post-Buddha coenobites (settled monastics) are understandably concerned with promoting, or at least preserving, their communities and teachings. They also have to present their followers and the public with a mythology that would continue to strengthen their faith and sustain, even increase, their patronage.
These settled monastics conceived the cults of cosmic Buddhas who are regarded as eternal beings, with whom they are capable of having communion through meditation, prayer, trance or dreams. These new Buddha-myths became very popular, and grew into numerous new schools and sects, as Buddhism spread into other cultures, and was in turn assimilated into local cultures.
http://dharmafarer.org/wordpress/wp-con ... m-piya.pdf