I have been studying Western philosophy for some time, but gradually I lost most of my interest in the subject, especially since I discovered Buddhist philosophy. It really makes sense on a level I was unable to find in Western philosophy, maybe because it is so closely connected to practice. But I am afraid that my reading was, from an academic viewpoint, quite unsystematic and has a lot of blind spots.
So, my question for people who have been involved in academic studies of Buddhist philosophy: what books/articles would you consider to be mandatory reading if one wished to have a firm foundation in the subject as a scholar? I am mostly interested in Mahayana, both Tibetan and East Asian (especially Japanese).
Read the Abhidharma-kośa by Vasubandhu. English translations and plenty of supporting supplementary material are available. It was and still is a key text studied both in Tibetan and East Asian circles. It covers foundational epistemology, cosmology, karma theory and so on. Japanese scholars very early on were reading Paramartha and Xuanzang's translations, and writing plenty of commentary literature on it.
These three are essential:
Vasubandhu, Karmasiddhi Prakarana The Treatise on Action by Vasubandhu
. Translated into French by Etienne Lamotte. English translation by Leo M. Pruden. Fremont, CA: Asian Humanities Press: 1987.
. Translated into French by Louis de La Vallee Poussin, English translation by Leo M. Pruden. Berkeley, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 1991.
Asanga, Abhidharmasamuccaya The Compendium of the Higher Teaching (Philosophy)
. Translated into French and annotated by Walpola Rahula, English translation by Sara Boin-Webb. Fremont, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 2001.
If you read these, take notes and digest them you'll understand core Buddhist philosophy, and everything else you ever read on the subject will make a lot more sense than if you didn't. These might be rather expensive to purchase, though pdfs are floating around online.
Also, as an introduction read the articles available here beforehand:http://www.iep.utm.edu/category/traditions/indian/
The articles on heterodox schools of thought should be read as well given how Buddhist philosophy developed alongside them (particularly Sāṅkhya, Nyāya and most importantly Jainism).
Two recent works to read by Johannes Bronkhorst includeGreater Magadha: Studies in the Culture of Early Indiahttp://books.google.com/books?id=4GNG5KuH73QCBuddhism in the Shadow of Brahmanismhttp://books.google.com.tw/books?id=BaX58-E5-3MC
If you read these two works you'll have an idea of the formative years of Buddhist thought and how the later Brahmin schools of thought affected things. This is important because it puts into perspective the later Brahmin influences and how at first Vedic thought wasn't so relevant to Buddhism in India.
As a brief and good narrative-style history of India, which is essential for understanding the context in which Buddhist philosophy existed and developed, I recommend the following:India: the ancient past: a history of the Indian sub-continent from c. 7000 BC to AD 1200http://books.google.com/books?id=Y1e2V_4Um10C
Beyond this there are later developments like Madhyamaka, Yogācāra and so on, all of which have ample material available to consult in numerous languages.
For Mahāyāna thought, of course, you need to read Nāgārjuna, particular the Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā
(Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way). However, to really understand this you need to know Abhidharma, which is why reading Vasubandhu and Asanga's works as cited above are important. One must also understand the basics of the Prajñāpāramitā literature. Perhaps Ven. Huifeng can recommend some good works on Prajñāpāramitā studies as that is his expertise.
Beyond that, understanding the bodhisattva stages as outlined in the Daśabhūmika Sūtra
, which is found as one of the sections in the Avataṃsaka Sūtra
is important as well.
If you come to understand all this material you'll be well equipped to handle most of anything else. Fortunately there is much material available in English and it is growing.