Tim wrote:First of all, may I say that I'm only now exploring Mahayana and in search of some information with regard to this tradition. More specifically, I am enquiring whether there is any sutras or other literature depicting the way the Mahayana tradition was practiced in India, that is to say, a Mahayana tradition that is not influenced by practices in countries such as Tibet, China, and Japan. It [Is] it at all possible, for example, to list the Mahayana sutras that would possibly have been central to the practice in the "Indian" subcontinent before it spread to other countries and acquired the unique way of practice (Tibetan, Zen, etc...)? Any on-line links will be appreciated. Thanks in advance.
It's very difficult to know in detail the actual day-to-day experience of Indian Buddhists 1500+ years ago. But we do have numerous texts written by Indian Mahāyāna Buddhists which prescribe how one should
live and practice. The difficult part is separating the prescriptive ideal from the actual situation. We do have some useful records -- including the travel records written by Chinese monastic pilgrims who traveled throughout India during the second half of the first millennium CE. From their records we know that monastic Buddhism was thriving in this period, and that there were both Mahāyāna monasteries as well as Śrāvakayāna monasteries and many monasteries that were mixed.
Prescriptive texts written by Indian mahāyānikas during this period would include Śāntideva's Śikṣāsamuccaya
and the Sūtrasamuccaya
which is traditionally attributed to Nāgārjuna. There were also other sūtra texts written which outline prescribed conduct and practice. Some Nikāya sects even had canonical Bodhisattva Piṭakas.
Here are some good studies which investigate some of the early sūtra literature which prescribe early Mahāyāna ascetic orthopraxy in detail:
Boucher, Daniel. Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahāyāna: A Study and Translation of the Rāṣṭrapālaparipṛcchā-sūtra. University of Hawaii Press, 2008.
Nattier, Jan. A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path According to the Inquiry of Ugra (Ugraparipṛcchā). University of Hawaii Press, 2005.
Ray, Reginald A. Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations. Oxford University Press, 1999.
Silk, Jonathan. The Origin and Early History of the Mahāratnakūṭa Tradition of Mahāyāna Buddhism With A Study of the Ratnarāśisūtra and Related Materials. Doctoral Dissertation, 1994.
All the best,