To which sūtra does the term “Great sūtra” (Da jing大經) refer, and why is this word used to refer to the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra? The usage of this term can reflect how users perceive the Buddhist scriptures and Buddhism itself. In particular, when considering the Mahāyāna movement and its acceptance in China, further consideration should be given to this issue.
This paper refers to the study of Mahā- and Cūḷa- which appear in pairs in the Majjhima Nikāya, and the suffix -mahāsuttaṃ which appears in the Pali Vinaya and in the title of the Sanskrit fragments of Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra. Through those considerations, we may speculate that the meaning of “Great sūtra” gradually changed. This change influenced Chinese Buddhism to a certain degree. In the Buddhist writings of China, the tradition of using the short form “Great sūtra” and “Great Treatise” (Da lun大論) to refer to Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra and Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa was initiated by Jizang. Through an analysis of “Great sūtra” in Jizang’s writings, we can link his usage to the energetic debates on the Buddha-dhātu in the middle and late Northern and Southern dynasties, as well as to the notions of the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra consistent with Jizang’s own assertions of a new interpretation of Indian Madhyamaka thought.