There was, and is, a large body of archaeological and epigraphical material, material that... records or reflects at least a part of what Buddhists-both lay
people and monks-actually practiced and believed.' There was, and is, an equally large body of literary material that ... has been
heavily edited, it is considered canonical or sacred, and was intended-at the very least-to inculcate an ideal.
But notice that this position, which gives overriding primacy to textual sources, does not even consider the possibility that the texts we are to study to
arrive at a knowledge of "Buddhism" may not even have been known to the vast majority of practicing Buddhists-both monks and laity. It is axiomatically
assumed that the texts not only were known but were also important, not only were read but were also fully implemented in actual practice. But no evidence
in support of these assumptions, or even arguments for them, is ever presented. Notice too that no mention is made of the fact that the vast majority of
the textual sources involved are "scriptural," that is to say, formal literary expressions of normative doctrine. Notice, finally, that no thought is given to the
fact that even the most artless formal narrative text has a purpose, and that in "scriptural" texts, especially in India, that purpose is almost never "historical"
in our sense of the term. In fact, what this position wants to take as adequate reflections of historical reality appear to be nothing more or less than carefully
contrived ideal paradigms. This is particularly clear, for example, in regard to what these canonical texts say about the monk. But in spite of this, scholars
of Indian Buddhism have taken canonical monastic rules and formal literary descriptions of the monastic ideal preserved in very late manuscripts and treated
them as if they were accurate reflections of the religious life and career of actual practicing Buddhist monks in early India.
From "Archaeology and Protestant Presuppositions in the Study of Indian Buddhism"