New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

A forum for those wishing to discuss Buddhist history and teachings in the Western academic manner, referencing appropriate sources.
User avatar
Queequeg
Former staff member
Posts: 13868
Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:24 pm

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Queequeg »

PeterC wrote: Wed May 11, 2022 4:08 am What is it with colons in academia? It seems that every single article published (outside of the sciences, which do not like colon use) has to follow the same format. "Bombastic and slightly vague title: partially-explanatory follow-up".
LOL. I showed this comment to my wife and she chuckled. She said there's an ongoing conversation about this in academic circles.

Its a convention - like a haiku or sonnet.
You said, "Do you believe what you're sayin'?"
Yeah, right now, but not that often.

-Modest Mouse

Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Upaya Chapter
User avatar
Queequeg
Former staff member
Posts: 13868
Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:24 pm

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Queequeg »

Zhen Li wrote: Wed May 11, 2022 6:01 am
PeterC wrote: Wed May 11, 2022 4:08 am What is it with colons in academia? It seems that every single article published (outside of the sciences, which do not like colon use) has to follow the same format. "Bombastic and slightly vague title: partially-explanatory follow-up".
It's just a trend, like authors using initials on book covers in the 1930s-50s. I think catchy titles are a thing that were really in vogue about 10 years ago, but now people are more accepting of simply descriptive titles.

I just wanted to say that I think there is value in Buddhist practitioners reading these kinds of articles. I just went through Drewes' article (Haven't gone through the others yet). Actually, I had known this argument before—I can't recall it if it is something that someone else argued, or if I just noticed it myself in reading Mahāyāna sūtras. But the knowledge of these arguments can actually help us in understanding our own tradition better as practitioners. The argument Drewes makes is that while Theravadans might suggest that you cannot become a bodhisattva without a Buddha's prediction or assurance of your awakening, the Mahāyāna sūtras pre-empt this by saying that those who are reading the sūtras right now, and who have faith in them, have already received their predictions aeons in the past. This is just a point of scholarly peculiarity for someone like Drewes, but might sound quite reassuring or helpful from the practitioner's perspective.
There's an essay in an anthology on the Lotus Sutra called Buddhist Kaleidoscope edited by Gene Reeves that points out the literary devices employed to turn the reader into an active participant in the text. Its a set of devices that is used in many Mahayana texts but robustly utilized in the Lotus to support the thrust of the narrative itself. It presents itself as a teaching aimed at the people who appear after the parinirvana, particularly in the Age of Decline. I've wondered about the patience of the authors of the text who had an audience in mind that wouldn't be around for another millennia.

If it hasn't been done, I'm sure there is a paper or two, maybe a book, in drawing out the literary devices and narrative strategies that are used in Mahayana texts to create an enduring world view that provides a complete context in which a practitioner can place themselves in the grand narrative of the Buddha's enlightenment.
You said, "Do you believe what you're sayin'?"
Yeah, right now, but not that often.

-Modest Mouse

Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Upaya Chapter
atmiller
Posts: 6
Joined: Wed Mar 09, 2022 2:58 pm

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by atmiller »

Queequeg wrote: Wed May 11, 2022 12:32 pm
There's an essay in an anthology on the Lotus Sutra called Buddhist Kaleidoscope edited by Gene Reeves that points out the literary devices employed to turn the reader into an active participant in the text. Its a set of devices that is used in many Mahayana texts but robustly utilized in the Lotus to support the thrust of the narrative itself. It presents itself as a teaching aimed at the people who appear after the parinirvana, particularly in the Age of Decline. I've wondered about the patience of the authors of the text who had an audience in mind that wouldn't be around for another millennia.

If it hasn't been done, I'm sure there is a paper or two, maybe a book, in drawing out the literary devices and narrative strategies that are used in Mahayana texts to create an enduring world view that provides a complete context in which a practitioner can place themselves in the grand narrative of the Buddha's enlightenment.


Thanks for the reference to the Gene Reeves volume. I wasn't yet aware of this one. The History of Religions special issue (links at the top of the thread) aims to do something like what you suggest, particularly Wedemeyer's article. It's also something I gesture at (if somewhat obliquely) in my forthcoming dissertation. (Table of Contents and Abstract available here: https://www.academia.edu/77573659/Disse ... d_Abstract.)


Also, to PeterC — sick burn haha. I had a good, genuine laugh (as I'm definitely guilty). The title-colon-subtitle thing is almost like marketing. And like most marketing, it can be (and often is) a bit obnoxious.

-Adam
User avatar
Zhen Li
Posts: 2213
Joined: Sun Apr 07, 2013 8:15 am
Location: UK
Contact:

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Zhen Li »

Queequeg wrote: Wed May 11, 2022 12:32 pm
Zhen Li wrote: Wed May 11, 2022 6:01 am
PeterC wrote: Wed May 11, 2022 4:08 am What is it with colons in academia? It seems that every single article published (outside of the sciences, which do not like colon use) has to follow the same format. "Bombastic and slightly vague title: partially-explanatory follow-up".
It's just a trend, like authors using initials on book covers in the 1930s-50s. I think catchy titles are a thing that were really in vogue about 10 years ago, but now people are more accepting of simply descriptive titles.

I just wanted to say that I think there is value in Buddhist practitioners reading these kinds of articles. I just went through Drewes' article (Haven't gone through the others yet). Actually, I had known this argument before—I can't recall it if it is something that someone else argued, or if I just noticed it myself in reading Mahāyāna sūtras. But the knowledge of these arguments can actually help us in understanding our own tradition better as practitioners. The argument Drewes makes is that while Theravadans might suggest that you cannot become a bodhisattva without a Buddha's prediction or assurance of your awakening, the Mahāyāna sūtras pre-empt this by saying that those who are reading the sūtras right now, and who have faith in them, have already received their predictions aeons in the past. This is just a point of scholarly peculiarity for someone like Drewes, but might sound quite reassuring or helpful from the practitioner's perspective.
There's an essay in an anthology on the Lotus Sutra called Buddhist Kaleidoscope edited by Gene Reeves that points out the literary devices employed to turn the reader into an active participant in the text. Its a set of devices that is used in many Mahayana texts but robustly utilized in the Lotus to support the thrust of the narrative itself. It presents itself as a teaching aimed at the people who appear after the parinirvana, particularly in the Age of Decline. I've wondered about the patience of the authors of the text who had an audience in mind that wouldn't be around for another millennia.

If it hasn't been done, I'm sure there is a paper or two, maybe a book, in drawing out the literary devices and narrative strategies that are used in Mahayana texts to create an enduring world view that provides a complete context in which a practitioner can place themselves in the grand narrative of the Buddha's enlightenment.
I don't think that book exists, but it's a great idea. I've written on this topic myself elsewhere.
Shaku Shingan (釈心願)
Shingan's Portal
Learning the Navagrantha
User avatar
Queequeg
Former staff member
Posts: 13868
Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:24 pm

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Queequeg »

I wish I cared enough to write it, but my pretensions of making contributions to the academic study of Buddhism are long dead and buried. Anyone interested, please take it. There may be a career in it.

The way I've described the Lotus in the past is that it is like that book in the Never Ending Story where the reader is written into and made a character in the narrative. As one proceeds through the narrative, the fourth wall dissolves. Many Mahayana sutras use this strategy in places, but I'm not sure any make this effect the main thrust of the text. Some texts don't do this - the Vimalakirti, for instance, is a well constructed text with an entertaining and engaging story but never really invites the reader into it - we remain a passive audience.

There are papers out there observing the various ways the Lotus has been interpreted and used to advance particular ideas, but, they don't delve into the experience of wearing the text, so to speak, except in the most superficial way. If they do, its limited to considering the textual sources of particular ideas. I understand - in religion departments you are warned away from the danger of going native. Moreover, a lot of Buddhist scholars are not Buddhist so will generally exempt themselves from the possibility of being drawn into the text, missing a lot of the nuance and possibilities. Those who are Buddhist are warned about bringing too much of that part of themselves to their work because it will open them up to the criticism of lacking objectivity and dismissal as a serious academic scholar. So, Buddhists in the academy stay confined to history, textual analysis, etc. anything but the experience of being Buddhist. Which is too bad - that's what undergraduate students really want to hear about when they take courses on Buddhism related subjects, IME.

Back to the point - the narrative presentation of Buddhism you find in sutras and tantras is taking advantage of the way our minds work when exposed to story telling. The abhidharma type commentary goes into the cataloging and explanation of ideas, but its the narratives of the sutras (and tantras) that I think bring the teachings alive for many people. This experience is then reinforced through ritual practices.

It seems to me, in the West we tend to take up the mind-observation aspects of the Buddhist experience readily, but the myths that traditionally frame these practices are a tough pill to swallow. IMO, its the internalization of the myths that makes one culturally Buddhist. I also think those myths are extremely useful in cultivating the overall mind set that supports and is conducive to a robust mind-observation practice.

I'm rambling now.

Anyways... anyone interested, please take the thesis idea and run with it. Would love to see what comes out of it.
You said, "Do you believe what you're sayin'?"
Yeah, right now, but not that often.

-Modest Mouse

Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Upaya Chapter
User avatar
Zhen Li
Posts: 2213
Joined: Sun Apr 07, 2013 8:15 am
Location: UK
Contact:

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Zhen Li »

I think those themes are present in most Mahāyāna sūtras, but not all. One big way they do this is the self-referential passages where they implore the idealised practitioner (kulaputra) to worship and recite them. This is more present in the Aṣṭasāhasrikā than Lotus Sutra, but the Lotus Sutra does it more through narrative. These passages are in the Vimalakīrti, but only in passing (I think at the end, if I am not wrong).

With the Pure Land sūtras, there's an article that touches on this device that is quite interesting. I just searched for it for 20 minutes and can't find it... if I come across it again I'll share it. It essentially suggests that these devices are lacking in the Pure Land scriptures because Amitābha does not teach using words—rather, those in the Pure Land kind of absorb the Dharma through the sounds of the natural environment. Whereas the Aṣṭasāhasrikā depicts a Pure Land in which a teacher is constantly teaching the Dharma verbally, and thus also requests its practitioners to copy it and set it up for worship, Sukhāvatī is beyond words, and thus has no such emphasis on the worship of the book—that is all transferred to the Buddha. The author also went into some details about how this might indicate some uneasiness with the written medium among early Mahāyāna Buddhists, who otherwise were its first ardent adopters in India, and finding a way to overcome those limitations. (Anyway, if anyone knows what article I am talking about, please let me know)

I will probably get some time to go through Wedermeyer's article later today... Let's see.
Shaku Shingan (釈心願)
Shingan's Portal
Learning the Navagrantha
User avatar
Queequeg
Former staff member
Posts: 13868
Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:24 pm

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Queequeg »

Zhen Li wrote: Fri May 13, 2022 5:22 am I think those themes are present in most Mahāyāna sūtras, but not all. One big way they do this is the self-referential passages where they implore the idealised practitioner (kulaputra) to worship and recite them. This is more present in the Aṣṭasāhasrikā than Lotus Sutra, but the Lotus Sutra does it more through narrative. These passages are in the Vimalakīrti, but only in passing (I think at the end, if I am not wrong).

With the Pure Land sūtras, there's an article that touches on this device that is quite interesting. I just searched for it for 20 minutes and can't find it... if I come across it again I'll share it. It essentially suggests that these devices are lacking in the Pure Land scriptures because Amitābha does not teach using words—rather, those in the Pure Land kind of absorb the Dharma through the sounds of the natural environment. Whereas the Aṣṭasāhasrikā depicts a Pure Land in which a teacher is constantly teaching the Dharma verbally, and thus also requests its practitioners to copy it and set it up for worship, Sukhāvatī is beyond words, and thus has no such emphasis on the worship of the book—that is all transferred to the Buddha. The author also went into some details about how this might indicate some uneasiness with the written medium among early Mahāyāna Buddhists, who otherwise were its first ardent adopters in India, and finding a way to overcome those limitations. (Anyway, if anyone knows what article I am talking about, please let me know)

I will probably get some time to go through Wedermeyer's article later today... Let's see.
Interesting point about the Pure Land Sutras. Not to contradict as I realize it may be Chinese apocrypha but how would you characterize the place of the Pure Land Visualization sutra? Elizabeth ten Grotenhuis' study of Japanese Mandala, particularly the study of the Taima Mandara fascinated me. That genre of visualization sutras is certainly aimed at immersing practitioners in a Buddhist world view.

Someone had pointed out that the emergence of Mahayana literature coincided with a development of story telling in India and that other Indian masterpieces emerged around the same time. I'm not familiar enough with Indian literature to discuss this, but it would not be surprising. I'm also reminded of the reliefs found for instance at Sanchi and how they were probably storytelling devices. Or even more obvious - the reliefs and murals in grottoes in places like Ajanta which may tell us about the appearance of viharas which were made of non-durable materials.
You said, "Do you believe what you're sayin'?"
Yeah, right now, but not that often.

-Modest Mouse

Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Upaya Chapter
atmiller
Posts: 6
Joined: Wed Mar 09, 2022 2:58 pm

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by atmiller »

Queequeg wrote: Fri May 13, 2022 12:42 pm I'm also reminded of the reliefs found for instance at Sanchi and how they were probably storytelling devices. Or even more obvious - the reliefs and murals in grottoes in places like Ajanta which may tell us about the appearance of viharas which were made of non-durable materials.
Apropos of this, a new volume was just published on the relationship/interaction between texts and images in India — Naomi Appleton, ed., Narrative Visions and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism (Equinox). My copy just arrived by mail yesterday, so I haven't had much time to look at it, but it looks promising so far.

Here is a link to the press website for the book: https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/narrative-visions/

And the TOC:

1. Setting the Scene: Verbal and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism (1-27)
by Naomi Appleton

Part I: Visual Narratives

2. Rethinking Chronology and Narrative Modes: The Case of Sancī Stūpa 2 (31-54)
by Flavia Zaghet
3. The Power of Image and Imagery: Visualising the Divine and the Human in Painted Narratives of Ajaṇṭā (55-87)
by Madhulika Reddy
4. Visualizing a Teaching: Sermon Scenes in Kucha (88-125)
by Monika Zin

Part II: Narrative Networks

5. Localizing Narrative through Image: The Nun Utpalavarṇā in a Stone Relief from Kaushambi (129-159)
by Sonya Rhie Mace
6. Beyond Textual and Visual “Versions”: The Story Cluster of the Six-tusked Elephant Bodhisattva (160-185)
by Naomi Appleton and Chris Clark
7. Interpretations and (Mis)understandings: Three Case Studies of Illustrations of the Buddha’s Lifestory (186-209)
by John S. Strong

Part III: Narrative Visions

8. The Buddha as Spiritual Sovereign: Narrative Figurations of Knowledge and Power (213-237)
by David Fiordalis
9. Seeing the Dharma: Narrative Darśan in the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa (238-262)
by Natalie Gummer
10. Making Senses of the Story: Narrative, Art and Affect in Ancient India (263-286)
by Jonathan Walters
User avatar
Queequeg
Former staff member
Posts: 13868
Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:24 pm

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Queequeg »

atmiller wrote: Fri May 13, 2022 1:44 pm
Queequeg wrote: Fri May 13, 2022 12:42 pm I'm also reminded of the reliefs found for instance at Sanchi and how they were probably storytelling devices. Or even more obvious - the reliefs and murals in grottoes in places like Ajanta which may tell us about the appearance of viharas which were made of non-durable materials.
Apropos of this, a new volume was just published on the relationship/interaction between texts and images in India — Naomi Appleton, ed., Narrative Visions and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism (Equinox). My copy just arrived by mail yesterday, so I haven't had much time to look at it, but it looks promising so far.

Here is a link to the press website for the book: https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/narrative-visions/

And the TOC:

1. Setting the Scene: Verbal and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism (1-27)
by Naomi Appleton

Part I: Visual Narratives

2. Rethinking Chronology and Narrative Modes: The Case of Sancī Stūpa 2 (31-54)
by Flavia Zaghet
3. The Power of Image and Imagery: Visualising the Divine and the Human in Painted Narratives of Ajaṇṭā (55-87)
by Madhulika Reddy
4. Visualizing a Teaching: Sermon Scenes in Kucha (88-125)
by Monika Zin

Part II: Narrative Networks

5. Localizing Narrative through Image: The Nun Utpalavarṇā in a Stone Relief from Kaushambi (129-159)
by Sonya Rhie Mace
6. Beyond Textual and Visual “Versions”: The Story Cluster of the Six-tusked Elephant Bodhisattva (160-185)
by Naomi Appleton and Chris Clark
7. Interpretations and (Mis)understandings: Three Case Studies of Illustrations of the Buddha’s Lifestory (186-209)
by John S. Strong

Part III: Narrative Visions

8. The Buddha as Spiritual Sovereign: Narrative Figurations of Knowledge and Power (213-237)
by David Fiordalis
9. Seeing the Dharma: Narrative Darśan in the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa (238-262)
by Natalie Gummer
10. Making Senses of the Story: Narrative, Art and Affect in Ancient India (263-286)
by Jonathan Walters
:twothumbsup: My wife is an art historian specializing in Japanese Buddhist art, particularly narrative art. This will be very interesting for her. Thanks!
You said, "Do you believe what you're sayin'?"
Yeah, right now, but not that often.

-Modest Mouse

Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Upaya Chapter
atmiller
Posts: 6
Joined: Wed Mar 09, 2022 2:58 pm

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by atmiller »

atmiller wrote: Fri May 13, 2022 1:44 pm
Queequeg wrote: Fri May 13, 2022 12:42 pm I'm also reminded of the reliefs found for instance at Sanchi and how they were probably storytelling devices. Or even more obvious - the reliefs and murals in grottoes in places like Ajanta which may tell us about the appearance of viharas which were made of non-durable materials.
Apropos of this, a new volume was just published on the relationship/interaction between texts and images in India — Naomi Appleton, ed., Narrative Visions and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism (Equinox). My copy just arrived by mail yesterday, so I haven't had much time to look at it, but it looks promising so far.

Here is a link to the press website for the book: https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/narrative-visions/

And the TOC:

1. Setting the Scene: Verbal and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism (1-27)
by Naomi Appleton

Part I: Visual Narratives

2. Rethinking Chronology and Narrative Modes: The Case of Sancī Stūpa 2 (31-54)
by Flavia Zaghet
3. The Power of Image and Imagery: Visualising the Divine and the Human in Painted Narratives of Ajaṇṭā (55-87)
by Madhulika Reddy
4. Visualizing a Teaching: Sermon Scenes in Kucha (88-125)
by Monika Zin

Part II: Narrative Networks

5. Localizing Narrative through Image: The Nun Utpalavarṇā in a Stone Relief from Kaushambi (129-159)
by Sonya Rhie Mace
6. Beyond Textual and Visual “Versions”: The Story Cluster of the Six-tusked Elephant Bodhisattva (160-185)
by Naomi Appleton and Chris Clark
7. Interpretations and (Mis)understandings: Three Case Studies of Illustrations of the Buddha’s Lifestory (186-209)
by John S. Strong

Part III: Narrative Visions

8. The Buddha as Spiritual Sovereign: Narrative Figurations of Knowledge and Power (213-237)
by David Fiordalis
9. Seeing the Dharma: Narrative Darśan in the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa (238-262)
by Natalie Gummer
10. Making Senses of the Story: Narrative, Art and Affect in Ancient India (263-286)
by Jonathan Walters


In this vein further still — I did a quick search of the forum, and it seems no one has brought another collection to the attention of this forum. Natalie Gummer, ed., The Language of the Sūtras (Mangalam).

Press site link: https://mangalampress.org/product/the-l ... he-sutras/

TOC:

Foreword by Charles Hallisey

Introduction by Natalie Gummer

1. "A Narratological Reading of the Aṅgulimāla-sūtra (Majjhima-nikāya 86)" by Bruno Galasek-Hul

2. "Buddhas and Body Language: The Literary Trope of the Buddha's Smile" by David Fiordalis

3. "Transforming Through Words: Sudhana's Experience in the Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra" by Xi He

4. "The Lotus Sūtra and the Art of Seduction" by Alan Cole

5. "Orality and Creativity in Early Buddhist Discourses: Stock Formulas as an Aspect of the Oral Textual Culture of Early Buddhism" by Eviatar Shulman

6. "Speech without Conceptualization: Language and the Samādhirāja-sūtra's Role in the Prasannapadā" by Shenghai Li

7. "Second Thought, Best Thought? On Error, Correction, and the Transmission of Tradition" by Richard Nance

8. "Sūtra Time" by Natalie Gummer
User avatar
Queequeg
Former staff member
Posts: 13868
Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:24 pm

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Queequeg »

atmiller wrote: Fri May 13, 2022 6:09 pm
atmiller wrote: Fri May 13, 2022 1:44 pm
Queequeg wrote: Fri May 13, 2022 12:42 pm I'm also reminded of the reliefs found for instance at Sanchi and how they were probably storytelling devices. Or even more obvious - the reliefs and murals in grottoes in places like Ajanta which may tell us about the appearance of viharas which were made of non-durable materials.
Apropos of this, a new volume was just published on the relationship/interaction between texts and images in India — Naomi Appleton, ed., Narrative Visions and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism (Equinox). My copy just arrived by mail yesterday, so I haven't had much time to look at it, but it looks promising so far.

Here is a link to the press website for the book: https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/narrative-visions/

And the TOC:

1. Setting the Scene: Verbal and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism (1-27)
by Naomi Appleton

Part I: Visual Narratives

2. Rethinking Chronology and Narrative Modes: The Case of Sancī Stūpa 2 (31-54)
by Flavia Zaghet
3. The Power of Image and Imagery: Visualising the Divine and the Human in Painted Narratives of Ajaṇṭā (55-87)
by Madhulika Reddy
4. Visualizing a Teaching: Sermon Scenes in Kucha (88-125)
by Monika Zin

Part II: Narrative Networks

5. Localizing Narrative through Image: The Nun Utpalavarṇā in a Stone Relief from Kaushambi (129-159)
by Sonya Rhie Mace
6. Beyond Textual and Visual “Versions”: The Story Cluster of the Six-tusked Elephant Bodhisattva (160-185)
by Naomi Appleton and Chris Clark
7. Interpretations and (Mis)understandings: Three Case Studies of Illustrations of the Buddha’s Lifestory (186-209)
by John S. Strong

Part III: Narrative Visions

8. The Buddha as Spiritual Sovereign: Narrative Figurations of Knowledge and Power (213-237)
by David Fiordalis
9. Seeing the Dharma: Narrative Darśan in the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa (238-262)
by Natalie Gummer
10. Making Senses of the Story: Narrative, Art and Affect in Ancient India (263-286)
by Jonathan Walters


In this vein further still — I did a quick search of the forum, and it seems no one has brought another collection to the attention of this forum. Natalie Gummer, ed., The Language of the Sūtras (Mangalam).

Press site link: https://mangalampress.org/product/the-l ... he-sutras/

TOC:

Foreword by Charles Hallisey

Introduction by Natalie Gummer

1. "A Narratological Reading of the Aṅgulimāla-sūtra (Majjhima-nikāya 86)" by Bruno Galasek-Hul

2. "Buddhas and Body Language: The Literary Trope of the Buddha's Smile" by David Fiordalis

3. "Transforming Through Words: Sudhana's Experience in the Gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra" by Xi He

4. "The Lotus Sūtra and the Art of Seduction" by Alan Cole

5. "Orality and Creativity in Early Buddhist Discourses: Stock Formulas as an Aspect of the Oral Textual Culture of Early Buddhism" by Eviatar Shulman

6. "Speech without Conceptualization: Language and the Samādhirāja-sūtra's Role in the Prasannapadā" by Shenghai Li

7. "Second Thought, Best Thought? On Error, Correction, and the Transmission of Tradition" by Richard Nance

8. "Sūtra Time" by Natalie Gummer
Nice.
You said, "Do you believe what you're sayin'?"
Yeah, right now, but not that often.

-Modest Mouse

Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Upaya Chapter
User avatar
Javierfv1212
Posts: 250
Joined: Tue Sep 08, 2015 1:39 am
Location: South Florida

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Javierfv1212 »

My own layperson opinion on this is that working on the Jatakas, Avadanas and other narrative texts is going to be very important moving forward for the understanding of how Mahayana arose. We know that the idea of the bodhisattva path was shared by all the Nikaya Buddhist schools and that it is most extensively discussed in Jataka and Avadana type literature. Some of these Nikaya texts even discuss how to practice the perfections, like the Theravada Cariyapitaka (though this is a late text). Thus, even though Drewes thinks that nobody thought to actually practice the bodhisattva path before the Mahayana sutras arose, I am not sure if this is really true given that we have a history of Theravadins in Sri Lanka claiming bodhisattvahood in different ways (there is a lot of literature on this now), and therefore, the "orthodox" view that to be a bodhisattva you had to get a prediction from a Buddha may not have been as widely accepted as some think.

With all this being said, let me share my theory on this. Basically, I think Mahayana sutras developed in literary groups of storytellers within the sangha, mainly people who memorized, composed and told Jataka tales as well as Avadanas (but perhaps other genres, like poetry, such as the Theragatha). Some of these stories are quite ancient, some are as "early" as the suttas, and they were already super popular by the time of the carving of the Bharhut Stupa railings (c. 125–100 BCE), which includes over 30 Jataka scenes). Some are also found at Sanchi Stupa number 2. The background to these stories is also the bodhisattva path, an idea which may be just as old as anything else in Buddhism (though not in its fully developed form of course).

On the flit side, many Mahayana sutras contain Jatakas inside of it, including the 8000 line PP sutra and the Bodhisattvapitakasutra (another very early and important Mahayana text, see Ulrich Pagel’s work on this). Thus, its possible that these communities of storytellers expanded these ideas of the bodhisattva over time, and that these became the core stories and ideas for the developed Mahayana sutras.

Basically, what I think happened was that, initially you have a group of storytellers that pass on and teach from Jatakas, Avadanas, and maybe poems on past lives of the Buddha and other people. These stories contain elements that were found in early Buddhism regarding the Buddha’s past lives and his various exploits on the way to Buddhahood, and thus, they contained the seed of the Mahayana.

Since these storytellers were already accustomed to editing and expanding stories in which the Buddha (in his previous lives) as well as other figures (maybe even early ‘bodhisattva’ figures like Maitreya and Vajrapani, both of which are already found in the early suttas, albeit briefly) speaks, then it would not have been strange for them to keep doing this in different formats and to get creative. This job already attracted the creative people in the first place, the poets, the writers, the storytellers. They’re more liberal than the rest of the sangha, more open to new ideas and innovation and so they did what creatives do, they create new stories.

As time went on, these became very popular, people wanted more stories, they also became inspired by the bodhisattva ideal, they wanted to learn how to become like these superheroes (bodhi-satvan, satvan means hero in early Sanskrit, a possible etymology of the word). So the storytellers get more creative and compose more stories, spin offs from the initial universe (like today’s superhero franchises) which expands on various topics that people want to hear about (how long does it take to become a Buddha?, how exactly does one become a bodhisattva? how do you practice the paramitas?). This inspires even more stories, which, by now, have become quite an ‘expanded universe’, but retain the same basic ideas (the perfections, the bodhisattva path, etc). This is a bit like the original Star Wars and its massive expanded universe (or any other modern franchise). It happens because people ask for it, popular demand and because a creative class is ready to provide that.

But that's just like my opinion, man.
It is quite impossible to find the Buddha anywhere other than in one's own mind.
A person who is ignorant of this may seek externally,
but how is it possible to find oneself through seeking anywhere other than in oneself?
Someone who seeks their own nature externally is like a fool who, giving a performance in the middle of a crowd, forgets who he is and then seeks everywhere else to find himself.
— Padmasambhava

Visit my site: https://sites.google.com/view/abhayajana/
User avatar
Leo Rivers
Posts: 436
Joined: Sun Jul 17, 2011 4:52 am
Contact:

Re: New History - The Bodhisattvapitaka - Its Doctrines, Practices and their Position in Mahayana Literature

Post by Leo Rivers »

This seems relevant to your interests.

by U Pagel · 1992
This thesis aims to provide a comprehensive study of the Bodhisattvapitaka with specific emphasis on the bodhisattva ideal. The content of the Bodhisattvapitaka indicates that its exposition belongs to the earliest treatises on the bodhisattva. The practices and doctrines that are expounded are invariably rudimentary and show little of the complexities that characterise their discussions in later bodhisattva literature. The Bodhisattvapitaka’s inclusion into the Mahdratnakuta rested probably on its pioneering account of the bodhisattvacarya. Being by far the longest work on the bodhisattva in the whole collection, it expounds important practices and constitutes the hub for the remaining bodhisattva writings in the Mahdratnakuta. The study falls into five parts.— This thesis aims to provide a comprehensive study of the Bodhisattvapitaka with specific emphasis on the bodhisattva ideal.
519 pages
The Bodhisattvapitaka - Its Doctrines, Practices and their Position in Mahayana Literature
Ulrich Pagel Thesis Submmitted for the Award of Doctor of Philosophy - Bodhisattvapiṭaka-sūtra pdf
https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j& ... OmrWoC2QX9
User avatar
Aemilius
Posts: 3803
Joined: Sat Mar 27, 2010 11:44 am

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Aemilius »

Javierfv1212 wrote: Sun May 15, 2022 10:38 pm My own layperson opinion on this is that working on the Jatakas, Avadanas and other narrative texts is going to be very important moving forward for the understanding of how Mahayana arose. We know that the idea of the bodhisattva path was shared by all the Nikaya Buddhist schools and that it is most extensively discussed in Jataka and Avadana type literature. Some of these Nikaya texts even discuss how to practice the perfections, like the Theravada Cariyapitaka (though this is a late text). Thus, even though Drewes thinks that nobody thought to actually practice the bodhisattva path before the Mahayana sutras arose, I am not sure if this is really true given that we have a history of Theravadins in Sri Lanka claiming bodhisattvahood in different ways (there is a lot of literature on this now), and therefore, the "orthodox" view that to be a bodhisattva you had to get a prediction from a Buddha may not have been as widely accepted as some think.

With all this being said, let me share my theory on this. Basically, I think Mahayana sutras developed in literary groups of storytellers within the sangha, mainly people who memorized, composed and told Jataka tales as well as Avadanas (but perhaps other genres, like poetry, such as the Theragatha). Some of these stories are quite ancient, some are as "early" as the suttas, and they were already super popular by the time of the carving of the Bharhut Stupa railings (c. 125–100 BCE), which includes over 30 Jataka scenes). Some are also found at Sanchi Stupa number 2. The background to these stories is also the bodhisattva path, an idea which may be just as old as anything else in Buddhism (though not in its fully developed form of course).

On the flit side, many Mahayana sutras contain Jatakas inside of it, including the 8000 line PP sutra and the Bodhisattvapitakasutra (another very early and important Mahayana text, see Ulrich Pagel’s work on this). Thus, its possible that these communities of storytellers expanded these ideas of the bodhisattva over time, and that these became the core stories and ideas for the developed Mahayana sutras.

Basically, what I think happened was that, initially you have a group of storytellers that pass on and teach from Jatakas, Avadanas, and maybe poems on past lives of the Buddha and other people. These stories contain elements that were found in early Buddhism regarding the Buddha’s past lives and his various exploits on the way to Buddhahood, and thus, they contained the seed of the Mahayana.

Since these storytellers were already accustomed to editing and expanding stories in which the Buddha (in his previous lives) as well as other figures (maybe even early ‘bodhisattva’ figures like Maitreya and Vajrapani, both of which are already found in the early suttas, albeit briefly) speaks, then it would not have been strange for them to keep doing this in different formats and to get creative. This job already attracted the creative people in the first place, the poets, the writers, the storytellers. They’re more liberal than the rest of the sangha, more open to new ideas and innovation and so they did what creatives do, they create new stories.

As time went on, these became very popular, people wanted more stories, they also became inspired by the bodhisattva ideal, they wanted to learn how to become like these superheroes (bodhi-satvan, satvan means hero in early Sanskrit, a possible etymology of the word). So the storytellers get more creative and compose more stories, spin offs from the initial universe (like today’s superhero franchises) which expands on various topics that people want to hear about (how long does it take to become a Buddha?, how exactly does one become a bodhisattva? how do you practice the paramitas?). This inspires even more stories, which, by now, have become quite an ‘expanded universe’, but retain the same basic ideas (the perfections, the bodhisattva path, etc). This is a bit like the original Star Wars and its massive expanded universe (or any other modern franchise). It happens because people ask for it, popular demand and because a creative class is ready to provide that.

But that's just like my opinion, man.
Thanks for your thoughts. You are presenting a "from ground up" view of the arising of the Bodhisattvayana. I am sure that the truth is opposite, that it was very much "from top down" that the Mahayana was gradually adopted. What is this "top" from which it has been introduced, recommended and taught for humanity? It is the higher worlds or higher planes of existence of Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, that actually exist. In the beginning only a handfull of the disciples of Shakyamuni accepted the whole of the reality, the larger or infinite reality, which is expressed in the Mahayana. Mahayana did not start or develop from the Jatakas or Avadanas, it arose from the experience of the vastness of reality.
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
User avatar
Javierfv1212
Posts: 250
Joined: Tue Sep 08, 2015 1:39 am
Location: South Florida

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Javierfv1212 »

Aemilius wrote: Mon May 16, 2022 8:32 am Thanks for your thoughts. You are presenting a "from ground up" view of the arising of the Bodhisattvayana. I am sure that the truth is opposite, that it was very much "from top down" that the Mahayana was gradually adopted. What is this "top" from which it has been introduced, recommended and taught for humanity? It is the higher worlds or higher planes of existence of Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, that actually exist. In the beginning only a handfull of the disciples of Shakyamuni accepted the whole of the reality, the larger or infinite reality, which is expressed in the Mahayana. Mahayana did not start or develop from the Jatakas or Avadanas, it arose from the experience of the vastness of reality.
Why not both?

The nice thing about my hypothesis above is that it does not preclude these people from being divinely inspired or having received some of these bodhisattva teachings from the higher worlds. Even the so called early Buddhist texts have devas giving teachings, so it would not be seen as strange in the world of early Buddhism. Also, it would make sense for these so called higher beings to seek out people who were great at telling a good yarn to pass on their stories.
It is quite impossible to find the Buddha anywhere other than in one's own mind.
A person who is ignorant of this may seek externally,
but how is it possible to find oneself through seeking anywhere other than in oneself?
Someone who seeks their own nature externally is like a fool who, giving a performance in the middle of a crowd, forgets who he is and then seeks everywhere else to find himself.
— Padmasambhava

Visit my site: https://sites.google.com/view/abhayajana/
User avatar
Aemilius
Posts: 3803
Joined: Sat Mar 27, 2010 11:44 am

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Aemilius »

Javierfv1212 wrote: Mon May 16, 2022 12:44 pm
Aemilius wrote: Mon May 16, 2022 8:32 am Thanks for your thoughts. You are presenting a "from ground up" view of the arising of the Bodhisattvayana. I am sure that the truth is opposite, that it was very much "from top down" that the Mahayana was gradually adopted. What is this "top" from which it has been introduced, recommended and taught for humanity? It is the higher worlds or higher planes of existence of Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, that actually exist. In the beginning only a handfull of the disciples of Shakyamuni accepted the whole of the reality, the larger or infinite reality, which is expressed in the Mahayana. Mahayana did not start or develop from the Jatakas or Avadanas, it arose from the experience of the vastness of reality.
Why not both?

The nice thing about my hypothesis above is that it does not preclude these people from being divinely inspired or having received some of these bodhisattva teachings from the higher worlds. Even the so called early Buddhist texts have devas giving teachings, so it would not be seen as strange in the world of early Buddhism. Also, it would make sense for these so called higher beings to seek out people who were great at telling a good yarn to pass on their stories.
I also think it can be both ways, but what is more important is the nature of the oral tradition itself. If you can recite from your heart sutras and shastras that equal thousands of pages in writing, it is more than likely that you can be transported by this feat into a higher state of consciousness. Achieving this higher state of consciouness through recitation, will affect the recitation and memorizing, naturally and inevitably.
There are still oral traditions on planet Earth, in Africa, Australia, South and North Americas, and parts of Asia, and this phenomenon and system of oral tradition has been studied, atleast in some extent.
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
atmiller
Posts: 6
Joined: Wed Mar 09, 2022 2:58 pm

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by atmiller »

atmiller wrote: Wed May 11, 2022 3:17 pm
Queequeg wrote: Wed May 11, 2022 12:32 pm
There's an essay in an anthology on the Lotus Sutra called Buddhist Kaleidoscope edited by Gene Reeves that points out the literary devices employed to turn the reader into an active participant in the text. Its a set of devices that is used in many Mahayana texts but robustly utilized in the Lotus to support the thrust of the narrative itself. It presents itself as a teaching aimed at the people who appear after the parinirvana, particularly in the Age of Decline. I've wondered about the patience of the authors of the text who had an audience in mind that wouldn't be around for another millennia.

If it hasn't been done, I'm sure there is a paper or two, maybe a book, in drawing out the literary devices and narrative strategies that are used in Mahayana texts to create an enduring world view that provides a complete context in which a practitioner can place themselves in the grand narrative of the Buddha's enlightenment.


Thanks for the reference to the Gene Reeves volume. I wasn't yet aware of this one. The History of Religions special issue (links at the top of the thread) aims to do something like what you suggest, particularly Wedemeyer's article. It's also something I gesture at (if somewhat obliquely) in my forthcoming dissertation. (Table of Contents and Abstract available here: https://www.academia.edu/77573659/Disse ... d_Abstract.)


Also, to PeterC — sick burn haha. I had a good, genuine laugh (as I'm definitely guilty). The title-colon-subtitle thing is almost like marketing. And like most marketing, it can be (and often is) a bit obnoxious.

-Adam

In the event that anyone on here is interested, my dissertation on the Ratnaketuparivarta is now available (complete with a hopefully not too terribly obnoxious title-colon-subtitle!). The link to the TOC and abstract above still works, though I've now added the first chapter to the academia.edu file. The full dissertation can be downloaded here: https://knowledge.uchicago.edu/record/3927?ln=en

cheers everyone,
Adam
Malcolm
Posts: 40595
Joined: Thu Nov 11, 2010 2:19 am

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Malcolm »

Javierfv1212 wrote: Sun May 15, 2022 10:38 pm. So the storytellers get more creative and compose more stories, spin offs from the initial universe (like today’s superhero franchises)
I always wondered why Mahāyāna sutras were so loud. Now I know, they were produced by Marvel.

Bodhisatvas in Wandavision: Crypto-Buddhist Narratology in 21st Century Films
Vases, canvas, bucklers, armies, forests, garlands, trees
houses, chariots, hostelries, and all such things
that common people designate dependent on their parts,
accept as such. For Buddha did not quarrel with the world!

—— Candrakīrti. MAV 6:166
User avatar
Javierfv1212
Posts: 250
Joined: Tue Sep 08, 2015 1:39 am
Location: South Florida

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Javierfv1212 »

Malcolm wrote: Wed Aug 03, 2022 12:45 am
Javierfv1212 wrote: Sun May 15, 2022 10:38 pm. So the storytellers get more creative and compose more stories, spin offs from the initial universe (like today’s superhero franchises)
I always wondered why Mahāyāna sutras were so loud. Now I know, they were produced by Marvel.

Bodhisatvas in Wandavision: Crypto-Buddhist Narratology in 21st Century Films
Its only a matter of time until they make a Green Lama show / movie

I just hope they get the Tibetan Buddhist lore right , they should hire a consultant from dharmawheel

:rolling:
It is quite impossible to find the Buddha anywhere other than in one's own mind.
A person who is ignorant of this may seek externally,
but how is it possible to find oneself through seeking anywhere other than in oneself?
Someone who seeks their own nature externally is like a fool who, giving a performance in the middle of a crowd, forgets who he is and then seeks everywhere else to find himself.
— Padmasambhava

Visit my site: https://sites.google.com/view/abhayajana/
User avatar
Leo Rivers
Posts: 436
Joined: Sun Jul 17, 2011 4:52 am
Contact:

Re: New History of Religions special issue on Mahāyāna sūtras

Post by Leo Rivers »

Stories are a railroad track that end in silence.
Post Reply

Return to “Academic Discussion”