08: Buddhist Literature

Thurs., Aug. 21st, 09:30-12:00

A Pāśupata ascetic in Aśvaghoṣa’s Buddhacarita?

Ferstl, Christian (Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, AUT)

In the seventh chapter of Aśvaghoṣa’s epic Buddhacarita, a certain Brahmin ascetic recommends to the Bodhisattva Sarvārthasiddha to go and meet the sage Arāḍa (verses 51-55). The description of the anonymous ascetic who is said to be “lying in ashes” (bhasmaśāyin) is by all means positive and shows no signs of sectarian polemics. The presentation will discuss this remarkable approach to the ascetic and allow for aspects of the literary representation. Moreover, the possibility of an identification of the bhasmaśāyin as an adherent of Pāśupata Śaivism will be considered.


Tibetan Hagiographies in Buddhist Teaching: Narrative Performances and their Reception in Past and Present

Rheingans, Jim (Universität Hamburg, Hamburg, GER)

Tibetan texts entitled rnam thar (often considered a type of hagiography and translated here as ‘spiritual biography’) usually narrate the life of a person considered to be of religious importance in Tibetan culture. Spiritual biographies have been composed from the beginnings of Tibetan religions up to today; in fact the genre of what one may call “Tibetan life writing” continues and changes, new issues (with not only Tibetan protagonists) constantly being generated. And the most popular such as Milarepa’s spiritual biography have not only been the source of historical enquiry, or object of literary classification, but have been – and are still – re-narrated in the context of religious teachings. This may exhibit some of their perhaps originally intended functions and uses, namely to engender trust, serve as example, and legitimise a tradition's authority.

Focusing on some contemporary oral performances of popular Tibetan spiritual biographies (in Tibetan language) through field studies as well as some textual clues about their usage in history, this paper attempts to investigate the receptions, uses, and functions of such texts by analysing the constant recreating and re-narrating for various audiences. A key element will be the narrative selection employed by the preacher, the religious functions, and the concepts of fact and fiction in the process of reception. This research will further reflect on whether and how the examination of oral but text-based contemporary narratives may shed light on the possible function and reception of rnam thar in earlier periods within Tibetan history and which textual sources we may use. In conclusion this paper suggests how such an approach can help to a more general understanding of the Tibetan spiritual biography and Buddhist hagiography.


Reincarnation Perception of Buddhist Women in Two Confusing Narratives

Tsai, Shu-Hui (Taipei, TWN)

The Buddha's teachings developed and spread with the help of both oral and literary traditions. The process involved original accounts, recording, editing, translation, revision, redaction, and sometimes recreation. When Sanskrit or Pāli texts were translated into Chinese, to mention just one example, the translators needed to be familiar with two very different languages. The translators’ interpretations also influenced how the texts developed and transformed.

According to a narrative text of the Taisho Tripitaka, there was a king named Prasenajit, married to queen Mallikā. They had a daughter named Śrīmālā. She was an exemplum. The Śrīmālā sutra described her ten wishes to be a Buddha.

But the Tipitaka and the Pali Canon record only the king Prasenajit and queen Mallikā. Mallikā is also named Śrīmālā. The texts does not mention the wise daughter.

In the Taisho Tripitaka Śrīmālā is very active. But in the Tipitaka and the Pali Canon she is fiction. I will expound these confusing narratives as the first example.

The second example comes from the Tipitaka, Anguttara-nikaya (The Book of Gradual Sayings), Khuddaka-nikaya (Minor Anthologies), and Theri-gatha (Verses of the Elder Nuns), regarding the story of Pazhajiala and Utpalavarṇā. The plot is similar, so it is easy to make mistakes. I will state the confusing plot clearly.

Although these female practitioners have different qualities, the images portrayed are all positive. The reason is that they broke through the limitations of their lives by learning the Buddhadharma.  In modern psychology, narrative therapy has been shown to be very helpful for certain types of patients. Because the stories of Buddhist practitioners are attractive, they are retold time and again, and, as a result, the retellings are subject to change

The process of constructing the stories of these female practitioners involves the consideration of many stages: their origination, recording, transcription, interpretation, translation, and revision. From the perspective of religious literature, the texts include examples of moral anecdotes, brief or extended, real or fictitious, which are used to illustrate a point, By reconstructing these narrative texts from a literary point of view and pointing out the ways in which the texts changed, we can understand more about how the Buddha taught women the path to liberatation and reflect on the relevance of the teachings in our own lives.


The Story of the Nāgas' Surrender to King Aśoka: An Investigation into the Source of the Seventy-third Chapter of the Bodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā

Yamasaki, Kazuho (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Yokohama, JPN)

Kṣemendra (ca. 990 – 1077) is the author of a Buddhist narrative, the Bodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā divided into 108 chapters (pallavas), of which the seventy-third chapter is devoted to relating a unique and interesting story concerning the surrender of the nāgas to King Aśoka. Three text versions of this story are extant: one in a Tibetan translation from a Sanskrit original, the Mya ngan med pa’i sgo nas klu btul ba’i le’u (Aśokamukhanāgavinayapariccheda), and two in Chinese texts, the Tiānzūnshuō āyùwáng pìyù jīng 天尊説阿育王譬喩經 (T#2044) and the Zá pìyù jīng 雑譬喩經 (T#205). A brief summary of the Tibetan version was given by Adelheid METTE in “Zur tibetischen Überlieferung der Aśokalegende,” ZDMG Suppl. Bd. 7 (1985): 299–307. The present paper, taking into consideration the Tibetan and Chinese versions, will attempt to investigate the immediate source of Kṣemendra’s version.

Kṣemendra’s version consists of twenty-eight stanzas written in a highly-polished kāvya style. The narrative elements constituting it can be classified into three types: (a) narrative elements which are found in all versions, such as making statues of Aśoka and the nāga-king; (b) elements found in both the Kṣemendra and the Tibetan versions, such as the nāgas’ attack on a ship carrying treasures, and Aśoka sending a copper-plate engraved letter to the nāgas; and (c) those which are peculiar to Kṣemendra’s version only, such as Upagupta’s sermon in Pāṭaliputra.

A detailed analysis of the type (c) narrative elements indicates that it is plausible that these narrative elements were not due to Kṣemendra’s embellishments, but were adopted from the source text he used, and that the source text, which is no longer extant, may have been closest to the Tibetan version. 


IABS 2014 | Universitätsring 1  | 1010 Wien