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AAR Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA
November 23-26, 2019

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Buddhism Unit
Theme: Dharmic Aspirations, Poetic Conversations: Scenes of Ethical Instruction in Buddhist Literature
Guttorm Gundersen, Harvard University, Presiding
Tuesday - 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Hilton Bayfront-Sapphire 411B (Fourth Level)

This panel puts analyses of dialogues in Buddhist literature in conversation with one another in an effort to see how dialogues work to engage readers and affect them in ethically significant ways. Inspired by Mark Jordan's work on "scenes of instruction" in Christian ethics, each paper focuses not only on the contents of conversations, but also on the time, place, and circumstances of a dialogue to show how all that figures in inter-character relations may serve as both the means and the substance of Buddhist ethical teaching.
 We compare dialogues in Sanskrit, Pāli, Tibetan, and Chinese with the aim of accomplishing three goals: (1) drawing greater attention to the centrality of dialogues in Buddhist narrative-ethical literature; (2) clarifying what dialogic forms might do differently than their diegetic counterparts; and (3) illuminating some of the ways in which diegetic and dialogic forms work in tandem to prove mutually revelatory.

alexis brown, Harvard University
The Place of Context in the Rasavāhinī: Dialogue as a Vehicle for Transportation and a Site of Transformation

This paper begins with a claim made by Buddhaghosa, a fifth-century Buddhist scholar and commentator, that narrative is a way of knowing (pariyāya) because it furnishes the context necessary to fully understand a teaching. In other words, details regarding the “who,” “when,” “why,” and “where” of a teaching are central to comprehending the “what.” This paper will perform a close reading of two dialogical events in a Pāli narrative, the Rasavāhinī, in order to explore the ways in which the contours of dialogue can be ethically transformative for a reader. In particular, I argue that dialogue functions within narratives to transport the reader from the phenomenal world to a subjunctive “as-if” world, and this re-situation fundamentally changes the reader by providing a “structured whole” which makes religious realization possible.

Julie Regan, La Salle University
Erotic Scenes of Ethical Instruction in Aśvaghoṣa’s Saundarananda

Presentations of doctrine about how to end suffering may be convincing from a logical point of view yet difficult to implement in ordinary life. This paper will examine the way that dramatic scenes in Aśvaghoṣa’s second century CE Saundarananda illuminate Buddhist insight through dialogues that support and enhance traditional (monologic) forms of Buddhist teaching. The close reading of the erotic scenes between Nanda and Sundarī it provides (supported by Sanskrit poetics and research on the use of literary texts to inspire ethical reflection in Aśvaghoṣa’s courtly audience) demonstrates how the dialogue between the lovers relies on the aesthetic experience of pleasure (śṛṅgāra-rasa) to turn the mind to dharma. Far from being a mere device to entice readers, as these scenes of love and longing are often understood, this paper suggests that the extended erotic dialogue between Sundarī and Nanda ultimately contributes to a more complex picture of Buddhist truth.

Elizabeth Angowski, Earlham College
Representing Renunciation and Creating a Scene: The Suitor Dialogues in the Life of Yeshé Tsogyal

As a royal youth, the Tibetan princess Yeshé Tsogyal (8th cent.) experiences vehement opposition to her decision to renounce. Her early biography, the Life of Yeshé Tsogyal (Mtsho rgyal gyi rnam thar), composed by Drimé Künga (b. 1347) in the fourteenth century, dramatizes lengthy exchanges between her and her parents, siblings, court officials, friends, and suitors, and in doing so, it demonstrates the life- and relationship-altering effects that renunciation stands to have on all parties involved. Focusing on Yeshé Tsogyal's dialogues with one of her suitors, I ask how and when the erotic is engaged in the service of Dharmic pursuits, and I examine the work-like dimensions of these passages to propose a theory of how the reader, contrary to Yeshé Tsogyal's explicit pleas for solitude, is oriented to her as an intimate and the sole companion who can viably accompany her throughout the remainder of her spiritual trials.

Alan Wagner, Collège de France
Missing Persons: The Loss of Meaning in Édouard Chavannes’ Translations of Chinese Jātakas

Unlike their counterparts in Pāli, Buddhist jātakas preserved in Chinese have never been systematically translated; today they are known primarily through Édouard Chavannes’ (1865-1918) partial French translations, which for the most part excerpt only the core folktales found embedded in these texts. Inspired by Mark Jordan’s work on Christian narratives, here we look closely at what we have been missing from three chapters in Lives of the Buddha (生經, T154), and how our understanding changes when we associate these dialogues with the characters of Ciñca-mānavikā and Devadatta, and their personal histories across many lifetimes. This investigation will reveal multiple layers of ethical significance in these materials, which not only teach important lessons about karmic attachment and the thirst for vengeance, but also stand as early products of the debate over the Buddha’s bad karma (Walters), and thus make substantial claims about the nature of Buddhahood as well.

Maria Heim, Amherst College