2008 Seminars

2008 Seminar Series







Malcolm Voyce, Macquarie

The Vinaya and the Dharmasastra: Monastic Law and Legal Pluralism in Ancient India

An outline of the relationship between the Buddhist vinaya (the rules of Buddhist monks) and the Dharmasastra in ancient India. Purpose is to show that the vinaya should not be seen as a form of customary law, but as a wider system of jurisprudence linked to Dharmasastra principles and precepts. Demonstration that particular aspects of the vinaya and the legal relationship with the Dharmasastra are examples of the operation ‘legal pluralism’.



Patrick Olivelle, UT Austin

Aśvaghoṣa and Manu: The Socio-Political Context of the Debate on Dharma

This paper deals with the debate on Dharma, which is the central focus of Aśvaghoṣa’s Buddhacarita, within the social and political context of the Kushana period in north India. I attempt to locate Aśvaghoṣa’s work within the ongoing debate between Buddhist and Brahmanical scholars with regard to the proper Dharma, righteous kingship, and the right functioning of society after the Aśokan reforms and the contemporary reality of strong empires partial to Buddhism. In this context, I bring in evidence from the Dharmaśāstra of Manu, a text more or less contemporaneous with the Buddhacarita presenting the Brahmanical side of the debate.



Drasko Mitrikeski, USYD

Devotion, asceticism and philosophy in the ancient Indian monastic context: Nāgārjuna’s religious practices seen through the analysis of his hymns

Most Western studies of Nāgārjuna have approached his work from the point of view of doctrine or philosophy and are primarily concerned with logic and the critical analysis of his arguments and propositions. Hardly any attention has been given to the social setting of these texts and the contextualization of the doctrines articulated within both Nāgārjuna’s religious praxis and indeed within the wider context of the praxis of his religious community. This paper is primarily concerned with the relationship between Nāgārjuna’s doctrinal propositions and his religious praxis. In particular, the focus is on exposing how doctrine was transmitted and used in the religious environment in which he lived. Uncovering these relationships sheds light on Nāgārjuna’s religious life, his ritual praxis and symbolic universe.



Conversation session

Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India



Osmund Bopearachchi, French National Centre for Scientific Research

Numismatics and the earliest representations of Hindu divinities in India

The Rabatak inscription from Afghanistan solved many questions regarding the genealogy of the Kushan kings who were the successors of Kujula Kadphises. The recent discovery of a large coin hoard in Peshawar also throws new light on the chronology of the early Kushans. Further to new data on chronology of the early Kushans, this hoard also brought to light new evidence on the earliest depictions of Hindu gods, very particularly of Shiva, Brahma, Indra and Vishnu. The naked Shiva, without erect linga depicted on one of the series is modelled on the image of Heracles portrayed on the coins of Kujula Kadphises, grandfather of Vima Kadphises. However, the divinity depicted on this series is meant to be Shiva. He seems to be three-headed. The head on the left appears to be that of mrga (antelope) and the one on the right is human. What is more fascinating in this iconography is the trishula (trident) adorned with vajra (thunderbolt), parasu (blade axe), and cakra (wheel). We are in front of a syncretic deity, before the polarization and codification of symbols which take place at a later stage in the Hindu iconography where each god is equipped with stereotyped attributes. He has the kamanalu (water pot) of Brahma, vajra of Indra, and cakra of Vishnu. Much emphasis will be given in this talk to study hitherto unknown forms of syncretic deities in India. The new discoveries – most of them still unpublished – enable us to demonstrate the evolution of the iconography until their popularization.



Conversation session

The nature of ‘context’ in Buddhist studies

The following questions regarding ‘context’ will be discussed:
1) What are its limits?
2) How do we remain faithful to it?
3) How far can we analyze ideas independently of their context and in the light of other non-Buddhist systems of thought?
4) Should Buddhist concepts and ideas be part of a wider discourse in the humanities, especially philosophical developments? How so?
5) Is context sacrosanct? Or is a certain amount of decontextualising a necessary and vital part for undertaking new developments and seeing ideas in a new light?
6) How might Buddhist traditions themselves have discussed these issues? In what terms?



Andrew McGarrity, USYD

The Transmission of the Dharma from India to Tibet: The Case of Aryadeva’s Gradual Stages

Aryadeva’s Catuhsataka, a work only extant in Tibetan, records an early Madhyamika understanding of the Gradual Path according to which the practitioner first of all ‘rejects’ (literally, ‘turns back’) unmeritorious action, before then rejecting the misconception of the self, before finally rejecting ‘all views’. The verse in which this is outlined has by chance also been preserved in Sanskrit as quoted by Candrkirti in his Prasannapada. There, however, the final rejection is listed as being instead of ‘all things’ and not ‘all views’. This paper will investigate why this alteration may have occurred and what, more importantly, it suggests about the changing contexts in which Madhyamika thought was understood in India and subsequently in its later transmission to Tibet. So as to sketch some of the changes that took place, there will be a focus on three layers of interpretation:

(i) Candrakirti’s Indian analysis of the three rejections;
(ii) the assumptions opf the translator, sPa tshab Nyi ma ‘Grags; and
(iii) the Tibetan dGe lugs pa analysis of rGyal tshab.

It will be argued that the alteration reflects wider developments taking place in the later transmission of Buddhism to Tibet and the ascendency of Candrkirti’s analysis as the normative understanding of (Prasangika) Madhyamaka. It will be argued that the climactic rejection of ‘all things’ is altered to ‘all views’ due to the need to make Aryadeva’s less well-known three rejections conform to the later dominance of Candrakirti’s analysis. Specifically, Aryadeva’s original model is made by Tibetan translators and interpreters to correspond more smoothly to another early Madhyamika model of gradualism in which, first of all, the ‘self’, then ‘non-self’ and finally ‘neither self nor non-self’ is taught by the Buddha. Although this overlap may be implicit in Indian sources, it will be argued that its being explicitly drawn out is the work of later Tibetan translators and interpreters.



Adrian Snodgrass, UWS

The Matrix and Diamond World Mandalas in Shingon Buddhism



Conversation session

Recent scholarship in Buddhist studies

Topics for discussion include recent scholarship in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, reports of recent conferences, the UN Day of Vesak Celebration in Hanoi and the IABS conference in Atlanta.



Youngsook Pak, SOAS

Leading to Paradise: Buddhist Paintings of the late Koryŏ Period (13th-14th centuries)

For the prosperity and protection of his new dynasty, the founder Wang Kon proclaimed Buddhism as the national religion. Throughout the Koryŏ dynasty (918-1392) numerous Buddhist rituals were held. Such ceremonies provided divine means to prevent natural disasters, to repel foreign invaders, to promote personal well-being and to accumulate merit on behalf of their patrons. Though it is not certain, most of the extant Koryŏ Buddhist paintings date to the second half of the Koryŏ dynasty. They were executed using expensive pigments and materials such as gold and silk. The lecture will focus on the ritual function and the patrons of paintings of Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, in order to consider the nature of Buddhism and Buddhist belief in the later Koryŏ period.



Bhante Sujato, Santi Forest Monastery

Buddhist mythic perceptions of the feminine

With the revival of the bhikkhuni ordination in Theravada and Tibetan Buddhism, the story of the ordination of Mahapajapati, supposedly the first nun, has come under scrutiny like never before. Discussion has centred around the historicity or otherwise of the passage, or untangling the legal complexities of ordination procedure, while overlooking the fact that bhikkhunis appear as an episode within a larger framework of meaning: the life of the Buddha as spiritual exemplar. That life, even in the earliest sources, is constructed according to the classic canon of the Hero Myth. The Buddha’s myth, as the unifying narrative for the Buddhist populace, became a reservoir of projections, imaginings, and fears. Pre-Buddhist elements were incorporated especially in the Jatakas; the identification of characters in the Jatakas with persons associated with the Buddha reveals the attitudes of the redactors. Just as the Buddha’s myth freely absorbed the motifs of the Hero, Mahapajapati and other nuns adopted the symbols and associations of the Great Mother. Using comparative mythology, iconography, historical studies, and psychology, we can discern, underneath the rational, ethical narrative of the surface, currents of magic and taboo, of unconscious fears that remain largely unexamined within modernist Buddhism. A developmental model of attitudes towards femininity allows a richer understanding of how these ancient texts continue to inform and mould attitudes towards women’s spirituality within Buddhism today.



Malcolm Voyce, Macquarie

The violation of rules by Buddhist monks; ‘interdictions and transgressions’

In the rules Buddhist monks (Vinaya) there is frequent reference to ‘rule breakers’. One category of these ‘rule breakers’ is a group of monks which sought to ‘transgress’ the rules as a deliberate strategy of self development. This paper discusses these ‘rule breakers’ in light of the indications from Bataille, who argued that transgressions ‘suspends a taboo without suppressing it’ and that that ‘the suppression of a proscribed deed acts as a form of repression and social control.’ I take this indication from Bataille in the context of the role of sexual desire and the breach by monks and nuns of the rule against sexual intercourse. I also follow the indications from Bernard Faure that we should consider the performative function of the Vinaya and the significance of the regular recitation of the rules in fortnightly meetings. I conclude that the proper consideration of the role of sexual desire in Buddhism allows us to show that violations were institutional accepted within the framework of the rules. I also show that sexual experience could be seen as redemptive or as a proper path of spiritual development.



Glenys Eddy, USYD

The Kopan Experience: A Taste of Tibetan Buddhism at Kopan Monastery, Nepal

Kopan Monastery is on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal, and is affiliated with the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). It holds a ten-day introductory course, Introduction to Buddhism, several times a year for Westerners interested in learning about Buddhism. For some, participation in this course appears to add to their collection of travel experiences, while for others it is the beginning of their relationship with Tibetan Buddhism. Fieldwork undertaken for my doctoral thesis included participation in one of these courses in September 2004. Data collection and analysis for the thesis elucidated the nature of the exploration and commitment process undergone by Western religious seekers in two Western Buddhist contexts: Vipassana meditation in the tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw, and practitioners of the Gelugpa Tibetan FPMT. It further resulted in the outline of the experimental model of socialization into Buddhism, building on the earlier work of John Lofland and Norman Skonovd. Accordingly, this paper discusses: the role of the ten-day course in providing travelers and seekers access to the principles and practices of Tibetan Buddhism, the responses of these participants, and the implications of this data for understanding the early stage of Westerners’ engagement with Tibetan Buddhism.



Lydia Kieven, USYD

The Tantric doctrine in ancient East Java? A new interpretation of the symbolism of the Majapahit State Temple Candi Panataran (14th-15th century), based on its narrative reliefs and layout

The so-called Pendopo Terrace in the temple complex of Candi Panataran, supposed to have been the ‘state temple’ of Majapahit, is carved with reliefs, which obviously represent Panji stories. These stories about Prince Panji and his beloved as well as the scenes depicted on the bas-reliefs illustrate many erotic episodes and feature the subject of the union of male and female. I argue that the whole complex of Candi Panataran symbolizes a specific Tantric path with the union between male and female playing an essential role. The Panji stories form the introduction to this path which begins at the Pendopo Terrace in the entrance part of the temple. This new interpretation may open new insights into the religious concepts being expressed in religious art and architecture during the East Javanese period.



John Wu, USYD

Truth, Experience and Enlightenment in Longchenpa

The most prominent feature of the Dzogchen tradition in Tibet, which has no readily identifiable source in Indian Buddhism, is its belief in the existence of a primordial mind that is already enlightened from a timeless beginning. It is not the ordinary mind of discursive thoughts that waver between the two psychological poles of attraction and revulsion that characterise the unenlightened life of ordinary people. The first Tibetan thinker to develop Dzogchen into a philosophical system was Longchenpa, also known as Longchen Rabjam (1308-1363). In Longchenpa’s thought, primordial mind is postulated as the “basic space of being” itself. From the Western perspective, this beckons at the possibility of formulating a phenomenology of enlightenment which sees the essence of being as not problematic, but already perfected in the beginning. Intrinsic evil, for example, is not a possibility in Dzogchen. The criteria for arriving at this insight can only have a hermeneutic basis in the Tibetan Buddhist distinction between myong-ba and nyams, which both mean experience but with the latter emphasising “subjectivity”, and in the Tibetan practice of transforming nyams into rtogs, which is the non-dual realisation of enlightenment (see Janet Gyatso, 1999). In Dzogchen, nyams is possible in the first place because of the ceaseless manifestations of the primordial mind itself. Yet the assertion of this “truth” is only possible if the error of a misunderstood nyams is a real ane ever present possibility. To echo Heidegger, it can be said that primordial enlightenment actually takes part in the contested interplay between truth as disclosure and falsehood as concealment, such that the question of truth in experience comes to the fore. This philosophical problem will be examined in light of Longchenpa’s insights into the indeterminacy of experience in the Tibetan understanding of religious truth.