2011 Seminars

2011 Seminar Series







Peter Jackson, ANU

State-Sponsored to Market-Based: Buddhism as Commodity and the Rise of Magic in 21st Century Thailand

Throughout its history in Thailand, Theravada Buddhism has had an intimate relationship with the state. In the late 19th and early- to mid-20th centuries — first under the absolute monarchy and then, after the 1932 revolution, under elected governments — the state sponsored a modernist vision of Thai Buddhism as a rationally based religion linked to various projects of expanding mass education and promoting constitutional government and economic development. At three key junctures across the 20th century, the state imposed new secular bureaucratic structures upon the sangha, showing the importance that political leaders placed on harnessing the Buddhist monkhood to state-defined projects. However, since the early 1990s, and increasingly so since the turn of the millennium, the Thai state has shown growing disinterest in orchestrating the national structure of Buddhism, retreating from its historical role as sponsor of the religion and guarantor of the moral purity, and hence sanctity, of the monkhood. At the same time, the Thai economy has continued to grow rapidly and consumerist lifestyles have become the norm for large sections of the population. Thai Buddhism has continued to thrive and — at least in material terms — prosper across this two-decade period of dramatic social and economic transition. However, in the 21st century the modernist vision of Buddhism as a rational, even scientific, doctrine has been increasingly challenged by the rise of highly commodified practices linked to a range of supernatural beliefs that have only a tangential relationship to doctrinal Theravada Buddhism. In this paper I consider the rise of magically inflected commodified forms of Buddhist ritual practice and belief in early 21st century Thailand, and reflect on the challenges that this phenomenon poses for Thai Buddhists who continue to see their religion in more “traditional” doctrinal terms.



John McRae, Stanford

New evidence for the life and thought of Bodhidharma, founder of Chinese Zen

It has long been known that the hagiography of Bodhidharma (d. ca. 530), the putative founder of Chinese Chán or Zen Buddhism, evolved radically over time. Indeed, the incredible fluidity of that hagiography has led at least one scholar to suggest that there is no discernable beginning point to the process of legendary fabrication, and that there are no kernels of biographical truth that might be derived from the earliest sources.

In this presentation I will re-evaluate the earliest evidence for Bodhidharma’s religious identity and thought. It turns out that looking closely and with a fresh perspective at the earliest sources allows us to make important inferences regarding Bodhidharma’s historical contributions and those of his immediate disciples. In the process, we will answer the questions of whether Bodhidharma came from Central Asia or southern India, how two of his most important successors both lost a hand to amputation, and how the core philosophical structure of the Two Entrances and Four Practices (the only text potentially attributable to Bodhidharma) relates to contemporary Chinese Buddhist thought and the eventual growth of Chinese Chán/Zen.



Mark Allon, USYD

An anthology of discourses of the Buddha (sūtras) from ancient Gandhāra (Afghanistan/Pakistan)

The Senior Gāndhārī/Kharoṣṭhī manuscript collection includes two scrolls (RS 7 + 8) that contain a single list of 55 texts. In this paper this list of texts, its likely function, the nature of the entries and problems in interpreting them will be discussed.



Ian McCrabb, USYD

Gandhāran Reliquary Inscriptions

The formulaic nature of Gandhāran reliquary inscriptions has provided a foundation for the design of a comprehensive metadata model and the piloting of an applied philological methodology for the analysis of the patterns observed in inscription metadata.

Modeling of the themes of ‘ritual practice’ and ‘identification and instantiation’ have exposed a narrative strategy of relic provenance, a literal and literary meme ‘of the Buddha’, which segues into a narrative of relic transformation. This ritual strategy identifies the relics of the historical Buddha with the attributes and qualities of the dharma body of the Buddha. A transformative miracle effected by a liturgy of evocation, the ritual articulation of the qualities and attainments of the Buddha, pervades the relics with the attainments of the Buddha in what would seem to be indicative of a ritual and functional equivalence rather than an ontological sameness.



Blair Silverlock, USYD

A Gāndhārī version of the Cūḷagosiṅga-sutta

Scroll number 12 from the Senior Collection of Kharoṣṭhī manuscripts (RS 12) contains a Gāndhārī sūtra which has parallels in the Pāli Majjhima-nikaya (MN) and the Chinese 中阿含經 (zhōng āhánjīng), the Madhyamāgama (MĀ). The Pāli parallel is the Cūḷagosiṅga-sutta (MN 31) and the Chinese parallel, 午角娑羅林紙經 (wǔ jiǎo suō lín zhǐ jīng; MĀ 185). Partial parallels are also found in the Upakkilesa-sutta (MN 128) and in the Chinese 增壹阿含經 (zěngyī āhánjīng) the Ekottarika-āgama (EĀ 185). The sūtra deals especially with the Buddha’s visit to a group of monks, headed by Aṇarudha (in Pāli, Anuruddha), who are characterised as living in harmony. The sūtra outlines both their external conduct with each other, as well as the accomplishments of their meditation practice. The episode also has a parallel in the Mahāvagga of the Theravāda vinaya (Vin. I 350-2), where the good practices of Anuruddha’s group of monks are contrasted with a group of monks living in discord. RS 12 is one of four sūtras present in the Senior Collection with MN/MĀ parallels (RS 1+3, RS 4 and RS 10). In this paper the Gāndhārī Cūḷagosiṅga-sutta will be discussed in detail and its relationship to the Pāli and Chinese versions revealed. Some general observations will also be given regarding the text’s relationship with the other MN/MĀ Gāndhārī texts.



Adrian Snodgrass, UWS

How empty is form? How empty is emptiness?

The Heart Sutra, translated into Chinese from the Sanskrit by Hsüan-tsang in the T’ang dynasty, is one of the most basic and influential texts in the Far East. Its teaching is summed up in the famous formula, ‘Form is Emptiness; Emptiness is Form’, which has had an enduring influence on European writings on the Mahayana. A close analysis of the Chinese characters inscribing the formula, however, indicates that they carry nuances of meaning that differ greatly from those conveyed by the English words. A large hermeneutical literature in both Chinese and Japanese gives various interpretations of the characters, and these interpretations have formed the foundations of the teachings and practices of several Buddhist sects, and particularly those of the T’ien T’ai (J. Tendai). By reference to this literature, this presentation aims to give some slight insight into the inadequacies of the English rendering of the Heart Sutra formula.



Andrew McGarrity, USYD

Mādhyamikas and the Moral Self

This paper explores occasions in which Mādhyamikas such as Nāgārjuna, Āryadeva and Candrakīrti advocate the expedience of positing a self. Drawing upon earlier Buddhist critiques of nihilism (ucchedavāda), they posit what might be termed a ‘moral self’, specifically to counter the view of the Materialists. They do so in order to ensure moral responsibility for actions and their consequences, even if the ‘shorter term’ benefits of such a self are later seen to be outweighed by its eventual ‘longer term’ shortcomings, thus necessitating the teaching of ‘no-self’. Rather than being an ontological claim, this expedient usage of selfhood – or perhaps more in modern scholarly parlance ‘personhood’ – is advocated purely for the sake of providing a basic moral orientation and a personal narrative in which to situate this orientation. Drawing upon contributions toward the theorization of Buddhist ethics made by Damien Keown, Georges Dreyfus, Mark Siderits and Charles Goodman, this paper will explore some of the ethical implications of this strategy. In particular, I will suggest that it holds some resonance with a stream of Western thought, associated with such thinkers as Charles Taylor and Iris Murdoch, which has sought to restore an ‘ethics of virtue’ as a counter to scientifically influenced reductive analyses that reduce issues of moral personhood to the bare existence or non-existence of a detached ontological subject. Such comparison will also serve as a reminder to recall the necessarily premodern context in which Madhyamaka thought operates, especially when it comes to notions of the Good. For while perhaps at first glance appearing to have more in common with the sort of reductive analyses that Taylor et al criticize, I will argue that in fact the very rigor of the Madhyamaka metaphysical critique is actually what allows for the restoration of this ‘moral self’ or ‘person’ purely as a site for the cultivation of virtues.



Chang Tzu, USYD

The employment and significance of the Sadaprarudita’s Jataka story in different Buddhist traditions

The jataka story of the Bodhisattva Sadaprarudita (literally meaning “Ever Weeping”), the most well known version of which is found in the Astasahasrika prajñaparamita sutra, is an interesting story that has been used in different ways in various Buddhist traditions that flourished in India, Central Asia, China and Tibet. For example, the story is quoted and discussed in quite a few commentarial works in Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan and it is found in the Prasannapada by Candrakirti, the Siksasamuccaya by Santideva, and the works attributed to Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa, Rechungpa, Tsongkhapa. In some works Sadaprarudita is presented as the paragon of one who searches for pajñaparamita, and in others he is the model for those who desire to serve their gurus. In China, moreover, during the early stage of the Pure Land tradition, Sadaprarudita was regarded as the preeminent exemplar of one practicing buddhasmrti (recalling the Buddha). This paper will examine the story of Sadaprarudita as it is preserved in different sources, and will address its significance and the possible reasons for its employment.



Tamara Ditrich, USYD

Smr̥ti in the Yogasūtra: memory or mindfulness?

Many contemporary teachers and practitioners of Yoga, particularly those in the West, actively practice or at least have some experience in Buddhist meditation and often aim to integrate various aspects of the two spiritual practices. One of the key concepts in most Buddhist meditative traditions is mindfulness (Pali sati, Sanskrit smr̥ti), which has a very prominent role in all traditional and modern Buddhist texts on meditative practices. With the spread of Buddhist meditative techniques across the world the practice of mindfulness has been lately introduced in various environments—as a means to liberation, as a therapeutic tool, as a relaxation technique etc. The practice of mindfulness is also often incorporated in contemporary Yogic schools, with a particular emphasis on awareness of the body processes. Is the integration of mindfulness and Yoga a relatively new phenomenon or is it perhaps an ancient one, found already in old Indian texts on Yoga, as component of Yogic practices?

The lecture will explore this question through the study of the Sanskrit concept smr̥ti in the oldest recorded text on Yoga, the Yogasūtra of Patañjali. The word smr̥ti is usually translated in English as “memory” or “remembering”. The lecture will seek an alternative interpretation of this term and discuss whether smr̥ti could signify mindfulness. This would imply that in the time of Patañjali mindfulness was already a component in ancient Yogic practice. All passages from the Yogasūtra containing the term smr̥ti will be analysed and the most important commentarial literature on those passages will be discussed. The lecture will explore whether a new interpretation of the Yogasūtra is possible, and thus a new link between Buddhist and Yogic practices—i.e. the concept of mindfulness—can be found already in the oldest recorded text on Yoga.



Adrian Snodgrass, UWS

With a Single Sound and a Snap of the Fingers: Awakening the Buddha by Surprise

The Heart Sutra encapsulates the teachings contained in the Prajñā-pāramitā Sūtras. This presentation attempts to indicate the meaning of the word ‘heart’ in the title of the sutra by examining the mantra that concludes the sutra. It does this by reference to doctrines concerning seed syllables and the meanings traditionally ascribed the syllables of the Sanskrit alphabet and in particular the Syllable A. It then outlines the importance the recitation of mantras plays in the Mahāyāna, and concludes by an exegesis of the last word of the Heart Sutra mantra and of the whole Sutra, namely svāhā, which relates to doctrines concerning the achievement of Buddha Awakening by means of surprise.



Reading seminar

Discussion on the two articles “Shaven Heads and Loose Hair: Buddhist Reflections on Sexuality” and “Candrakīrti on the Medieval Military Culture of South India” by Karen Lang.



Judith Snodgrass, UWS

The World’s Parliament of Religions revisited: Japan’s contribution to modern global Buddhism

This is a test run of the paper I have been invited to present at a workshop on Modern Buddhism at the International Research Centre for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, in October this year. It revisits the presentation of Eastern Buddhism by the Japanese delegation in Chicago 1893 and their introduction of distinctively Mahayana Buddhist concepts to the Western discourse. While the Parliament has a well-established place in the history of modern Buddhism, this is largely because of the history of Zen in the West. The standard narrative therefore focuses on the one paper presented by Rinzai Zen master, Shaku Soen, its impact on American philosopher, Paul Carus, which in turn opened the way for D T Suzuki’s long and influential career in the formation of Western Zen. Important as it is, this is only one stand of a much more complex encounter. It was not Zen the delegation planned to present but the more encompassing Eastern Buddhism, and the features of Eastern Buddhism they attempted to convey have remarkable resonance with the characteristics of modern global Buddhism as we now know it. We know, however, from histories of Buddhist modernity such as David McMahan’s recent work, that the connection is far from direct. The aim of the paper is not, therefore, to claim priority for the delegation, but to reflect on the discursive processes at work in the formation of modern Buddhism.

Apologies to anyone who has read my book Presenting Japanese Buddhism to the West: Orientalism, Occidentalism and the Columbian Exposition, (University of North Carolina Press, 2003). There are definitely overlaps. The material is, however, revisited in the light of recent work.



Wendi Adamek, USYD

Practicescape at Baoshan

The site known as Baoshan (Treasure Mountain) in Henan reveals a complex web of practices, connecting images and texts, male and female and lay and ordained practitioners, humans and non-humans. Presenting the site through carved images and memorial inscriptions from the sixth and seventh centuries, Dr. Adamek traces lines of movement that connect the devotional constructions of the site. Drawing from Timothy Ingold’s notion of environment as a networked “taskscape,” she discusses Baoshan as a “practicescape,” a reinscription of the environment in Buddhist terms. The intersecting concepts of practice, escape, and landscape provide a lens through which to examine the aspirations and activities that structured the practitioners’ lives.



David Templeman, Monash

“Which Buddhism?” India’s Buddhist Past According to Tibetan Needs

Buddhism possesses a largely hazy history in India. What we imagine archaeology and textual analysis has demonstrated satisfactorily is in a constant state of revision and how Buddhism appeared ‘on the ground’ often seems to bear little relation to what texts and monuments tell us. The 17th century Tibetan Lama Tāranātha offers us an interesting example of how Buddhism may be recreated or revised according to one’s own requirements.

In this paper I will demonstrate the process by means of which this happened in the 17th century, Tibet’s most turbulent period. The times were marked by the demise of ancient Tibetan families and their important patronage for Buddhism, the looming of civil war, the continued input into Tibet of Indian religious figures and the effective end of pilgrimage to Buddhism’s holy sites in India. In these uncertain times the young Tāranātha was faced with a choice: either remain a precocious yet insignificant monk or find an effective means of becoming a holder of a new and potentially attractive form of Buddhism which would secure him a safe and elevated position.

The paper will discuss the manner in which Tāranātha ‘re-constituted’ Indian Buddhism in this extremely late period, how he focussed on certain aspects and not others and will offer first-time analyses of several of the texts he claimed were the very latest tantric technology from an India in which Buddhism was still alive.



Bhante Sujato, Santi Forest Monastery

The Insatiable Desires Of Women. An Unexpected Twist On A Story-Telling Trope In Buddhist Jataka Stories

Indian folk-tales commonly feature the motif of the dohala: the unreasonable, unstoppable cravings of a pregnant woman. When a woman expresses her wish, the man has no choice but to obey.

One might expect that, within the patriarchal context of Indic and especially Buddhist literature, such desires would be seen as evidence of the base and irrational nature of women. And this is indeed how the topic has been treated in Western studies of the motif.

However, there is a cycle of about 19 stories in tha Pali Jataka collection that show dohala in a strikingly different light. For these stories, the woman’s irrational desire, often arising from a dream vision, is the motivation for the man to overcome his boundaries and find a higher path. The outcome of these dohalas, when they succeed, is abundance and transcendence. It is this form of dohala that the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya attributes to Maya before she conceives the Buddha.



Adrian Snodgrass, UWS

Role Reversals in Buddhist Rituals

The process whereby Buddhism assimilated the Hindu gods and goddesses has been well documented. This process, however, was not merely one of absorbing these deities into the Buddhist pantheon to act as guardians of the Dharma. There are other layers of assimilation that perhaps are not so familiar. In Buddhist rituals involving Hindu divinities there is a recurrent theme of the reversal of the roles played by benign and malignant beings in the Hindu epics. In Buddhist rituals of subjugation evil demons are invoked to subjugate the very same gods and goddesses who the epics record as having conquered them. Another characteristic of the Buddhist rituals is the frequent recourse to the rhetoric of armed conflict and violent confrontation in thename of conquering non-Buddhist systems of belief. These themes are developed by reference to the Sanskrit mantras and seed syllables used in rituals of subjugation (kōfukuhō) practised in the Shingon School of Japanese Buddhism.



Peter Friedlander, La Trobe

Conflict and Peace in Buddhism

This paper examines Buddhist involvement in war and the apparent paradox inherent in this if Buddhism is seen as a world renouncing pacifist religion. I will look at Buddhist teachings on the sources of conflict and methods for conflict resolution in Buddhism. However, I will argue that whilst inner peace in the monastic community is to be maintained by acceptance of spiritual authority, in the secular state Buddhism has also always sanctioned the exercise of state power, including violence, or the threat of violence, in order to maintain peace in the world. In order to illustrate this I will explore Indian Buddhist models for the state and the sangha and how as Buddhism spread from India into East Asia the idea of Buddhist support for the state was influenced by its interaction with East Asian notions of kingship. I will conclude by exploring Buddhist involvement in wars in Sri Lanka, China, Korea and Japanese and this relates to contemporary Buddhist Peace Movements.