2013 Seminars

2013 Seminar Series







Bhante Sujato

The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts

One of the primary aims of modern Buddhist scholarship has been to differentiate between early and later periods, in order to discover what the Buddha himself taught. Subsequent scholars have corrected, qualified, questioned, or even denied outright these findings.

However, I believe that some current strands of skeptical thought veer from reason towards denialism, undermining the possibility of a rational approach to the early texts. In response to this, Bhante Brahmali and myself have initiated a research project on the authenticity of the Early Buddhist texts. Our aim is to gather in one convenient place a list of all the evidence and arguments that have been adduced for (and against) the proposition that the Early Buddhist Texts were spoken by the Buddha. By doing so we hope to create a more informed understanding of the evidence. The purpose of this presentation is to introduce this project, survey some of our methods, and get feedback on our ides and further development.



Mark Allon, USYD

A Gāndhārī version of the Buddha’s Discourse on the Fruits of Living the Ascetic Life (Śrāmaṇyaphala-sūtra)

The Senior collection of Gandhāran Buddhist manuscripts includes a scroll which contains a Gāndhārī version of the introductory section of the Śrāmaṇyaphala-sūtra, the Buddha’s discourse to King Ajātaśatru on the benefits of living the ascetic or holy life. The appearance of a Gāndhārī version of this interesting and popular sūtra coincides with the appearance of a second Sanskrit witness of it, namely, that included in the new Dīrghāgama manuscript, which preliminary research indicates is similar to but not identical with the Sanskrit version found among the Gilgit manuscripts. We therefore now have Indic versions of the Śrāmaṇyaphala-sūtra in Gāndhārī (albeit incomplete), Pali, and Sanskrit, a Tibetan translation and four Chinese translations, which belong to a diversity of schools and originate from different times and places. Not surprisingly the Gāndhārī sūtra is not identical to any other version, but shows a complex relationship with them. In this paper I will discuss the Gāndhārī version of the sūtra and its relationship to the parallels in other languages, the possible reasons for its popularity, and the likely reasons for its inclusion in the Senior collection.



Martin Kovan, University of Melbourne

Thresholds of transcendence: Tibetan self-immolation, Western responses and the bodhisattvic path

As of March 1st 2013, 107 Tibetans (lay and monastic Buddhists) have self-immolated in protest at continuing Chinese persecution. What is less known is that a young English Tibetan Buddhist monk self-immolated last November in solidarity with them. The political nature of his act went unremarked by his monastic authority, and there has been no official recognition of his principled self-immolation. This raises a number of urgent questions for Western Buddhism and the self-representation of Buddhist social-political engagement, concerning the assumed parameters, rationales and scale of that engagement, in the Mahāyāna normative context of ‘alleviating the suffering of all sentient beings.’ This paper will consider the Tibetan and Western cases, some theoretical and ethical conditions of self-immolation in Buddhism, along with its current status in the ‘global repertoire of contention.’



Catherine Schuetze, ANU

Attitudes Toward Animals in Tibetan Buddhism

Catherine Schuetze explores the negotiations between ideology and pragmatism in medicine through a social history of attitudes towards animals in Tibetan medicine. More specifically, she looks at the conflict between Tibetan medicine’s pragmatic use of animals as medical ingredients (zootherapy) and its ideology of compassion and non-slaughter of sentient beings. The syncretisation of Buddhism with medicine resulted in a conflation of these traditions’ respective representations of animals within the same textual medical canon, even though they appear to be incongruent. The Tibetan medical tradition has negotiated these apparent contradictions through its relationship with its major institutional texts, the Four Tantras (rGyud bzhi), and its definitive commentary, the Blue Beryl (Baidurya sngon po). In this talk, the process of negotiation is analysed through the prism of the social ruptures that have affected the tradition, with an emphasis on the most recent and dramatic of these ruptures, the adjustment to the new socio-political environments of exile in India. Drawing from a situated textual analysis of the root medical texts as well as a series of interviews with traditional Tibetan medical practitioners living in exile, Dr. Schuetze examines the contemporary production of an “ahimsa” (non-harm) form of Tibetan medicine that has been developed as a replacement for zootherapeutics at the Men-Tsee-Khang Institute of Tibetan Medicine and Astrology in India.



Jackie Menzies (AGNSW), with Adrian and Judith Snodgrass (UWS)

Exhibiting Asian Art



Ian Mabbett, Monash

Understanding Buddhist History in Real Life: the Case of Ancient Andhra

The second and third centuries A.D. were a period of rapid change and growth in the history of Buddhism in the Deccan. The Sātavāhana dynasty had lost its territories in the north-west but held on to its dominion over major commercial and urbanized populations in the Andhra region, along the river Krishna. International trade flourished. Buddhism throve; the celebrated stūpa at Amarāvatī was a centre of pilgrimage, and the nearby city of Dhānyakaṭaka was home to many devout Buddhists. After the Sātavahanas collapsed, the riverine port cities of the Krishna came under the rule of minor but, for a while, prosperous kingdoms with various religious affiliations. Of particular note is Nāgārjunakoṇḍa under the Ikṣvākus in the third century, where major works of brahmanical devotion were sponsored by the men of the royal family, while the women promoted and inspired a wave of practical Buddhist devotion.

The paper will offer reflections upon the problems presented to the student of Buddhism during this period, especially the challenge posed by the variety of forms that Buddhism took and the new developments manifesting the birth of Mahāyāna.



Greg Bailey, La Trobe

Devotional Elements in the Sakkapañhasutta of the Dīghanikāya

The Sakkapañhasutta of the Dīghanikāya (2, 263-289) is one of the most interesting suttas in this collection as it contains a love story and a narrative expression of the development of a devotional relationship between Sakka, king of the gods, and the Buddha. At the climax of this narrative there is a concentration of technical terms and use of first and second person pronouns that recur in strongly devotional contexts in texts such as the Bhagavadgītā and many Purāṇas. The occurrence of verbs derived from das, payirupa/ās and vand and nouns such as a|ppaṭipuggalam, saṃbuddha and adjectives such as anuttara, in a set of stotra like verses (pp. 287-88) are found here at a point where the Buddha is seen conferring both material and spiritual benefits, and where Sakka must struggle even to get access to the Buddha.

In this paper I outline the narrative structure of the text and present the devotional process Sakka undergoes in order to develop an enlightening relationship with the Buddha. Then I will compare this with devotional attitudes in some avadānas and the Saddharmapuṇḍarika where the kind of intimacy between Sakka and Indra found in the Sakkapañhasutta seems to be absent. This is conceptually related to the idea of veneration associated with stūpa worship from the early centuries BCE onwards, but without having the intimacy demonstrated between the Buddha and Sakka and seemingly focussed more on the transfer of merit. Much of this mode of worship has to be inferred, though there are some indications of it both in literary texts and friezes on stūpa walls.



Venerable Huifeng, Fo Guang University

Chiasmic Structure in the Prajñāpāramitā

This study examines the early Prajñāpāramitā sūtras through the theory of “chiasmus”. Chiasmic methodology analyses a text into two parallel halves, identifying a complementary “prologue” and “conclusion”, and highlighting the critical “central point”. In this paper, it will be argued that the Prajñāpāramitā was initially composed as a complete chiasmic whole, rather than from accumulated fragmentary parts. Hermeneutically, the core message may be understood more systematically than earlier methods. It proposes “suchness” (tathatā) as the central theme, rather than “emptiness” (śūnyatā). Finally, this study will offer direction for uncovering other cases of chiasmus in early Mahāyāna and Buddhist literature in general, with examples.



Niluka Gunawardena, Griffith

Sensing Disability in Buddhism: A Reading Against the Grain

Popular Buddhist narratives and iconography abound with images of bad physicians who become blind or disfigured monks, lepers who put the Buddha in trouble, menstruating nuns who shame the Sangha and a perfect Tathagatha who embodies the 32 marks of moral perfection. “Dwarf” Arahants, overworked doctors, Vedic notions of pollution and Buddha’s chronic illnesses are often left out of the picture.

This presentation will explore themes surrounding constitutional, legal and normative paradigms of inclusion and exclusion embodied in and enforced by Buddhist hermeneutics of the body, karmic multi-life commentaries and hegemonic readings of the Vinaya (Buddhist Monastic Code). In the first section of my presentation, I will discuss the ideal of moral or virtuous bodies in Buddhism, including the Buddha’s body. In the second half, I will examine codes relating to bodies “out of order” in the Vinaya; particularly Mahavagga 1.39–1.71 and its attendant commentaries and sub-commentaries.



Malcolm David Eckel, USYD

‘Satisfaction Without Analysis’: Madhyamaka Views of Conventional Truth

The followers of Nāgārjuna were caricatured by their opponents as “the worst kind of nihilists (nāstika), with whom one should not speak or share living quarters”. How did Nāgārjuna’s followers respond to this insult? The answer to this question leads to a consideration of the central Madhyamaka concept of conventional truth. The history of this concept in India shows how Mādhyamikas responded to their critics by refining their view of reality. It also gives a distinctive glimpse into the appropriation of Madhyamaka tradition in Tibet, and it helps identify some of the subtle features of Mahāyāna rhetoric and ethics in the Buddhist world more generally.




Chiew Hui Ho, USYD

The empowerment of the laity in Tang China

From the early Tang period, lay Buddhists began to compile collections of Diamond Sutra tales. Unlike the apologetic concerns of earlier tales, these narratives reflect a period in which Buddhism had permeated medieval Chinese society, and portray lay devotees of the Diamond Sutra as empowered practitioners who experienced the efficacy of the sutra and gained access to wonders and powers traditionally associated with the monastic. This lay confidence is discernible from the writings of the tale compilers, who assumed responsibility for propagating Buddhism and articulated their understanding of the religion as they created the lore of the sutra.