2014 Seminars

2014 Seminar Series







Bhante Sujato

SuttaCentral: Early Buddhist texts, translations and parallels

SuttaCentral is a website that has been built and maintained over the past ten years by a mainly Australian group of Buddhist scholars, monks and IT geeks. For many years it served as the primary web service for checking parallels between early Buddhist texts. Beginning in 2013, the site has been completely rewritten and vastly expanded in its scope and now includes many original texts and as well as translations in multiple modern languages.

This presentation will focus on what has been achieved with SuttaCentral and what still remains to be done, and will discuss implications for the field of digital humanities in Buddhist studies, covering such areas as: scholarly method; design/typography; copyright; the underlying technologies; the nature of collaboration in Buddhism; and most importantly, how future generations will be reading and studying early Buddhist texts.



Judith Snodgrass, UWS

Beyond Zen: Engaged Buddhism in 1920s Japan

Though we have moved beyond the assumption that engaged Buddhism was somehow distinctively Western, most studies have been of recent and contemporary movements. This paper extends the history of engaged Buddhism in time and place with an account of the Far Eastern Buddhist Conference, Tokyo, November 1925. This was a major public event, attended by over 3,000 people, including reform monks from China, Korea and Japan. The conference proceedings mapped out an extensive agenda for social and political reform in Asia and in the world at large. The vision was for action beyond philanthropy; Buddhist social action at this level required structural change and political engagement.

The title of the paper is a reference to the fact that one of the ironies of the absence of Western knowledge of this significant aspect of Japanese Buddhism is that the images of Zen as the essence of Japanese Buddhism, a form of Buddhism characterized by its association with meditation, personal spiritual development, and cultural production – images that continue to dominate popular knowledge of Buddhism in Japan – emerged from this same movement of modern Buddhist social and political engagement.



Peter Friedlander, ANU

Debates over Rebirth in Buddhism: translating ideas across cultures

This paper looks at the issue of rebirth in Buddhism and contemporary debates about whether rebirth is an integral part of Buddhism. In particular, I investigate the ways in which beliefs about what happens after death are based on how individuals deal with the lived experience of the loss of loved ones. I start by surveying the varieties of beliefs about what happens after death in Buddhist cultures and in textual traditions. Following this, I consider the ways in which contemporary debates are framed in terms of whether rebirth forms a central part of Buddhist belief. I argue that there is a disjuncture between the lived experience of Buddhist cultures and the current debate over rebirth in Western Buddhism. In traditional Buddhist cultures, ideas about life after death are part of how communities deal with the actuality of death within their lives. However, the current Western debate about rebirth seeks to reframe discussions about life after death and translate them into the framework of individual soteriological paths to liberation.



Ulrich Timme Kragh, USYD

Textory and Chronotopes: The Philologist’s Three Senses of Historical Time

This paper will explore different ways in which scholars construct senses of the historical past when working with Buddhist texts. Examples will be drawn variously from the presenter’s existing scholarship on Gampopa Sonam Rinchen and twelfth-century Tibetan contemplative communities, the seventh-century Indian Madhyamaka philosopher Candrakirti, as well as tenth-century female Tantric Sanskrit authors from the Swat valley in NW Pakistan.



Ruth Gamble, ANU

The Karmapa Project: How the Karmapas Constructed their Reincarnation Institution

The Karmapa reincarnation lineage is the oldest extant reincarnation institution in Tibetan Buddhism. As such, it acted as a model for subsequent similar institutions. This presentation will show how the first three Karmapas mixed Tibetan social notions of inheritance with Buddhist ideas on reincarnation, and then presented this amalgamated tradition through the literary genres of biography and songs. It will also show how this amalgamation was made possible through the developing network of monasteries and sacred sites across Tibet, with which the successive reincarnations were understood to have a continuous link.



Jason Birch, Loyola Marymount University

Unpublished manuscript evidence for the practice of many āsanas in the 16-17th centuries

Many of the postures (āsana) of modern yoga are not mentioned in the well-known scriptures of Haṭhayoga, such as the Haṭhapradīpikā. This has led to recent claims that relatively few āsanas were practiced in traditional Hathayoga and those we see today are largely the invention of twentieth-century Indian gurus. In this seminar, these assertions will be assessed in the light of three unpublished manuscripts which contain long lists of āsanas. It is apparent that brief references to eighty-four āsanas in the early literature on Haṭhayoga were replaced by actual lists and descriptions of eight-four āsanas after the sixteenth century. During this time in the history of yoga, medieval yoga practices were synthesised with more orthodox Brahmanical literature including Pātañjalayoga.



Padmasiri de Silva, Monash

Managing the Hostility Triad: Anger, Disgust and Contempt

This paper will attempt to unravel the implications of the following insightful comment by psychologist Caroll Izard: “Disgust combined with anger can be very dangerous, since anger can motivate ‘attack’ and the desire to ‘get rid of’. Disgust like anger can be directed towards the self, and self-disgust can lower self-esteem and cause self-rejection…research with normal people and hospitalised patients has shown that inner directed anger and disgust are usually characteristic of depression”. Ten strands of the meaning of disgust will be analysed, with a central focus on self-disgust and healing the cracks in our lives. This will be supplemented by counselling experience.



Venerable Juewei, Nan Tien Institute

Parading the Buddha: Localising the Buddha’s Birthday Celebrations in China

Between 500 and 528, the emperor and his people held citywide parades in Luoyang to celebrate the Buddha’s birthday, showcasing over a thousand exquisite images, accompanied by Buddhist monks, performers and animals. Images, carriages and decorations—mostly in gold, jade and other precious materials—richly displayed the nation’s wealth. This talk will highlight the mutual acculturation process that resulted in the procession of foreign images and the important role of the Buddha’s birth story in enabling Buddhism to become a large organized movement in medieval China. The presentation will also examine how this festival in the resplendent capital of Luoyang changed the politics, relationships and religious imagination of the Northern Wei people.



Arlo Griffiths, EFEO

The Sanskrit Inscriptions of Arakan (Myanmar)

The earliest phase of the history of Arakan (or Rakhine, in Myanmar), between about the sixth and the tenth centuries, has to be written on the basis of inscriptions and related material such as coins, bearing texts in Sanskrit language. These show Arakan to be a part of the Buddhist world with strong ties to Southeastern Bengal (the Samataṭa and Harikela regions) and beyond this with the Buddhist communities of Northeastern India using Sanskrit as preferential medium of expression. A first batch of Arakan Sanskrit inscriptions was studied by E.H. Johnston and published posthumously in 1943. Since then, this field has been further explored mainly by P. Gutman in her unpublished doctoral thesis (1976), and during visits to Arakan over the following decades. In collaboration with this scholar, I am engaged in a comprehensive study of the Arakan Sanskrit corpus. The material is often in deplorable state of preservation, so that hardly any well-preserved text (other than short ye dharmāḥ inscriptions) can be added to the record compiled by Johnston. But even fragmentary material can throw new light on the past, especially when studied in combination with epigraphical and numismatic discoveries made in Southeast Bengal over the past half-century. The paper will present some the ‘new’ inscriptions, and discuss their salient features. The overall problem that I will attempt to address is the extent to which the Arakan corpus may be regarded as integral to the epigraphical and Buddhist culture of northeastern South Asia, or can be said to represent a specifically Arakanese cultural identity.