Copyright Date: 2010
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    Book Description:

    This introductory work proposes a fresh take on the ancient Indian concept dharma. By unfolding how, even in its developments as "law" and custom, dharma participates in nuanced and multifarious understandings of the term that play out in India’s great spiritual traditions, the book offers insights into the innovative character of both Hindu and Buddhist usages of the concept. Alf Hiltebeitel, in an original approach to early Buddhist usages, explores how the Buddhist canon brought out different meanings of dharma. This is followed by an exposition of the hypothesis that most, if not all, of the Hindu law books flowered after the third-century BC emperor Asoka, a Buddhist, made dharma the guiding principle of an entire realm and culture. A discussion built around the author’s expertise on the Sanskrit epics shows how their narratives amplified the new Brahmanical norms and brought out the ethical dilemmas and spiritual teachings that arose from inquiry into dharma. A chapter on the tale of the Life of the Buddha considers the relation between dharma, moksa/nirvana (salvation), and bhakti (devotion). Here, Hiltebeitel ties together a thread that runs through the entire story, which is the Buddha’s tendency to present dharma as a kind of civil discourse. In this sense, dharma challenges people to think critically or at least more creatively about their ethical principles and the foundations of their own spiritual values. A closing chapter on dharma in the twenty-first century explores its new cachet in an era of globalization, its diasporic implications, its openings into American popular culture, some implications for women, and the questions it is still raising for modern India.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6063-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Editor’s Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Dharma and South Asian Spirituality
    (pp. 1-11)

    Readers, here are many of the terms I am going to use in this book ondharma, in Sanskrit and their Pāli variants (Sanskrit and Pāli are two of the major Indo-Aryan languages of classical South Asia). Starting with their Sanskrit forms, we havedharmaitself, meaning that which “holds,” or “upholds.” The classical termdharmaalso has a precursor in older Vedic Sanskrit, where you will find the formdhárman. Dhármancan be translated as “foundation,” in that a foundation is something that “holds.” Both derive from the verbal root √dhṛ, “to hold.” Among other Sanskrit terms you will...

  6. CHAPTER 2 King Aśoka’s Dhaṃma
    (pp. 12-18)

    Aśoka’s inscriptions were written in an early Prakrit, which includes a variety of regional Sanskrit-related Indo-Aryan languages, including Pāli. In Prakrit our basic term isdhaṃma. The edicts are among the first records we have of Indian alphabetic writing. They were apparently no longer readable by the end of the classical period.

    Aśoka was not just a king but an emperor, and he used his edicts to broadcast an imperial program. In using the termdhaṃma, Aśoka is familiar with its having some specific connotations. For one thing, he is perfectly clear in some inscriptions that he associates it with...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Vedic Dhárman and Dharma
    (pp. 19-33)

    TheRigvedais India’s oldest textual source and the fountainhead of Hinduism. It introduces the termdhárman, a precursor todharma. Beginning with theRigvedathis chapter will explore the earliest meanings ofdhármananddharmain the larger Veda or full Vedic “canon,” taking the discussion down roughly to the time of the Aśokan watershed. The termdhármanis far more common and loaded with meanings in theRigvedathan the termsdhármananddharmaare in subsequent Vedic texts, where they seem stripped of their Rigvedic depth and begin, in sparse and intermittent passages, to take on a...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Early Buddhism: Three Baskets of Dharma
    (pp. 34-59)

    This chapter will investigate Buddhist understandings ofdharmain the three baskets (piṭakas) of the early Buddhist canon, taking them as an intentional organization of three different understandings ofdharmadeveloped over time. The “three basket” division is not established until about the first century BCE, but it is anticipated in early references to monks who have mastered one or more of three areas of expertise: “those who maintain the Dhamma, the Vinaya, and the Lists of phenomena.” These three specializations lie, respectively, behind the “baskets” of the Sūtras (Suttas) or “Discourses,” the Vinaya or “Monastic Rule,” and the Abhidharma...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Classical Brahmanical Dharma
    (pp. 60-73)

    We now turn to the post-Vedic texts in which Brahmanicaldharmablossomed: thedharmasūtras, Manu, and the two Sanskrit epics. These texts open up the concept ofdharmafor what will come to be called Hinduism. If Indians recall the epics for their manner of relatingdharmato what is familiar in everyday lives, they tend to citeManu, often enough polemically, for its proverbial authority on particulars of traditional law. This chapter will foreground the legal meaning ofdharmaby often translating it as “law.”

    Since thedharmasūtrasandManuare named after authorities on law, we can refer...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Two Dharma Biographies? Rāma and Yudhiṣṭhira
    (pp. 74-88)

    The question mark in this chapter’s title looks ahead to chapter 10. There I will argue that our last classicaldharmatext, theBuddhacaritaor “Adventure of the Buddha,” offers a critical reading of both theMahābhārataand theRāmāyaṇa. As mentioned in chapter 1, where all three works were briefly summarized, Aśvaghoṣa, theBuddhacarita’s poet, was familiar with both epics. He portrays the Buddha as finding many ways to speak ofdharma, but one of the most important is that he uses theMahābhārata’s termmokṣadharma, “laws of salvation,” for the pursuit ofnirvāṇa. In brief, when the Buddha-to-be...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Two Dharma Biographies? Sītā and Draupadī
    (pp. 89-108)

    Turning to women anddharma, we continue to explore the relationship between narrative and norm. Brahmanical norms for women are set forth broadly through the concept ofstrīdharma, “law(s) for women” or “women’sdharma.” In many of our classical texts, these norms come with some version of an adage thatManu5.147–148 elaborates as follows:

    Even in their own homes, a female—whether she is a child, a young woman, or an old lady—should never carry out any task independently. As a child, she must remain under her father’s control; as a young woman, under her husband’s; and...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Dharma in the Bhagavad Gītā
    (pp. 109-123)

    TheBhagavad Gītāmakes a number of philosophical points, and no one would deny that it also deserves a reputation as a text aboutdharma. Yet it really says only a few things aboutdharmaper se. Most of its prominent references todharmaoccur in what I will call an informal ring structure: not a formal ring of the type appreciated by folklorists, where a text exhibits a self-conscious geometry of units and themes converging on a central nugget, but one that allows theGītāto be also about other things to whichdharmais kept pertinent through deepening...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Dharma and Bhakti
    (pp. 124-141)

    One of the results of making narrative central to our discussion of classical constructions ofdharmawas that we would inevitably be questioning not only the relation betweendharmaandmokṣa, as many have done, but that betweendharmaandbhakti. We have seen that the epics make bridges between these two concepts, notably in portraying the spirituality of women and warriors. And we have seen that theBhagavad Gītāmakes the relation betweendharmaandbhaktione of Kṛṣṇa’s “central” teachings and modes of “knowing.”

    Now, if we take the two epics andManuas roughly contemporary, the question...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Reimagining the Dharma Hero: The Adventure of the Buddha
    (pp. 142-163)

    Chapter 6 raised the possibility of viewing the epics’ portrayals of Rāma and Yudhiṣṭhira as moral biographies. We now come to a text that may do just that: Aśvaghoṣa’sBuddhacarita, “The Adventure of the Buddha,” which offers adharmabiography of a prince who becomes a Buddha. This chapter argues the following: (1) that Aśvaghoṣa’s likely first- or second-century CE date makes the question of his reading of the two Sanskrit epics “close” historically, and “critical” from his standpoint as a Buddhist who is reputed to have been a Brahmin convert; and (2) that he probably was familiar with both...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Dharma for the Twenty-first Century
    (pp. 164-172)

    Lately, the United States has become familiar withdharmawithin a suggestive meaning-spectrum. Jack Kerouac’sDharma Bumsdescribed the heyday of mid-twentieth-century America’s bohemian sages or Ṛṣis. The TV situation comedyDharma and Greg, now in reruns, is about a free-spirited woman in the person of Dharma (in fact, Dharmā was Aśoka’s mother’s name!) with a husband as straight as Rāma or Manu. The television seriesLostcontinues to depict the ominous dystopian “DHARMA (Department of Heuristics and Research on Material Applications) Initiative.” AndThe Dhamma Brothersdocumentary film now portrays the experiment of bringing Buddhist meditation sessions to prisoners...

  16. Glossary
    (pp. 173-176)
  17. Further Reading
    (pp. 177-182)
  18. Index
    (pp. 183-188)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 189-194)