Riven by Lust

Riven by Lust: Incest and Schism in Indian Buddhist Legend and Historiography

Jonathan A. Silk
Copyright Date: 2009
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    Riven by Lust
    Book Description:

    Riven by Lust explores the tale of a man accused of causing the fundamental schism in early Indian Buddhism, but not before he has sex with his mother and kills his father. In tracing this Indian Buddhist Oedipal tale, Jonathan Silk follows it through texts in all of the major canonical languages of Buddhism, Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese, along the way noting parallels and contrasts with classical and medieval European stories such as the legend of the Oedipal Judas. Simultaneously, he investigates the psychological and anthropological understandings of the tale of mother-son incest in light of contemporary psychological and anthropological understandings of incest, with special attention to the question of why we consider it among the worst of crimes. In seeking to understand how the story worked in Indian texts and for Indian audiences—as well as how it might work for modern readers—this book has both horizontal and vertical dimensions, probing the place of the Oedipal in Indian culture, Buddhist and non-Buddhist, and simultaneously framing the Indian Oedipal within broader human concerns, thereby contributing to the study of the history of Buddhism, the transmission of narratives in the ancient world, and the fundamental nature of one aspect of human sexuality. Starting from a brief reference in a polemical treatise, Riven by Lust demonstrates that its authors borrowed and intentionally adapted a preexisting story of an Oedipal antihero. This recasting allowed them to calumniate their opponents in the strongest possible terms through the rhetoric of murder and incest. Silk draws on a wide variety of sources to demonstrate the range of thinking about incest in Indian Buddhist culture, thereby uncovering the strategies and working methods of the ancient polemicists. He argues that Indian Buddhists and Hindus, while occupying the same world for the most part, thought differently about fundamental issues such as incest, and hints at the consequent necessity of a reappraisal of our notions of the shape of the ancient cultural sphere they shared. Provocative and innovative, Riven by Lust is a paradigmatic analysis of a major theme of world mythology and a signal contribution to the study of the history of incest and comparative sexualities. It will attract readers interested in Buddhism, Indian studies, Asian studies, comparative culture, mythology, psychology, and the history of sexuality.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6417-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Technical Details and Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xviii)

    Our journey begins with a story—and I use the terms “narrative,” “story,” and “tale” more or less interchangeably, along with other words such as “account,” rather than employing them as strict technical terms of folklorisitics or literary studies. The story at the core of this experiment is one of a man who has sex with his mother and kills his father. For some—to cite Hillel entirely out of context—all the rest is commentary. Psychoanalytically minded readers may find my interest in historical detail both overwhelming and ultimately irrelevant in light of the deeper psychological truths in play...

  7. 1 Incest and Schism
    (pp. 1-11)

    This story from a nearly two-thousand-year-old Buddhist text, composed by Mahādeva’s sectarian rivals, continues by describing how, after rising to prominence, he preaches a heretical doctrine and thus forces a schism in the previously unified monastic community. When I first encountered it more than two decades ago, while fascinated I pigeonholed it for myself as a transparent attempt to dismiss an opponent and his teachings by vilifying him with a calumnious, ad hominem attack. But the story stayed with me. And as I continued to study it, it kept raising question after question in my mind: Where did it come...

  8. 2 The Creation of Sects in Early Buddhism
    (pp. 12-16)

    The particular stage upon which the drama of Mahādeva is set belongs to a crucial time in Indian Buddhist history. Buddhist legends tell us that during his lifetime the Buddha Śākyamuni established a monastic community, hissaṁgha, which has survived down to the present day. The members of this community—monks, and eventually nuns—were ordained directly by the Buddha himself and later by his immediate disciples, the Buddha remaining both de jure and de facto head of the community until his death. But even during the forty-five years of the Buddha’s teaching career, and certainly increasingly thereafter, the original...

  9. 3 The Story of Mahādeva
    (pp. 17-20)

    The most detailed and commonly cited account of Mahādeva and his contentious theses is contained in the Chinese translation of theVibhāṣā. While the theses themselves, summarized in Chapter 2, are expounded in an earlier Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma work, theJñānaprasthāna, upon which theVibhāṣāitself is a voluminous commentary, no Mahādeva is mentioned in that text or associated with the Five Theses.¹ TheVibhāṣā’s detailed background story can be divided into roughly two parts, the first being the life of Mahādeva before he entered the monkhood, the second consisting of his exploits as a schismatic monk. We will limit our...

  10. 4 The Buddhist Context of Sin
    (pp. 21-37)

    Almost everyone regards crimes such as the murder of one’s parents as terrible. But the Buddhist scholastic tradition goes further (as it often does, for it is nothing if not systematic), and speaks of a classification of five “sins of immediate retribution” (ānantarya-karma): killing one’s father, mother, or an arhat, drawing the blood of a buddha, and creating a schism in the monastic community. These are crimes so heinous that their inevitable karmic result of descent into hell takes place immediately and necessarily in the next life, rather than at some unspecified vague point in the future, as is usual...

  11. 5 Mahādeva in Other Sources
    (pp. 38-57)

    Given the importance of questions of sectarian identity and the legitimacy and orthodoxy of one’s own teachings and traditions, it is not surprising that a number of Indian Buddhist texts directly relate the story of Mahādeva and his Five Theses. Although not all of these texts may be considered “histories” as such, by organizing their presentations of Buddhist doctrines as they do, even the more programmatic treatises assume an implicit historical framework, which must therefore attract our attention. Equally important and interesting are those works that narrate the story without such a historical context.

    One of the basic questions I...

  12. 6 Schism Accounts in Buddhist Doxographies
    (pp. 58-63)

    Some versions of the Mahādeva story we have studied treat it as a tale, either uncontextualized or placed within an apparently unrelated narrative frame. At the same time, there exists a group of texts that recount a schism story squarely within a “historical” frame, without, however, attributing its instigation to Mahādeva. And although the character of the schismatic monk in these sources is touched upon only briefly, with no discussion of his life before ordination, there can be little doubt that the same fundamental episode lies behind these accounts as well. The earliest known version of such a historically framed...

  13. 7 The Story of Dharmaruci
    (pp. 64-75)

    I have argued that an originally and factually later intra-Mahāsāṁghika squabble was, in various sources, transferred and predated in such a way that at least one central name, that of Mahādeva, was applied to an entirely unrelated earlier dispute, that between the Sthaviras and the Mahāsāṁghikas. While this transference may have been due to some misinterpretation of internal Mahāsāṁghika dialectics, our understanding of this process does not yet include an appreciation of why and how the opponents of the Mahāsāṁghikas told and retold the story of Mahādeva. It is now possible to begin to approach these questions by examining the...

  14. 8 Abuse and Victimhood
    (pp. 76-81)

    Our appreciation of the morally ambiguous portrayal of Dharmaruci and its contrast with the comparatively monochromatic depiction of Mahādeva may be enriched by a more general consideration of the types of experiences these characters are depicted as having undergone. While it is necessary to try to understand these experiences in an Indian context, it may also prove valuable to approach them from a more generalized point of view. It is thus of some interest to note what contemporary specialists have to say regarding mothers who sexually abuse their sons. For long the accepted dogma was that such behavior was profoundly...

  15. 9 Persian Perversities
    (pp. 82-87)

    In its presentation of Mahādeva’s offenses, theVibhāṣāobjects explicitly only to the murders he committed, framing his crimes in terms of the five sins of immediate retribution. Yet at least for me, what is so striking in that context is not so much what the text says as what it does not say: while Mahādeva’s three murders are serious crimes, no doubt, theVibhāṣāgives no special emphasis to Mahādeva’s incest with his mother. Moreover, although there is a classification of transgressions “belonging to the same category” as the five sins of immediate retribution, but subsidiary to them, in...

  16. 10 The Bedtrick
    (pp. 88-99)

    At the outset of our discussion of theDharmarucy-avadāna, we observed the central moral ambiguity of the portrayal of Dharmaruci himself. Another crucial element in this dynamic is the difference in knowledge between Dharmaruci and his mother, the disparity between their respective awarenesses and capacities playing a major role in our evaluation of their moral and ethical culpabilities. Since Dharmaruci is led into an incestuous sexual relationship with his mother entirely without his knowledge, he must be judged less culpable than his mother, not only for all the normal reasons regarding intentional and unintentional action, but also from the perspective...

  17. 11 Retelling Dharmaruci’s Story
    (pp. 100-109)

    TheDharmarucy-avadānaof theBodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā(Wish-Granting Garland of Tales of the Bodhisattva), composed by the Kashmiri poet Kṣemendra in 1052 c.e., is a literary recasting of theDivyāvadāna’s story of Dharmaruci. While true to its model, this version presents some differences in emphasis and interpretation. Aside from its intrinsic interest and poetic value (lost, I am afraid, in my translation), this source may also be read as an interpretation of theDivyāvadānastory by an educated and knowledgeable Indian reader. Seen from this perspective, Kṣemendra’s understanding of theDivyāvadānastory becomes for us an invaluable supplement to that earlier source....

  18. 12 Dharmaruci in Other Sources
    (pp. 110-124)

    Kṣemendra’s telling of theDharmarucy-avadānain hisBodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā, being based directly on theDivyāvadāna, cannot be considered independent of it, no matter how the poet may have modified the narrative. But while Kṣemendra’s may be the only other known Sanskrit version of the story, this does not mean that Dharmaruci’s tale is otherwise absent from Indian Buddhist literature, most of which survives, if at all, only in Tibetan and Chinese translations. In fact, stories quite similar to that in theDharmarucy-avadāna—sometimes so close that we will have to say that they are the very same, although independently transmitted—appear...

  19. 13 Incest in Indian Buddhist Culture
    (pp. 125-136)

    The ways we read and understand the stories we have studied are guided, to some extent, by our expectations, by the ways in which we choose to classify them, whether we undertake such classification explicitly or not. We will naturally tend to contextualize our stories among others of similar type, according to the genres to which we have decided they belong. In this respect, we have probably, from a naive and commonsensical point of view, implicitly assumed that many of our stories here can be categorized as “Oedipal.”¹ But just how we define this category, and what we expect it...

  20. 14 The Story of Utpalavarṇā
    (pp. 137-163)

    It has now become clear that incest appears as an almost casual plot element in Indian Buddhist stories from time to time. There is, in addition, at least one relatively well-known story in which it appears as a central plot device.

    The tale of Utpalavarṇā (Pāli Uppalavaṇṇā) is contained in theVinayavibhaṅga(Vinaya Exegesis) of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya, with a significantly shorter parallel in the commentary to the TheravādaTherīgāthā(Verses of the Elder Nuns).¹ These two Buddhist versions differ from each other in some significant respects, not least of all in their relative degree of elaboration, but the story...

  21. 15 The “Indian Oedipus”
    (pp. 164-170)

    One of this study’s large-scale questions concerns the universality of the (or an) Oedipus complex, and whether and how Indian evidence might shed light on some debates of more general interest. In particular, how might such evidence suggest a modification of the architecture of any such complex? As one would imagine, the literature on the question of the universality of an Oedipus complex is huge.¹ Here I will pay special attention only to the case of ancient India, and in particular to its literary evidence, leaving aside psychoanalytic approaches to the question, including abstract studies of the Indian psyche and...

  22. 16 Joseph and the Wife of Potiphar
    (pp. 171-179)

    In citing what he sees as displaced expressions of intergenerational aggression, and with the aim of demonstrating the ubiquity of an Oedipus complex in classical Indian literature, Robert Goldman has suggested that a young man’s violence directed toward a superior figure is equivalent to the son’s aggression toward his father. He argued for this by equating the father with the guru and showing that gurus and fathers are often functionally equivalent, an uncontroversial suggestion only strengthened by the fact that in traditional Brahmanical society one’s primary teacher, one’s guru, was ideally one’s own father. Goldman, however, seems almost entirely concerned...

  23. 17 Further Dimensions of the Oedipal in India
    (pp. 180-188)

    Ramanujan’s proposals for mapping an “Indian Oedipus” certainly provide powerful tools for the analysis of this story type. And yet, pinning down a single type of Indian Oedipus, or even strictly delimiting the subcultural preference for a certain type of presentation, is a more complex proposition than the examples presented so far may suggest. Several peculiar cases, while not typical, demonstrate that rare patterns may exist, as we have seen in the preceding chapters. I have noted the absence of any prophecy from the Buddhist stories we have studied, a feature that significantly differentiates them from not only the Greek...

  24. 18 The Medieval European Oedipal Judas
    (pp. 189-201)

    Folklore is often spoken of as if it were universal. While any claim to genetic universality (of a Jungian variety, for example) is demonstrably untrue, there are nevertheless intriguing commonalities and striking parallels discoverable between traditions of widely disparate societies. Sometimes, of course, we can prove that similar stories from distant places are interdependent, that one relies on the other, or that they share an origin, and sometimes we may suspect a filiation even when we are not able to demonstrate it. But it is equally interesting when we can be certain that such parallel tales are historically entirely independent,...

  25. 19 Why Incest Taboos?
    (pp. 202-216)

    There are, naturally, many more comparative approaches to the incest themes in our texts than those I have been able to explore here. In world literatures, incest themes are well known and have been accorded considerable attention by scholars, at least since the time of the psychoanalyst Otto Rank early in the twentieth century.¹ The meaning and significance of these themes is not only occasionally unclear, but without exception always dependent on context. For instance, considering just the case of European literatures, after appearing in a number of ways in medieval literature,² most often in the service of dogmatic religious...

  26. 20 Forging Mahādeva
    (pp. 217-228)

    In the end, we return to two basic questions with which we began. The first is the question of what contribution our Indian Buddhist evidence makes to broader evaluations of Oedipal mythology and its patterns; the second is what we have learned about the process through which Indian Buddhist authors forged—in a dual sense—their story of the Oedipal criminal Mahādeva, and the results of that creation.

    In speaking of the contribution our Indian materials may make to comparative studies, I have argued most fundamentally for finer and more contextually sensitive subcultural distinctions than have heretofore usually been made...

  27. Notes
    (pp. 229-302)
  28. Glossary
    (pp. 303-304)
  29. Works Cited
    (pp. 305-334)
  30. Index
    (pp. 335-348)
  31. Back Matter
    (pp. 349-350)