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Text as Father

Text as Father: Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature

Alan Cole
Series: Buddhisms
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 369
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  • Book Info
    Text as Father
    Book Description:

    This beautifully written work sheds new light on the origins and nature of Mahayana Buddhism with close readings of four well-known texts-the Lotus Sutra, Diamond Sutra, Tathagatagarbha Sutra, and Vimalakirtinirdesa.Treating these sutras as literary works rather than as straightforward philosophic or doctrinal treatises, Alan Cole argues that these writings were carefully sculpted to undermine traditional monastic Buddhism and to gain legitimacy and authority for Mahayana Buddhism as it was veering away from Buddhism's older oral and institutional forms. His sophisticated and sustained analysis of the narrative structures and seductive literary strategies used in these sutras suggests that they were specifically written to encourage devotion to the written word instead of other forms of authority, be they human, institutional, or iconic.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93140-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    In the curious space of arguments before the arguments, let me introduce this book by acknowledging that some readers might at first find it strange: What could “text as father” mean, and what do fathers have to do with Buddhism in the first place? The suitability of this topic will become clearer in the course of these chapters, but let me promise here at the outset that sifting through early Mahāyāna Buddhist sūtras leaves little doubt about how important textually produced paternal figures were for organizing authority and legitimacy, in at least a portion of these texts. What is crucial...

  5. 1 Text as Father
    (pp. 25-47)

    Though Buddhism was constructed around the act of “leaving the family,” the motif of paternity is actually quite prominent in Buddhist discourse. In the early literature of the Mahāyāna, the so-called Great Vehicle of Buddhism that arose several hundred years after Buddhism was founded, fathers of various sorts, familial, monastic, and ontological, are arguably even more in evidence. What this book seeks to do is give close readings of four of these early Mahāyāna texts to point out how these patriarchal rhetorics work, especially vis-à-vis the textuality that housed them, and then to begin to sketch a kind of literary...

  6. 2 Who’s Your Daddy Now? Reissued Paternity in the Lotus Sūtra
    (pp. 48-98)

    One of the most striking things about theLotus Sūtrais its sophisticated use of father-son motifs to explain its own identity and then to insert itself as the defining element in creating a new identity for the reader and his relationship to the Buddhist tradition.¹ The brilliance of the text lies in the way that it is designed as a pivot that achieves its own legitimation by offering legitimacy to the reader. Thus there is a formal mimesis between the text and the reader, both of whom are given their fathers in the reading event, and it is precisely...

  7. 3 The Domino Effect: Everyone and His Brother Convert to the Lotus Sūtra
    (pp. 99-159)

    While the first chapter of theLotus Sūtradeveloped an image of its legitimate history through doubling itself in order to explain its birth at the end of the lineage of the twenty thousand buddhas, the chapters that follow prove the efficacy, and fertility, of the “text” on various internal audiences. In particular, chapters 2 through 6 create several layers of audiences that seem designed to control the reading audience that is now observing both the narrative action and its effects on the internal audience. At some points this triple-layered structure (action, narrated effect on internal audience, and hoped-for effect...

  8. 4 “Be All You Can’t Be” and Other Gainful Losses in the Diamond Sūtra
    (pp. 160-196)

    Just as the seductive literary strategies of theLotus Sūtrabecame clearer through a sustained narrative analysis, I hope to show that theDiamond Sūtrais a suitable text for a similar kind of close reading that takes into account the basic plotline of the work, the various kinds of self-imposed “needs” of the discourse, and the multiple subject-sites that it creates for the reader to desire, inhabit, and reproduce.¹ Like theLotus Sūtra,it is suffused with alarming negations of “normal” Buddhism in which the dismissal of traditional Buddhism appears as part of a larger arc designed to convince...

  9. 5 Sameness with a Difference in the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra
    (pp. 197-235)

    Against the repetitious negations that made up most of theDiamond Sūtra,this chapter takes up the issue of the internal buddha, that statuesque figure of perfect paternity that several Mahāyāna sūtras posited as the only legitimate subject inside the body of each sentient being. Though insisting on a perfect and permanent truth-father within the ordinary subject would turn out to be awkward for a number of reasons, it also appears to have been a rather attractive innovation in several spheres of early Mahāyāna writing.¹ Then, once Buddhism went to East Asia, this topic became paramount for a broad range...

  10. 6 Vimalakīrti, or Why Bad Boys Finish First
    (pp. 236-326)

    Of the texts selected in this survey of early Mahāyāna literature, theVimalakīrtipresents the brashest example of textual patriarchy overcoming prior forms of Buddhism. In an unusually hard-hitting narrative, the action produces the image of perfect tradition condensed in the W gure of Vimalakīrti who, in a series of set pieces, humiliates old-style Buddhists and their uncomplicated beliefs and practices. In the wake of this moral and philosophic devastation, the narrative resolves with the Buddha explaining that the book form of this narrative of humiliation and overcoming should be revered as the font and totality of real Buddhism. In...

  11. Conclusion: A Cavalier Attitude toward Truth-Fathers
    (pp. 327-346)

    The conclusions of this study flow in several directions. First, and most obviously, I have shown compelling evidence for reading each of these Mahāyāna textsastexts. Given the details in the preceding chapters, it is hard to imagine that readers would want to continue to treat their content apart from their overall narrative agendas. Plot, seduction, and text-reader contracts seem paramount in each case, and worth more attention than any particular event or discourse item. Also, the standard assumption that these written texts represent a preexisting oral form of the narrative—innocent of direct authorial construction—seems improbable. Though...

    (pp. 347-350)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 351-356)