Text as Father: Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature

Text as Father: Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature

Text as Father: Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature

Text as Father: Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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 in organizing my reading is that I take these Mahāyāna sūtras to be knowingly fabricated by wily authors intent on creating images of authority that come to fruition in the reading experience. That is, I do not read the voices of authority—the Buddha’s and others’—that fill out these texts as reflections of prior oral articulations or similarly innocent statements about truth and reality. Instead, I see them as carefully wrought literary constructions that assume their specific forms precisely because they were designed to inhabit and function in the literary space where one encounters them. Hence the title Text as Father was chosen to represent the dialectic in which texts created and presented images of “truth-fathers” who, among other things, speak to the legitimacy of the textual medium that contains them and, within this circle of self-confirmation, draw the reader into complex realignments with the Buddhist tradition and prior representation of truth and authority.

To explore the form and content of these textual truth-fathers, and the narratives that support them, I have selected four interesting and diverse Mahāyāna texts: the Lotus Sūtra, the Diamond Sūtra, the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra, and the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa (a work that isn’t technically a sūtra but nonetheless comes to refer to itself that way by its final chapters). in close . . .

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