The Emergence of Buddhist American Literature by John Whalen-Bridge and Gary Storhoff (SUNY Series in Buddhism and American Culture: State University of New Your Press) Assuming the United States as a spiritually dead society, Beat writers and others have shaped how Buddhism has been presented to and perceived by a North American audience. Contributors to this volume explore how Asian influences have been adapted to American desires in literary works and at Buddhist poetics, or how Buddhist practices emerge in literary works. Starting with early aesthetic theories of Ernest Fenollosa, made famous but also distorted by Ezra Pound, the book moves on to the countercultural voices associated with the Beat movement and its friends and heirs such as Ginsberg, Kerouac, Snyder, Giorno, Waldman, and Whalen. The volume also considers the work of contemporary American writers of color influenced by Buddhism, such as Maxine Hong Kingston, Charles Johnson, and Lan Cao. An interview with Kingston is included.
Postwar American writers rebelled in a variety of ways.' Writers in the first twenty years after the war struggled against censorship laws and canons of taste, and court cases were fought about books dealing with sex in an explicit manner. Books such as Lolita and Catcher in the Rye were the site of censorship battles between librarians and church groups, not just because these books brought up sex as a subject, but also because they presented conventional tastes regarding literature, art, and morality as ridiculously provincial or as phony.2 Buddhist writers from this period such as J.D. Salinger, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsberg, to name some of the most famous Buddhist popularizers of the 1950s, did both. They experimented with a kind of formlessness in which the work took on the qualities of a mind supposed to be freer from delusion than those against which that mind was being defined. The Glass stories, Snyder's mixing of Poundian translation and indigenous song, and Ginsberg's charming and elegant yawp from the rooftop were all forms of complaint against mainstream society, which was felt to be crassly materialistic, a society of people too selfish to appreciate the literary celebration of generosity. In the words of Hettie Jones, the Beats were interested in Buddhism as an "antimaterialist point of view" that was "very attractive to those of us whowere disaffected with the organized religion we were brought up with" (Mortenson ). Not all of the writing bore the marks of complaint, but, if the First Noble Truth is that everything in life is pervasively unsatisfactory, the writers most interested in Buddhism bore witness, through Buddhist-inflected stories and poems, to the most unsatisfactory dimensions of American life.
To note that Buddhist American literature was rebellious is not very surprising, since this literature was surely born of the same conditions as other well-known works of the period.3 If Buddhism was spread through Asia by royalty and other elites, it served the needs of a different subset in America: the countercultural intelligentsia who found the pleasure palace of America wanting. If Buddhist references and convention-challenging aesthetic notions were a mark of the literary avant-garde, it is also true that literature itself was the avant-garde of the movement of Buddhism into America: ideas discussed by D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts were multiplied tenfold in the work of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Without this literary amplification, it is doubtful that Buddhism would exist as it does in the United States today, a country of three hundred or so metropolitan areas, each of which has practicing Buddhist groups. To say that the Buddhism of the early Beats was merely literary is to underestimate rather drastically the significance of American poetry and fiction in the transmission and transformation of Buddhist beliefs, practices, and institutions.
Against the "poetry-does-nothing" ethos of Modernist literature and criticism, Buddhist writers in America are anything but quiescent. Allen Ginsberg has urged audiences, in his comic-yet-incantatory style, to meditate and to quit smoking. Gary Snyder has envisaged problems and specific, workable (if ignored by everyone in power save Al Gore) solutions to problems such as our over-reliance on fossil fuels. As Michael David-son has noted, such writers worked with avant-garde poetics and systems of ideas such as Buddhism to develop a sense of community among the alienated. A work of literature provides readers with a shared object so that we may share the most personal of ideas, and so the poems, plays, and fictions have undergirded large identity movements such as the women's movements, ethnic identity movements, and also the struggle of homosexuals to reconstruct themselves as citizens with full rights and full status. Literary expression itself does not typically lead to direct changes in law, to a reconfiguration of culture away from prejudice, but literature does supplement these struggles in important ways. Such movements often require the invention of a corporate self—an African American or a female or a gay person—who stands for the group, and yet that identity claim can also work hand-in-hand with the stereotyping that activists in such groups presumably wish to subvert. On the one hand, a significant claim is put forward—for example, black men are seen as dangerous or inferior by a world in which the conscious values or value-laden life-ways of white men prevail; on the other hand, the positive counter-self that is put forward, whether it be the highly productive "race man" or the macho nationalist who forcefully refuses such representations, is just as much of a stick figure as the negative stereotype that is being rejected.
Literature helps out by providing not the assertion of innumerable private differences, but rather a set of shared objects that are composed of representations of the private and personal. To change laws, the agents of a movement must convincingly argue that a typical woman in a professional position makes less money than a man in a similar position; to change minds, the agents need to make people care not about percent-ages but about people. Books like Invisible Man and The Woman Warrior make the private agony of the question "Who am I?" something that can be shared, and the author's effort, the necessary seduction of literature, is in making that painful question attractive. Buddhism, according to its most conservative interpreters, is a way of life in which one turns away from pleasures (perfumes, dancing girls, songs, and so forth), and so the cultivation of aesthetic pleasure could be construed as a distraction. Another foreseeable objection to the idea that literature and Buddhist practice can reinforce each other shifts attention from the effects of litera-ture on readers to the genesis of the work: William Burroughs complained, after sitting through a lengthy meditation retreat, that calmness of mind was of no use to him as a novelist. Insofar as a writer makes samsara attractive and all aesthetic objects are by definition more attractive than not, she or he is turning the reader away from the real work of freeing the mind from the shackles of desire. But insofar as the writer is making it possible to understand, compassionately, someone else's private agony (that she or he may alter conditions and escape samsara), then the same literary text could be understood to operate in a "Buddhistic" fashion.
The chief paradox of "Buddhist Literature" is that it helps provide the conditions, as Benedict Anderson has argued newspapers did for modern nations, for the formation of a Buddhist imagined community, though this particular corporate identity forms itself around the idea that identity itself is a delusion. There is an aesthetic solution to this paradox: If the work of art affirms identity not in terms of a self-existent soul or a chosen people but rather as an impermanent and fully contingent artifact, the identity that is produced by such songs will at least have relative merit over those self-concepts that do not build into themselves assertions of impermanence.
The Emergence of Buddhist American Literature is divided into three sections: "Literature as Vehicle: Transmission and Transformation"; "A Pluralistic Poetics: Zen, Vajrayana, and the Avant-garde"; and "Widening the Circle: Buddhism and American Writers of Color." Essays in the first section, "Literature as Vehicle," focus on the ways in which Asian cultural traditions were inflected and conditioned as they made their way into American culture, as do all the essays in this collection, but essays in this section emphasize especially the ways in which literary embodiment—as it socialized the words into a world of authors, editors, readers, and teachers—exerts a pressure on the transmission of ideas from one culture to another. Whether or not the idealized mind-to-mind transmission of awareness can be traced from Buddha's India through China and Japan to zendos in America, it can hardly be said that an Asian body of thought has been adopted with-out adaptation. This body of thought has been scorned as the mere vehicle of transmission rather than the more important transmitted essence, such as in the well-known idea that the finger pointing to the moon should not be mistaken for the moon. Whether there is an unconditioned awareness that can be traced back through a human lineage from someone in, say, San Francisco all the way to Buddha himself is not the sort of question these essays will answer. The essays in this section examine the particular agents involved in the literary transmission of Buddhist practices and values, including poets, scholars, editors, and religious teachers.
"Literature as Vehicle" includes essays about the work of four writers, Ernest Fenollosa, Gary Snyder, John Giorno, and Michael Heller, to show in detail how strands of Buddhism have been conditioned by particular historical and editorial factors as they made their way into American culture. Fenollosa was a Buddhist convert who transmitted Buddhist ideas through influential essays and translations. Snyder is a Buddhist convert who has developed a full oeuvre of poetry and prose about the interrelations between Buddhism, poetry, ethnopoetics, deep ecology, and even utopian calls for our return to preindustrial ways of relating to the earth.
In "The Emptiness of Patterned Flux: Ernest Fenollosa's Buddhist Essay 'The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry," Jona-than Stalling seeks to recover Fenollosa from his position as one of several laborers in Ezra Pound's factory for Making It New. Fenollosa's role as an inspirational figure in "the Pound Era" is not to be doubted, but Fenollosa was much more than a footnote to Pound. In looking at the transpacific cultural migration of Buddhism from the Far East to the United States, it is necessary that we understand the role of particular cultural actors, whose editorial decisions and creative emphases may or may not repre-sent the needs and tastes of a larger cultural system. Stalling attends in particular to Pound's distaste for Buddhism in his treatment of Fenollosa's essay: "While leaving the essay's basic Eastern-philosophy-inspired poet-ics intact, Pound actively deletes many of the original essay's more Bud-dhistic rhetoric." Our understanding of Fenollosa, and thus of one of the most important figures in the transmission of Buddhism to America, is sharply curtailed first by Pound's anti-Buddhist editorial practices, and secondly by the equation among subsequent readers that Zen Buddhism represents all Buddhism. Stalling looks carefully at the play of ideas in Fenollosa's texts in ways that provide a very fresh introduction to Fenollosa's contributions.
In "Gary Snyder's Selective Way to Cold Mountain: Domesticating Han Shan," Yuemin He provides readers with the most complete account to date not only of Snyder's choices as an editor and a translator; this essay also situates Snyder's groundbreaking work among that of subsequent Han Shan translators such as Burton Watson, Red Pine (Bill Porter), and Robert G. Henricks. Most of the initial readers of Snyder's work would never have heard of Han Shan, and many Chinese students of American literature have been startled at Han Shan's high place in the American version of the Chinese canon. In a 1992 interview Snyder was asked how he discovered Han Shan and how he responded to those who thought he had made him up." Snyder did not make up this poet, but He points out that Snyder's American Han Shan is in many ways a conditioned construction. Snyder did not, in the manner of Kent Johnson inventing Yasusada and publishing translated poems under that name, make up poems or mistranslate the ones he chose in any egregious way, but He argues that Snyder selected poems and translated them in a way designed to highlight the most bohemian and worldly aspects of the ancient Chinese poet. Whereas, according to He's characterization, Han Shan's poems foreground a renunciation in which "Worldly gains, whether youth or wealth or fame or beauty, are always impermanent and unworthy of pursuing," Snyder "wants to immerse himself deeply in this world." For He, Snyder's romantic portrait of Han Shan was not a window into Chinese culture "but a mirror that gave Americans their own reflections." If one looks at Snyder in an accusatory way, he is part of a larger discourse, to use the word in Michel Foucault's sense, that constructed an Oriental Other precisely in order to craft a particular kind of self through contradistinction. Looked at another way, Snyder's poetic selections, alongside those of subsequent poet-translators, carefully mark the historical encounter between English-speaking readers and anancient Chinese poet. These poems—and our commentaries on them—are the flagstones that make the path more walkable.
Marcus Boon's essay "John Giorno: Buddhism, Poetry, and Transgression" presents the work of a poet who insists he is "not a Buddhist poet" while also insisting he is "not a non-Buddhist poet." A köan-like conun-drum is presented to the reader in which poetic mosaics, including refer-ences to Buddhist practice and Tibetan iconography, is freely mixed with poems about sado-masochistic sex. With titles Cancer in My Left Ball and Shit Piss Blood Pus and Brains, readers may be forgiven for wondering why the poet is thought to be a "Buddhist poet," but the poems manifest, insistently, a concurrence of carnal desire and a devotion to at least the names and forms associated with Buddhism. Giorno uses Buddhist motifs and images in ways that some readers will find strikingly un-Buddhist, a con-cern he acknowledges in conversations with Boon. Many Asian Buddhists, already puzzled by America's bohemian modes of transmission, must be puzzled to the point of exasperation by just the title of his book Balling Bud-dha, and the title is clearly meant as a provocation to American readers as well. Perhaps there is a Buddhist /Bohemian pride in saying, through such a title, something like "We do not have to fear charges of blasphemy, as we are nondualistically comfortable with the body-mind in all its richness." One simple solution would be to say that violent avant-garde imagery is, if it is "Buddhist," unsuccessfully Buddhist, but one could just as easily say that Giorno's work testifies to the Second Noble Truth, in which craving is found to be the root of all suffering.° Boon examines the formal properties through which Giorno, like many of his non-Buddhist avant-garde associates, develops such shocking conjunctures precisely to throw the reader, via disjunctive and often funny poetry, into a more mindful state.
Finally, Michael Heller's autobiographical essay identifies the eclectic strands that thread through his work and that of many other contemporary writers, making it hard to know what ideas are Buddhist and what are not; influences on his work include Wittgenstein, Objectivist poets and poetics, Vajrayana Buddhism, and Phenomenological thinkers such as Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger. These essays together enlarge our understanding of the ways in which Buddhism as a cultural entity has shaped particular poet-transmitters as it came through the custom house of the imagination. The task of understanding the transmission of Buddhism to America requires the careful examination of such documents, however much the most warmly received Buddhist teachings in America have warned against following such indications—the true Way being pathless, a way devoid of marks and traces akin to the path of a bird across the sky. Marks and traces writings and other self-assertions—are, according to such a rhetoric, evidence of attachment. Gary Snyder often enjoys referring to the opening lines of the Tao Te Ching to show that this paradox is often handled playfully rather than as a vexing contradiction. If "he who speaks does not know," and if "he who knows does not speak," then all that follows is a waste of time and the Tao Te Ching should be used as tinder. The resolution of this contradiction is simply to acknowledge that there is no contradiction between nonattachment and caring for something, as Gary Snyder argues, against those who take refuge from the responsibility of caring for things, in his poem-with-prose "After Bamiyan": "Ah yes . . . impermanence. But this is never a reason to let compassion and focus slide, or to pass off the suffering of others because they are merely impermanent beings (Danger on Peaks 101).
So what is a Buddhist writer? Ambivalence about the identity of the Buddhist writer figures in several of the essays collected here. Boon's essay thus presents readers with a problematic case to further the consideration of the question, "What is a Buddhist writer?" Is this a biographical ques-tion, one having to do with a conversion experience or self-description? Perhaps we should look at the literature in a behavioral way to ask whether such poems, typically, produce greater mindfulness, and, if so, whether this makes them different from any other poems. Or is Giorno's poetry evidence supporting Thanissaro Bhikku's charge in Tricycle Magazine that American Buddhism is a form of "Romantic Buddhism," a selection of Buddhist ideas that includes ego-sustaining therapy and notions of emptiness that license individual freedom but which has been much less enthusiastic about the idea of renunciation—about the radical suspicion of human desire? Boon's essay does not come to a conclusion about this question, but these questions will emerge with greater clarity as our understanding of writers likes Giorno becomes clearer.
The question "Who is a Buddhist writer?" also arises in Heller's essay "Buddhadharma and Poetry without Credentials." Like Giorno, Heller is a practicing poet who has been influenced by the "Crazy Wisdom" teach-ings of Ven. Chögyam Trungpa, a Tibetan teacher who came to the United States in 1970 and came to influence writers such as Giorno, Heller, Jane Augustine (whose writing is also included in this volume), Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, William Burroughs, and even Joni Mitchell? As Stalling and He reflect on the ways in which the particular desires of writers such as Pound and Snyder have shaped the transmission of Buddhism to America, those by Giorno and Heller develop the picture of how influential particular teachers such as Chögyam Trungpa have been. Whereas Fenollosa and writers like him went to Asia and learned Asian languages as part of their work as cultural emissaries, writers such as Giorno and Heller read widely
and studied with a particular Tibetan-in-exile, one known for taking great delight in upsetting expectations. (To Burroughs, Trungpa was known as "the whiskey lama," and the infamous party at which Trungpa demanded that his "Vajra Guards" strip poet W. S. Merwin against his will so that he would lose his ego is recounted in Tom Clark's Naropa Poetry Wars.) Heller's experiences with Trungpa are set alongside his epistolary apprenticeship with poet George Oppen, his studies of phenomenology, and his own developing practice as a poet. While Heller notes that "the role of the Buddhist-inflected arts" in Mahayana and Tantric Buddhism "are ethical and moral but also philosophically fundamental to human interaction," the lines between art and religion become quite indistinct: "poetry and a Buddhist outlook or perspective seem nearly identical." That said, Heller traces a movement toward a set of ideas and references, not all Buddhist, that seem to develop from similar perceptions of human existence and seem to move toward similar solutions to the human predicament (understood from a Buddhist point of view). When Heller refers to "Cézanne's Doubt" as a "particularly Buddhistic piece of writing," he acknowledges what is common to Cézanne, Merleau-Ponty, his own work, and to poetic ancestors such as Oppen and Zukofsky, namely the "moment of original vision" described by Buddhist scholar Herbert V. Guenther in a book he co-authored with ChOgyam Trungpa, The Dawn of Tantra.
The common ground between Buddhism and avant-garde forms of art and philosophy will, for some interpreters, signal shifts in the way "the West" thinks, but for others the commonality will engender suspicions that orientalist writers and other kinds of cultural middle-men are selecting images and ideas in order to make, as Heller argues, a picture of the Other designed especially to flatter the self. While Heller embraces a religious path that is poetical, and a poetic path that is religious, both aspects of this engagement are celebrated for their freedom from "credentials," a word that reeks of bureaucratic licenses and official criteria that have drifted away from the sub-stance of any particular matter. The language of Heller's description, drawn from Trungpa, is redolent of the freedoms from constraint embraced by all of the dharma bums since Kerouac's roman a clef was first published, but Heller reflects critically on this point: "Poets don't write to teach, yet it does seem obvious that the poet inclined toward a Buddhist disposition is aware that what he or she writes is a kind of teaching, a sense that the poems one writes will affect others, and therefore have an ethical dimension." The sentence reveals not so much a fracture between art and religion as a shift in the primary understanding of art. The uselessness of art is one of its typical functions, we might say: If you wear it or use it as a tool, it is less prestigious than if you can only enjoy it "aesthetically." A Tibetan sacred painting, like older iconic works in Christian countries, is meant, on the other hand, to be used, and when Heller shifts from saying "Poets don't write to teach" to "what he or she writes is a kind of teaching," he is moving away from the Modernist conception of art and, perhaps against the grain, toward a didactic notion of art that would resonate more directly with much religious art in the world. One consequence of this shift is the realization that the liberatory dharma bum can only be a stage along such a path rather than a final destination: "What this may also mean then is that the old role of bohemian poet, isolated and estranged from society, is no longer applicable."
A PLURALISTIC POETICS
The notion of the bohemian poet does not go away in the works discussed in the second section of this collection, but the idea that the writer must be "isolated and estranged from society" is an idea that these poets seem to be working against in their literary creations. It is not the case that any of these writers identify with middle America—Gary Snyder is careful to say that he could almost love this America in his poem "Maverick Bar." Per-haps it could be said that the bohemian rebellion of these early Buddhist writings is not evidence of Buddhism's so-called quietism, meaning the idea that the world is fallen, that one should turn away from it, and that one should avoid associating with those who are still attached to the world. There has been a world movement, spearheaded by the exiled Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, called "Engaged Buddhism," which stipulates that social action is a proper field of practice: Mahayana Buddhists pledge to place the enlightenment of others before that of self, and so a mindful (rather than aggressive and hateful) mode of political action is discussed as a positive form of engagement. If one kind of bohemian is analogous to the sage who is too wise to be caught in the snare of worldly problems, another might be the cynic who is only too happy to live among other people so as to sap resources from them. The Buddhist bohemian of these essays is something different. The motto from Thomas Pynchon—"keep cool, but care," captures the idea, as the figures who walk through the work by Philip Whalen, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Gary Snyder very much care about the society they criticize and its members.
The essays in this volume examine the movement from literary text to embodied practice, which we could term the "inward movement," and they also examine the movement from the solitary body to the world's body, which we could call the "outward movement." Jane Falk's "Finger Pointing at the Moon: Zen and the Poetry of Philip Whalen" exemplifies the inward movement, which Falk traces through developing patterns inWhalen's verse. The earlier Zen-inspired writings "can be seen as proof of his avant-garde status and as a way of distancing himself from identities available to mainstream American writers in the 1950s," but the poems that appeared in the 1958 Chicago Review reveal Whalen the reader rather than Whalen the practitioner. Significantly, that issue also con-tained writings by D.T. Suzuki, Alan Watts, and Jack Kerouac, as well as Gary Snyder. As Falk demonstrates with reference to Whalen's letters to Ginsberg and Snyder, Whalen hungered to move from a Buddhism that was primarily a matter of clever allusion to one that involved touching "Enlightenment" or the "Real." In his poetry-as-practice, Whalen drew on the ideas associated primarily with Suzuki, such as the notion that "a more evolved understanding of emptiness . . . includes seeing things as they are." Buddhism, then, allowed for a kind of quirky, quotidian real-ism, one in which the Real, correctly understood, is most efficiently gestured toward by something like a William Carlos Williams poem. For Falk, "Whalen ... narrows the gap between spirituality and ordinary life, one of Zen's goals."
Falk finds a shift in Whalen's work as a result of his stay in Japan in the late 1960s, at which time, Whalen told David Meltzer, he first began to "sit seriously." But the inward movement is in no sense a movement away from the social and political realities we mean when we refer to "worldliness," as Falk points out in her discussion of "The War Poem for Diane di Prima," which Whalen concludes by saying, "Nobody wants the war only the money/ fights on, alone." The social commentary on a war fought for money is at once a generalization about war as a hypostasized greed, acting through people. The poem nudges us away from the idea that the inside and the outside are different, so conditioned is our sense of the world by our inner greed and aggression. Or, as Whalen said to Leslie Scalapino, "You can't say there's something out there. It's all inside." The desire to battle the war itself is, wittily and warmly, converted into a gift of sorts, since the war poem is an offering to Diane di Prima. As Whalen develops as a Zen priest (eventually becoming abbot at the Hartford Street Zendo), his poems become more spare. The Buddhist vocabulary drops away, and Whalen mysteriously writes less and less. Whalen described poetry as a "graph of a mind moving"; Falk finds in Whalen's poems a graph of his mind's motion. In a famous Zen köan that Whalen retells in a poem, two monks argue about whether the flag is moving, or whether the wind is moving. In the köan's punchline, the mind is moving. Readers of Whalen, in thinking through the interrelations between Zen practice and poetry, will need to think more about the quiet of Whalen's later years. Was it evidence of a stilled mind, or is that just a nice way to describe writer's block?
Eric Mortenson describes a different sort of movement in his essay on the Buddhist "stillpoint." Rather than present the visionary moment uncritically in the writers' own terms as has been the critical practice to date, Mortenson urges a more critical approach and to that end compares the role of visionary representation in the work of Kerouac and Ginsberg. For Mortenson, these two writers had opposite difficulties that had identical effects. Ginsberg was overly attached to a vision from the past, which arrested his work. Kerouac hungered for a visionary moment in the future, and so his quest for this visionary moment became an end rather than a means. Drawing on the writings of Robert Aitkin and Shunryu Suzuki, Mortenson proposes a vision of "the visionary" in which one temporarily makes contact with one's deepest mind not to stay in that mindset permanently but rather so as to return to the world with an altered relation to it. According to Michael Mohr, the meditative path through visionary stillpoints is not an escape from quotidian turmoil but, rather, involves constantly going beyond first awareness of nonduality and aiming at inte-grating this insight into daily life until no trace of transient exalted states remain." In this startling formulation, the purpose of meditation is to move beyond the stillpoint.
If a non-Buddhist attachment to an essentially Buddhist stillpoint is the paradoxical problem faced by Kerouac and Ginsberg, Gary Snyder's work has consistently avoided privileging Buddhist vocabularies of transforma-tion in ways that might marginalize other ways of framing the problems of contemporary life. Tom Lavazzi proposes in "Illumination Through the Cracks: The Melting Down of Conventional Socio-Religious Thought and Practice in the Work of Gary Snyder" that we have to be more cognizant of the resourcefulness of writers like Snyder, who drew not only on Buddhism but also Native American shamanism, developing fields like ethnopoetics and performance theory, and other emerging social practices that provided an alternative, oppositional standpoint from which to critique conventional society. All this has been noted by many Snyder critics; Lavazzi focuses on Snyder's dialogic engagements with various approaches (as does Snyder critic Patrick Murphy), but Lavazzi also brings Snyder's writings into dialogue with an interlocutor not typically associated with the greenest of poets, namely philosopher Jacque Derrida. Working carefully through Snyder's incorporation of various "technologies of the sacred" in his work, Lavazzi draws connections between Snyder's work and Continental the-ory via the work of deconstructive eco-theologians. As many readers have noted, Snyder's poems subvert their own status as self-existent texts: "The texts, once we move beyond the idea that the printed page is the real text, become collaborations between writer and reader."
As Snyder demonstrates so beautifully in his descriptions of Chinese landscape paintings of Chinese landscape paintings in the opening poem of Mountains and Rivers without End, the seals impressed on the painting are part of the painting: Our comments about the world are part of the world. Mountains and Rivers Without End, as a work of art, does not end so long as we continue to talk about it, and literary criticism is our equivalent of the seals printed on the painting. Lavazzi notes how Snyder crosses "French" attempts to "take the Word apart" with Thoreau's own recommendations regarding a "tawny grammar" and allows readers to see the ways in which Snyder anticipates the post-structuralist affinities of the LANGUAGE poets. Alongside non-anthropocentric eco-theologians and deep ecologists, Snyder mixes disciplines and vocabularies in poem and essay to point a way out of "taxonomic, hierarchic, dualistic thinking." All of these mixtures and alliances are of course aligned against something—it is not a case of mixing all the cultures of the rainbow together to make an undifferentiated mud—but Snyder draws on the thought of a wide variety of human cultures and disciplines in order to fashion his description of a "practice of the wild." The idea of Buddhism as a special knowledge of the elect is effectively displaced by the subtle alliances among an array of voices.
The idea that a Buddhist essence of a pure, unconditioned, uninflected sort survives its literary transmission from Asia to America is a surprisingly durable idea, and so one cannot say too quickly that its time has come and gone: the often-orientalist notion of a special access to an ideal way of knowing from an ideal (or idealized) culture is born out of a desire for superiority to others that is not easily quashed, and so the idea continues to reincarnate in poems, stories, essays, and interview. Nevertheless, Jane Augustine's "The American Poetic Diamond Vehicle: Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman Re-work Vajrayana Buddhism," in looking carefully at the ways in which Trungpa shaped his teachings for the sake of his students and at the ways poets Ginsberg and Waldman "re-work" Vajrayana refer-ence represent a movement beyond the idea that Buddhism can be the new Puritanism that will displace all the wrong views about the world that hold sway. The eclecticism of Ginsberg's and Waldman's poetic songs rep-resents a movement beyond what Heller's "isolated and estranged" Bohe-mian vision, giving way not to a "square" Zen in place of a "Beat" Buddhism but rather giving way to a generous inclusion of the world and its objects. Such a taking-into-oneself is certainly one of the more remarkable characteristics of both Ginsberg and Waldman's poems. The practices of travel, of walking meditation, of Indonesian gamelan, of repetitive and shamanistic speech-poem are set beside Tibetan mamo chants and mantra practice, as the essay traces the rearrangements of Tibetan Buddhist ritual into postmodern American poetry: "Waldman's poem is such a ritual, designed to invoke powers that work to expose, pacify, and transmute the energy of aggression. Her method is pure Vajrayana: use poison as medicine. Fight fire with fire".
WIDENING THE CIRCLE
Perhaps one of the most interesting cultural phenomena of the last quarter-century in America has been the emergence of writers of color who have embraced Buddhism as a source of inspiration for their work, and the final section attends to this further transmission—and transformation—of Bud-dhist ideas. In describing the transmutation of Buddhism in contemporary America, James William Coleman makes the highly dubious claim that the ‘`new Western Buddhism is overwhelmingly white" (192); nevertheless, as "Widening the Circle: Buddhism and American Writers of Color" shows, the literary influence of Buddhists of color must not be underestimated. Indeed, many of the leading writers of color today, as Charles John-son points out in his Afterword, have committed themselves to Buddhist practice—including Johnson himself, and many other African Americans who are not artists. John Whalen-Bridge begins this section with his reve-latory interview with Maxine Hong Kingston. Beyond the informal and humorous tone of the interview—accurately reflecting Kingston's own personal charm and charisma—this interview is important because it is the first time Kingston has discussed her Buddhism explicitly. Raised by Confucian parents, Kingston says she first felt a strong connection to Buddhism by reading the Beats. Yet she herself cannot call herself a Buddhist because "it all seems so narrow, even Buddhism." Presumably, in resist-ing a too-hasty religious identification, Kingston (in the words of Maxine in The Woman Warrior) "makes [her] mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes" (The Woman Warrior 29). Nevertheless, Whalen-Bridge's ground-breaking interview will inevitably call for a reexamination of Buddhist themes and traces in The Woman Warrior, Tripmaster Monkey, and The Fifth Book of Peace, among her other works.
If Whalen-Bridge's interview with Kingston is marked by charm, wit, and jocularity, Hanh Nguyen and R.C. Lutz's analysis of Lan Cao's seldom discussed Monkey Bridge is redolent with a sense of tragedy, grief, and loss. "A Bridge between Two Worlds: Crossing to America" explores the Buddhist idea of karma in the life of a Vietnamese immigrant, Thanh, as she attempts to adjust to American life after the end of the Vietnam War. Cao's beautifully lyrical, semi-autobiographical novel is narrated by Mai, Thanh's daughter, who—partly because of her immersion in Americanculture—cannot understand or sympathize with her mother's mysterious convictions about karma. Nguyen and Lutz demonstrate that Thanh's conception of karma, grounded both in Buddhist doctrine and Vietnamese folklore and mythology, is extraordinarily complex: at once, it is Thanh's burden and her liberation. Thanh's excruciating pain from her memories of Vietnam is compounded by Mai's facile assumptions about the past, presumably absorbed from her adopted American culture—that the past invariably frees the self to a greater sense of possibilities in the present and future. Mai and the reader both learn that the harsh truth is much different. One of the many strengths of Nguyen and Lutz's essay is that it will call attention to this remarkable, powerful novel.
The section concludes with Gary Storhoffs "Opening the Hand of Thought': The Meditative Mind in Charles Johnson's Dr. King's Refrigera-tor and Other Bedtime Stories." Meditation, of course, is central to Buddhism, yet as any author knows, sitting meditation is notoriously difficult to ren-der in a fictional narrative meant to entertain since the character is suppos-edly not to do anything beyond a subjective "letting go" of thought. Yet as Storhoff shows, Johnson finds creative solutions to this artistic problem in his short stories through subtle representation of meditation that reveal the transformative power of meditation in the character's world. Mark Epstein, a psychoanalyst with experience in Buddhism, has written that "meditation is not world denying; the slowing down that it requires is in service of closer examination of the day to day mind" (3). These stories are definitely not world-denying"; instead, Johnson's work is very much in line with Thich Nhat Hahn's "Engaged Buddhism." Johnson's stories in Dr. King's Refrigerator, as Storhoff demonstrates, emphasizes how the meditative mind, while examining day-to-day phenomena, is also capable of transcending the quotidian world to imagine and promote wider political change.
The National Book Award winner Charles Johnson supplies the After-word for The Emergence of Buddhist American Literature. Even though Johnson has arguably become the leading spokesperson for Buddhism and literature in America today, he has said that his publication of Turning the Wheel: Essays in Buddhism and Writing surprised many of his readers and not a few of his friends. His passion for his subjects—Buddhism and literature—are nowhere more evident than in this deeply moving reflection upon his remarkable career. In his far-ranging essay, Johnson considers how he came upon Buddhism as an inspiration for his work and as a ballast for his personal life—how he discovers in writing and in Buddhism, the passion of his life, and finally, how these two intertwine in his achievements throughout his career. As Johnson writes, "So a passion for art based on the Dharma led me to first practice meditation when I was fourteen-years-old; to write the novel Oxherding Tale when I was in my twenties; and to embrace the life of a lay Buddhist, an upasaka, in my thirties. And that passion segued into the joy that comes from translating works that have meant so much to me for forty years." As we read Johnson's Afterword, we realize we are in the hands of a writer who has himself been transformed by his religion, so that the beauty of his world is almost overwhelming to him: "After I complete each new story, essay, or lecture, I marvel at and I am thankful for the strangeness and beauty of a bottomless passion that leads to work across so many related disciplines." Johnson's essay is a forceful and eloquent conclusion to a volume that, we hope, will open new paths for discovering Buddhism in American literature.
The constitutive elements of American literary Buddhism include the teachings spread by Asian scholars and teachers such as D.T. Suzuki, Shun-ryu Suzuki, and Chögyam Trungpa, the incisive essays of American Zen teachers such as Robert Aitken, the work of poet-scholars like Ezra Pound and Ernest Fenollosa, the popularization of Buddhist myths and texts by American writers such as Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Anne Waldman, Maxine Hong Kingston, Lan Cao, and Charles Johnson. Very important as well are the descriptions of those students of American culture who have spent years finding the ox in and around the poems and stories offered by these first-contact cultural emissaries. Jonathan Stalling, Yuemin He, Marcus Boon, Michael Heller, Jane Falk, Erik Mortenson, Tom Lavazzi, Jane Augustine, Hahn Nguyen, R.C. Lutz, John Whalen-Bridge, and Gary Storhoff have each, in the face of so many warnings within Buddhist discourse about mere scholasticism and the futility of fingers pointing to the moon, attempted to communicate through words the problems faced by writers and the achievements that have resulted from their struggles. The work of literature is not done, we remember, when the poem is published or even when it has been read. As Eihei Dögen has written: "only a Buddha and a Buddha can see a Buddha." (See Takahashi, Moon in a Dewdrop, pp. 161-167). The most important values are not individual experiences, the logic might go, but are rather connections between beings.
Buddhist Scriptures as Literature: Sacred Rhetoric and the Uses of Theory by Ralph Flores (SUNY: State University of New Your Press) Buddhist Scriptures as Literature explores the drama, lyricism, and compelling storylines in Buddhist sacred writings, while illustrating how rhetoric and ideology are at work in shaping readers' reactions. Ralph Flores argues that the Buddha's life story itself follows an archetypal quest-romance pattern: regal surroundings are abandoned and the ensuing feats are heroic. The story can be read as an epic, but it also has a comic plot: confusions and trials until the Prince becomes utterly selfless, having found his true element--nirvana. Making use of contemporary literary theory, Flores offers new readings of texts such as the Nikayas, the Dhammapada, the Heart Sutra, Zen koans, Shantideva's Way of the Bodhisattva, and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Understanding these works as literature deepens our sense of the unfolding of their teachings, of their exuberant histories, and of their relevance for contemporary life.
The Sun the Light—rises in the East. Imagination has often
picturedto itself the emotions of a blind
man suddenly become possessed of sight.
. . . By the close of day the man has erected a building constructedfivm his own inner Sun, and in the evening . . . esteems it more highly than the original external Sun. —G. W. F. Hegel, Encyclopedia
The Sun, after rising gloriously and providing sight to the blind, is settingin the twilight of the West. Buddhism, with its signs of light, equanimity, ultimacy, and peaceful fulfillment, has found a place in the Western imagination. Certain questions, however, persist. Can the Buddha's teachings be truly viable without native monastic traditions, in an era of ego therapy and showy individualism? Can they truly take root in alien ground? Have we reconstructed and packaged the teachings especially for ourselves—and how much has been lost in the process?
The Fate of Non-Reading
There are no easy answers. Signals are clear, though, that Buddhist ways, recently Westernized, have been sucked into a whirlpool of global economics, New Age therapies, and neo-Buddhisms. This situation is manifested in glossy magazines and newsletters supported by advertisements for meditational sup-plies, along with services that include matchmaking, financial management, and even dentistry—all somehow "Buddhist." Such foibles may constitute a re-cent phase in the process, depicted by G. W. F. Hegel, in which the Sun is now setting into the twilight zone. The "Oriental Renaissance" of the first half of the nineteenth century (when India was seen to be the cradle of all civilizations and the source of all nourishment) was followed in the second half, with the entry of Buddhism, by worries that Asian religions could be toxic. Hegel's work was itself a setting sun. With access in 1827 to a multitude of reliable sources, he was neither a careful nor a respectful reader. What he "read" was guided mainly by the demands of his System.' Buddhist texts teach nirodha, or "cessa-tion," leading Hegel to conclude too quickly that for the Buddha "nothingness [das Nichts] is the beginning and the end."
Negativism was viewed merely as a dialectical moment in the Absolute Spirit's journey. For other interpreters, however, so-called Buddhist "nihilism" was not to be taken lightly; it posed a threat to cherished beliefs and to West-ern civilization itself. Friedrich Nietzsche spoke of "the desire of the Buddhist for nothingness, Nirvana—and no more," warning ominously of a "plunge into gloom and unmanly tenderness under whose spell Europe seems threatened." Other writers—including Victor Cousin, Eugene Bournouf, and Jules Bathélemy Saint-Hilaire—also warned of (or in Schopenhauer's case, welcomed) "ni-hilism," and were somehow able to ignore or dismiss the Buddha's emphatic rejections, in the early texts, precisely of nihilism (natthikavada) or annihilationism (ucchedavada) (SN 188.8.131.52; 24.5.5).4 Out of ignorance, fear, or missionary zeal, they were unable to read Buddhist texts. Yet, by the end of the nineteenth century, much had changed: Buddhism was no longer considered a threat. On the contrary, its teachings were seen as an uplifting way of life and a consolation for pain.
What lingers on, though, in the reception of Buddhism in the West, is a tradition—from at least 1820 until recent times—of ignoring or misconstruing Buddhist scriptures, and using them as a launching pad to project common fears, hopes, and fantasies. Desire, in reading, wanders, and is far from direct sight, or insight. For many popular Western teachers today, a detailed study of the texts is frequently deemed unnecessary: close readings may be dispensed with, in favor of vague anecdotes about "what the Buddha says somewhere" or what he or his disciples are said to have done. Today, Buddhist teachings, de-spite a plethora of fine translations and exegeses, are still often read casually or ritualistically, or discussed in ways soothing to recent mindsets.
The fiction of Westerners reading points to the unlikelihood—the fiction even, given our history—that we are capable readers of Buddhist texts, with energy, time, and motivation. But the fiction of reading may, in another sense, point to the results of imaginative engagement—that is, to useful figures en-gendered by filling in gaps and constructing passageways of communication.
With such a situation in the background, this study has three focal points. First, it is an effort to move against the long-standing tendencies, just mentioned, of the non-reading or poor reading of Buddhist texts. It does so by providing something like a guidebook to potential readers who may not fully know, or who would like to review, some major Buddhist scriptures. Second, it goes beyond a guidebook level by proposing to read Buddhist texts slightly askew, in a corrective to commonly accepted protocol. It proposes to read the texts not as primarily philosophy, doctrine, therapy, or even as advice for better living, but rather as literature. My assumption is that such an apparently marginal or parallax approach, informed by literary theory, will yield a harvest of fruitful ways of revising conventional formulae. Third, the readings here are part of a critical strategy meant not only to uncover sites of lyricism, drama, or compelling storylines but to illustrate, along the lines of contemporary theory, how Buddhist ideology and rhetoric are at work in shaping reponses in listeners and readers.
Those responses are important, but we seem to have heard mostly what wanted to hear. The mood of the present epoch is in most ways, and despite a huge up-surge of interest, not particularly Buddhist, and what works as medicine in one part of the world in one epoch, might not work for another part, in a different epoch. The retooling of Buddhist ways for the West, especially in counseling and mental health, has been a troubled process.'
The picture, even so, is not entirely bleak. Despite a large distance from Buddhist texts in time and place, a "fusion of horizons," to use Hans-Georg Gadamer's phrase, may be in progress, with our own biases mixed into the ex-change.' The Buddha, not an author in the usual sense, left his spoken words for monks to recite in formulae, and centuries later those formulae were turned into texts and, much later still, translated into other languages. My inquiry will deal with whether or how a contemporary Westerner reads, or would be likely to read, Buddhist texts. Such an inquiry is fraught with difficulties, and we need to be aware of varying ways in which the West attempts to attain hegemony over its other.' In particular, as Philip Almond points out, "through the West's progressive possession of the texts of Buddhism, it becomes, so to say, materially owned by the West, ... [and] ideologically controlled by it."
Pointing this out is not a neutral act, and here part of the ideology is to con-cur with such claims but also to suggest that an outsider's perspective is of positive value. As Mikhail Bakhtin argues, "the person who understands [needs to be] located outside . . . in time, in space, in culture." New meanings emerge when a culture comes into contact "with another, foreign meaning," and a sort of dialogue ensues in which both cultures are enriched, overcoming one-sidedness:
"we raise new questions for a foreign culture, ones that it did not raise itself." For the encounter to be creative, we need to assert, all the more confidently amidst the transformation described by Hegel, that going "back to the texts" is a usefully contrarian movement. It may be a way to offset ideological fabrications in New Age and other recent discourses.
I propose to take account of nuances in key terms. This is especially crucial, given that Westerners come to Buddhist texts mostly in translation. Regional literatures are often studied by philologists or native speakers, who call for analyses of the finer points of diction, syntax, wordplay, and rhyme. Some of these matters are bypassed here, and most Westerners are unlikely to encounter these texts in the original languages. But literary value, some have contended, is precisely what is not lost in good translations, while literary response is cru-cial on the levels of rhetoric, plot, character, image, archetype and genre. At times I have made reference to Sanskrit terms in preference to Pali, have often preferred more recent translations to older, more stilted ones, and in the interests of clarity, have have italicized major terms. This book, then, making use of widely available translations, and referring for clarification to earlier languages, shows how Buddhist sacred texts might be interpreted today. What kinds of texts, though, are they?
Truth, Myths, and Folktales
All cultures have stories, legends, folktales, and songs, the most important of which, the myths (and so some extent the epics), help illustrate what is of deep-est concern to that society. They explain the laws, customs, history, and religion, and are not held to be imaginative, nor even of human origin. Other stories, deemed less important, the folktales, are recounted for entertainment or amuse-ment, and are said to be imaginative structures, independent of belief, in which any real or implied beliefs are a matter of indifference.
In our own times, with the decline of local communities and the growth of science, myths have declined or gone underground, while literature, overwhelmingly secular, has broken free from belief systems. Where "truth" was once something of great import, conveyed in myth or legend, it has now be-come the verifiable, usually mundane, statement. Truth, however, Northrop Frye argues, is not a literary category: "the anxiety of society, when it urges the authority of myth and the necessity of believing it, seems to be less to proclaim its truth than to prevent anyone from questioning it."11 This declaration is res-onant not only for Platonic texts, where a "noble lie" is meant to assure social harmony, but also for Buddhist texts, where the four Truths are designated as ‘`aryan," or "noble." Might there be some anxiety lurking behind the confident equanimity of the Buddha's, if not Plato's, claims about nobility? Is there per-haps a repressed violence, a pressure to "come and see"—not just anything, but this particularly precious saving way?
Despite renunciation and a tight guarding of desire, does not the wander-ing Prince Gautama move desiringly in his quest? In the wisdom of Ecclesiastes: "Better is the sight of the eye than the wandering of desire." This overlaps in part with Buddhist wisdom, where attentive seeing brings direct insight. Yet the sight of the eye may also, at times, be precisely what instigates new desire and continued wandering. Monks are taught to guard their senses—that is, to see in what is seen, only the seen, so that desire does not lead one into errancy. But can the wandering monk always see only the seen, or rather does he wonder, and thus, wander? Here a folkloric thrust makes its deepest cut into the Buddhist ideology and its aryan, noble ways. "I have a notion," Frye muses, "that if the wandering of desire did not exist, great literature would not exist either."' And Buddhist texts, whatever else they may be, are also great literature.
There might be some uncertainty then, especially today, as to whether Buddhist texts are primarily imaginative (with the freedom of folktales), or primarily mythic (with the constraints of important truths). In either case, though, the issue of nobility is still alive. Wallace Stevens argues that the apparent decline, even the disappearance, of nobility may be little more "than a maladjustment between the imagination and reality. We have been a little insane about the truth .... In its ultimate extension, the truth about which we have been so insane will lead us to look beyond the truth to something in which the imagination will be the dominant complement.' Such a movement, through and beyond truth, is suggestive: perhaps we enter into the Buddhist world most fully and accurately by apprehending it as literature, and not simply as doctrine or as practice.
Any such position may be viewed by some as a compromise, as a way of becoming reconciled to our disenchanted world, so manifestly lacking in buddhas. Yet we need not claim, as Matthew Arnold did, that poetry will now be needed as a substititute for religion, to console and sustain us.14 Religion, despite changing assessments of it, may all along have been an unacknowledged form of poetry myth to be taken as truth. Arnold brings to the fore, however, sad symptoms of desperation and unbelief Many of us today cannot help but be warily skeptical, and discussions of religion are no longer welcome in polite secular society. As Slavoj Ziiek remarks, "When it comes to religion, ... we no longer 'really believe' today, we just follow (some) religious rituals and mores as part of respect for the 'lifestyle' of the community to which we belong."' At the other extreme, not far from "polite society," there are those "who live their culture immediately," as Ziiek puts it, or who believe to the extent of terror and war. There is thus much at stake in our involvement, even as mere readers, in Buddhist matters
The Reader's Role
First we must learn about reading. How do we read and, if we read poorly, how can we read otherwise? Questions of textuality, reading, and interpretation, so crucial to religion, have loomed large in recent literary thinking. The advocates of reader-response criticism maintain that a text is not simply written words on the page but an activation of those words. "Reading can be characterized," Wolfgang Iser writes, "as a sort of kaleidoscope of perspectives, pre-intentions, recollections. Every sentence contains a preview of the next, and forms a kind of viewfinder for what is to come; and this in turn changes the preview." As we read, our progress is impeded at times by puzzling gaps in the story. We need to "fill in the gaps" to allow for the continuing flow of sentences, plot elements, or ideas. Whenever gaps occur, readers are called upon to use imagination or speculation to close up, or jump over, the gaps. The process of reading is thus a search for some sort of consistency, pattern, or explanation.
In reading, Iser comments, familiar illusions are promoted, and then punctured: "What at first seemed to be an affirmation of our assumptions leads to our own rejection of them, thus tending to prepare us for a reorientation."' This could well be a sketch of the Buddhist path: illusions are punctuated, one after another, about comfort, self, pleasure, beauty, goodness, and eternity. Only then can there be a more open-eyed beginning. Here we will welcome gaps, rather than being eager to close them. Gaps or blanks in the texts will be taken as occasions for reading between the lines, for venturing speculations about what might be going on. The speculations may, of course, vary immensely. Nor-man N. Holland, a reader-response critic, shows how readers' reactions to liter-ary phrases and themes correlate with their varying personality structures, adducing the formula, "unity is to text as identity is to self."" By this theory, there will be widely differing responses to any text.
Those responses are crucial to the text's identity and survival. Tristram Shandy, the writer-as-hero of Sterne's novel The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman, tries to mitigate his outrageous authorial antics (blank or black pages, squiggles, unfinished episodes, interruptions, digressions) by "noticing" any readers foolish enough to have persisted for so long in their shared adventure with him. Nor is the reader today, though rarely addressed di-rectly, any less important. An issue of The New Yorker magazine shows a car-toon in which someone, presumably in a bookstore, sits at a desk with a large sign: "Meet the Reader." A number of substantial-looking persons, no doubt authors, are lined up, books in hand, for the reader to sign." As the cartoon's humor implies, readers are not usually given much attention, except perhaps indirectly, when best-seller lists are being compiled.
More than for sales receipts, readers are crucial, especially when cross-cultural or religious matters are at stake. In an age of disenchantment, in the wake of stories of war and terror, readers are likely to harbor ambivalence; they are intrigued yet suspicious of shining promises—of future lives, of relief from suffering, and of nirvana. To read the Buddhist texts "as literature" would ideally lighten the burden of suspicion, allowing the promises to gain a hearing.
Suspension of Disbelief
Literature, especially about magical or supernatural events, requires what not all readers are prepared for. Samuel T. Coleridge called it, in 1817, the ability "to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which consititutes poetic faith."' With that term, suspension of disbelief Coleridge has in mind the supernatural spirits and ghostly figures in a poem much like his own Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
The statement could apply more broadly, though, to all literary texts, and to texts containing what some readers may consider to be the "shadows of imagination"—stories of past lives and supernormal powers. Perhaps we need not gravitate inevitably, at least not yet, toward a Buddhism without beliefs.' We might instead allow some leeway for temporary suspensions of disbelief or, more positively, for the aesthetic belief we sometimes give, enthusiastically, to literary stories and figures. Perhaps habitual beliefs can come under temporary or experimental scrutiny when we read literary or Buddhist texts. Nor is this situation unfamiliar, since art and literature are all around us. We are tacitly presumed, as readers, to play the game, to walk the walk, to use our imagination, to suspend disbelief. A particular type of reading, then, may be helpful to an inquiry into the Western reception of Buddhist scriptures. That type of reading is of Buddhist texts as literature.
We need not go far to find examples of Buddhist literature. One of the first meetings of East and West is dramatized in the Questions of King Milinda, in which a figure said to be the Greek king Menander, given an Indian name, is depicted asking questions about Buddhist doctrine to the monk Nagasena. The King's requests are perpetually for an illustration or an analogy, and Nagasena, versed in canonical texts, is admirably fecund in his imagery. The analogies are highly regarded by the King, who, when not entirely satisfied, can always ask for another. Since analogies are images or similes, the ability to per-suade the King (who eventually converts) is based on a skill with words or, more specifically, with poetry or rhetoric.
The Buddha as Storyteller
More so than Nagasena, the Buddha is a master of images, and he frequently speaks as a poet or parable-teller, preferring to cast his message as a lyric or story to illustate what could also be stated discursively. He thereby taps into wider, archetypal dimensions. To many, images may matter more than extended arguments; often, when he is making an abstruse or repeated point, we wait impatiently for an example or story.
One typical story is of the young Kisä Gotami, who comes to the Buddha carrying her recently deceased baby in her arms. Not willing to accept death, or assuming perhaps that the Buddha may be a miracle worker, she hopefully demands medicine. Instead of preaching about impermanence, non-self and suffering, he tells her to make rounds of the entire city, asking for a mustard seed from any house in which no one has died; if she finds a seed, he will do what she wishes. She makes the rounds but, since in every house, someone has died, she garners no seeds.' As in many folktales, the protagonist must undergo a trial, and here she learns by direct experience that death is universal. The dramatized action makes the Buddha's point far more memorably than if he had stated the teaching in a sermon, as he usually does to his monks. The literary dimension thus enlivens and clarifies the teachings.
The story is notably allegorical, and has a mythical or "truth" dimension in Frye's sense. It arises out of the discourse and is strictly subordinated to it: we are told that the Buddha knows by supernormal vision, in advance, the outcome. There is no possibility that Kisä could have stumbled upon (or slyly chosen to knock at) the doors of newly constructed houses with young residents, no deaths, and a plentiful supply of mustard seeds. For if she did indeed get the seeds—and folktales usually have variations—would the Buddha then display shamanic pow-ers, bringing the baby back to life? And if so, what would happen to his teachings of impermanence and karma: would they still have the same import?
At first glance, readers or listeners may gain the impression that the Buddha, a worthy raconteur, may have kept a supply of personally experienced anecdotes on hand, and pulled this one out, as the occasion required. Perhaps a more likely possibility is that the story about medicine was itself composed as "good medicine," so as to reinforce the point about death's inevitability. The story is mythic or highly ideologized, and not open to much modification, if any.
Something similar could be said about the arrow parable, in which a man is struck by an arrow and is in mortal danger. If that man were to insist, before allowing himself to be treated, on knowing details about the arrow and who shot it (and here the Buddha elaborates at length), then the man, while making these inquiries, would die (MN 63.5)," the point being that suffering needs to be treated urgently, and that peripheral questions can only get in the way. Just as the wounded man is not able to ask questions, as an examining sheriff might do, so we readers, if we know the genre conventions, are expected to get the point, and then stay quiet. We are not to speculate about whether, for example, suddenly removing the arrow might lead to the man's death, or if perhaps he had been wisely shot at, if his further living might bring vengeance or war upon others. Any elaboration of the tale has already been given within the tale, in lists of possible poisons, arrow types, shooters, etc. The story speaks with one voice—it is monoglossic—and only much later in the Buddhist tradition, we will find, are contending voices permitted.
To heighten an awareness of the issues at stake in what follows, some recent literary theories will be put to work: reader response theory, Russian formalism, deconstruction, rhetorical analysis, archetypal theory, semiotics, psychoanalysis, poetic influence, mimetic rivalry, ideology critique, and dialogism. The theories are meant to shed light on the Buddhist texts, and not vice versa—that is, my intention is not to comment on the theories, but rather to use them in acts of reading. Particular theories are invoked at various points, but always to assist in reading, and thus perhaps with only reader-response and rhetorical analysis in the foreground. In addition to theory, another aspect of literary study will involve allusions to typical Western texts—often canonical ones, just as many of Buddhist texts here are canonical. The comparisons might seem distracting at times, but the larger task here is discern in Buddhist texts the cross-culturally understand-able work of literary figures, storytellers, dramatists, rhetoricians, and poets.
How, more generally, does one read Buddhist texts as literature? The Bible, to take a familiar example, is usually received as sermon, liturgy, prayer, or inspiration, and is believed, by many, to be literally true. But a growing discipline has lately emerged about the Bible "as literature," where literary, rather than religious, meaning is the center of attention.' More than those who are commit-ted to the doctrine, those who read Buddhist scriptures as literature may read freely and creatively, since they temporarily suspend disbelief, or indeed belief, in the text's solicitations. They read with due respect, but less piously, less pedantically, and more playfully, more critically. Reading the texts as literature allows and encourages readers to imagine and speculate—in ways which dogmatists or scholars may disdain—about the existential pathos behind the texts' formulaic repetitions.
Those who dare to imagine may be held in suspicion by traditionalists. In a discussion of this issue, Jeff Humphries asks, "Is there any place in a genuine Buddhist practice for literature ... ?" and "is there any valid place for Buddhism in literature?"' He gives a negative answer to both questions, invoking the fig-ures of Nagarjuna and others who warn against treating the Middle Way as literature or philosophy. True enough, the delights of poetry were considered dangerous distractions by the Buddha, and later by Nagarjuna. We might be wary, though, of mystifying or essentializing terms such as "genuine . . . practice," "valid place," or indeed, "Buddhism." The Buddha, who taught emptiness with an open hand, deploys parables, songs, similes, and anecdotes in his practice, while later traditions had recourse to koans, verses, tales, visualizations, and chanting. Who can possibly say, then, that there is no literary dimension in the teachings and practices, or that literary texts have no Buddhist points to make? Indeed, to cite Humphries, "the closest thing in Western culture to the Middle Way of Buddhism ... is the practice of literature—of reading and writing."'
Suspension of disbelief is not always a requirement for the creation of literature. For earlier cultures, gigantic, legendary figures were perceived as real, and one esteemed theory of literature is that all great figures and plots are descended from earlier mythic archetypes—that is, recurrent images stored in all psychic constitutions.' The power of literature derives from such archetypes, taking us beyond our limited cultural or linguistic spheres. The fact that archetypes are communicable, Northrop Frye points out, "largely accounts for the ease with which ballads and folk tales and mimes travel through the world, like many of their heroes, over all barriers of language and culture."'
According to Joseph Campbell, the career of a hero—be it Oedipus, Electra, Aeneas, Arjuna, Jesus, Orlando Furioso, or the Buddha—follows a similarly patterned sequence in all myths, which he calls "monomyth": a communal crisis (plague, sin, war, suffering); a call requiring some courageous response; a difficult journey with occasional help into unknown, supernatural territories (leaving home, wandering, initiation); confrontation with an enormous enemy (Mara, Satan, a dragon); a horrendous life-disturbing battle out of which the hero emerges victorious (enlightenment, resurrection, a defeated dragon); returning home (nirvana, heaven, a palace) "to bestow boons" amidst great acclaim, including marriage into a royal family.' The pattern, not always completed, may have peculiar variations, but is generally applicable. The sequence may be refined specifically for World Saviors: royal ancestry and a miraculous birth; prophecy; childhood deeds; possible marriage and propagation of an heir; a calling; departure; forest or desert discipline; battle with a supernatural adversary followed by the performance of miracles, teaching and making converts, founding an order; a sacred death; heavenly ascent or nirvana."
As a literary form, Northrop Frye classifies this kind of life story as a quest-romance: "The complete form of the romance is clearly the successful quest ... in three stages": first, a perilous journey with minor adventures; second, a crucial struggle; third, an exultation of the hero. A "ritual death" is followed or accompanied by a "recognition scene." The three stages of quest may be called, "using Greek terms, the agon, or conflict; the pathos, or death struggle; and anagnorisis, or discovery, the recognition of the hero."' In the Buddha's case, recognition (nirvana) precedes and is completed by death (parinirvana): he knows, with overwhelming conviction, that he achieved his goal, and will not be reborn. Such a story may be read in a number of ways, and Frye finds that "the nearer romance is to myth, the more attributes of divinity will cling to the hero."'
Indeed, as centuries passed the Buddha did become a legend, and was "less an example to be followed . . . and more and more a symbol to be venerated."' Siddartha Gautama is archetypal, and he himself claimed to be following the "ancient path" of earlier Buddhas. As the Buddha becomes mythical and legendary, his titles are emphasized and, like other epic heroes, such as Homer's, he is known by familiar and oft-repeated epithets: "Well-Farer, Knower of the worlds, incomparable Trainer of men to be tamed, Teacher of gods and humans, en-lightened and blessed" (DN 2.40).34 One appealing aspect of the literary text, then, is the very familiarity of its traditional, formulaic, heroic figures and plots.
Defamiliarization, or Making Strange
Interestingly, another specifically literary aspect is almost the opposite. A liter-ary text is evocative to the extent that it speaks of a strangeness different from our customary, familiar world. The Russian formalist, Victor Shklovsky, claims that the purpose of art is "to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived, not as they are known; the technique [used for this purpose] is to make objects 'unfamiliar,' to make forms difficult."' Defamiliarization, or making strange, by which literature is thus defined, avoids names. It represents familiar objects in peculiar ways, so that we see them as if for the first time.
These two different features are not incompatible. A royal prince, that fa-miliar figure of epics and fairy-tales, is in this case a future Buddha, who "goes against the stream," and abandons his lavish palace. His teachings, when even-tually offered, acknowledge common facts of conditioned existence (birth, sickness, death) but propose a radical deconditioning as the way to overcome those facts. In both cases, a defamiliarization takes place: the prince behaves in an unprincely manner and inverts his position: he becomes a homeless vagrant, and in his teachings, suffering (dukkha) is seen from the perspective of an extraordinary being. Precisely because the perspectives were (and are) unfamiliar for ordinary folk, recourse was taken to various kinds of pedagogy, persuasion, and "skillful means" (upaya).
In the West, the ways of persuasion come under the rubrique of "rhetoric," which has been linked at various times with sophistry, legalism, and propaganda, as well as with eulogies, ceremony and political counsel.' Recent theorists have shown that literary texts are replete with rhetorical strategies, often deployed in overdetermined or inconsistent ways.' One may have doubts, as these theorists often do, about strict distinctions between literature and rhetoric. Sacred rhetoric, for example, is part of a highly performative religious and literary discourse that preaches, consecrates, ritualizes, praises, proselytizes, narrates, sings, confesses, prays, advises, consoles, prophesies, heals, accuses, curses, forgives, memorializes, exhorts, warns and, above all, inspires.
Most earlier listeners or readers are likely to have differed from us in their responses to such discourse. "We" do not constitute a unity, however, and in what follows, I consider possible reactions to Buddhist scriptures by various types of contemporary readers. Those types are schematic, not exhaustive: there are countless strategies of reading, and countless readers. Readers generate readings that range from strict exegeses to mild or radical transformations. In all cases, readings have both literary and rhetorical dimensions. Paul de Man
has argued that a critique of metaphysics—a critique that could be extended to dogma, or indeed dharma--is founded on "the rhetorical model of the trope, or if one prefers to call it that, literature." Such a critique, whether mild or rough, whether implicit or explicit, provides fruitful strategies for reading, and for a probing of Buddhist ideology.
Rhetoric and Ideology
Society at the Buddha's time was in turmoil, and competing ideologies frequently came into conflict. A great migration was taking place from small-scale communities to the more impersonal life of urban centers. Wealth was being earned by enterprising merchants, who made business trips from one urban center to another. A new sense of freedom and individualism had a price, how-ever, in a growing sense of aloneness and malaise.' The newly emerging Bud-dhist ideology appealed mainly not to the lower classes but to an increasingly well-off merchant class impressed with the possibility of gaining merit by per-forming right actions oneself rather than having Brahmins make sacrifices. The Buddha's teaching seemed reasonable, empowering, and calculable. As Richard F. Gombrich argues, spiritual matters could be monetized, and what Max Weber called the Entzauberung (disenchantment, demystification) of the world substitutes quantity, be it in money or acts of merit, for quality.' The goal of merit-making--better future lives and, ultimately, nirvana—provided a vision of escape from the crowded, unhealthy confines of samsdric life.
Does Buddhist rhetoric disguise its mercantile roots, however, with a con-joined (and seemingly inconsistent) ideology of renunciation? As Terry Eagle-ton shows, in many literary texts "the ideology seems to determine the historically real, rather than vice versa," so that while ideology pre-exists the lit-erary text, the text transforms that ideology, condensing and displacing it, and thereby indirectly commenting upon it.' These processes of troping, visible in Buddhist texts, and much like Freudian dreamwork, can be deciphered by rhetorical analysis. In its basic shape, an ideology emerges in the Buddha's story and in his subsequent teachings. A well-to-do young man leaves home, as commonly many of his counterparts did at the time, to become a árvaka, or wanderer, in search of fulfillment. The text's rhetorical thrust will be to extol and amplify his departure and quest, in implicit comparison with those of other wanderers; it will demonstrate and commend his achievement, in particular, of ultimate freedom. Although the Buddha's biographical narrative is fragmented, the focus on a single divinized figure through a series of disparate episodes is typical of the epic genre in India.' The text honors not only the hero, moreover, but also his teachings. Those teachings are repeatedly described as being "lovely at the beginning, lovely in the middle and the lovely at the end" (DN 14.3.22).
Hyperboles of the Sacred
The term lovely (or "good") has an aesthetic dimension, but it is more than aesthetic. It signals a new world of possibilities. The loveliness, sometimes in the form of "inspired utterances," breaks away from the ordinary world of conditioned experience. It is a "making strange": Buddhist discourse, though often restrained, as befits the Middle Way, at times verges on the incredible, excessive, and hyperbolic. The Buddha performs magical feats—walking across rivers, flying through space, reading minds, instantly disappearing and reappearing elsewhere (DN 14.3.29). Such behavior might seem far-fetched, and the language describing it is hyperbolic.
It should come as no surprise that the language of religion is in general hyperbolic, or marked by a blessed excess. It may be a tool for persuasion and ideology, but it also is more than that. Stephen Webb observes that today we live in a world in which discourse has become flat, rational, technical, and unin-spired. The figure of hyperbole, intimately connected with religion, inspires us, by contrast, "to imagine more than we know, say more than we dare to believe, act more boldly than is wise and rational, see more than realism displays." Hyperbole is any apparently excessive or overstated language. It complicates the process of filling in gaps as we read; they may, at times, need to be left open. The language of hyperbole is incomparable, beyond our usual conceptions, straining and elevating our imaginations—in what Longinus calls the sublime style.
Hyperbole, so prominent in rhetorical handbooks, is a manner of speech that exaggerates the truth. The "exaggerated truth" may be all the more true, as in the following passage attributed to the Buddha:
"Which do you think is more: the flood of tears which, weeping and wailing, you have shed upon this long way—hurrying and hastening through the round of rebirths, united with the undesired, separated from the desired—this, or the waters of the four oceans?
". . . For a long time have you suffered the death of father and mother, of sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. And whilst you were thus suffering you have, indeed, shed more tears upon this long way than there is water in the four oceans." (SN 15.3.3)'
The addressees are specified as "the brethren" ("forest-dwellers, almsmen, rag-robed"); they are monks, but perhaps like most of us, not yet liberated. The "you" is gradually built up into a cosmic person who is both selfless and samsaric. Suffering and grief, recurring in so many times and places is—and is not—the "you" of the listener or reader. "You" are here and everywhere, and a sense of urgency is all the stronger on that account.
Passages like this, and interpretations that notice hyperboles, are especially provocative in a study of Buddhist texts, which are customarily seen as moderate, realistic, sober, and rational. Yet those texts, especially in the Mahayana traditions, are often unfathomably hyperbolic. Even in the earliest, arguably more "rational" schools, we are asked—hyperbolically—to abandon household life, and to employ contrarian, defamiliarizing methods of emotional detachment and sensory renunciation. In all cases, we may decide, as readers or as practitioners, to deflate the hyperboles and reduce the demands. But if so, how well are we reading or practicing?
Our situation as readers of Buddhist texts as literature is paradoxical. On the one hand, literature is fictional, and its plots, characters, and verbal constructions, however realistic, are meant to be viewed as not literally true. This being so, we may misread Buddhist or other sacred texts if we believe that they are only literature. They are not to be read, some may tell us, as mere fiction or poetry like other fiction or poetry. On the other hand, many Buddhist texts are adapted to the audiences addressed—that is, they are contrived as skillful means, thus complicating any uniform message they may be assumed to have. John Schroeder convincingly takes exception to commentators who examine the content of the Buddha's discourses without paying attention to pedagogical contexts, who all too readily assume that the message can be understood as a series of statements apart from any rhetorical context.' Buddhist sayings are therapeutic and pragmatic: they meant for the urgent task of relieving suffering.
The therapy's true purpose might not always be clear. For many people, the Buddhist goal is perforce an imagined, if not a fantastic, idea. Many of them, even if practitioners, have not reached the higher jhanic states in meditation, and they can only imagine nirvana on the basis of scanty, often negative, adjectives: "not-born, not-brought-into-being, not-made, not-formed" (It 43). Such an idea has been viewed as the locus for projected hopes, wishes, and aspirations, while the path-to-goal structure has been called a quasi-fictional invention, an imagined analogy for the career of ideal persons.' Both the path and the goal may have a strong kinship, it seems, with literature.
In a famous, archetypally Buddhist parable, the teaching itself is imagined, again by analogy, to be like a raft:
"Bhikkus [monks], suppose a man in the course of a journey saw a great expanse of water, whose near shore was dangerous and fearful, and whose further shore was safe and free from fear, but there was no ferryboat or bridge going to the far shore. Then he thought: 'There is this great expanse of water, whose near shore is dangerous and fearful, and whose further shore is safe and free from fear, but there is no ferryboat or bridge going to the far shore. Suppose I collect grass twigs, branches, and leaves and bind them together into a raft, and supported by the raft and making an effort with my hands and feet, I got safely across to the far shore.- (MN 22.13)
The man then does what he intends, described in precisely the same words, and thereupon he reaches the far shore. Repetitions perform a reinforcement and, as with other parables, preclude deviation. The words to describe a hypothetical state ("suppose a man ...") are exactly repeated by what the man thinks, thereby validating his thinking, just as his activities will exactly repeat, word for word, his thoughts. No symbolic dimension is as yet specified. We are simply offered concise, practical thinking, and an activity that directly stems from that thinking.
Once having crossed the river, what is to be done with the raft? The man can lug it around with him, which would cumbersome. Or else, preferably, he can leave it on the shore or set it adrift, and thereby, according to a significant motif, "lay down the burden" (of suffering). The raft has served its purpose, and he no longer needs it, since he'll have no wish to go back across the river. The moral of the parable is clear: "the Dhamma is similar to a raft, being for the pur-pose of crossing over, not for the purpose of grasping" (MN 22.13). If so, however, the story—the raft, the Dhamma—is to be taken as something tentative, hy-pothetical, even experimental, very much like a literary text, which we are to see as fiction or illustration, and not as history or news reporting.
The Epic Quest
The reader is aware of the man "in the course of a journey," and here we come to the literary genre of many Buddhist texts, including the founder's biography. The journey or quest-romance, as a type of desire fulfillment, has a peculiar position in Buddhist expositions, since a certain type of desire (tanha in the second Noble Truth) is a great enemy to followers of the path. When the young Prince, and Buddha-to-be, embarks on a quest-romance, what are his motives?
One may pause before tackling this question, and ponder what sort of hero he might be. Frye, who follows Aristotle in classifying heroes according to their elevations, claims that if the central figure is superior "in kind" both to other humans and to the natural environment, the hero is divine and his story is a myth. If superior "in degree" to others and to the environment, the hero is typical to romance; if superior in degree to others but not to the environment, he is an epic hero or a leader.'
The Buddha varies in his superiority to us. In making use of supernormal powers, he is closest to the heroes of romance and epic, moving "in a world in which the laws of nature are suspended."' At other times, he is not above his natural environment: his teaching—the dhamma—is sometimes called the natural or normal "law," and he dies, as other humans do, at the end of his life span. Though starting as a human, albeit a royal prince, he becomes elevated upon achieving enlightenment, and thereafter, especially in later traditions, is turned into a divinized, mythical figure. Even in the apparently earliest stories, he is legendary from the outset. Prophecies that accompany his birth and his career are marked by the paraphernalia of the quest-romance: "unlikely conversions, miraculous transformations and providential assistance."'
Much of the Buddha's story has an epic dimension. Prominent in the Pali texts are stock epithets, oral formulae, speeches and counter-speeches, gods, prophecies, and praises of great deeds or sayings. Passages in those texts often seem to be, as T. W. Rhys Davids has observed, fragments of a "Buddha Epic," or potential forerunners of such an epic.' The episodes are not connected, however, and they are far calmer and more concise than those in the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. Even so, we discover a narrative that might be termed "epic" (or mahrthavya) in the Nidanakatha or, more surely, in the Sanskrit verses of Agvaghop's Buddhacarita.
The high mimetic epic, as in Homer or Milton, has "an encyclopedic range of theme, from heaven to the underworld, and an enormous mass of traditional knowledge."' Classical epics, and Dante's Commedia, all begin at a low point, and the central figure is gradually, cosmically educated to make efforts in an archetypal quest. Frye's scheme applies, too, to Indian legends: the prince and future Buddha begins at a low point—a depressing recognition of ubiquitous suffering. The subsequent quest, as in all epics, is not simply self-centered: "an objective and disinterested element enters into the poet's vision of human life," which gives his legend its authority.'
The epic often includes a quest-romance dimension, which is heightened in later genres. Intriguingly—and here we return to our question about the Prince's motives—the quest-romance is defined by a strong libidinal element, and is akin to rituals and dreams: "translated into dream terms, the quest-romance is the search of the libido or desiring self for a fulfillment that will de-liver it from the anxieties of reality but will still contain that reality."54 What the Buddha promises is deliverance, precisely from anxieties: the raft parable de-scribes how the "unsafe shore" is "dangerous and fearful." The realization or place of refuge and safety is, or so we would imagine, libidinally satisfying—where I can "go wherever I want" (MN 22.13). The typical quest-romance fills in the "want" dimension, however, with rather non-Buddhist items: luxurious banquets and sexual romance, all constituting "the victory of fertility."'
The Buddha's quest-romance, then, is atypical. In literary-critical terms, we need to offset a reading of archetypal patterns with a sense of making strange, or defamiliarization. The Buddha's quest-romance is precisely a relinquishment, not a victory, of fertility. And so we might need to ponder the degree of relevance, in this case, of the heroic paradigm.
Images in the Reader
... She was the maker of the song she sang. —Wallace Stevens, The Idea of Order at Key West
To read Buddhst sacred texts as literature, that is, from a poetic and rhetorical perspective, is to perceive them in promising and fruitful ways. Literary images haunt and persuade; they are the stuff of imagining, of dreams, of wishes, of terrors; they are sparks to creativity and vision, and make up our ongoing panoramas at the time of death. The images cited in earlier chapters supersede and give flavor to Buddhist discourses, remaining long after argumentative subtleties have faded away.
We may assent to suffering's truth stated in formulae, but readers—cer-tainly this reader—can never forget the hyperbolic images, and a voice speak-ing of "theflood of tears which, weeping and wailing, you have shed upon this long way—hurrying and hastening through the round of rebirths,. . . [more than] the waters of the four oceans." And there are others: the man heedless of karma "who goes along the south bank of the Ganges killing and slaughtering"; Gautama in his "remote jungle-thicket resting places," where "a wild animal would come up . . . , or a peacock would knock off a branch." And then comes the night in which "darkness was banished, and light arose," and later the wheel of dharma starts rolling that "cannot be stopped by any recluse or brahmin or god or Mara or Brahma or anyone in the world."
In the Dhammapada we read with joy that "the scent of the virtuous goes against the wind," and are elated when geese make an upward flight, "on the path of the sun." We are sobered by "seeing these white bones, which are scattered like gourds in autumn," or by the broken roofbeams of the house we call our own, and indeed, ourselves. We are moved by Avalokita in the Heart Sutra looking down to see that there are "no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind," or by the Zen stories of a cliffhanging wild strawberry or of the Buddha handing a flower to his special disciple, only to be called a hawker of dog meat.
And how could anyone forget Maddi, searching frantically for her missing children, while her Great Being of a generous husband sits by and says nothing? We also keep in mind Shantideva, generous as well, alarmed that his life is "slipping by, slipping by" yet eager, for the same reason, to be "an isle for those who yearn for landfall, /And a lamp for those who long for light." Last but not at all least, readers will long remember someone (like ourselves one day) who is compassionately called to urgent alertness because "now the time of death has arrived," and "the pure luminosity of the dharma is shining," beckoning toward a journey with protecting divinites going before and following behind, and a friend's voice warning earnestly against the horrors of rebirth.
In all such hyperboles and parables, a handful of images is worth more than a truckload of arguments, helpful though each may be to the other. Images are invaluable, then, so it matters what we do with them. In Stevens's The Idea of Order at Key West, a woman walks along the shore, singing, and the ocean's heaving noise cannot be ignored, but it is only the background to human doings: the singing. Does she offer an image of purposeful behavior, of fantasy, or of both? We readers have a role in responding to such a question, and it is an active and productive one, if we so choose.
We read literature to escape, to change the scene, to enter other worlds—but often without wanting to escape too far away. Judging from the best-seller lists, people love tales of skulduggery, romantic intrigue, detection and eventual justice, but always with a plenitude of facts, of fascinating facts: who did what underhanded deed, in which exotic capital, with what high-tech means? Nor do most readers want too much serious didacticism: George Orwell's 1984 or James Joyce's Ulysses are, for many, too suffocatingly like the inescapable worlds they daily inhabit. The combination of qualities in recent literary works, as in Buddhist texts, answers to our mixed motives in reading them: high adventure, spiritual inspiration, intellectual curiosity, and practical instruction. These mo-tives are all intertwined.
The intertwining allows us to read Buddhist images slightly eccentrically—as literature. Wishing for escape, we still are greedy for facts, for knowing "the way things are," for truths noble or otherwise, for figuring out what to do and how to live. Literary readers—respectful yet undominated by issues of philology, therapy, or even the dharma itself—may notice sidelights not usually stressed: the Buddha's boasting, Zen heteroglossia, Shantideva's disdain for pesky companions, the enframing of voices in the Book of the Dead. As literary readers, we refrain from claiming, except ironically, that we see the texts "as they really are." But careful reading allows us witness how images work, in revisionings of Buddhist ways, or partings of ways: the curiously convenient deaths of the Buddha's teachers; lurking floral dangers and renamings in the Dhamma-pada; cancellations and magical escapes in the Heart Sutra; reinventions and restructurings in Zen, in Shantideva, in the Book of the Dead. The revisions open into new ideological directions—reversals, gaps, sublime bodhicitta, koan masters, mortuary compassion. All of these changes make themselves felt in special imaginative phrasings and re-phrasings.
Circumspectly, we need to take account of the Buddha's disapproval of the arts as temptation and self-deception: poetry is much less valuable than the teachings; a theatrical magical show set up in public deceives us; an intricate painting is like the misleading intricacies of our mind (SN 2.20.27; 22.95.2; 100.8). The Buddha's and his followers' discourses are filled, even so, with a plenitude of images and tales. She of Stevens's poem is the exuberant maker of the song she sings, while Buddhist nuns of the Therigatha sing songs that, in their modest rightness, show lyricism as another side to familiar formulae. Singers with very few songs, however, or a single way of singing, may become monotonous. Stories of ourselves, in particular, may grow stale, and we need to stay open to new, and other, stories. To what extent is this possible? Literary theorists speak of "ideal readers," but actual readers put literary elements together ways that range from the comfortingly ordinary to the surprisingly apt. How people read is as different as how they walk, dance, or sing.
Fortunately, there is a common space for differing styles of reading. The archetypal heroic career is seminal enough to find fertile soil in the most diverse cultural climates. Literature's central axis, to invoke Northrop Frye once again, has moved between "mythic" and "ironic" (or "naturalistic") levels. Over the ages, and with variations between cultures, the axis has tended to be displaced downward through tragedy, romance, and comedy. Similar images, heroes, or linguistic figures can be read on multiple levels, with varying degrees of "making strange." The earliest and most recent Buddhist texts reach beyond their contexts to be heard by readers in differing, idiosyncratic situations.
Some readers of Buddhist scriptures, like earlier hearers, will be struck by images, and prompted to respond wholeheartedly, in unreserved ways. They are able to answer to the texts' hyperboles, myths, and sublimity, its great events and deeds, its epic battles. Other readers, who have been duly respected here, may have misgivings about more expansive elements in the texts: supernormal powers and feats, divine eyes, nirvana. Factors promoting these doubts are, as remarked, ideology critique, a reductive psychology of motive, "realistic" or scientific queries about what's possible, a sense of outdatedness in worldview. Readers may at times be of either kind, but what remains for both is imaginatively to recreate other visions, other worlds.
Buddhist Manuscript Cultures: Knowledge, Ritual and Art edited by Stephen C. Berkwitz, Juliane Schober, Claudia Brown (Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism: Routledge) Buddhist Manuscript Cultures explores how religious and cultural practices in premodern Asia were shaped by literary and artistic traditions as well as by Buddhist material culture. This study of Buddhist texts focuses on the significance of their material forms rather than their doctrinal contents, and examines how and why they were made.
Collectively, the book offers cross-cultural and comparative insights into the transmission of Buddhist knowledge and the use of texts and images as ritual objects in the artistic and aesthetic traditions of Buddhist cultures. Drawing on case studies from India, Gandhara, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Mongolia, China and Nepal, the chapters included investigate the range of interests and values associated with producing and using written texts, and the roles manuscripts and images play in the transmission of Buddhist texts and in fostering devotion among Buddhist communities.
Contributions are by reputed scholars in Buddhist Studies and represent diverse disciplinary approaches from religious studies, art history, anthropology, and history. This book will be of interest to scholars and students working in these fields.
Excerpt: The term "Buddhist manuscripts" actually encompasses a great variety of tex-tual forms. As expected, Buddhists in premodern communities throughout Asia made use of the materials and technologies at hand to produce handwritten texts of buddhavacana and other treatises and narratives on the Dharma. Through-out the Indian subcontinent and in Southeast Asia, Buddhists usually wrote on palm leaves that had been dried and cut into uniform strips. These were typi-cally inscribed with a metal stylus and subsequently blackened with ink to make the letters readable. When finished, the leaves were stacked and strung together through one or two holes punched through them and finally stored between two wooden boards cut in the shape of the long and narrow leaves. Further north, in the greater Gandharan region and in other locales where palm leaves could not be easily obtained, Buddhist writers often used birch bark as their textual medium of choice. The bark was cut into long strips and either rolled into scrolls or cut into sheets and stored flat between boards. The scrolls found in the Gandharan region were typically written on both sides in a vertical fashion parallel to its narrow dimension, and their colophons that identified the contents of each scroll would normally be visible when rolled up (Salomon 1999: 87).
Other media used for writing Buddhist texts include paper, cloth, silk, vellum, and occasionally plates made from metals such as copper, silver, and gold. Some of these media permitted newer manuscript formats such as notebooks that were sewn together at one end or works that were folded together like an accordion to allow readers to locate a particular section of the work with ease. As Vesna Wallace points out in her chapter in this volume, Buddhist communities could make use of more than one medium and format in the production of their manuscripts. And, as handwritten texts were carried from one culture to another, their recipients copied not only their contents but sometimes their physical forms as well. As a result, the languages and scripts used in writing typically differ much more than the actual format and appearance of the manuscripts themselves.
Nevertheless, after the invention of printing books from woodblocks in China around the seventh century, Buddhist satras could be produced in a more stable and consistent fashion. Woodblock printing would subsequently become the pre-ferred method of textual production not only in China but in Korea, Japan, and Tibet as well. Over time in these lands, once a canon of standard texts had been established and carved, handwritten manuscripts would ultimately become the exception next to printed woodblock editions (Lancaster 1979: 226-7). And yet, as art historical studies have shown, the hand copying and illustration of sutras remained an important opportunity to preserve Buddhist teachings, improve one-self, and gain merit. Best known are the Japanese Heian period examples, often with lavish materials and elaborate illustrations, which were donated to temples. In these gifts, and in the burials of sutras in mounds during the same period, we sense the concern for preserving Buddhist teachings during a time feared to be one of decline.3 In East Asia, printed texts came to be considered authoritative, but devout Buddhists, notably including the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736_95), copied sutras on a regular basis.4 In other parts of Asia, handwritten manuscripts were the predominant forms of Buddhist texts up to the modern period when printing presses began to be widely used.
In addition to their handwritten linguistic contents, Buddhist manuscripts could have visual aspects as well. Since, in Buddhist contexts, the Dharma is taken to be delightful and supremely important as the means to attain worldly felicities and transcendent liberation, many people who produced physical texts endeavored to decorate them accordingly. Some Buddhist manuscripts contain illuminations and other line drawings on their folios. Artistic embellishments can also be found on the boards used to bind and protect the leaves of Buddhist manuscripts, and Bilinda Devage Nandadeva's contribution in this volume examines painted floral designs of that nature. More generally, Buddhist manuscript cultures in premodern Asia viewed physical manuscripts as part of a continuum of sacred objects that included the art and architecture found in structures where manuscripts were kept and used. Ideas from and about texts often guided artists and craftsmen in their creative work. And the transmission of Buddhist manuscript works from one land to another also occasioned the spread of artistic styles. This extension of the ideas and forms of manuscripts into other aesthetic spheres reminds us to view Buddhist manuscript cultures as dynamic centers of literary and artistic activity. In her contribution to this volume, M.L. Pattaratorn Chirapravati discusses the development of monastic lineages and stylistic elements in the Thai Sukothai kingdom, which incorporated them in the context of its religious exchanges with Sri Lanka. As such, her chapter reminds us that manuscripts were usually linked spatially and conceptually with other sacred objects in premodern Buddhist communities.
At the same time, the importance and power attributed to Buddhist manuscripts derived from their status as the physical embodiments of the Dharma and functioned as sacred objects in their own right. Scriptural testimony for the equation between the Buddha and the Dhamma—as seen famously in the statement made by the Buddha to a disciple in Samyutta Nikciya iii 120: "Whoever sees the dhamma, Vakkali, sees me; whoever sees me sees the dhamma"—signals that the tradition has long held that the Buddha is in some sense embodied in the Dharma he taught (Harrison 1992: 50). Not surprisingly, there is ample evidence in various Buddhist sects and communities that Buddhist manuscript texts were ritually venerated on altars and often continue to be treated with respect in Asian lands. Revered texts could take the form of complete works or parts of works that are used to represent the entire text or Dharma. For example, the worship of the physical representation of the title of the Lotus Sutra in the form of a calligraphic mandala (gohonzon) devised by the medieval Japanese teacher Nichiren is but one widespread instance of the Buddhist veneration of texts (Stone 1999: 274). Alternatively, Buddhist textual material may be installed in images of the Buddha or stupas that supposedly contain the bodily remains of the Buddha or another enlightened being. A study of the rituals used to consecrate Buddha images in Thailand confirms that written Pali gdthas were routinely installed inside such images to make them effective sources of power and deserving of veneration (Swearer 2004: 56-7). Likewise, there are frequent references in Mahayana literature to practices of enshrining and venerating books, evidence that suggests that manuscripts were deeply involved in ritualized worship.
The power and significance attributed to Buddhist manuscripts has even been associated with the formation of Malik/"dna Buddhism in ancient India. Based on select references in some early Sanskrit texts, Gregory Schopen has argued for the presence of a cult of the book patterned after, and also in competition with, the Buddhist cult of relics in ancient India (Schopen 2005: 43-4). The elevation of certain physical texts to a status equal to or even above that of bodily relics deposited in stutpas would in this way create new physical locations for ritual activity. With a ritual formula affirming that a spot of earth can become a true shrine, certain Sanskrit texts may have asserted that their very presence sanctifies the area around where they are kept and taught, inviting cultic displays of worship such as the offering of flowers and dancing to the manuscripts themselves (Schopen 2005: 51-2). Although some scholars may arrive at interpretations that differ somewhat from Schopen's view, his interpretation is consistent with the current scholarly con-sensus over the centrality of texts in the formation of Mahayana in ancient India. Occasional references to "dharma-relics" (dharmaarira) comprising whole texts, select verses (e.g., "ye dhammd..."), or textualized spells and mnemonic aids functioned like bodily relics to consecrate or enliven stupas and images throughout South and Southeast Asia (Boucher 1991: 6-10; Strong 2004: 8-10).
While there undoubtedly was a ritual component associated with manuscripts in diverse Buddhist communities, there were also important pedagogical and didactic components. In premodern manuscript cultures, physical texts formed the scarce resources with which aspiring monastics and, on occasion, devout laypersons were taught. Monastic libraries would typically hold any number of manuscripts of Buddhist texts, which often formed the basis for training and educating monks in the Dharma. Apart from canonical suttras, manuscripts of commentaries, translations, grammars, sermon texts, meditation manuals, and other kinds of works were accessible to those seeking instruction and wisdom. Herein, Justin McDaniel contributes an essay related to pedagogical uses of manuscripts, and he has writ-ten elsewhere on how the formations of manuscript anthologies and commentarial glosses defined the ideas of canon and curriculum in Thailand and Laos (McDaniel 2005: 310-12). While the intellectual engagement with manuscript texts may seem limited largely to a literate monastic elite, the use of manuscripts for educational purposes was nonetheless a crucial factor in determining whether the Sangha could be established and sustained in a given area.
The production of Buddhist manuscript texts entailed a variety of production and storage methods that could vary significantly from one community or region to another. What is clear, however, is that Buddhist manuscript cultures involved tremendous material and human resources to generate and maintain the texts that were read, recited, copied, venerated, decorated, and deposited. The substantial differences between Asian Buddhist and European Christian manuscripts notwithstanding, there are useful comparisons to be drawn between the manuscript cultures of both regions. Certainly, given the range of characteristics inherent in manuscripts copied and recopied by hand, one could expect that Asian Buddhist manuscripts would share at least some features with European Christian ones.
For Dagenais, medieval Spanish manuscripts reveal that glosses added to the text signify ethical choices in reading that were necessitated by the variation, imprecision, and errors regularly encountered in handwritten texts (Dagenais 1994: 16). In time, such glosses would make manuscripts collective projects where groups of writers and readers collaborate in the production of meaning. Similarly, Elizabeth J. Bryan has described how groups of writers and readers joined in the collaborative creation of texts in the absence of the standardization and fixedness of works produced in modern print culture (Bryan 1999: 4-8). Buddhist manuscript cultures could be expected to function along similar lines. Manuscript texts and readers in Asian communities would in many, if not most, cases be confronted with similar limitations (and opportunities) that derived from the materials and practices used to produce texts. The texts they encountered were, in Bryan's words, a "mix of voices" that superseded the author's unitary voice and consciousness (Bryan 1999: 50).
Scholars of Buddhist manuscript cultures may also find that some of the interpretive frames used by European medievalists are helpful in reading Asian texts. The modern study of Buddhist manuscripts owes much to the techniques and terminology of the codicology established by earlier humanist scholars of Latin, Greek, and other sources from around the Middle East (Scherrer-Schaub 1999: 3-4). As we will see in the following narration, many of the methods used to reconstruct and date manuscript texts have been borrowed from other fields such as Medieval Studies and Biblical Studies. Thus, the questions brought to study of manuscripts by those scholars may often be replicated or altered for use in the study of Buddhist cultures as well. For instance, it is possible and perhaps even advisable for scholars studying Buddhist manuscripts to look at their sources in ways similar to medievalists, asking how "an individual, concrete manuscript book came into being, grew through accretions of gloss, commentary, and irrelevant marginal jottings, moved through both space and time, and was, in many cases, transformed into another individual, concrete manuscript book" (Dagenais 1994: 18). Or we may explore what Gabrielle Spiegel terms "the social logic of the text," wherein manuscripts are seen to occupy "determinate social spaces" as both the products of authors and as textual agents that mirror and generate particular social realities (Spiegel 1997: 24). Or we may, like Armando Petrucci, embark on more systematic studies of manuscripts to determine how notions of authors, writing, and reading were generally conceived in Buddhist Asia (Petrucci 1995). The possibilities of adapting models judiciously from other fields to fill in our conceptions of Buddhist manuscript cultures are numerous indeed.
Scholarship on Buddhist manuscripts
In an age where printed editions and translations of key Buddhist texts are accessible, if not plentiful, it is easy to forget the fact that the modern study of Buddhism developed chiefly out of philologically based research on manuscripts
from different Asian cultures. Once European scholars located scriptural texts and acquired the linguistic skills to read them, they turned to manuscripts as the primary means for gaining knowledge about Buddhism. Modern colonialism pro-vided numerous scholars, missionaries, and civil servants with the motivation and opportunity to explore the various religions and cultures in Asia. Many of the texts they first encountered were in manuscript form, and these works were collected and often shipped back to European libraries and institutes for further study. For instance, Eugene Burnouf based his nineteenth-century translations of the Saddharmapundarika, Divydvadana, and other Sanskrit texts on some of the 88 Sanskrit manuscripts obtained in Nepal and sent to Paris by Brian Houghton Hodgson (Jong 1987: 19). Similarly, the Danish linguist Rasmus Rask visited Sri Lanka during 1821-1822 and collected numerous Pali and Sinhala manuscripts that he brought back to Copenhagen, spurring work in Pali studies (Jong 1987: 18). Many other Buddhist manuscripts were thus acquired by European institutions and served largely as the basis upon which early scholars developed their knowledge and discourse about Buddhism.
The value of Buddhist manuscripts to early western scholars of Buddhism was enormous. It was through these texts that people in the West developed knowledge of Buddhist doctrine and literature. Buddhism had become, in Philip Almond's words, a "textual object" defined more by its rich collection of ancient texts than by its contemporary practitioners (Almond 1988: 24-6). Scholars inquiring into the foundations of the Buddhist religion—a religion seen to be present across much of Asia—consistently turned to manuscript texts for answers. Major discoveries of ancient manuscripts in the first few decades of the twentieth century boosted the study of Buddhist manuscripts. Four German expeditions to Turfan (in Xinjiang of NW China) during 1902-1914 uncovered many priceless treasures including large quantities of manuscripts in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese, Turkish, Uighur, and other languages (Huntington 1907: 270-1). Many of these were brought back to Germany and studied. Likewise, around 1900, a huge collection of ancient manuscripts was discovered in a cave complex along the Silk Route near Dunhuang in China. Aurel Stein and Paul Pelliot led expeditions to recover the treasures in 1906 and 1907, which resulted in the shipment of a great number of Dunhuang manuscripts in Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit, Khotanese, Sogdian, and other languages to London, New Delhi, and Paris (Fujieda 1966: 3-6).
Then, in 1931, a chance discovery of a cache of Sanskrit manuscripts from around the fifth or sixth centuries stored in an ancient stapa at Gilgit in what is today northern Pakistan produced what was by far the oldest extant Indian Buddhist texts (Dutt 1984, vol. I: i–ii). The Turfan, Dunhuang, and Gilgit manuscripts were distinctive for their great antiquity, often many centuries older than the manuscripts from Nepal, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. These discoveries reinvigorated the study of Buddhist manuscripts and continue to be examined today. More recently, toward the last decade of the twentieth century, discoveries of manuscripts and manuscript fragments believed to be from the Bamiyan region in eastern Afghanistan have yielded even older texts that have generated considerable enthusiasm and received attention from scholars. Several dozen birch bark scrolls written in the Gandhari language and Kharosthi script from around the first to third centuries have turned up and were acquired by the British Library and a private collector who have allowed scholars to examine these materials (see Salomon 1999; 2003). Another large private collection of early birch bark, palm leaf, and vellum manuscripts written mainly in Sanskrit and the BrahmT script was made available to scholarly researchers in the 1990s (see Braarvig 2000).
Current scholarship on Buddhist manuscripts encompasses a wide range of editorial, philological, and historical research pursued by a growing number of scholars. These scholars view Buddhist manuscripts as rich sources for develop-ing new understandings about the tradition's history and literature. The abundant stores of manuscripts collected throughout Asia and stored in Western libraries and institutes, as well as manuscript collections held in Asian countries, provide researchers with a vast body of texts to examine. It is possible, for instance, for scholars to locate new texts and new genres that were previously unknown and also to find different forms of previously known texts that cast the latter in a new light (Salomon 1999: 9). Such manuscripts offer unique insights and variant read-ings to scholars who are studying or editing particular texts. It is likewise the case that comparing manuscript texts allows the researcher to reconstruct the processes of textual transmission and production, as well as to arrive closer to the original meaning of the text before it was translated or quoted elsewhere (Steinkellner 1988: 105-8). Furthermore, manuscripts may reveal the broader and more diverse his-tory of texts and doctrine in the tradition, a diversity that was often obscured by the formations of Buddhist canons of scripture and the accompanying moves to sup-press controversies and interpretations deemed heretical or unorthodox (Salomon 1999: 9). Examining the manuscript record further magnifies the condition of textual diversity in Buddhism, a condition that is hinted at by the existence of different Buddhist canons but often overlooked by researchers who work exclusively with modern printed editions of texts.
Given the specialized and technical nature of research in Buddhist manuscripts, much of the recent research in this field has appeared in publication series devoted to manuscripts or journals with interests in philology. Some works serve chiefly as catalogues for extensive manuscript collections such as the nine vol-umes of Sanskrithandschriften aus den Turfanfunden published in Germany (see Waldschmidt, et al. 1966-1995; Bechert and Wille 2000-2004). Sometimes such catalogs contain extensive selections of texts and translations, such as the seven volumes of the Catalogue of the Hugh Nevill Collection of Sinhalese Manuscripts in the British Library (Somadasa 1987-1995). A more recent series titled Materials for the Study of the Tripitaka has been launched in conjunction with the Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation to catalogue and examine Pali and vernacular texts in Southeast Asia (Skilling and Pakdeekham 2002). Related to these collection-wide projects, there are other initiatives involving the preservation and digitization of Buddhist manuscripts to stabilize them and make them more widely accessible. There is one such project underway with the Guardian of the Flame Sri Lanka Manuscript Collection at the Arizona State University Libraries. The cataloguing and publication of lists of manuscript works held in various libraries and institutions around the world are critically important steps to facilitate more research in this area.
In addition to cataloguing efforts, recent research on Buddhist manuscripts has also involved collaborative studies of particular sets of manuscripts from various collections. One example of this collaborative textual work is the Buddhist Manuscripts in the Schoyen Collection (BMSC) project that began in the late 1990s under the general editorship of Jens Braarvig. Three published volumes of studies of ancient manuscript fragments from this large private collection have appeared to date and more are expected (see Braarvig 2000-2006). The Schoyen Collection contains important fragments of materials from the first few centuries of the Common Era that were likely recovered around the Bamiyan region in eastern Afghanistan. Another project launched by Richard Salomon is investigating the birch bark scrolls in the British Library's Kharostlfi manuscript collection and is publishing its results. The Gandhdran Buddhist Texts series has so far published three specialized studies of various fragments—and intends to produce more publications of these works that have been tentatively dated as originating in the first to second centuries CE (see Salomon 2000). Meanwhile, another group of scholars is researching the manuscripts and other materials from the ancient Tabo monastery, an important site of Tibetan Buddhist learning, in what is now Himachal Pradesh (see Scherrer-Schaub and Steinkellner 1999). These textual materials, dating from the tenth to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, are believed to yield new historical data on Buddhist life and literature in Western Tibet.
Other notable manuscript research has appeared in the form of journal articles. Such articles typically examine a smaller range of materials for a more specific purpose than what is found in collaborative, book-length studies. For example, Salomon has published an article that describes the Senior Collection of 24 birch bark scrolls in terms of the clay jar in which they were found, their generic char-acter and contents, and the peculiarities of their script and language (Salomon 2003). Other articles often discuss the identification or discovery of a significant manuscript not previously known. In 1996, Jens-Uwe Hartmann corrected the mistaken identification of what appears to be an eleventh-century manuscript of the Samcidhirajastitra and supplied a list of the major variants and mistakes it contains compared to the Gilgit and Nepalese versions of the text (Hartmann 1996). And Matsuda Kazunobu has reported his discovery of some fragments of the Mahc7parinirwittasatra that were improperly categorized in the Stein/Hoernle Collection of manuscripts from Dunhuang in London and subsequently created three new plates of the st7tra from the fragments he found (Matsuda 1987).
Research articles may also be used to discuss some preliminary findings related to a manuscript or group of manuscripts that are not well known. For instance, Jinadasa Liyanaratne examined 12 Sri Lankan medical manuscripts kept in English libraries to describe Buddhist influences on traditional medicine and the spread of tantric Siddha medicine to Sri Lanka (Liyanaratne 2001). Also, scholars occasion-ally publish short editions or translations of material found only in manuscripts. For instance, Charles Hallisey published an edition of a Pali sutta not included in the Pali Text Society's edition of the Pdli Canon using seven manuscript witnesses obtained in libraries around London (Hallisey 1990b). And W. Blythe Miller has translated a short Tibetan manuscript and discussed its significance in the formation and conceptualization of a new Buddhist lineage in twelfth—thirteenth-century Tibet (Miller 2006). Taken together, the aforementioned articles give some sense of the wide range of scholarship currently being done on specific Buddhist manuscripts.
Why "Buddhist Manuscript Cultures"
As a collection, the contributions to Buddhist Manuscript Cultures expand upon scholarly research on Buddhist manuscripts by shifting the focus from particular texts to the cultural contexts in which manuscripts were created and used. It is our conviction that Buddhist manuscripts not only contain significant textual material, but they also point to religious notions concerning textuality and reveal aspects of broader social, cultural, and ritual realities. While acknowledging the critical and continuing importance of philological studies of Buddhist manuscripts, the authors herein express an interest in reflecting more broadly on the production and use of manuscripts in premodern Buddhist cultures. Significant historical information can be gleaned from the study of Buddhist manuscripts, material that goes beyond strictly the language, writing style, and other internal characteristics found in a given work. The chapters presented here explore Buddhist manuscripts as works that comprise a range of religious, artistic, technological, and ideological practices and illuminate the historical significance and uses of Buddhist literature in different cultural contexts.
A variety of institutions and conventions for producing and writing books accompanied the production of Buddhist manuscripts in different forms and eras. Given the great importance attributed to the contents of works on the Dharma, people living in Buddhist manuscript cultures developed a wide variety of ways to bestow value and significance to the actual works they produced. And the manuscripts themselves often played critical roles in ritual practice, ethical development, artistic expression, cultural exchange, educational formation, institutional establishment, and other areas that shaped the development of Buddhism. It is the attempt to investigate the interdependent modalities of religious practice, text, and context—issues on which scholars of literature and history have long been focused—that motivate the studies in this volume. By looking beyond the particular aspects of a single manuscript text, the authors seek to learn more about what manuscripts in general can tell us about how Buddhists once conceived of and practiced a religion that they believed had been transmitted since the time of the Buddha.
In this way, the chapters in Buddhist Manuscript Cultures make an intervention in traditional studies of Buddhist manuscripts. The focus on manuscripts as historical evidence of broader ideologies and larger cultural processes is reminiscent of the intervention that the New Philology made in the field of Medieval Studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In his controversial book loge de la variante (1989), Bernard Cerquiglini claimed that medieval French manuscript writing was subjected to endless rewriting, making variance the primary characteristic of such texts and rendering traditional philological methods of editing manuscripts suspect. By contrast, the New Philology sought to focus on intertextuality and the diversity of readings evidenced in different textual witnesses (see Cerquiglini 1999). New Philology portrayed itself as a return to the medieval origins of philology with its roots in a manuscript culture and asserted the importance of manuscripts as material artifacts that were produced in concert with various visual images and annotations by entire sets of artists and artisans who projected their social attitudes and rivalries into manuscripts (Nichols 1990: 1, 7).
New Philology also implied a critique of older philological methods of editing texts. One method, associated with Karl Lachmann (1793-1851), sought to reconstruct an hypothetical "original" text by comparing the variant readings of multiple manuscripts and using shared errors to construct a genealogical tree (stemma codicum) of families of works that were copied from the same source. Editors of manuscript texts who followed Lachmannian principles devalorized the actual works of scribes in favor of a hypothetical model of the author's original text (Dembowski 1993: 515). Traditional philology after Lachmann sought to deter-mine which reading is most authentic by comparing and grouping manuscripts in order to emend them and produce the best possible text (Trachsler 2006: 18). Whether working with Old French or Buddhist manuscripts, scholars who seek to produce a "critical edition" of extant manuscript sources typically employ some features of Lachmann's stemma approach. In the early twentieth century, Joseph Bédier (1864-1936) departed from Lachmann's method and advocated choosing the single best manuscript for editing a text. Bédier's method of historical real-ism sought to preserve, without restoration, as much as possible from a particular work and emend it as little as possible (Dembowski 1993: 521). For instance, the production of diplomatic editions of Buddhist texts based on unique manuscripts in terms of their age or number of extant copies is a practice aligned with Bédier's approach.
Cerquiglini faulted both of these earlier philological methods of editing medieval manuscripts. To him, Lachmann's emphasis on tracking common errors to reconstruct the original text led an illusory reproduction of a text that never existed (Cerquiglini 1999: 49, 71). Although preferable to Lachmann's in Cerquiglini's eyes, Bédier's approach provided no picture of the inherent vari-ance of medieval writing and reduced texts to the stable, closed works of modernity (Cerquiglini 1999: 70-1). Cerquiglini's critique has produced its own share of detractors. Some argue that a single manuscript work the form of the text that most scribes and readers encountered—could hardly exhibit the variance that Cerquiglini anachronistically claims was the definitive condition of medieval writing (Busby 1993: 32-5). But his critique succeeded in raising significant issues about how scholars read and edit manuscripts. Advocates of New Philology embraced Cerquiglini's emphasis on textual variance, the work of scribes, and the materiality of manuscripts over emphasizing authors or an Ur-text. These positions resonated well with contemporary interests in postmodern theory (Trachsler 2006: 20-1).
Unlike Cerquiglini and the New Philologists, however, the authors in this volume do not seek to discredit and overturn traditional philological approaches to premodern manuscripts. There is much use to be found in both critical and diplomatic editions of Buddhist texts, and we dare say that we all greatly admire—and some of us engage in—the painstaking work of scholars who reconstruct, edit, and translate ancient Buddhist texts from manuscript sources that are between two thousand and two hundred or so years old. The reconstruction of ancient texts, the philological analysis of their contents, and the historical examination of how they were produced and transmitted through the ages are all valuable scholarly practices. We do, however, have some interests that coincide with the efforts of New Philology to recognize and study interactions between the language of a text, the manuscript matrix, and the social contexts and networks they inscribed (Nichols 1990: 9).
Scholars of Buddhist Studies continue to engage productive questions about premodern Buddhist conceptions that governed the production of texts, writing, and art, among other basic subjects of religious expression. There remains a pressing need to examine manuscripts in order to delineate patterns of textual transmission, conceptions of the author and the scribe, ideologies of writing and reading, expressions of literary and artistic preferences, the ritual use of Buddhist texts, the relative integrity of single works, and the social networks that supported to production and care of manuscripts, among other aspects of manuscript cultures. By focusing on Buddhist manuscripts as material culture and ritual objects that conditioned the ways that Buddhists in premodern Asia lived in the world, we can begin to see how texts shaped and informed religious worldviews, cultural practices, and the lived realities of Buddhists. We therefore encourage additional research into the manuscript cultures of premodern Buddhist communities along-side the continued examinations and reconstructions of ancient texts, and view these approaches as complementary, not inimical, in our efforts to apprehend the history and practices of the Buddhist religion.
As a collection, the essays in this volume take up recurrent themes that highlight certain conjunctures in the cultural production of Buddhist manuscripts across pre-modern Asia. They also examine practices integrally tied to the production of the texts and the ritual use of texts as material objects that embody transcendent teachings of the Buddha. These transcendent qualities of the dharma could be expressed in texts, inscribed on birch bark, palm leaf or stone, commemorated through recitation, and sculpted in artistic shapes or cosmic architecture. Such encompassing perspectives on Buddhist manuscript cultures show that the Buddhist production of manuscripts is informed by an array of closely linked cultural contexts and practices. The scholarly appreciation of Buddhist manuscript cultures, therefore, cannot be confined to a single medium of expression, such as writing, visual art, or recitation, but must be guided by the imaginative interpretations of the Buddhist paradigm across the ages.
The contributions reflect a geographic distribution of manuscript cultures across the Buddhist world, ranging from Central Asia (Wallace) to South Asia (Salomon, Berkwitz, Skilling, Hartmann and Emmrich), to Southeast Asia (McDaniel and Chirapravati) and East Asia (Heller). To encourage the reader's attentiveness to thematic conjunctures across Buddhist traditions, the collection is divided into four thematic groups, although other constellations may equally well illustrate continuities in the writing and practice of Buddhist manuscript cultures.
The first group focuses on the ideologies of manuscript cultures, their ritual extensions, and religious aspirations. Based on his analysis of Gandhdran textual fragments from four distinct collections, Richard Salomon explores possible motivations behind the ritual burial of these texts in clay jars. He proposes that they likely functioned as ritual equivalents of the Buddha's relics and that donors commissioned them to ensure the continuity of the buddhavacana. Stephen Berkwitz's contribution draws on his work on manuscripts from Sri Lanka, including the Guardian of the Flame Collection at Arizona State University. He notes that, while the material record of manuscript transmission is necessarily haphazard, that record also embodies a great deal of physical labor and social capital invested in manuscript production in order to gain merit for the future.
In the second part, Skilling, Wallace, and Hartmann examine the conventions of writing in the transmission of Buddhist manuscript cultures. Peter *fling looks at the historical developments, the transmission of the Dhamma from redaction to written texts, and their role in the formation of Buddhist schools. Vesna Wallace's essay opens our purview to Mongolian traditions of Buddhist writings and text production, while Jens Uwe Hartmann describes the transformation from recited to written words in South Asia.
Authorial exchanges, custodial librarianship, and public recitations of texts that constitute temple treasures comprise the focus of the third section in which these issues are discussed against the advent of printed Buddhist texts. In Natasha Heller's essay, letters exchanged by an eminent Chinese Chan calligrapher and a high-ranking scholar-official-artist, offer public documentation of personal concerns and cultural settings that accompanied the printed production of Buddhist manuscripts in China. Justin McDaniel investigates the custodianship of two monastic librarians and scribes in Northern Thailand and their influence on vernacular historiography at a moment of modernizing reforms. The quest for perfection despite inevitable deviations that creep into the public recitation and transmission of a Buddhist text embedded in contemporary Newari culture form the subject of Christoph Emmrich's contribution in this volume.
The volume concludes with a focus on the inscription of Buddhist meaning in artistic, sculptural, and architectural forms. The interchangeable modalities of writing and veneration in Buddhist manuscript cultures are taken up again in the essays by Nandadeva and Chirapravati. Bilinda Devage Nandadeva develops the argument that the primary motivation for depicting flowers on Sinhalese illustrated manuscript covers is not ornamentation, but ritual devotion analogous to the practice of floral offerings made to the Buddha. The collection concludes with Pattaratorn Chirapravati's insightful observations on another transformation from Buddhist manuscript culture to its visual representation in art and architecture. She argues that copying cosmological concepts in artistic spaces such as temple designs in ancient Thailand and Sri Lanka was commensurate with the re-creation of sacred space and a transcendent presence embodied in Buddhist manuscript cultures.5 Thus, her essay returns the discussions contained in this collection, full circle, to the point of their departure.