Spalding symposium papers

Both James and I will be presenting papers at this year’s Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions, which will be held in Manchester 25th-27th April 2014. [More details here] Our papers will reflect areas of our current research for the Story of Story project. Titles and abstracts below.

James Hegarty – ‘From False Teachings , Failing Bloodlines and Toxic Karma to their Several Opposites: The Economy of Religious Explanation in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Narrative Traditions (to c. the C6th CE)’

Hindu, Buddhist and Jain narrative texts exhibit parallel concerns with the tensions between genealogy, teaching lineage and karmic inheritance. While it is fair to say that the anti-Vedic traditions tended to reject ideas of genealogically-inherited religious authority, it is also true to say that they found ways to karmically differentiate between individuals more or less capable of ‘salvific’ insight. There is, indeed, a certain embarrassment of riches in terms of the explanatory resources of early South Asian religious traditions.  All three religious traditions were also in the business of addressing their teachings to the realia of early South Asian social life. This  meant dealing with temporal authorities, many of whom placed a good deal of emphasis on issues of bloodline and dynastic ‘manifest destiny’. Discussions of karma, genealogy and teaching lineage spoke, then, not just to issues surrounding the explanatory power and perceived effectiveness of a given religious tradition, but also to its institutional framework, ethics and its compatibility with different forms of political authority (amongst other things). In this paper, I will take up narratives drawn from Hindus, Buddhists and Jain traditions ( to c. the C6th CE) in order to explore the similarities and differences in their literary approach to genealogy, teaching lineage and karma. I will cross-reference these materials both with epigraphy and with some of the monastic and socially didactic literature of the three traditions; in the latter, the delineation of forms of  preferred social organisation (from the monastic community to the family and the ruling elite) had to be more pragmatic, which makes them an excellent foil for more high-flown literary imaginings (though their ‘pragmatism’ is, on occasion, questionable). The triangulation of literary, ‘legal’  and epigraphic sources also helps to delineate the audience of early South Asian religious narrative. In this way, the paper will develop a comparative approach to the tensions between genealogy, teaching lineage and karma within and between the three great ‘isms’ of early South Asian religious history.

Naomi Appleton – ‘The Renouncing Royals of Videha across Buddhist, Jain and Hindu narratives’

“Though Mithilā may be on fire, nothing of mine is burning!” So speaks a renouncing king of Videha, called Janaka in the Buddhist Janaka-jātaka and the Mahābhārata, and Nami in the Jain Uttarādhyayana. The latter name resonates with two other jātaka stories, which tell of king Nimi/Nemi, another king of Videha famous for renunciation. That these characters are part of the same lineage is clear not only from their shared homeland, but also from genealogies such as that recounted by King Janaka in the Rāmāyaṇa, in which he refers to previous King Janakas as well as a King Nimi. Not all the kings of Videha are famous for renouncing, but those that are share certain motifs across all three traditions of early south Asia.

In this paper I will explore the interconnected narratives of the renouncing kings of Videha in an effort to understand how each of the three traditions – Hindu, Jain and Buddhist – used this motif and lineage to serve their own agenda. In so doing I will shed light on the connections between these traditions and the value of studying their narratives as part of a broader South Asian heritage.

New book: Narrating Karma and Rebirth

by Naomi

I am pleased to announce the publication of my latest monograph, Narrating Karma and Rebirth: Buddhist and Jain Multi-life Stories, available from Cambridge University Press. More details can be found on the publisher’s webpage.9781107033931

The book is the main output from my British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship (2009-12, Cardiff University) and was one of the inspirations for the current Story of Story project. I found that looking at Buddhist and Jain narratives of karma and rebirth side by side shed a lot of light on each tradition’s priorities and preconceptions. As in the current project, the many shared narrative elements illuminated the key differences between the traditions, as well as their shared heritage and intellectual context.

Reviewing the first year

At the end of the first year of the project, James is up in Edinburgh and we have been discussing our achievements so far and our plans for the coming year. We thought that it would be nice to jot down the year’s activities, and so we have added a Project Outputs page to this blog.

We have enjoyed exploring the narrative traditions of Hindus, Jains and Buddhists and have discovered a broad range of shared or similar features and concerns. The year has been filled with fruitful discussions, translations and our first tentative steps at formulating some conclusions. As well as academic presentations, there has also been a performance event. We have also been delighted by the response to our blog from around the world. So please keep visiting and leaving your comments; we value your input.

We look forward to another great year, and hope that all our readers will also enjoy a happy and productive 2014.

James and Naomi

Neutralising Kṛṣṇa and the other gods in śramaṇic sources

by Naomi

Following on from my research into the role of Indra in Buddhist, Jain and Hindu narrative, and into the ways in which Brahmā is adopted by early Buddhists, I have turned my attention to another key Indian deity: Viṣṇu. In particular I have been exploring Jain interpretations of Viṣṇu’s two major avatāras – and Indian Epic’s two great heroes – Rāma and Kṛṣṇa. Both are included in Jain lists of śalākāpuruṣas – ‘illustrious men’, 63 of which are said to appear in each half time-cycle. However, as several scholars have noted, while Rāma is elevated to the status of Jain saint by his identification as a baladeva, Kṛṣṇa is given the more ambivalent status of vāsudeva. All nine of the vāsudevas that appear in each half time-cycle follow the same broad narrative pattern (most likely modeled on Kṛṣṇa), killing their adversaries the prativāsudevas (in Kṛṣṇa’s case Jarāsandha) and ending up in hell as a result. Although the role of these Epic heroes in Jain narrative is fascinating in its own right (and has received a decent amount of scholarly attention) my own interest is in comparing the strategies used to deal with these aspects of Viṣṇu with the strategies used when dealing with Brahmā or Indra. What I have found is that there are many similar strategies in all three cases, despite one key difference.

Both Rāma and Kṛṣṇa are absorbed into Jain narrative as humans, albeit still special humans with magical powers and a repeatable cosmic role. In this sense they are somewhat different to both Brahmā and Indra, who remain gods in Buddhist and Jain narrative. Humanising was a strategy that was possible with Kṛṣṇa and Rāma because of their already ambiguous status in Hindu sources.

Freda Matchett’s book Kṛṣṇa: Lord or Avatāra? (Curzon 2001) is one resource for understanding how the divine identity of the Epic heroes has fluctuated over time. In it she neatly traces the relationship between Viṣṇu and Kṛṣṇa in three key texts – the Harivaṃśa, Viṣṇu Purāṇa and Bhāgavata Purāṇa. As she argues, while the Harivaṃśa leaves Viṣṇu and Kṛṣṇa in a balance, the Viṣṇu Purāṇa comes down firmly in favour of Viṣṇu’s supremacy (with Kṛṣṇa just a minor aspect, albeit still very powerful) and the Bhāgavata raises Kṛṣṇa up to the status of divine lord. Thus the exact extent of Kṛṣṇa’s divinity is debated within Hindu sources, leaving Jain authors open to emphasising his humanity.

[My pleasure in reading Freda's book was enhanced by my memory of her as a lovely lady that lived round the corner from us when I was a child and sang in the same choir as my mother. It is a sadness to me that she passed away before I knew how much my own interests collided with hers.]

Making human a character that others view as divine – as is done with Kṛṣṇa and Rāma – is therefore a strategy unique to the Jain treatment of Viṣṇu’s avatāras. However, while Brahmā and Indra remain gods in both Buddhist and Jain narrative, they are declared mortal and of inferior status to certain spiritually-advanced humans. Their achievements are compared unfavourably to those of the Buddha/Jina and key followers, and they are shown in service to humans. Worship of them is mocked, and their unsavoury characteristics are either denied, explained away or reversed. They are also multiplied in number, both in time and space. All these methods for adopting and adapting gods are used in the case of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa too, as I hope to show as I write up my findings. While they have ended up as very different characters, with varying significance in Buddhist and Jain sources, all three gods have been successfully neutralised by śramaṇic authors.

Engaging the public with South Asian narrative

by Naomi

As part of this project we hope to raise awareness of South Asian religious narrative amongst the wider public through publications and events. In particular we are working with storytellers in an attempt to engage audiences with the stories and create a better understanding of their role in South Asian life past and present. I had my first real taste of this on Saturday, when I hosted an evening of Jataka tales at the Scottish Storytelling Centre here in Edinburgh. The event was sponsored by a Knowledge Exchange grant from the University of Edinburgh.

The format of the evening was simple: After a short introduction from myself, two storytellers – Steve Killick and Mark Rivett – told five stories selected from the Pali Jataka collection, and there was then a short Q&A. Members of the audience were also given a programme with some images of the stories in Buddhist art and some further information about the Jataka genre and the individual stories chosen.

The cover of the evening's programme.

The cover of the evening’s programme.

The stories included three fairly short and simple tales to illustrate the diversity of styles and themes (Talkative Tortoise, Banyan Deer and Gentleheart) followed by two from the final ten stories, which are much longer and more closely tied to the perfections (Mahosadha and Vessantara).

The evening was a great success – rated ‘excellent’ by the vast majority of those who returned feedback forms. Several audience members commented that they had learnt a lot and been inspired to find out more about the stories.

Not every city is lucky enough to have a Storytelling Centre complete with theatre space, cafe and full-time events staff. Nonetheless we hope that the Jataka show may find a repeat elsewhere, and that other shows that directly stem from our current research will come to life in the future.

More on the Historic Conversations of Kings and Sages: Conquering the Conquerors in Jain Tradition

We have seen in my previous posts that literary dialogues and propaganda were natural bedfellows in the narrative traditions of both Hindus and Buddhists, but what of the Jains? They are no exception in this regard: in the Uttarādhyayana Sūtra of the Śvetāmbara Jain canon (in its eighteenth chapter), we find an interesting encounter between a King Sañjaya and an unnamed Jain mendicant (in Ardha-Magadhī, an aṇagāṛa), which will illustrate the combination in Jain tradition of polemic and appeal to royal authority. King Sañjaya is out hunting, we are told, and comes upon the aforementioned ascetic in a forest grove. He greets the sage, but receives no answer:

āsaṃ visajjaittāṇaṃ aṇagārassa so nivo ⎥
viṇaeṇa vandae pāe bhagavaṃ ettha me khame ⎥⎥ 5 ⎥⎥

Unhorsed, the king bowed down before the sage.
He said, ‘O holy one, forgive my fault.’

The king is afraid that he will be reduced to ashes. However, the sage emerges from his meditation and asks the, perhaps somewhat predictable, question ‘why do you cling to your kingdom?’ (‘kiṃ rajjammi pasajjasi?’ Skt. upa+sañj). What follows (in crisp ślokas) is in marked contrast to the genealogical emphasis of Vasiṣṭha in the Rāmāyaṇa (which I took up in a previous blog entry). Indeed, we are offered a calculated rebuttal of genealogy:

dārāṇi ya suyā ceva, mittā ya taha bandhavā ⎥
jīvantam aṇujīvanti mayaṃ nāṇuvvayanti ya ⎥⎥ 14 ⎥⎥

Not wives, not sons, not friends, nor relations,
Though dependent now; at death, none will follow.

The sage goes on to describe the way in which one’s material possessions will be enjoyed by others after one’s death. In contrast the deceased is said to enjoy only the fruits of their karma in their next existence. After this short sharp reminder of the transience of our social bonds and the enduring nature of karmic consequences, king Sañjaya immediately becomes a Jain monk. After his conversion, he comes upon an unnamed Jain monk once more. This monk immediately begins to discourse on the superiority of the teachings of Mahāvīra. Here the locus of persuasion is not the inevitability of karmic consequences, but a combination of the demonstration of supranormal powers of perception and the criticism of rival views. King Sañjaya is told first of all of the past life of the sage. He tells Sañjaya that, in the life immediately before this one, he was a god in the highest heaven. He goes on to criticise those traditions that do not accept the idea of an enduring self, or transmigrating essence (i.e. the Buddhists) and those that accept only one view (ekāntavādī), which presumably includes a wide variety of religious opponents. What then follows is a long list of kings who have converted to Jainsim. The list reads like a who’s who of Brahminical and Jain mytho-history:

eyaṃ puṇṇapayaṃ soccā (Skt. śrū) atthadhammovasohiyaṃ ⎥
bharaho vi bhārahaṃ vāsaṃ ceccā (skt. tyaj) kāmāi pacce (Skt. parivraj)⎥⎥34⎥⎥

Hearing these words, which were fraught with virtue,
Leaving the world behind, Bharata went forth.

The list opens, then, with king Bharata (for whom modern India, or Bhārat, is named, of course); there follows: king Sagara, who looms large in epic and Purāṇic sources; and King Maghavā, who is known only in Jain narratives. The list then names a variety of kings , all of whom are described as accepting the central tenets of Jainism and becoming monks. Many of these kings are further described as achieving emancipation. The list proceeds and in it, as well as mythic kings of the distant past, we find regional monarchs (that are, by and large, no easier to historically locate); the list includes regions from all over South Asia: Daśārṇa, Videha, Pāṇcāla, Sauvīra, Kāśī to name only a few. We see in this list a high degree of ambition: the great kings of the past are claimed as fully-ordained followers of the Jinas. This sort of list has analogues in Brahminical literature. The Mahābhārata offers us some robust examples; in its second book, the Sabhāparvan, we find the following description of the conquests of king Yudhiṣṭhira (which were undertaken on his behalf by his brother, Sahadeva):

pāṇḍyāṃś ca dravidāṃś caiva sahitāṃś coḍakeralaiḥ ⎥
andhrāṃs talavanāṃś caiva kaliṅgān oṣṭra karṇikān ⎥⎥
antākhīṃ caiva romāṃ ca yavanānāṃ puraṃ tathā ⎥
dūtair eva vaśe cakre karaṃ cainān adāpayat ⎥⎥

Pāṇdyās, Draviḍās, Coḍas, Keralans;
Andhras, Talavanas, and Kaliṅgans;
Uṣṭrakarṇikas, the peoples dwelling
In Rome and in Antioch; and the Greeks:
All were subjugated; all gave tribute.

These conquests are more often than not undertaken by idealised kings, or their representatives, who have voluntarily subordinated themselves to Brahmins and that undertake their conquests as a constituent part of one of two major Vedic rituals of royal consecration: the Aśvamedha or the Rājasūya. The integration of royal prerogative and religious patronage was a key concern of these rituals, as can be seen in a culminatory moment in the Aśvamedhikaparvan of the Mahābhārata, which – as its name might suggest – takes up an aśvamedha:

tato yudhiṣṭhiraḥ prādāt sadasyebhyo yathāvidhi ⎥
koṭīsahasraṃ niṣkāṇāṃ vyāsāya tu vasuṃdharām ⎥⎥
pratigṛhya dharāṃ rājan vyāsaḥ satyavatīsutaḥ ⎥
abravīd bharataśreṣṭhaṃ dharmātmānaṃ yudhiṣṭhiram ⎥⎥
pṛthivī bhavatas tv eṣā saṃnyastā rājasattama ⎥
niṣkrayo dīyatāṃ mahyaṃ brāhmaṇā hi dhanārthinaḥ ⎥⎥

And King Yudhiṣṭhira, as decreed, gave
The Brahmins gathered there heaps of gold coin.
Vyāsa, accepting the earth entire, said
To that virtuous king, “O first amongst men,
take back this world; give me instead its weight
in gold; because Brahmins prefer riches.”

After some negotiation, Yudhiṣṭhira accepts the earth from the Brahmin sage, Vyāsa. Statements about the performance of such rituals were not restricted to literary sources: Vedic rituals of royal consecration are mentioned in South Asian epigraphy before the commencement of the Common Era. Consider, for example, the following inscription, which belongs to the Śuṅga dynasty (who ruled in North India from 185 to 78 BCE):

This memorial for his father Phalgudeva was caused to be made by the legitimate king Dhana (?deve?), overlord of Kosala…sixth from the general (senāpati) Puṣyamitra, who performed the Aśvamedha twice.

Publicly inscribed royal eulogies, which are known, in Sanskrit, as praśasti, offer more direct parallels to the sort of rhetoric we find in the Mahābhārata: the most famous of these inscriptions is that of the Guptan monarch, Samudragupta (c. 320-375 C.E.). In his Allahābād pillar inscription, which is undated, but must have been produced in the middle part of the C4th CE, the victories of Samudragupta are related in poetic Sanskrit. For example:

Of him [who] was skilful in engaging in hundreds of battles of various kinds…(lines 17-18)
Whose magnanimity blended with valour was caused by his first capturing, and thereafter showing the favour of releasing, all the kings of Dakśiṇapātha such as Mahendra of Kosala, Vyāgrarāja of Mahākāntāra, Maṇṭarāja of Kurāḷa… (lines 19-20)

The list goes on. It is perhaps worth noting that Samudragupta was a prominent sponsor of Brahmins (as his copper plate inscriptions attest). In the Brahminical examples, the business of rule and religious authority are harmonised. In the Jain example, however, the king must abdicate his rule in order to become a Jain monk. This contrast is an important one: the Jain source does not offer a model of – ritually maintained – temporal and religious reciprocity, in which spiritual capital can be exchanged for its equivalent in lands, trade goods and gold and vice versa (indeed this is a doctrinal – though not a practical – impossibility in Jain tradition). What we find, instead, in our Jain narrative, subsequent to an extended religious polemic, is the ‘conquest’ of the conquerors: Bharata himself, a cornerstone of the Brahmnical genealogical imagination, at least from the epic period onwards, and a host of other monarchs are presented as becoming Jain monks and rejecting the fruits of their conquests. In this way, rhetorical strategies that could not be more familiar from Brahminical literature and epigraphy are yoked to a quite different – indeed antithetical – ideological agenda. They are, indeed, neatly ‘trumped’ by our sutta.

Our source also suggests, perhaps, a form of propaganda that is not directly aimed at those in the business of rule, but a rather more mixed audience, which would have been impressed by the idea that great monarchs of the past gave up all that they had in order to devote themselves to the practice of Jain teachings (and would have been familiar with the Brahminical hyperbole that, I argue, the sutta presupposes).

It is worth noting, in closing, that, given the thoroughgoing asceticism of Jain tradition, the harmonization of rule and religion was a challenging task, as it was for the Buddhists (for different reasons). The Jain material that I have considered above does not address this issue. It is, amongst other things, the multivalent figure of the cakravartin that is of critical importance, if one wishes to explore the challenges of integrating religion and politics in the two traditions, but this is quite another topic and one that will have to wait for another blog entry!