« The Cosmological Buddha as a Narrative Motive » par Bai Yu & Athanaric Huard – le 15/07/22 (Selwyn College, Cambridge)

Une contribution au symposium « Literary Buddhas Across Ages and Borders » (15-16 juillet 2022, Selwyn College, Cambridge)

Nous avons le plaisir de vous annoncer que Bai Yu et Athanaric Huard, jeunes chercheurs, membres du GREI-EA2120, donneront une conférence intitulée « The Cosmological Buddha as a Narrative Motive » le 15 juillet 2022 dans le cadre du symposium « Literary Buddhas Across Ages and Borders » organisé par le Selwyn College de l’Université de Cambridge en Angleterre.

Résumé de la contribution

« In this presentation, we will introduce the theme of the “cosmological Buddha” as a narrative motive. This term was used until now by art historians to describe images where the whole world system is depicted on the body of a Buddha. This type of representations is attested in Central Asia (Kizil grottoes and Balawaste in Khotan) and in China since the fifth century. For now, no Indian model is known. The depicted Buddha is traditionally identified as Vairocana as he is described in the Avataṃsaka-sūtra. But other scholars argue that he should be identified as Śākyamuni and can be interpreted in a broader perspective. The lack of textual parallels makes it difficult to understand the purpose and the meaning of these images.
We will study several instances of description of “cosmological symbols” appearing on the Buddha’s body in Buddhist narrative texts, to name only the most important ones: a Buddhacarita composed by a follower of Aśvaghosa, which isn’t preserved in Sanskrit but was translated to Chinese as the Fo benxing jing 佛本行經 (T193); a putative Chinese “apocryphon” the Dacheng bensheng xindi guan jing 大乘本生心地觀經 (T159); the Tocharian A version of the Bṛhaddyuti-jātaka, and the Maitreyasamitināṭaka, a Tocharian A drama about the life of Maitreya. In all these texts, these descriptions appear as a distinct narrative motif, added at crucial points of avadānas, biographies of Śākyamuni or of Maitreya. It is always depicted from the perspective of a character or a crowd looking at the Buddha, which brings it close to darśana, and it precedes conversion or praṇidhi scenes.
With the new textual materials, we would like to show that this motive is not originated from Mahāyāna conceptions. Previous literature assumed that it was somehow connected to the viśvarūpa theophany, but the exact relationship remained obscure. The narrative instances we provide make it clear that, by resorting to this motive, Buddhists consciously challenge Hindu gods and the brahmanical myth of creation in order to display the superiority of the Buddha. In Tocharian narratives, this motive is part of praṇidhi scenes, and in addition to cosmological symbols, all Buddhas of the past appear on the body of the Buddha. This suggests that it was also used as a symbol for the continuity of the Dharma, but it may also reflect speculations on the oneness of the Buddha nature. »

Informations pratiques

Téléchargez le programme au format PDF.

Lieu : Selwyn College, University of Cambridge
Dates : 15-16 juillet 2022

Pour toute question concernant cet événement, merci d’écrire à literarybuddhas@gmail.com ou bien à l’un des organisateurs :
Co-ordinators :

  • Dr Naomi Appleton (naomi.appleton@ed.ac.uk)
  • Dr Christopher V. Jones (cvj20@cam.ac.uk)

IT Assistant:

  • Alexandra Ilieva (asi22@cam.ac.uk)


Illustration : Buddha draped in robes portraying the Realms of Existence, Freer Gallery of Art, https://asia.si.edu/object/F1923.15/ – Crédit photographique : Creatice Common Zero (CC0) Licence.