Intermediate Sanskrit Reading Class: Week Six
The Tantric Deliberations of Octavio Paz
The Mexican poet and essayist Octavio Paz is largely thought of as a Latin American writer, but both his roots as a writer and his fields of interest extended around the world, and Indic traditions held a particular fascination for him. In 1952, en route to a diplomatic post in Japan, Paz first travelled in India; he returned as Mexican ambassador in 1962, remaining until he resigned his post in 1968 in protest over the Mexican government’s mistreatment of student demonstrators. During his years in India, Paz took a special interest in Tantra, and Tantric thought and imagery figures in many of his finest works, from Sunstone (1956) through the poems of East Slope (1969) and beyond. He also wrote several essays on India and its traditions. This talk will focus on how Paz incorporated Tantric elements into his poetic vision, which not only sustains a delicate balance between the One and the many but also returns repeatedly to questions of subjectivity and consciousness.
Intermediate Sanskrit Reading Class: Week Seven
Rudolf Otto's Perspective of Indian Religious Thought
In the early modern period since the seventeenth century, after contact between East and West became vigorous, Indian religious thought was introduced to the West and attracted the attention of Western intellectuals. One of these intellectuals was the Lutheran theologian Rudolf Otto (1869–1937). In his works on Indian religious thought, Otto focused on Vedanta philosophy, represented by Sankara and Ramanuja, and on Vaisnava faith in Hindu religious tradition. According to his framework of religions, the Hindu tradition as the “bhakti religion” corresponds to the Christian tradition in the West. From a comparative viewpoint of religions, based on his Christian theological studies, he argued that religions provided “parallel lines of development” in the East and the West. In my lecture, I would like to clarify the characteristics of Otto’s perspective of Indian religious thought from a hermeneutical perspective of religion and to re-examine to what extent his view may be adequate for the understanding of Hindu tradition.
Prof. Yoshitsugu Sawai is Professor of the History of Religions and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Tenri University (Japan), as well as Advisor of the Japan Association of Religion and Ethics. He is the author of The Faith of Ascetics and Lay Smartas: A Study of the Sankaran Tradition of Srngeri (Sammlung De Nobili).
Archaeologies of power: materialization of imperial ideology on the Aśoka horizon
Archaeologists have conceptualized power either as personal potency or something structural, but more comprehensively as nothing but the dialectical relationship between the two. Comparatively in Indic philosophy, both the normative knowledge of statecraft and personal experience of the ruler were considered as integral to the exercise of overlordship. I will thus archaeologically investigate the role of Aśoka the Great in exploiting sources of power especially (but not exclusively) ideology through the archaeological theory of materialization. It has been argued that ideology can be materialized: in ancient South Asia, ideology assumed its materialized forms as royal orders on permanent materials, monuments/monumental art, coins, rituals, distributions of imperial art/architecture/artifacts or settlement patterns/hierarchies.
The contents, contexts and locations of Aśokan edicts best manifest the modes of power of the Indic world. I will first challenge the discrepancy between Aśoka’s proselytization of Buddhism and religious tolerance as well as the long-held dichotomy of the Buddhist and Brahmanical models of his kingship. Secularization of certain technical terms in Aśokan edicts and their geopolitical locations rather support such imperial strategies as universal pacification and compartmentalization. The collective evidence of the royal orders of Aśoka, Khāravera, Rudradāman and Samudragupta will further illuminate the cakravartin kingship of the Indo-European origin. I will hypothesize that Aśoka as cakravartin materialized his power by marking his symbolic circumambulation of his empire with his Major and Minor Rock Edicts located on Mauryan borderlands.
Corporeal relics in stupa deposits from Gandhara
The literary tradition has it that after the Buddha left his earthly body, his body was cremated and his bones divided between 8 kings. These bones are, according to Buddhist tradition, corporeal relics of the Buddha. The 8 kings subsequently buried the Buddha’s bones inside a ritual monument called stupa in their own kingdoms. Literature also claims that the 8 stupas were later opened by King Asoka, who distributed the bones, and had them buried in 84,000 stupas. The deposition of objects inside stupas in Gandhara, present-day northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, could be traced back to the mid 2nd century BC.
Not all Gandharan stupas contain bones. Bones in Gandharan stupas consist of both burned and unburned bones. All burned bones are of small size, while unburned bones are of different sizes and show obvious indication of being animal bones. This presentation will look at the spatial distribution of bones in Gandharan stupa deposits, and attempt to discuss reasons of the absence of bones in some stupas. One of the main arguments for the absence of the bones concerns the attitudes towards body remains. Apart from Buddhists, Gandhara was also inhabited by Zoroastrians and Hindus, to whom dead body is considered impure. The co-inhabiting of the Buddhists with the Zoroastrians and Hindus may have prompted the exclusion of bones in stupa deposits.