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Text as Father

Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature

Alan Cole

Publication Year: 2005

This beautifully written work sheds new light on the origins and nature of Mahayana Buddhism with close readings of four well-known texts—the Lotus Sutra, Diamond Sutra, Tathagatagarbha Sutra, and Vimalakirtinirdesa. Treating these sutras as literary works rather than as straightforward philosophic or doctrinal treatises, Alan Cole argues that these writings were carefully sculpted to undermine traditional monastic Buddhism and to gain legitimacy and authority for Mahayana Buddhism as it was veering away from Buddhism’s older oral and institutional forms. His sophisticated and sustained analysis of the narrative structures and seductive literary strategies used in these sutras suggests that they were specifically written to encourage devotion to the written word instead of other forms of authority, be they human, institutional, or iconic.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: Buddhisms


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Other Works in the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-11

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pp. xi-xiii

Before thanking those who helped me to write this book, I would like to imagine who might/could/should be interested in reading it. Three groups of readers come to mind. First are my colleagues in Buddhist studies who know these texts and, I hope, will find my readings of interest and perhaps...

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pp. 1-23

In the curious space of arguments before the arguments, let me introduce this book by acknowledging that some readers might at first find it strange: What could “text as father” mean, and what do fathers have to do with Buddhism in the first place? The suitability of this topic will become clearer in...

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1. Text as Father

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pp. 25-47

Though Buddhism was constructed around the act of “leaving the family,” the motif of paternity is actually quite prominent in Buddhist discourse. In the early literature of the Mahayana, the so-called Great Vehicle of Buddhism that arose several hundred years after Buddhism was founded, fathers of various...

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2. Who’s Your Daddy Now? Reissued Paternity in the Lotus Sutra

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pp. 48-98

One of the most striking things about the Lotus Sutra is its sophisticated use of father-son motifs to explain its own identity and then to insert itself as the defining element in creating a new identity for the reader and his relationship to the Buddhist tradition.1 The brilliance of the text lies in the way that...

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3. The Domino Effect: Everyone and His Brother Convert to the Lotus Sutra

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pp. 99-159

While the Wrst chapter of the Lotus Sutra developed an image of its legitimate history through doubling itself in order to explain its birth at the end of the lineage of the twenty thousand buddhas, the chapters that follow prove the efficacy, and fertility, of the “text” on various internal audiences...

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4. “Be All You Can’t Be” and Other Gainful Losses in the Diamond Sutra

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pp. 160-196

Just as the seductive literary strategies of the Lotus Sutra became clearer through a sustained narrative analysis, I hope to show that the Diamond Sutra is a suitable text for a similar kind of close reading that takes into account the basic plotline of the work, the various kinds of self-imposed “needs” of the discourse,...

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5. Sameness with a Difference in the Tathagatagarbha Sutra

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pp. 197-235

Against the repetitious negations that made up most of the Diamond Sutra, this chapter takes up the issue of the internal buddha, that statuesque figure of perfect paternity that several Mahayana sutras posited as the only legitimate subject inside the body of each sentient being. Though insisting on a...

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6. Vimalakirti, or Why Bad Boys Finish First

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pp. 236-325

Of the texts selected in this survey of early Mahayana literature, the Vimalakirti presents the brashest example of textual patriarchy overcoming prior forms of Buddhism. In an unusually hard-hitting narrative, the action produces the image of perfect tradition condensed in the figure of...

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Conclusion: A Cavalier Attitude toward Truth-Fathers

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pp. 327-345

The conclusions of this study flow in several directions. First, and most obviously, I have shown compelling evidence for reading each of these Mahayana texts as texts. Given the details in the preceding chapters, it is hard to imagine that readers would want to continue to treat their content...


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pp. 347-350


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pp. 351-356

E-ISBN-13: 9780520931404
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520242760

Page Count: 369
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Buddhisms