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C h a p t e r 4 De Guignes’s Chinese Vedas The ‘‘invention,’’ ‘‘discovery,’’ or identification of major Asian religions (in particular, Hinduism and Buddhism) is often situated in the ‘‘longer’’ nineteenth century during which, as a recent book claims, ‘‘the Invention of World Religions’’ took place. Its author states that toward the end of the nineteenth century Buddhism ‘‘had only recently been recognized as ‘the same’ tradition existing in diverse regions of South, South-east, East, and Central Asia,’’ and that until that time European observers had not ‘‘thought of these divergent rites and widely scattered institutions as constituting a single religion’’ (Masuzawa 2005:122). The discovery of Buddhism is characterized as being ‘‘from the beginning, in a somewhat literal and nontrivial sense, a textual construction,’’ so much so that ‘‘one might say that Buddhism as such came to life, perhaps for the first time, in a European philological workshop’’ (p. 126). Such arguments are based on several assumptions that merit questioning. We have already seen that the emergence in the European mind of a pan-Asiatic religion (that we now readily identify as Buddhism) did not happen overnight in some nineteenth-century study. Such scenarios of a nineteenth-century ‘‘creation’’ of Buddhism grew on a soil fertilized by several biases. The ‘‘Indian’’ bias links the European discovery of Buddhism to India as Buddhism’s country of origin, the ‘‘textual’’ bias to the study of Buddhist texts in Indian languages, and the ‘‘colonialist’’ bias posits that such discovery and study were primarily linked to colonial interests. This accounts for the exaggerated role of British ‘‘pioneers’’ in recent studies. Charles Allen ’s ‘‘men who discovered India’s lost religion,’’ for example, are without exception British colonialist ‘‘Sahibs’’ (Allen 2002). But even scholars with a much broader perspective suffer from similar biases. For example, J. W. de Jong’s Brief History of Buddhist Studies in Europe and America (1997) fails to PAGE 188 ................. 17751$ $CH4 05-21-10 15:29:16 PS De Guignes’s Chinese Vedas 189 mention João Rodrigues (see our Chapter 1), La Croze (see Chapter 2), and the protagonist of the present chapter, Joseph de Guignes. Even the most informative study to date, Henri de Lubac’s La rencontre du bouddhisme et de l’Occident (1952/2000), ignores that de Guignes’s 1756 French rendering of the Forty-Two Sections Sutra was the first published translation in a Western language of a Buddhist sutra. Related to these ‘‘Indian’’ and ‘‘Sanskrit’’ biases is one that pitches ‘‘science ’’ against missionary ‘‘protoscience.’’ It assumes that the onset of ‘‘modern ’’ Orientalism in the first decades of the nineteenth century was a clean break from the ‘‘missionary’’ past. The pre-nineteenth-century discovery of Buddhism is thus divorced from its ‘‘scientific discovery,’’ and the latter is portrayed as a ‘‘new start from almost nothing’’ (Droit 1997:29). Unlike the installation of a new operating system on a computer, which guarantees at least some continuity of data, Droit regards this new start as a total break with the past and generalizes: ‘‘It is a permanent feature of the West’s relation with the doctrines of Buddhism that, in the very long run, information does not accumulate’’ (p. 29). For Droit, the decisive ‘‘new start’’ and thus Buddhism ’s ‘‘discovery in the proper sense’’ only happened ‘‘from the moment when the languages of its canonical scriptures were deciphered and the fundamental texts translated in a systematic manner’’ (p. 36). When did this happen , and what languages were in play? Droit explains: Now, even though Sanskrit had been known since the 1780s, the Buddhist treatises in Sanskrit were only discovered during the 1820s in Nepal by Brian Houghton Hodgson; Pali was only deciphered by Eugène Burnouf and Christian Lassen during the same period; and the Chinese Buddhist texts were only at this moment studied by Jean-Pierre AbelRe ́musat, who was soon followed by the Hungarian Alexander Csoma de Körös’s study of Tibetan. (p. 36) If such bias is combined with constructivism, the 1820s become the ‘‘turning point’’ that ‘‘led Europe from ignorance to knowledge’’ and the crucial moment when the word ‘‘Buddhism’’ and the ‘‘phenomenon itself’’ were simultaneously ‘‘born in the scholarly gaze’’ (p. 36). In contrast to such a clean-cut birth by Caesarian section in the lecture halls of state-sponsored Orientalist academia, we have seen that the discovery of a large Asian religion with a specific founder, history, geographical presence, body of teachings, and...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812200058
Related ISBN
9780812242614
MARC Record
OCLC
794700616
Pages
568
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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