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Reviewed by:
  • Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism
  • Henry C. H. Shiu (bio)
Donald S. Lopez Jr. , editor. Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2005. 353 pp. Hardcover $47.50, ISBN0-226-49314-8. Paperback $19.00, ISBN0-226-49315-6.

The "critical terms" included in this volume follow the tradition of earlier works published by the University of Chicago Press, including Critical Terms for Literary Studies (1995), Critical Terms for Art History (1996), and Critical Terms for Religious Studies (1998). They aim to provide "new and nuanced understanding of the Buddhist traditions" (p. 3) through a vocabulary with which the practice of Buddhism in its postmodern context can be illuminated. Terms selected for such a purpose, therefore, are not traditional Buddhist terms such as "middle way" or koan that readers would immediately connote with Buddhism. As the editor explains, focusing on these terms "would run the risk of it [the volume] becoming an expanded glossary" (p. 5), a dictionary, or a small encyclopedia of Buddhist vocabularies. Instead, the volume is built around topics that illumine and deepen our understanding of the multidisciplinary and multicultural study of traditional and contemporary terms in Buddhist studies.

The result is a collection of illuminating and impressive essays, each of which provides an insightful examination of an English term. Apart from the editor's article on "Buddha," which serves as the opening chapter, the articles appear in alphabetical order as follows: "art," "death," "economy," "gift," "history," "institution," pedagogy," "person," "power," "practice," "ritual," "sex," and "word." The volume, published under the series Buddhism and Modernity, ends with an incisive discussion of the term "modernity." Together with the editor's introduction, these disparate topics are masterly related to serve the purpose stated.

With his usual wry humor in invoking the classic tetralema in Madhymaka reasoning, Donald S. Lopez Jr., the editor of the volume, observes that this [End Page 466] book is intended for those who are (1) Buddhists and not Buddhologists, (2) Buddhologists and not Buddhists, (3) both Buddhists and Buddhologists, and (4) neither Buddhists nor Buddhologists. The approach taken in these studies of Buddhism goes beyond the philological model that has served the foundation of this field of academia since the nineteenth century. This volume offers a multidisciplinary approach, including anthropological studies, art history, literary theory, philosophical studies, and sociology. The essays move through various forms of Buddhist practice, from Chinese Chan to Tibetan Vajrayāna, from Theravāda to medieval Japanese death rituals, to identify fundamental terms that will "offer recourses for the study of Buddhism and resources from the study of Buddhism" (p. 2).

The volume opens with Lopez's study of "Buddha"-not with his story but with the portrayal of him having a "bump" on the Buddha's head, called the uṣṇīṣa in Sanskrit. As one of the 32 physical marks of the great beings (mahāpuruṣa), the uṣṇīṣa is mentioned frequently in the Buddhist literature, from the early Pali scriptures such as the Lakkhana Sutta to the works of the fifth-century Indian scholar-monk Buddhaghosa, and also in wide cultural contexts not only in India, but also in China and Tibet. Uṣṇīṣa has also become a focus of attention in the works of late nineteenth-century European scholars, including Étienne Lamotte and Alfred Foucher. The explanations of what the uṣṇīṣa is also ranges from "turban," to "a head shaped like a turban," to a topknot of the Buddha's hair. The origin of the uṣṇīṣa, states Lopez,

remains something of a mystery, both for the textual scholar and for the art historian. Regardless of what the texts meant or the sculptors intended, the uṣṇīṣa was depicted not as a turban or as a prominent forehead but as a cranial protuberance. And once there, it did not remain like a bump on the Buddha's head.

(p. 27)

Perhaps it might not be too farfetched to consider, not from the perspective of theory but from that of praxis, that the uṣṇīṣa and other 31 physical marks, given symbolic significances, were used as a means for the practitioner reflecting on and contemplating...


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