the Legend of King Asoka

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7/28/2019 the Legend of King Asoka 1/6 THE JOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BUDDHIST STUDIES / ^ r ^ / > . . A>" ^rQ?3> N '-;;. •••, I 1 ^Ifi |j CO-EDITORS-IN-CHIEF > > J : Gregory Schopen Roger Jackson """"" ;Q O Indiana University Fairfield University Bloomington, Indiana, USA Fairfield, Connecticut, USA EDITORS Peter N. Gregory FJrnst Steinkellner University of Illinois University of Vienna Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, USA Wien, Austria Alexander W. Macdonald Jikido Takasaki University de Paris X University of Tokyo Nanterre, France Tokyo,Japan Robert Thurman Amherst College Amherst, Massachusetts, USA ASSISTANT EDITOR Bruce Cameron Hall College of William and Mary Williamsburg, Virginia, USA Volume 10 1987 Number 2
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Transcript of the Legend of King Asoka

  • 7/28/2019 the Legend of King Asoka



    BUDDHIST STUDIES/ ^ r ^ / > . .A > " ^rQ?3>N '-;;. ,

    I 1^Ifi |jC O - E D I T O R S - I N - C H I E F > > J :

    Gregory Schopen Roger Jackson """"" ; Q OIndiana University Fairfield University

    Bloomington, Indiana, USA Fairfield, Connecticut, US A

    E D I T O R SPeter N. Gregory FJrnst SteinkellnerUniversity of Illinois University of Vienna

    Urbana-Cham paign, Illinois, USA Wien, AustriaAlexander W. Macdonald Jikido Takasaki

    University de Paris X University of TokyoNanterre, France Tokyo,Japan

    Robert ThurmanAmherst College

    Amherst, Massachusetts, USAA S S I S T A N T E D I T O R

    Bruce Cameron HallCollege of W illiam and MaryWilliamsburg, Virginia, USA

    Volume 10 1987 Number 2

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    C O N T E N T S

    I . A R T I C L E S1. P u r e La nd B ud dh i s t H e r m e ne u t i c s :H one n ' s I n t e r p r e t a t ion o fNembuLsu, by Allan A. Andrews 72. Sa-skya Pancli ta , the W hite Panacea an d the H va -sh angDoct r ine , by Michael Broido 273 . I nd ia n C om m e nta r i e s on the Heart Sutra: The Polit icsof I n t e r p r e t a t ion , by Malcolm David Eckel 6 94 . Notes on Nag ar juna an d Zeno in M ot ion ,by Brian Galloway 805. No te on a Chine se Te xt Dem on st ra t in g the Ear l inessof Tantra, by John C. Huntington 886. T h e Insc r ip t ion on the Kusan Imag e of Am itabha andthe Character of the Ear ly Mahayana in Indiaby Gregory Schopen 997. Ba ck gro un d Mater ia l for the First Seventy To pics inMditreya-nathzi sAbhisamayalarhkdra,by Gareth Sparham 13 9

    II . B O O K R E V I E W S1. The Genesis of an Orientalist: Thoma s William Rhys Davidsand B uddhism in Sri Lxinka,

    by A na nd a W ic kr e m e r a tne(A.P . K ann ang ara ) 161

    2. The Legend of King Asoka: A Study and Translationof the "Asokavadana," by Jo h n S . S t ro ng(Bardw ell Sm ith) 165

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    3 . Ndgdrjuna: The Philosophy ofthe Middle Wayby David J. Kalupa hana(Karen Christina Lan g) 14. Tibet Bon Religion: A Death Ritual of the Tibetan Bonpos,by Per Kvaerne(M ichael Aris) 1

    III. SPECIAL SECTIONTit le /Au thor Index of Vols. 1-10, compiledby Bruce Cam eron Hall 1

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    REVIEWS 165The Legend of King Asoka: A Study and Translation of the"Asokdvaddna," by Jo h n S. Strong , Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983. A ppe ndix . Glossary. Bibliography. In dex . 3 36pages.

    Since this book has been reviewed a nu m be r of times already,the present review will focus upon various of its features whichhave not, to my knowledge, received attention elsewhere. However, for those who are unfamiliar with this volume, a summaryof its contents may be useful.The book consists basically of two parts, as the sub-title indicates, roughly 160 pages of discussion about Asoka and thelegends which gradually grew up around him, followed by theauthor's translation of the Aiohavaddna itself. As Joh n Strongmakes clear, this text is a product of the various Hina yana, thoughnon-Theravada, circles in Northwest India probably around thesecond century A.D. and quite possibly of Sarvastivadin origin.Th e text is pa rt of the volum inous Sanskrit anthology of Bu ddhistlegends called the Divydvaddna, though it may also be foundseparately, e.g., in two Chinese translations. While the text reflects the world of the second century A.D., it also representslegends which are much older and essentially was intended tohelp Buddhists seek solutions to the problems of maintainingthe ideals of the Buddhist tradition in a pluralistic age and inthe absence of the historical B ud dh a. As Strong develops at considerable length in later chapters, this is the dharmalogical taskof relating the tradition to everyday life and activity. Specifically,as he indicates in his Preface, the central questions were: "Whatis the nature of Buddhist kingship? What is the relationshipbetween the state and the Buddhist monastic community? Whatrole does the king play in this? What is the religious nature ofpractices such as merit m aking? W hat role does devotion play inBuddhism?"

    Among the many interesting points made by Strong is hisstatement that the legends about Aioka influenced the readingof the famed Asoka Edicts, which were not finally translatedauthoritatively until 1837, as well as the fact tha t many inte rpr eters did not "take seriously into account the literary form andreligious intent of the legends qua legends." He makes it clearthat it was, in fact, by means of these embellished ASoka legendsthat second century Buddhists preached the Dharma, proselytizedfor converts, stressed the m erits oiddna (of giving to the Bu ddh istcommunity), and further articulated the role of kingship and its

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    166 JIABSVOL. 10NO.2relationship to the Buddhist religion.One of the book's central points is that in the Asokavadanawe are presented with a complex portrayal of Asoka, as greatking and as simple layman, as "an impetuous monarch to befeared o r maligned" and as "the mythical ideal of the cakravartin."It is this very ambiguity which makes the image more believable,especially in relationship to a clearly imperfect world. This reviewer has no quarrels with that interpretation. When a sharpcontrast is drawn between this text and the Sinhalese chronicles(Mahdvarpsa), some questions do arise. For instance, an avaddnais rightly seen as "a narrative of the religious deeds of an individual and is primarily intended to illustrate the workings ofkarma and the values of faith and devotion." In contrast, inStrong's words, a vayisa "is a lineage or chronicle. . .primarilyconcerned with giving the sacred pedigree of a country (such asSri Lanka), or of a particular Buddhist sect, or of a holy object."While often true of chronicles, the Mahdvantsa is more complexthan this and it would not be difficult to show that many of thegreatest kings in Sri Lanka history are portrayed in stronglyamb iguous terms. On e finds an im portan t instance of this in thetreatm ent of Duttliagamini, but the portrayal of P arakram abahuI (1153 -1186) in this sense is both m ore extended and, hum anlyspeaking, more convincing. Indeed, it is this portrayal which ismore parallel to what one finds of ASoka in the Mohdvaddna thanperhaps any other one might cite. Also, while the treatment isnot extensive, one can note in these chronicles a slightly morecomplex depiction of ASoka than this book suggests, but Strongis correct in saying that once Asoka has undergone his "conversion" he is perceived in basically ideal terms. The same is alsotrue of how many Sinhalese monarchs are portrayed, but elsewhere o ne finds strongly realistic accounts of kings who are otherwise considered g reat. In oth er words, because they are a complexwork, compiled over centuries, one would expect the chroniclesto be somew hat varied in trea tm ent, desp ite the obvious fact th atthey were generated by monks from within the Mahavihara tradition and thus had their own forms of partiality.However many parallels exist between an avaddna and avarpsa or chronicle, Strong is right to draw a sharp line betweenthem. In the Aiohdvadana, for instance, there is a basic integrityto the text which has taken various legends about the centralfigure and woven them into an entire picture to be used by theBuddhist community as it sought to relate ideals of kingship, ofthe Buddhist sangha, of the emerging portrayals of the Buddha

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    REVIEWS 167himself, an d of enriched practices for the laity to the am biguou sworld of real kings, monks, and laymen. W hile chronicles clearlyhave threads of interpretation, they lack the same kind of aesthetic and interpretive capacity one finds in a text like theAsokavaddna, which does not have to be as concerned about thefacts of history but which seeks to relate the classic Buddhistideals to new historical contexts. T h e presence of the Bu ddh a inthis world, the nature and meaning of a cakravartin king, andthe increasing practice of merit-m aking were central to the questions this text addressed. Strong's analysis is extremely useful ina discussion of the larger dharmalogical issues which were alivein the second century A.D. And, as he reminds us, the primarycon cerns implicit in the text were "the attraction of new converts,the reinforcement of the faith of established followers, and theencouragement of both devotion and donation. And all of thiswas best accom plished by the telling of po pu lar , appealing storiesabout the religious exploits of others," especially in this caseabout Asoka. As such, this text is a vital one to historians of religionand, as Strong concludes, "belongs to the whole of Buddhism."

    Bardwell L. Smith

    Ndgdrjuna. The Philosophy of the Middle W ay, translated with anintrod uction by David J. Kalupahana. A lbany, New York: StateUniversity of New Y ork P ress, SUNY Series in B udd hist Studies,1986. xv 412 pages.

    The blurb on the back of this book credits it with showingthat Naga rjuna's ideas are not original, not an advan cem ent fromthe early Buddhist period, and that he was not a Mahayanist. AsProfessor Kalupahana rightly notes in his preface to this newtranslation of Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakdrikd (MK), his position is controversial. He argues that since "sophisticatedM ahayana sutras" such as the Saddharmapun^zrlka. were unavailable to Nagarjuna, he used the early discourses in the Nikdyasand the Agamas to criticize the sectarian views of "metaphysicianslike the Sarvastivadins and Sautrantikas" and th e "mo re p op ularreligious teachers like AsVaghosa, who overemphasized the function of 'faith' in the emerging belief in a transcendent Buddha"(pp.xiv-xv).

    Kalupahana bases his argument on "a careful reading" of