Graduate Students Workshop: "Political Poetics Across Buddhist Traditions: Gandhāra, Sri Lanka, and Tibet"

Saturday March 2nd 2019, 10:00AM - 5:00PM
Event Sponsor
Co-sponsored by From the Ground up: Buddhism and East Asian Religions Project
Building 70, Rm 72A
Graduate Students Workshop: "Political Poetics Across Buddhist Traditions:  Gandhāra, Sri Lanka, and Tibet"

Stefan Baums (University of Munich)
"The Politics and Literature of Gandhāran Buddhism"
In a span of fve hundred years (third century BCE to third century CE), Buddhism was brought from India to the northwestern region of Gandhāra, transformed into a world religion and transmitted to Central Asia and China. In the process, Gandhāra itself was transformed from a border region into the center of the Buddhist world. The political context on the ground was a complex tapestry of local dynasts, but throughout the period under consideration, outside empires provided ideological frameworks for the joint rise of Buddhist and secular Gandhāra, starting with the Mauryas and reaching an apogee with the Kuṣāṇa dynasty, accompanied by a persistent cultural infuence of Hellenism in the region. Under these conditions, Buddhist literature evolved from the primarily oral transmission of canonical texts to a fourishing of new genres – poetry, Mahāyāna and Abhidharma – in the written medium, and a change of status from Gandhāra as recipient to prominent producer for the wider Buddhist world. A central turning point was the switch from the local language Gāndhārī to Sanskrit as the primary medium of literary production. These developments will be traced with special reference to the relationship of Buddhist literati and worldly power, as refected in rulers’ patronage of the Buddhist relic cult, art and literature on the one hand, and in the appeal of Buddhist authors to secular authority and ideology on the other.

Stephen C. Berkwitz (Missouri State University)
"The Poetics of Buddhist Kingship in Sri Lanka"
The image of the Buddhist king who is the object of praise and desire abounds in Sinhala poetic works composed between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries CE. Although these texts are sometimes considered to be “secular” rather than “religious,” a closer inspection of such works shows how they adapted the conventions of older Sanskrit kāvya to create vernacular models of praise poetry to fashion and celebrate great rulers. This paper will consider visions of Buddhist kings and the political poetics found in Sinhala texts that were composed to render local rulers into powerful monarchs that could rival those associated with the Indian mainland. Such aesthetically rich descriptions of great men served to make them worthy of admiration in a manner consistent with descriptions of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas, and Deities who were all associated with extraordinary powers and unexcelled fortune. Poetic forms were thus integral to the formation of kingship and the wielding of political influence in medieval Sri Lanka.

José Ignacio Cabezón (University of California, Santa Barbara)
"A Tibetan Verse Work on Political Ethics"
Mipam's Treatise on Ethics for a King (Rgyal po'i lugs kyi bstan bcos) is one of the longest and most important works on political ethics written in Tibet. It belongs to a genre called nītiśāstra. I will discuss some of the Indic antecedents to Mipam's work, give a synopsis of its contents, and chart the historical conditions that led to its composition.