The Poetic Path to Awakening: Reading the Buddhist Literary Text as a Form of Practice in Aśvaghoṣa’s Mahākāvya

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The Poetic Path to Awakening: Reading the Buddhist Literary Text as a Form of Practice in Aśvaghoṣa’s Mahākāvya

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Title: The Poetic Path to Awakening: Reading the Buddhist Literary Text as a Form of Practice in Aśvaghoṣa’s Mahākāvya
Author: Regan, Julie A.
Citation: Regan, Julie A. 2016. The Poetic Path to Awakening: Reading the Buddhist Literary Text as a Form of Practice in Aśvaghoṣa’s Mahākāvya. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: This thesis proposes a new approach to reading and understanding a Buddhist literary work as a form of practice relying on aesthetic pleasure to engage readers on a textual path that gradually awakens understanding. Its starting point is the claim of Aśvaghoṣa, the first known author of the genre of classical Sanskrit literature known as mahākāvya, that he has told truth in literary form in order to reach an audience interested only in pleasure and not liberation. My investigation of his second century CE works, Buddhacarita and Saundarananda, through the lens of this statement, together with traditional Indic commentaries on dramatic and poetic literature and contemporary theories of pleasure and textuality, suggests that the literary features of such works perform important functions in introducing Buddhist insights to their readers by focusing their attention in reading practices that may resemble and introduce more traditional forms of Buddhist training.

Through my exploration of the formal strategies Aśvaghoṣa's works rely on to engage readers on a literary path to truth, this thesis seeks to contribute to the development of new methodologies for reading Buddhist literary works. While scholars have increasingly recognized the need to address the prominence of literary features in Buddhist textual traditions, many in Buddhist Studies continue to view the formal features of a text as distinct from what is presumed to be its content and repository of the meaning their interpretations seek. The literary methods I propose for reading Buddhacarita and Saundarananda challenge this assumption that the truth or meaning of a work can be extracted from its form as a whole and highlight the signifying powers of the poetic, dramatic and narrative features of these works, which actively engage readers in the production of meaning. Adopting methods that enable us to better read Buddhist literary texts in this way thus not only improves our analysis of how such signifying features operate to provoke insight but also promises to refine our scholarly understanding of what both emerging and classic works in the field have to say to us today.
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Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:33840756
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