“The Diamond Sutra as Sublime Object: Negation, Narration, and Happy Endings” by Alan Cole (21 Nov)

This paper close reads an early Mahayana text, the so-called “Diamond Sutra” (Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita), to argue that the meaning of the work is best found on the level of narrative.  That is, on closer examination, the text doesn’t appear to be a random set of philosophic claims about reality, value, language, and meaning; instead, it can be shown that the text is structured – particularly in the first half — to provide a fairly well-controlled reading-experience in which the reader is led through various claims about Buddhist truths and values, claims that, while strikingly contradictory in places, can actually be seen working together to further the narrative’s larger goal of seducing the reader into worshipping the text itself as a buddha-like entity that supposedly holds the essence of the Buddhist tradition.  Thus amidst wild-sounding negations that declare that there is no truth or teachings in Buddhism, we find several passages where the Buddha-in-the-text speaks about the text he is currently giving, explaining that it provides the most exalted teachings and unlimited value, while also claiming that its sheer presence should be taken as a stand-in for the Buddha and his relics.  In short, the text first generates an image of a live Buddha appearing to go about his business on an ordinary day, and yet once this Buddha-in-the-text is established, he turns to give a teaching that, via negation, redefinition and wild value-claims, presents the reader with the stunning claim that he is holding the best thing in the universe.

Puzzling through these various paradoxes and working to understand how the author managed such a happy-ending in the context of all these radical-sounding negations is the point of the paper.

Philosophy Seminar Series.
Date: Thursday, 21 Nov 2013
Time: 2pm – 4pm
Venue: Philosophy Resource Room (AS3 #05-23)
Speaker: Alan Cole, Lewis and Clark College
Moderator: Dr. Ben Blumson

About the Speaker:

Alan Cole took his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies at the University of Michigan, in 1994.  Since then he has taught at a number of American colleges and universities, with most of those twenty years spent at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.  His recently published books – Text as Father: Paternal Seductions in Early Mahayana Buddhist Literature (UCal Press, 2005) and Fathering Your Father: The Zen of Fabrication in Tang Buddhism (2009, UCal Press) — are concerned with understanding how narratives function within important Buddhist texts in India and China.  As these titles suggest, he has been working to develop a theory about how Buddhist authors knowingly constructed their works and naturally this involves worrying about how intersubjectivity functions in these artful literary gambits.  More recently, he has tried to extend these theoretical perspectives in a comparative work titled, “Fetishizing Tradition: Desire and Reinvention in Buddhist and Christian Narratives.”  (The book is currently under review at SUNY Press.)  He is currently working on another book, Patriarchs on Paper: A Critical History of Chan (Zen) Literature from 600-1200, (currently under review at UCal Press).

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