• Buddhism, Philosophy, History. On Eugène Burnouf’s Simple Sūtras

    Martino Dibeltulo Concu
    Buddhism--Study and teaching, Philosophy
    Item Type:
    Divyāvadāna, Eugène Burnouf, Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta, simple sūtra, Buddhist studies
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    Philosophy has long become a key term in the study of Buddhism, defining the moral and rational essence of the Buddha’s teaching, emblematic of its Indian origins. In this essay, I suggest that the relation of Buddhism and philosophy, which prior to the mid-nineteenth century was framed as the relation of the Religion of Fo to the cult of voidness, was reformulated in the self-styled language of science in the wake of the study of Buddhism from Sanskrit sources. Specifically, I suggest that the philosophical dimension of Eugène Burnouf’s reading of the Divyāvadāna and his idea of “simple sūtra” played a crucial role in defining Buddhism as a philosophy for the late nineteenth and into the twentieth century. The idea of a “simple moral philosophy” emerged in Burnouf’s particular reading of the story of the Buddha’s last days in the Divyāvadāna and the Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta, as the play of magic and death unfolds in the theme of the master’s denial of the will to live. Burnouf’s philosophical reading rests on the purification, in the theme of the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa, of the foundations of magical power (catvāra ṛddhipāda) that articulate knowledge of this world and beyond in the Buddha’s discourses. In the conclusion, I reformulate Burnouf’s question about the Buddha’s moral philosophy in his study of the simple sūtras vis-à-vis the historically self-conscious question about the Buddha’s ability to defer death by magic that traces back to the early debate of Buddhist exegetical traditions.
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    2 years ago
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