Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā

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Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā

Postby Huifeng » Mon Feb 10, 2014 3:05 am

Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā


Video of talk at University of the West, Los Angeles, USA, Feb 3 2014

Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā
Hr 1:


Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā
Hr 2:


Abstract

This study examines the early Prajñāpāramitā sūtras through the theory of “chiasmus”. Chiasmic methodology analyses a text into two parallel halves, identifying complementary “prologue” (A) and “conclusion” (A’), and highlighting the critical “central point” (X), with sub-themes paralleled in the two halves (A-B-C-D…X…D’-C’-B’-A’). Through chiasmus theory, many ancient texts formerly considered fragmentary and incoherent have been shown to be structurally sophisticated wholes.

The modern text-critical approach has re-written the traditional account of the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras. Several scholars have proposed theories regarding a pre-textual “ur-sūtra”, though with little consensus on this. In general, most agree that after the formation of an “ur-sūtra” the main body of the text was then chaotically compiled from various fragmentary sub-texts, with the Sadāprarudita Avadāna finally appended at the end. The result is the presently extant smaller sūtra. This modern scholarship then claims gradual growth through expansion into the medium and larger sūtras. The modern academic “discourse on emptiness” portrays the Prajñāpāramitā as focusing on the doctrine of “emptiness” (śūnyatā). This study challenges many of these claims.

On analysis, primary and secondary chiasmi were identified in the first two chapters of the sūtra. Their scope is the authority of teaching and training in the Prajñāpāramitā, and maintenance of the lineage of the Buddhas. Their central climax is definitions of “bodhisattva”, “mahāsattva” and “mahāyāna”, in the rhetorical formula “XY is ~Y”. Clearly paralleled sub-themes include “samādhi”, “the illusory”, “Māra” and “entrance into certitude”.

A second chiasmus comprising the entire Avadāna at the end of the sūtra was also identified. The scope is Sadāprarudita’s quest for Prajñāpāramitā, “to see and hear the Tathāgatas”. The central climax is his seeing and hearing the “Tathāgata” as one who has realized “suchness” (tathatā) or “dependent origination” (pratītyasaṃutpāda), again expressed in the form “XY is ~Y”. Paralleled sub-themes include “samādhi”, “Māra” and “giving”.

These two chiasmi are similar in scope, centers which define key terms through the rhetorical formula “XY is ~Y”, and sub-themes. This suggests a larger chiasmus which spans the entire text, with these chiasmi as prologue and conclusion respectively. While not conclusive, there is evidence for a central climax centered at “suchness” (tathatā), attainment of which results in the bodhisattva’s status of irreversibility. This connects the prologue and concluding chiasmi, “bodhisattvas” to “Tathāgatas”, respectively. Numerous paralleled sub-themes are more or less salient.

There are major implications from the discovery of chiasmus in the Prajñāpāramitā. Critically, it suggests that the sūtra was initially composed as a complete chiasmic whole, rather than from accumulated fragmentary parts. Hermeneutically, the core message may be understood more systematically than earlier methods. It proposes “suchness” (tathatā) as the central theme, rather than “emptiness” (śūnyatā). It also rejects the genre designation of the Prajñāpāramitā as a “philosophical” rather than “religious” text. This study also offers direction for uncovering other cases of chiasmus in early Mahāyāna and Buddhist literature in general, with examples. If a range of chiasmi can be analyzed, a general theory of Buddhist chiasmus can be established for use as a standard Buddhological tool.


Documentation here:
http://prajnacara.blogspot.tw/2013/03/c ... amita.html

Thanks to Ven. Jueji, Glen Dunki-Jacobs, Prof. Miroj Shakya, and everyone else at UWest and Hsi Lai Temple for a great stay! :)

~~Huifeng
Last edited by Seishin on Tue Feb 11, 2014 1:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Video links amended
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Re: Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā

Postby Qianxi » Mon Feb 10, 2014 11:29 am

Thanks, i'll have a look at this.

Just reading the abstract, this throws up interesting issues as to how texts like this are to be read. Once you've found an interesting reading of a text, how can you tell whether or not this reading was the intention of the author, and does it matter?

There are some great literary readings of the Bible (eg. Josipovici - The Book of God) that deliberately ignore its composite history and choose to read it as if it were a single book with a meaningful narrative arc across the whole.

I suppose the composite history of a text doesn't take away from the fact that it was eventually deliberately put together by a compiler.

Anyway, the abstract says you believe Prajñāpāramitā was not composite but composed as a whole, so my above comments may be irrelevant.
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Re: Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā

Postby Qianxi » Mon Feb 10, 2014 8:54 pm

I think the videos were deleted while I was watching them.

Anyway, I got to about 20 minutes from the end and it was very interesting. The comments I made above were all addressed.

The first thing I thought of on the subject of Buddhist chiasmus is the account of the Buddha's enlightenment in the Pali canon that describes it in terms of going through ten links of causality (aging-and-death to consciousness) 1 to 10 then 10 to 1 ( http://suttacentral.net/sn12.65/en ). The Buddha does it twice, once from the point of view of causation and once from the point of view of cessation.

The turning point in the causation chiasmus is the discovery that there is no deeper cause of suffering than the interplay of consciousness and namarupa. The turning point in the cessation chiasmus is the discovery that you can break the chain and end suffering.

Your summary of the central turning point of the Avadana section of the Prajnaparamita sutra ("1,Definition of the Tathagata's body; 2, Metaphors for dependent origination") reminded me of different versions of the last words of the Buddha that I had been reading recently in Chinese Agama texts ( http://suttacentral.net/dn16 ). The last words are usually a combination of some or all of:
1) Everything is impermanent
2) After i'm gone follow the path with care
3) Look at my body
4) Buddhas are rare like a fig tree flower

There seems to be a meme juxtaposing the perfection of the Buddha's body with the idea of impermanence. I suppose this contrast is a central riddle of Buddhism.

This is off topic, but i'll just paste in the accounts of the last words of the Buddha from those Agama texts, in case anyone is interested.

DA2《遊行經》時。世尊披鬱多羅僧。出金色臂。告諸比丘。汝等當觀。如來時時出世。如優曇缽花時一現耳。爾時。世尊重觀此義。而說偈言。
 右臂紫金色  佛現如靈瑞
 去來行無常  現滅無放逸
是故。比丘。無為放逸。我以不放逸故。自致正覺。無量眾善。亦由不放逸得。一切萬物無常存者。此是如來末後所說。

DN16: Then the Gracious One addressed the monks, saying: “Come now, monks, for I tell you all conditioned things are subject to decay, strive on with heedfulness!” These were the last words of the Realised One.

T7《法顯譯本》爾時,世尊告諸比丘:「汝等若見我身口意脫相犯觸,汝當語我。」時諸比丘聞佛此語,流淚懊惱而白佛言:「如來豈當有身口意微細過耶?」 於是如來即便說偈:
「諸行無常,  是生滅法,
生滅滅已,  寂滅為樂。」
爾時如來說此偈已,告諸比丘:汝等當知。一切諸行。皆悉無常。我今雖是金剛之體。亦復不免無常所遷。生死之中極為可畏。汝等宜應勤行精進。速求離此生死火坑。此則是我最後教也。我般涅槃。其時已至。
--------
T6《泥洹經》無所疑者。當棄貪欲慢悷之心。遵承佛教。以精進受。默惟道行。是為最後佛之遺令。必共順之。
汝諸比丘。觀佛儀容。難復得睹。卻後一億四千餘歲。乃當復有彌勒佛耳。難常遇也。天下有漚曇缽。不華而實。若其生華。則世有佛。佛為世間日。恒憂除眾冥。自我為聖師。年至七十九。所應作者。亦已究暢。汝其勉之。夜已半矣。

T5《法祖譯本》爾等無得以吾去故不奉經戒。慎無懈慢。
諸比丘。爾等熟視佛顏色。佛不可復得起。卻後十五億七千六十萬歲。乃復有佛耳。佛世難值經法難聞。眾僧難值。唯佛難見也。閻浮提內有尊樹王。名優曇缽。有實無華。優曇缽樹。有金華者世乃有佛。
吾正於今當般泥洹。爾曹於經有疑結者。及佛在時。當決所疑。今不釋結。後莫轉爭曼。我在時急質所疑。
阿難時在佛後。稽首白佛。自佛教化。諸比丘僧無疑結者。弟子自說。吾等無疑天中天。佛告比丘。夜已且半。勿復有聲。

T1451.35《雜事》爾時如來大悲愍故。遂去上衣現其身相。告諸苾芻:汝等今者可觀佛身。何以故。如來應正等覺。難可逢遇如烏曇跋羅華。時諸苾芻咸皆默然。佛言。法皆如是諸行無常。是我最後之所教誨。
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Re: Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā

Postby plwk » Tue Feb 11, 2014 12:47 am

Hour 1



Hour 2

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Re: Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā

Postby Huifeng » Tue Feb 11, 2014 1:55 am

Qianxi wrote:Thanks, i'll have a look at this.

Just reading the abstract, this throws up interesting issues as to how texts like this are to be read. Once you've found an interesting reading of a text, how can you tell whether or not this reading was the intention of the author, and does it matter?

There are some great literary readings of the Bible (eg. Josipovici - The Book of God) that deliberately ignore its composite history and choose to read it as if it were a single book with a meaningful narrative arc across the whole.

I suppose the composite history of a text doesn't take away from the fact that it was eventually deliberately put together by a compiler.

Anyway, the abstract says you believe Prajñāpāramitā was not composite but composed as a whole, so my above comments may be irrelevant.


Thanks, Qianxi, for your comments and thoughts.

Yes, these are some of the "big questions" on this sort of matter. There are many views on this for texts that have a well studied chiasmic structure, such as parts of the old testament, the Iliad, etc., and there is no firm consensus about whether such structures are consciously intentional or not.

For this case, the first application to a Buddhist text, I feel that a number of studies of chiasmus in Buddhist literature is required before we can even seriously discuss the question. Otherwise, with just one exemplar, it's not a good sample population so to speak.

For a text like this, while there is a general agreement among Buddhist scholars that the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita was a composite over a period of history, this is still a theory. And a number of scholars who have seen my argument here are now giving thought to this theoretical assumption. We're still in dialogue, haha!

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Re: Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā

Postby Huifeng » Tue Feb 11, 2014 1:57 am

Qianxi wrote:I think the videos were deleted while I was watching them.



Ah, yes, Glen uploaded them to the wrong account, haha. Should be under the University of the West, Extended Studies Channel. Thanks to PLWK for the correction.

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Re: Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā

Postby Huifeng » Tue Feb 11, 2014 2:02 am

Qianxi wrote:Your summary of the central turning point of the Avadana section of the Prajnaparamita sutra ("1,Definition of the Tathagata's body; 2, Metaphors for dependent origination") reminded me of different versions of the last words of the Buddha that I had been reading recently in Chinese Agama texts ( http://suttacentral.net/dn16 ). The last words are usually a combination of some or all of:
1) Everything is impermanent
2) After i'm gone follow the path with care
3) Look at my body
4) Buddhas are rare like a fig tree flower

There seems to be a meme juxtaposing the perfection of the Buddha's body with the idea of impermanence. I suppose this contrast is a central riddle of Buddhism.



Hi,

Well, give it a couple of days, and I'll add the talk that I gave two days after this one, on Chiasmic Structures in Buddha Hagiography. ;)

~~Huifeng
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Re: Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Feb 11, 2014 2:29 am

Greetings Ven. Huifeng

Many thanks for uploading this, I have located the PDF of your thesis, which is daunting, but I shall at least make an attempt on it. One of my topics for private study this year is 'early Mahayana' so this is very much relevant to that. (I am about to borrow the Joseph Waiser book, Nāgārjuna in context : Mahāyāna Buddhism and early Indian culture, that you recommended previously.)

I am also encouraged by your endorsement of Dr Edward Conze's work, I have several of his books but wasn't sure of his status in current Buddhist studies. I have always found his writing illuminating and provocative.

:namaste:
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas
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Re: Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā

Postby Qianxi » Tue Feb 11, 2014 9:49 pm

I don't suppose anyone has a pdf copy of an article mentioned in the talk:

“Resetting the Diamond: Reflections on Kumārajīva’s Chinese Translation of the Vajracchedikā (“DIamond Sūtra”),” Journal of Historical and Philological Studies of China’s Western Regions, No. 3 (Beijing: Science Press) 2010, pp. 233–248.

The Chinese name of the journal containing this article is 西域历史语言研究集刊(第三辑). The British Library only appears to have No. 5. Which is a shame, because it looks like the perfect article to accompany a read through of Kumarajiva's Chinese.
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Re: Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā

Postby Will » Tue Feb 11, 2014 10:18 pm

Chiasmus |kīˈazməs| noun

a rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order, in the same or a modified form; e.g. 'Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.’

DERIVATIVES
chiastic |kīˈastik| adjective

ORIGIN mid 17th cent. (in the general sense [crosswise arrangement] ): modern Latin, from Greek khiasmos ‘crosswise arrangement,’ from khiazein ‘mark with the letter chi,’ from khi ‘chi.’
One should refrain from biased judgments and doubting in fathoming the Buddha and the Dharma of the Buddhas. Even though a dharma may be extremely difficult to believe, one should nonetheless maintain faith in it. Nagarjuna
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Re: Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā

Postby Huifeng » Thu Feb 13, 2014 3:32 am

jeeprs wrote:Greetings Ven. Huifeng

Many thanks for uploading this, I have located the PDF of your thesis, which is daunting, but I shall at least make an attempt on it. One of my topics for private study this year is 'early Mahayana' so this is very much relevant to that. (I am about to borrow the Joseph Waiser book, Nāgārjuna in context : Mahāyāna Buddhism and early Indian culture, that you recommended previously.)

I am also encouraged by your endorsement of Dr Edward Conze's work, I have several of his books but wasn't sure of his status in current Buddhist studies. I have always found his writing illuminating and provocative.

:namaste:


Hi,

Thanks for your interest and encouragement. I recently have been joking that I want to write a paper, article or monograph that *is not* some kind of dialogue with Doktor Conze, who happens to be a kind of scholarly grandfather for my own Prajnaparamita studies (a couple of my teachers have been his students).

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Re: Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā

Postby Huifeng » Thu Feb 13, 2014 3:35 am

Qianxi wrote:I don't suppose anyone has a pdf copy of an article mentioned in the talk:

“Resetting the Diamond: Reflections on Kumārajīva’s Chinese Translation of the Vajracchedikā (“DIamond Sūtra”),” Journal of Historical and Philological Studies of China’s Western Regions, No. 3 (Beijing: Science Press) 2010, pp. 233–248.

The Chinese name of the journal containing this article is 西域历史语言研究集刊(第三辑). The British Library only appears to have No. 5. Which is a shame, because it looks like the perfect article to accompany a read through of Kumarajiva's Chinese.


Thanks Qianxi, for your interest.

Please email me, I'll send you a copy of Paul's (Prof. P M Harrison) essay. I have a digital pre-pub draft, which doesn't have the right page numbers; but only a paper copy of the final one, which Paul gave me a couple of years ago.

I now also use Paul's translation from the two very old Sanskrit manuscripts of the Vajracchedika for my own base English text. I had a lot of fun recently, though, reading Conze's edited Sanskrit Vajracchedika for me daily practice.

:namaste:

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Re: Chiasmus in the Early Prajñāpāramitā

Postby Huifeng » Thu Feb 13, 2014 3:38 am

Will wrote:Chiasmus |kīˈazməs| noun

a rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order, in the same or a modified form; e.g. 'Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.’

DERIVATIVES
chiastic |kīˈastik| adjective

ORIGIN mid 17th cent. (in the general sense [crosswise arrangement] ): modern Latin, from Greek khiasmos ‘crosswise arrangement,’ from khiazein ‘mark with the letter chi,’ from khi ‘chi.’


Thanks a lot, Will, for providing this information which I really should have provided myself. Technically, it is a kind of "inverted parallelism" structure. Though, my thesis is that in this text, it is not just textual structural inverted parallelism, ie. chiasmus, but also doctrinal / philosophical chiasmus, a comprehensive chiasmic structure and rhetoric.

Thanks!

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