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From perdition to awakening: a study of legends of the salvation of the patricide Ajatasatru in Indian Buddhism

Wu, Juan 2012. From perdition to awakening: a study of legends of the salvation of the patricide Ajatasatru in Indian Buddhism. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This dissertation continues the scholarship on the significant values of Buddhist narratives in reconstructing and understanding the ideological features of Buddhists in ancient India. By focusing on the narrative theme of the salvation of the patricide Ajatasatru in Indian Buddhist literature, I hope to demonstrate how stories of this notorious anantarya criminal were constructed and exploited by Buddhist authors to convey different concerns and to achieve different purposes. Based on a close reading of three groups of Buddhist stories which separately present Ajatasatru’s confession to the Buddha after his patricide, his future attainment of pratyekabuddhahood and his future buddha-hood, I have argued that there is a considerable fluidity and diversity in Buddhist illustrations and interpretations of the salvation of Ajatasatru. Given Ajatasatru’s double identity as both an anantarya criminal and a famous upasaka, such diversity may open windows into different views of Buddhist authors on the workings of karma and into their different emphases in Buddhist soteriological discourse. Moreover, given Ajatasatru’s unique connection with the schismatic monk Devadatta, stories of his salvation also form one part of the antiheterodox polemics in Indian Buddhism. Through examining the changing shapes and meanings of narrative presentations of the salvation of Ajatasatru, I have suggested that this narrative theme is not a monolith, but a multi-faceted complex which has various dimensions including, for instance, his repentance for the patricide, his acquisition of faith in the Buddha, his change in attitude towards Devadatta, his relief of mental anguish, his spiritual attainment in this life, the mitigation of his future suffering in hell, and/or his eventual liberation. When we consider how the salvation of Ajatasatru is interpreted in a Buddhist source, instead of simply determining whether Ajatasatru is saved or not, we should identify relevant dimensions of his salvation, to see in what sense he is said to be saved, and examine how those dimensions are constructed within the context of that source. It is based on such a multi-dimensional assessment that we may gain a better understanding of the process of how the multi-valency and successful functioning of the theme of salvation of Ajatasatru were achieved in the world of Indian Buddhist storytelling.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BQ Buddhism
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2016 23:03

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