Head, Eyes, Flesh, Blood: Giving Away the Body in Indian Buddhist Literature

Kobo ebook | August 14, 2012

byReiko Ohnuma

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Head, Eyes, Flesh, and Blood is the first comprehensive study of a central narrative theme in premodern South Asian Buddhist literature: the Buddha's bodily self-sacrifice during his previous lives as a bodhisattva. Conducting close readings of stories from Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, and Tibetan literature written between the third century B.C.E. and the late medieval period, Reiko Ohnuma argues that this theme has had a major impact on the development of Buddhist philosophy and culture.

Whether he takes the form of king, prince, ascetic, elephant, hare, serpent, or god, the bodhisattva repeatedly gives his body or parts of his flesh to others. He leaps into fires, drowns himself in the ocean, rips out his tusks, gouges out his eyes, and lets mosquitoes drink from his blood, always out of selflessness and compassion and to achieve the highest state of Buddhahood.

Ohnuma places these stories into a discrete subgenre of South Asian Buddhist literature and approaches them like case studies, analyzing their plots, characterizations, and rhetoric. She then relates the theme of the Buddha's bodily self-sacrifice to major conceptual discourses in the history of Buddhism and South Asian religions, such as the categories of the gift, the body (both ordinary and extraordinary), kingship, sacrifice, ritual offering, and death.

Head, Eyes, Flesh, and Blood reveals a very sophisticated and influential perception of the body in South Asian Buddhist literature and highlights the way in which these stories have provided an important cultural resource for Buddhists. Combined with her rich and careful translations of classic texts, Ohnuma introduces a whole new understanding of a vital concept in Buddhists studies.

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Head, Eyes, Flesh, and Blood is the first comprehensive study of a central narrative theme in premodern South Asian Buddhist literature: the Buddha's bodily self-sacrifice during his previous lives as a bodhisattva. Conducting close readings of stories from Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, and Tibetan literature written between the third cent...

Reiko Ohnuma is associate professor of religion at Dartmouth College. Her research focuses on premodern South Asian Buddhist literature, especially narrative literature. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two children.

other books by Reiko Ohnuma

Format:Kobo ebookPublished:August 14, 2012Publisher:Columbia University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0231510284

ISBN - 13:9780231510288

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[Ohnuma's] study itself is a generous gift to scholars of Buddhism and/or the body.