Now heading into Texas. Still catching up on blogging the first few days. They were pretty crammed, so its taken a while to get the headspace to write. But I’ll just finish off with some remarks on the final day of the AAR. We only went to one panel, as we had to leave and pick up our RV, and get to Alabama in time. Which didn’t quite work out like that, but still.
The panel was mainly on early Buddhism – yay! But alas, I have to admit I felt the presentations were all pretty thin.
Nathan McGovern spoke on the concept of “brahman”. He argued that the well-known strategy of contrasting the decadent brahmans of the Buddha’s day with the idealized “true brahman” is a later development. In the earlier texts “brahman” is used as a straightforward term of spiritual attainment, with no ironic sense. There might be something to this argument, but it largely rests on the “gatha theory” of early Buddhist texts (i.e. That the Atthakavagga, Parayanavagga, and Khaggavisana suttas represent a strand of Buddhism that is doctrinally distinct and prior to the main prose nikayas). I think this theory is wrong, so the argument didn’t have any force for me.
Clair Maes discussed the appearance of the Jaina technical term ekindriyam jivam in the Vinaya, in reference to prohibitions on damaging plant life. I found most interesting in her paper was that term sarambha, found in the sanghadisesa rules for kuti building, is a Vedic term for the “damage” or “harm” done to the sacrificial animal.
Finally, Oliver Freiberger discussed the narrative of the Buddha’s enlightenment and subsequent teaching. He raised the question of the establishment of the Sangha, and noted that, while when the Buddha was enlightened and when the Dhamma was taught, there was a world-shaking uproar, when the Sangha is established with Kondanna’s ordination, there is nothing. The text says he became an arahant, but there is no mention that the Sangha came into being. Freiberger raised this as a point of interest, asking whether others found it as curious as he did.
That’s about it, and considering that it was just about the total content of early Buddhist teachings that were discussed at such a huge conference, I was disappointed. It was better than last year’s AABS conference, which featured precisely nothing on early Buddhism (apart from yours truly). But surely there are more interesting things to say, and more important work that needs to be done, on early Buddhism!