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From cakravartin to bodhisattva: Buddhist models for globalization

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 October 2023

Signe Cohen*
Affiliation:
Department of Classics, Archaeology, and Religion, 107 Swallow Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA

Abstract

This article examines globalization in an Asian context through the lens of two Buddhist concepts: the cakravartin and the bodhisattva. A cakravartin is a ruler who fuses spiritual and political power in his global reign. This article argues that the cakravartin represents one model of Buddhist globalization where the spread of the religion coincides with the growing military dominion of a BuddhGist king. A bodhisattva, on the other hand, is an enlightened being who has chosen to be reborn out of compassion with the entire suffering world. A bodhisattva watches over a ‘Buddha field’, or spiritual realm. Each Buddha field has its own laws, culture, language, or even separate forms of time and space. The bodhisattva provides a new model for understanding cultural diversity in the absence of a unified political power: the Buddhist world is a transnational network where new identities are negotiated.

Type
Article
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press

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References

1 Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System, vol. 1 (New York: Academic Press, 1974), 15; Immanuel Wallerstein, World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction (Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2004), x.

2 Wallerstein, The Modern World-System, vol. 1, 16.

3 Andre Gunder Frank and Barry K. Gills, ‘The 5000-Year World System: An Interdisciplinary Introduction’, in The World System: Five Hundred Years or Five Thousand?, ed. Andre Gunder Frank and Barry K. Gills (London/New York: Routledge, 1993): 1-79; E. H. Seland, ‘The Indian Ocean and the Globalisation of the Ancient World’, Ancient West and East, 7 (2008): 67-79; Justin Jennings, Globalizations and the Ancient World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

4 See Matthew Adam Cobb, ‘Introduction: The Indian Ocean in Antiquity and Global History’, in Indian Ocean Trade in Antiquity: Political, Cultural, and Economic Impacts, ed. Matthew Adam Cobb (New York: Routledge, 1998), 6.

5 Ira Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 551.

6 John Obert Voll, ‘Islam as a Special World System’, Journal of World History 5, no. 2 (1994): 219. See also Stefan Reichmuth, ‘“Netzwerk” und “Weltsystem”: Konzepte zur neuzeitlichen “Islamischen Welt” und ihrer Transformation’, Saeculum 51, no. 2 (2000): 268.

7 Wallerstein, The Modern World-System, vol. 1, 347.

8 See Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 33-6; G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

9 Cristina Rocha, ‘Buddhism and Globalization’, in Buddhism in the Modern World, ed. David L. McMahan (London/New York: Routledge, 2012), 293.

10 See Heinz Bechert, When Did the Buddha Live? The Controversy on the Dating of the Historical Buddha (Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1995).

11 See for example the Pali text Dīgha-Nikāya 17 where the cakravartin is described as ‘righteous king who ruled in righteousness, the lord of the four regions of the earth, the conqueror, the protector of his people’, see T. W. Rhys Davids, Buddhist Suttas (Oxford: Clarendon Press), 289.

12 See Michael Walter, Buddhism and Empire: The Political and Religious Culture of Early Tibet (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 47.

13 It is notoriously difficult to assign precise dates to Indian rulers, but in the case of Aśoka, his own inscriptions are helpful. Aśoka’s thirteenth major rock edict mentions communication with five foreign kings: Antiochus, Ptolemy, Antigonus, Magus, and Alexander. These kings have been reasonably identified with Antiochus II Theos of Syria (261-246 BCE), Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt (285-247 BCE), Antigonus Gonatas of Macedonia (276-239 BCE), Magas of Cyrene (ca. 258-250 BCE), and Alexander of Epirus (276-255 BCE); see Romila Thapar, Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961; repr. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997), 41. A likely date of composition for the thirteenth rock edict is therefore around 256-255 BCE.

14 For a discussion of images of mobility and paths in early Buddhism, see Jason Neelis, Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks: Mobility and Exchange Within and Beyond the Northwestern Borderlands of South Asia (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 2.

15 Patrick Olivelle, ‘Kings, Ascetics, and Brahmins: The Socio-Political Context of Ancient Indian Religions’, in Dynamics in the History of Religions Between Asia and Europe, ed. Volkhard Krech and Marion Steinicke (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 126.

16 This is not to say that military power played no role in Aśoka’s programme of political expansion. The emperor expresses deep regret for the loss of life after his successful battle with the Kaliṅgas (thirteenth rock edict, see Thapar, Aśoka, 255-6, and D. C. Sirkar, Inscriptions of Aśoka (Delhi: Government of India Press, 1957, rev. ed. 1967), 56-8), but nevertheless makes clear that he will still punish those who refuse to behave in accordance with dhamma. This edict simultaneously asserts the emperor’s kindness and reminds the audience of the extent of his military power, should he choose to use it.

17 Vincent Smith, Asoka: The Buddhist Emperor of India (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901); Nayanjot Lahari, Ashoka in Ancient India (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015). For depictions of Aśoka in ancient literature, see the Sanskrit Aśokāvādana (second century CE), and the Pali Dīpavaṃsa (fourth century CE) and Mahāvaṃsa (fifth century CE).

18 Thapar, Aśoka, 2-5.

19 Signe Cohen, ‘A Universal Dhamma: Buddhism and Globalization at the Time of Aśoka’, in Globalization and Transculturality from Antiquity to the Pre-Modern World, ed. Serena Autiero and Matthew A. Cobb (London: Routledge, 2021), 207-25.

20 Several more Aśokan inscriptions were identified after the publication of the classical Aśokan corpus in Alexander Cunningham, Corpus inscriptionum indicarum, vol. 1, Inscriptions of Asoka, (1877; repr. Varanasi: Indological Book House, 1961). Norman lists fourteen major rock edicts, two separate rock edicts, two minor rock edicts, seven major pillar edicts, as well as individual rock inscriptions in K. R. Norman, ‘The Languages of the Composition and Transmission of the Aśokan Inscriptions’, in Reimagining Aśoka: Memory and History, ed. Patrick Olivelle, Janice Leoshko, and Himanshu Prabha Ray (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 39-40.

21 Olivelle, ‘Kings, Ascetics, and Brahmins’, 131.

22 Patrick Olivelle, ‘Aśoka’s Inscriptions as Text and Ideology’, in Reimagining Aśoka, 173. Olivelle borrows this idea of a ‘civil religion’, which may be traced back to Rousseau, from Robert Bellah, ‘Civil Religion in America’, in Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditional World (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), 168-89.

23 Norman, ‘The Languages of the Composition and Transmission of the Aśokan Inscriptions’, 43.

24 D. Schlumberger and E. Benveniste, ‘A New Greek inscription of Asoka at Kandahar’, Epigraphica Indica, 37, no. 5 (1968): 197; Olivelle, ‘Kings, Ascetics, and Brahmins’, 131-2.

25 First separate rock edict, see Thapar, Aśoka, 258.

26 First major rock edict, see Thapar, Aśoka, 250, and Sirkar, Inscriptions, 46; fourth major rock edict, see Thapar, Aśoka, 251, and Sirkar, Inscriptions, 46; fifth pillar edict, see Thapar, Aśoka, 264, and Sirkar, Inscriptions, 73.

27 Seventh pillar edict, see Thapar, Aśoka, 265, and Sirkar, Inscriptions, 76.

28 Seventh major rock edict, Thapar, Aśoka, 253, and Sirkar, Inscriptions, 51; twelfth major rock edict, Thapar, Aśoka, 255, and Sirkar, Inscriptions, 55.

29 Second major rock edict, Thapar, Aśoka, 251, and Sirkar, Inscriptions, 47.

30 Thirteenth major rock edict, Thapar, Aśoka, 255-6, and Sirkar, Inscriptions, 56-8.

31 Jātaka V. 378, see Donald K. Swearer, The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 64.

32 Von Hinüber raises the question of why Aśoka did not compose messages in Dravidian languages in the South; it is curious that the emperor translated his texts into Greek and Aramaic, but not any of the local languages of South India; see Oskar von Hinüber, ‘Linguistic Experiments: Language and Identity in Aśokan Inscriptions and in Early Buddhist Texts’, in Reimagining Aśoka, 195.

33 Romila Thapar, ‘Aśoka: A Retrospective’, in Reimagining Aśoka, 35. See also Sheldon Pollock, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 6-37.

34 Harry Falk, Schrift im alten Indien: Ein Forschungsbericht mit Anmerkungen (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1993). See also Olivelle, ‘Aśoka’s Inscriptions as Text and Ideology’, 170.

35 Olivelle, ‘Aśoka’s Inscriptions as Text and Ideology’, 170.

36 See Swearer, The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia, 68, Susan Whitfield, Silk, Slaves, and Stupas: Material Culture of the Silk Road (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018), 84, John S. Strong, Relics of the Buddha (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 124, and Kevin Trainor, Relics, Ritual, and Representation in Buddhism: Rematerializing the Sri Lankan Theravāda Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1997), 40.

37 Swearer, The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia, 72-3.

38 Whitfield, Silk, Slaves, and Stupas, 98-9.

39 Michael Willis, ‘Offering to the Triple Gem: Texts, Inscriptions and Ritual Practice’, in Relics and Relic Worship in Early Buddhism: India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Burma, ed. Janice Stargardt and Michael Willis (London: The British Museum, 2018), 66ff.

40 Peter Skilling, ‘Relics: The Heart of Buddhist Veneration’, in Relics and Relic Worship in Early Buddhism, 13.

41 Strong, Relics of the Buddha, xiii.

42 Frank E. Reynolds and Charles Hallisey, ‘Buddhist Religion, Culture and Civilization’, in Buddhism and Asian History, ed. Joseph M. Kitagawa and Mark D. Cummings (New York: Macmillan,1987), 8. See also Jørn Borup, ‘Spiritual Capital and Religious Evolution: Buddhist Values and Transactions in Historical and Contemporary Perspective’, Journal of Global Buddhism 20 (2019): 49-50.

43 Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies, 551.

44 Georg von Simson, Prātimokṣasūtra der Sarvāstivādin, Teil II (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000), 267-270.

45 See Jens Braarvig, ‘The Spread of Buddhism as Globalization of Knowledge’, in The Globalization of Knowledge in History, ed. Jürgen Renn (Berlin: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften, 2012), 223.

46 Whitfield, Silk, Slaves, and Stupas, 85.

47 Ibid., 85; Neelis, Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks, 33.

48 Todd T. Lewis, ‘Story of Siṃhala, the Caravan Leader’, in Buddhism in Practice, ed. Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 151.

49 Whitfield, Silk, Slaves, and Stupas, 92.

50 Lewis, ‘Story of Siṃhala, the Caravan Leader’, 151.

51 See Stephen C. Berkwitz, ‘The Expansion of Buddhism in South and Southeast Asia’, in Dynamics in the History of Religions Between Asia and Europe, 223.

52 Neelis, Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks.

53 Lewis Lancaster, ‘Buddhist Literature: Its Canons, Scribes, and Editors’, in The Critical Study of Sacred Texts, ed. W. Doniger (Berkeley: California University Press, 1979), 220.

54 Harold Coward, ‘Scripture in Buddhism’, in Scripture in the World Religions: A Short Introduction, ed. Harold Coward (London: Oneworld, 2001), 145.

55 Lancaster, ‘Buddhist Literature’, 227.

56 Ibid., 227.

57 Max Deeg, ‘From the Iron-wheel to Bodhisattvahood: Aśoka in Buddhist Culture and Memory’, in Aśoka in History and Historical Memory, ed. Patrick Olivelle (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2009), 128.

58 Walter, Buddhism and Empire: The Political and Religious Culture of Early Tibet, 242-5.

59 Jayavarman embraced Śaivism, rather than Buddhism, as state religion, but was nevertheless inspired by Buddhist articulations of the role of the cakravartin; see Swearer, The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia, 77. See also David Chandler, A History of Cambodia, 3rd ed. (Boulder: Westview Press, 2000), 34-5.

60 Swearer, The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia, 82-4.

61 Ibid., 88-9.

62 Ibid., 65.

63 Ibid., 90.

64 The bodhisattva ideal does, however, have its origins in Theravāda Buddhism, see Sanath Nanayakkara, ‘The Bodhisattva Ideal: Some Observations’, in Buddhist Thought and Ritual, ed. David J. Kalupahana (New York: Paragon House, 1991), 59.

65 Paul Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (London: Routledge, 1989), 224.

66 Deeg, ‘From the Iron-wheel to Bodhisattvahood’, 130-1.

67 Ibid., 131.

68 Ibid., 134.

69 Swearer, The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia, 86.

70 Geok Yian Goh, ‘Beyond the World-System: A Buddhist Ecumene’, Journal of World History 25 (2014): 493.

71 John Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 2. See also Jennings, Globalizations and the Ancient World, 3.

72 Swearer, The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia, 67.

73 According to the honji suijaku (本地垂迹) theory, Indian Buddhist figures may choose to appear as kami in Japan. A kami can therefore simultaneously be a local divinity and trace (suijaku, 垂迹) of the true nature (honji, 本地) of a Buddha or bodhisattva.

74 Williams, Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, 225.

75 T. Gyatso, Aryashura’s Aspiration and a Meditation on Compassion (Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1979), 111.

76 See for example Mustafa Emirbayer and Jeff Goodwin, ‘Network Analysis, Culture, and the Problems of Agency’, American Journal of Sociology, 99 (1994): 1411-54.