Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth

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University of California Press, Nov 11, 2002 - Religion - 477 pages
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With Imagining Karma, Gananath Obeyesekere embarks on the very first comparison of rebirth concepts across a wide range of cultures. Exploring in rich detail the beliefs of small-scale societies of West Africa, Melanesia, traditional Siberia, Canada, and the northwest coast of North America, Obeyesekere compares their ideas with those of the ancient and modern Indic civilizations and with the Greek rebirth theories of Pythagoras, Empedocles, Pindar, and Plato. His groundbreaking and authoritative discussion decenters the popular notion that India was the origin and locus of ideas of rebirth. As Obeyesekere compares responses to the most fundamental questions of human existence, he challenges readers to reexamine accepted ideas about death, cosmology, morality, and eschatology.

Obeyesekere's comprehensive inquiry shows that diverse societies have come through independent invention or borrowing to believe in reincarnation as an integral part of their larger cosmological systems. The author brings together into a coherent methodological framework the thought of such diverse thinkers as Weber, Wittgenstein, and Nietzsche. In a contemporary intellectual context that celebrates difference and cultural relativism, this book makes a case for disciplined comparison, a humane view of human nature, and a theoretical understanding of "family resemblances" and differences across great cultural divides.
 

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Contents

KARMA AND REBIRTH IN INDIC RELIGIONS Origins and Transformations
xxix
NONINDIC THEORIES OF REBIRTH
17
THE TROBRIAND MODEL
26
NORTHWEST COAST INDIANS AND INUIT ESKIMO
35
HUMAN AND ANIMAL TRANSFORMATIONS
41
KINSHIP REBIRTH AND DESIRE
44
REBIRTH DESIRE AND THE RETURN OF THE DEAD
48
AN ETHICAL DILEMMA AMONG THE KWAKIUTL
56
ETHICIZATION AND THE CREATION OF A GODMAKING MACHINE
166
ETHICIZATION AND AXIOLOGIZATION
171
BUDDHISM AXIOLOGIZATION AND THE VEDIC TRADITION
174
HOMO HIERARCHICUS AND HOMO AEQUALIS IN INDIA
180
ESCHATOLOGY AND SOTERIOLOGY IN GREEK REBIRTH
188
A PROBABLE MYTHOS
191
PYTHAGOREAN BEGINNINGS AND LIFEWAYS
198
PYTHAGOREAN SOTERIOLOGY
205

CONCLUDING REMARKS
68
THE IMAGINARY EXPERIMENT AND THE BUDDHIST IMPLICATIONS
70
EMERGENCE OF THE KARMIC ESCHATOLOGY
76
THE EARLIEST INDIC MODEL
82
THE MODEL AND THE BUDDHIST INTERCONNECTIONS
86
THE SAMANIC RELIGIONS
95
CONTEMPORARY TRIBAL RELIGIONS
96
ETHICIZATION AXIOLOGY AND THE BRAHMANIC TRADITION
97
THE DOCTRINES OF THE ĀJĪVIKAS
100
CONTENTIOUS DISCOURSES IN BUDDHIST THOUGHT
106
ETHICAL PROPHECY AND ETHICAL ASCETICISM
113
RATIONALIZATION AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF THOUGHT
118
TEMPORALITY IMPERMANENCE NIRVANA
123
KARMA CAUSALITY AND THE APORIAS OF EXISTENCE
127
ETHICIZATION KARMA AND EVERYDAY LIFE
138
ASCETIC RELIGIOSITY AND THE ESCAPE FROM THE WORLD
142
THE BUDDHIST ASCESIS
148
THE RENUNCIATORY IDEAL IN THE BUDDHIST IMAGINATION
156
THE LIFE FATE OF THE BUDDHIST DEAD
158
ECSTASIS ENSTASIS AND SPIRIT POSSESSION
162
ETHICIZATION AND SOTERIOLOGY IN EMPEDOCLES
212
POPULAR RELIGIOSITY IN PINDAR
230
PLATO AND THE MYTH OF ER
238
REBIRTH AND REASON
247
THE SOTERIOLOGY AND ESCHATOLOGY OF THE PHAEDRUS
252
THE COSMOLOGY OF THE TIMAEUS
256
COSMOLOGICAL HOMOEROTICISM HETEROPHOBIA AND FEMALE NATURE IN PLATONIC REBIRTH
264
ETHICIZATION AND SOTERIOLOGY IN THE PLATONIC DIALOGUES
268
REBIRTH MEMORY AND RETROCOGNITION
273
REASON CONVICTION AND ESCHATOLOGY IN PLATONIC BUDDHIST AND AMERINDIAN THOUGHT
281
PLOTINIAN ESCHATOLOGY AND SOTERIOLOGY
285
THE DRUZE CASE
306
IMPRISONING FRAMES AND OPEN DEBATES Trobriander Buddhist and Balinese Rebirth Revisited
317
BUDDHISM PROCREATION AND REBIRTH
329
CONTENTIOUS DISCOURSES ON REBIRTH AND KARMIC ESCHATOLOGIES
332
METHODOLOGICAL POSTSCRIPT
342
NOTES
359
BIBLIOGRAPHY
411
INDEX
427
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About the author (2002)

Gananath Obeyesekere is Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, at Princeton University. He is the author of The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific (1997), The Cult of the Goddess Pattini (1984), Medusa's Hair: An Essay on Personal Symbols and Religious Experience (1984), and The Work of Culture: Symbolic Transformation in Psychoanalysis and Anthropology (1990).

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