Unfortunate Destiny: Animals in the Indian Buddhist Imagination
Unfortunate Destiny focuses on the roles played by nonhuman animals within the imaginative thought-world of Indian Buddhism, as reflected in pre-modern South Asian Buddhist literature. These roles are multifaceted, diverse, and often contradictory: In Buddhist doctrine and cosmology, the animal rebirth is a most "unfortunate destiny" (durgati), won through negative karma and characterized by a lack of intelligence, moral agency, and spiritual potential. In stories about the Buddha's previous lives, on the other hand, we find highly anthropomorphized animals who are wise, virtuous, endowed with human speech, and often critical of the moral shortcomings of humankind. In the life-story of the Buddha, certain animal characters serve as "doubles" of the Buddha, illuminating his nature through identification, contrast or parallelism with an animal "other." Relations between human beings and animals likewise range all the way from support, friendship, and near-equality to rampant exploitation, cruelty, and abuse. Perhaps the only commonality among these various strands of thought is a persistent impulse to use animals to clarify the nature of humanity itself--whether through similarity, contrast, or counterpoint. Buddhism is a profoundly human-centered religious tradition, yet it relies upon a dexterous use of the animal other to help clarify the human self. This book seeks to make sense of this process through a wide-ranging-exploration of animal imagery, animal discourse, and specific animal characters in South Asian Buddhist texts.
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