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“The Buddha is a Raft” On Metaphors and Identity Negotiation in Early Buddhism

  • Dr. Claire Maes
Thursday 28 April 2016
Rapenburg 59
2311 GJ Leiden
Conference Room

The early Indian Buddhist community evolved in intense dialogue with its wider ascetic landscape. It is in constant negotiation with its various ascetic others, whether real or imagined, that the early Indian Buddhist community organized itself and developed an on-going identity rhetoric. In this lecture, Dr Maes aims to show this dialogic role of ascetic others on the early Buddhist community’s identity negotiation by means of a philological examination of the Pāli term titthiya (Sanskrit tīrthika).

Meaning ‘one belonging to an ascetic community’,  ‘titthiya’ is the term most frequently used in Buddhist texts to refer to the Buddhist’s ascetic other. Through a philological excursion, Maes will identify a semantic shift in the term’s application. Whereas early Buddhist monks could initially positively associate themselves with the term titthiya, they (gradually) lost their self-identification with the term. Instead ‘titthiya’ became exclusively used to generically refer to their real or imagined ascetic others, and this usually in contexts betraying a negative perception of these others. Maes will (1) argue that this semantic shift went hand in hand with a shift in the manner how the early Buddhist community perceived and related to its ascetic other and (2) demonstrate how the early Buddhist monks’ initial positive understanding of the term titthiya was in accordance with the wider Indian metaphorical language of liberation.

Dr Claire Maes is a lecturer at the Department of Languages and Cultures at Ghent University in Belgium. She teaches Hindi, Sanskrit and Prākrit on both undergraduate and graduate levels. She obtained an MA from Ghent University in Indology in 2005. For her master thesis she conducted a comparative study of the position of nuns in the early Jain and Buddhist communities. After her studies in Ghent she went to India with a scholarship of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) to study a two-year master of Philosophy at the University of Mysore. She re-joined the department of Languages and Cultures at Ghent University in 2008 as a research fellow and in 2015 she received her doctorate degree with her dissertation on the early Jain and Buddhist ascetic communities. She has published on the importance of the concept of ahimsa and one-sensed bodies in the development of the early Jain ascetic path and its influence on early Buddhism, and has participated at various workshops and conferences in India, Europe and the United States.

Registration (required)

Please send an email to  h.m.van.der.minne@iias.nl if you would like to attend this lecture (and drinks).

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