Empty Vision

Metaphor and Visionary Imagery in Mahayana Buddhism

By David McMahan

© 2002 – Routledge

240 pages

Purchasing Options:
Paperback: 9781138862609
pub: 2015-03-03
US Dollars$49.95
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Hardback: 9780700714896
pub: 2002-06-12
US Dollars$190.00
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About the Book

Visual metaphors in a number of Mahayana sutras construct a discourse in which visual perception serves as a model for knowledge and enlightenment. In the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajnaparamita) and other Mahayana literature, immediate access to reality is symbolized by vision and set in opposition to language and conceptual thinking, which are construed as obscuring reality. In addition to its philosophical manifestations, the tension between vision and language also functioned as a strategy of legitimation in the struggle of the early heterodox Mahayana movement for authority and legitimacy. This emphasis on vision also served as a resource for the abundant mythical imagery in Mahayana sutras, imagery that is ritualized in Vajrayana visualization practices. McMahan brings a wide range of literature to bear on this issue, Including a rare analysis of the lavish imagery of the Gandavyuha Sutra in its Indian context. He concludes with a discussion of Indian approaches to visuality in the light of some recent discussions of "ocularcentrism" in the west, inviting scholars to expand the current discussion of vision and its roles in constructing epistemic systems and cultural practices beyond its exclusively European and American focus.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements Technical Note on Terms Introduction 1. The Devaluation of Language and the Privileging of Perception 2. Buddhist Visuality in History Metaphor 3. Orality, Writing, and Authority: Visionary Literature and the Struggle for Legitimacy in the Mahayana 4. Realms of the Senses: Buddha Fields and Fields of Vision in the Gandavyuha Sutra 5. The Optics of Buddhist Meditation and Devotion 6. Conclusions and Occlusions Notes Bibliography Index

About the Series

Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism

Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism is a comprehensive study of the Buddhist tradition. The series explores this complex and extensive tradition from a variety of perspectives, using a range of different methodologies. The series is diverse in its focus, including historical, philological, cultural, and sociological investigations into the manifold features and expressions of Buddhism worldwide. It also presents works of constructive and reflective analysis, including the role of Buddhist thought and scholarship in a contemporary, critical context and in the light of current social issues. The series is expansive and imaginative in scope, spanning more than two and a half millennia of Buddhist history. It is receptive to all research works that are of significance and interest to the broader field of Buddhist Studies.

Some of the titles in the series are published in association with the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, which conducts and promotes rigorous teaching and research into all forms of the Buddhist tradition.

Editorial Advisory Board:
James A. Benn, McMaster University, Canada

Jinhua Chen, The University of British Columbia, Canada

Rupert Gethin, University of Bristol, UK

Peter Harvey, University of Sunderland, UK

Sallie King, James Madison University, USA

Anne Klein, Rice University, USA

Lori Meeks, University of Southern California, USA;

Ulrich Pagel, School of Oriental and African Studies, UK

John Powers, Australian National University, Australia;

Juliane Schober, Arizona State University, USA

Vesna A. Wallace, Oxford University, UK

Michael Zimmermann, University of Hamburg, Germany

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
REL007000
RELIGION / Buddhism / General (see also PHILOSOPHY / Buddhist)
SOC002010
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural
SOC008000
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / General