Dharma and its Discontents
The Case of Kumarajiva
Keywords:hagiography, monasticism, translation, violation
This article critically re-examines the “received wisdom” on Buddhism— its history, traditional lore, monastic institutions, and ritual practices— acknowledging the fact of violence within Buddhism while striving for a nuanced understanding by looking at the life of Kumarajiva (ca. 344–413). A legendary figure in Sino-Japanese Buddhism, Kumarajiva has long been lauded as a wondrous exemplar of the Dharma at work, making accounts of his life valuable resources for understanding Buddhism in medieval China, including the place of violence. My intention is not to condemn Buddhism as a “violent religion” but to encourage us to consider just how pervasive and complex the role of “violence” seems to be within Buddhism (both in the past and in the present), and critically trace out some of its implications.
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