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The Politico-Spiritualities of Northwest Indic Buddhism(s): a comparative study of Buddhist epigraphic and textual sources, 1st – 3rd centuries CE.

Förderungszeitraum: April 2014 - März 2017
Nothing can be understood apart from context and yet, as it currently stands, much of our understanding of Indic Buddhism(s) is bereft of exactly that desideratum. For the most part, the sources available to us are devoid of the very frame of reference – a temporal, geographic, economic, political or social sphere – required to categorically situate the diverse systems of thought and behaviors found therein. Subsequently one of the greatest difficulties for the study of Indic Buddhism(s) is ascertaining the exact value of any given mode of thought and practice within a specific socio-historical context. Needless to say, the success of the Buddhist institution is wholly dependent upon its ability to attract monastic and non-monastic devotees alike in order that it be supported economically, politically and socially. Logic demands therefore that Buddhist knowledge must have held distinct significance to existing or prospective supporters of the institution in a given context in order that certain ends (whether economic, political or spiritual) be met. The question of exactly how spiritual practices and attainments were transferred into social and political power, what I term exercises in politico-spiritualty, is therefore key to evaluating an important aspect in the function of the Buddhist institution. It is to this primary question that the present study shall attend.
The context for this study is the early centuries of the Common Era in the northwestern regions of the Indian sub-continent (present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and the gangetic plains of northern India). This was an important period for the development of Indic Buddhism(s) and the broad consolidation of political power in this region, first under the Śakas and then later the Kuṣāṇas, as well as the flourishing of trade and commerce along the Silk Roads apparently provided an ideal environment for the various Buddhist monastic institutions to flourish, as witnessed by the burgeoning of architectural, artistic, epigraph and textual creativity. Acquiring insight into the politico-spiritualties of this context demands the simultaneous analysis of these sources and the only specific social frame within which they all coalesce is that of the donative ritual. At numerous archaeological sites (principally monastic complexes), various reliefs, sculptures and structures, donative epigraphs and coins, as well as textual narratives attest to the centrality of the donative ritual as the frame within which various social groups of male and female monastic and non-monastic individuals engaged with the Buddhist institution. By means of a comparative analysis of these sources, but principally the epigraphic and textual, this study examines the question of politico-spirituality and seeks to achieve two goals: to partly resolve present methodological issues concerning the lack of socio-historical context for the majority of textual sources by means of a comparison with the epigraphic; and on the basis of this comparison, to reconstruct the donative ritual context, considering, for example, the astrological, behavioral, doctrinal and sociological data, and present a contextual understanding of the function of the Buddhist institution as it existed in the early centuries of the Common Era in the northwest.