Northwestern Events Calendar


KFBSLS Year 4, Lecture 2: Xiaoqiang Meng: "Philosopher’s Myth, Worldmaking, and Religious Polemics: How to Read Buddhist Deva-Asura War Myth?"

When: Friday, October 27, 2023
10:00 AM - 12:00 PM CT

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Joshua Shelton  

Group: The Khyentse Foundation Buddhist Studies Lecture Series

Category: Academic


The epic warfare for supremacy between Indian Gods and Titans, i.e. Devāsurasaṃgrāma, is a myth prevalent in and beyond South Asia, to which scholars from Indology have contributed numerous studies, while Buddhist scholars seem to have paid less attention. But ancient Buddhists knew this myth well, and have deployed it as an agent of homiletics, worldmaking, and polemics when adapting an old Indo-European myth into its new South Asian religious context. In this paper, a diachronic and inter-school overview of Buddhist Abhidharmic cosmological texts is provided based on Lokotthāna-texts of Dharmaguptaka school, Lokaprajñapti-texts of of Sāṃmitīya school, Vibhāṣā and Kośa text-families of (Mūla-)Sarvāstivāda school, as well as a unique text Saddharmasmṛtyupasthānasūtra, all of which contain a consistent yet varied version of Buddhist Deva-Asura war myth. Then, it explores the aforementioned three functions of this cosmic political drama, and emphasizes its role as medium of Buddhist morality, as well as mythmaking as worldmaking in the ancient Buddhist intellectual milieu. At last, it also touches upon the Buddhist polemics against divination/astrology practice while using Deva-Asura war as etiological myth. Through these three vignettes of how “myth” functions in Buddhist cultural sphere, this paper tries to discuss gains and losses of using “myth” as an analytical tool to study Buddhist texts.

Xiaoqiang Meng is a PhD candidate in the Leiden Institute for Area Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

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