Repetita iuvant

“Past Lives” and the Ideal Life in the Pali Hagiographic Literature on the Buddha

Marco Guagni    Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, Italia    



What does it mean to ‘know’ the life of the Buddha? Starting from this question, the paper explores how various developments in the Buddha’s biographies have led to enlarge the meanings that the whole hagiographic corpus intends to convey. Focusing on the structure of the jātaka texts, the epistemic perspectives and practical reasons conveyed by these stories are examined. The analysis of the jātakas’ narrative frames reveals the construction of an ‘ethical sense of time’ which provides the framework for the shaping of identities. The open-ended architecture of these tales engenders and arranges a double-faced ‘cognition-position’ structure that one needs to recognize and perform through the medium of the text. These narratives combine the monastic and secular spheres so as to provide cohesion and regulate the social relations of the whole Buddhist community. As powerful cognitive tools, jātakas trigger inferences about episodes, characters, and actions in order to establish a world-knowledge and the means to act through it.

June 24, 2015
Copyright: © 2015 Marco Guagni. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.