Buddhist Beasts: Reflections on Animals in Asian Religions and Culture-Abstracts

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  1. Barbara Ambros (UNC Chapel Hill): “Buddhism and Meat-Eating in Contemporary Japan.”
    Over the past decade, an increasing number of publications and public events in Japan have been emphasizing that humans must rely on animal lives for food. The moral principle at the center of this discourse is gratitude. In modern Japanese Buddhism the meaning of repaying a debt of gratitude has shifted from an emphasis on liberating animals to consuming animals with gratitude. In other words, as meat eating has become normative in modern Japan, even among the Buddhist clergy, a sacrificial rationale has replaced anti-meat-eating discourses that have remained central features of a Buddhist identity in other parts of East Asia. The contemporary Japanese Buddhist discourse of gratitude envisions an interconnected chain of becoming that is sustained by animal lives and culminates in human lives. As animal bodies are consumed and transformed into human bodies, humans have the moral obligation to face this reality and express their gratitude.
  2. Naomi Appleton (University of Edinburgh): “Badly behaved animals in the Jātakas”
    Animals are clearly a bad rebirth (or Unfortunate Destiny as Reiko Ohnuma entitles her recent book), yet several studies have highlighted the (limited) opportunities that animals have to do good. Such opportunities usually involve a devotional encounter with the Buddha or another great field of merit, or a moment of serenity or faith brought about by hearing some words of the dhamma. Further opportunities to do good are available to the Bodhisatta when born as an animal, as his rich merit and finely-honed perfections allow him to behave in exceptional ways.But what about the ability of animals to do bad deeds? Can animals make bad karma? Is the intentionality of an action compromised if one is overrun with instinct and delusion? What would it mean to be a ‘bad lion’ or a ‘bad monkey’? In this paper I seek to explore some of these questions with relation to jātaka stories that show animals behaving badly. Through this exploration I will also raise questions about how we should view animal tales in the jātakas, and highlight the productive tension between animals as unfortunate fellow travellers in the cycle of rebirth, and animals as literary devices that shed light on human behaviour.
  3. T.H. Barrett (SOAS, University of London): “Animals across Boundaries: Buddhist and Other Animals in Trans-cultural Encounters”
    It is not surprising that many Buddhist texts feature animals in folk tales similar to Aesop’s fables, since such stories cross cultures with ease, and so were an obvious vehicle for spreading the Buddhist message.  But these animal stories travelled in all directions, and were not necessarily Buddhist even in the most Buddhist parts of Asia – thus even monkey stories in China do not necessarily have to feature a student of Yocagara philosophy.  Here we look at the middle of the thirteenth century and at the first eyewitness-recorded contact between Europe and East Asia.  A monkey certainly features in the conversation, but who is telling the story?
  4. Geoff Barstow (Oregon State University): Monastic Meat: “Reflecting on the Consumption of Meat in Tibetan Monasteries”
    Vegetarianism has always been a religious practice in Tibet, undertaken almost exclusively by individuals who are particularly devout.  But even among the devout, vegetarianism was a practice particularly associated with monastics, to the extent that non-monastic practitioners were often explicitly excluded from any expectation of vegetarianism.  In this paper, I investigate what this monastic vegetarianism looked like in practice.  To do this, I analyze Tibetan monastic constitutions, the documents that lay out the rules to be followed in particular monasteries.  Many of these monastic constitutions discuss the question of meat eating, often restricting it to one degree or another.  But as these texts themselves make clear, individual monks did not always follow the rules.  This paper, therefore, also draws on fieldwork conducted among contemporary Tibetan monastics (particularly in the eastern Tibetan region of Kham), to reflect on how these rules may have been implemented (or avoided) in practice.  In the end, I argue that while meat eating was often discouraged by monastic constitutions, these rules were often written in such a way that individual monks could work around them if they wished.  Vegetarianism was therefore preserved as an ideal, though individuals were largely able to decide how closely they wanted to adhere to that ideal.
  5. Daniela Berti (Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS)): “Animals in the Public Debate. Hunting, Conservationism and Animal Rights in India”
    The question of how to deal with animals and which legal and moral status should be attributed to them has over the last years been the subject of a fervent debate in India. On the one hand, animal welfare and animal rights organizations as well as individual activists have brought before the court a number of cases concerning not only the cruelty and animal protection issue but also, following an international trend, the idea of animals as ‘non-human persons’, as subjects of rights. On the other hand, state administrative bodies (such as the Wildlife Department) as well as the court have to handle conflicts involving species of animals that receive special treatment either because they are considered to be ‘endangered’ (tigers, lions or leopards) and must be protected, or because their behavior has become incompatible with human life and activities, and they must be captured or killed. Lastly, the state’s handling of these conflicts often requires calling upon professional hunters (shikari), who define themselves as conservationists, and who are occasionally employed by the state to conduct field enquiries (often as a team and alongside a vet). The task of these hunters is to find, using various techniques, the individual animal whose behavior has become dangerous for the people in order to capture or kill it.On the basis of an ethnography I drew up in northern India (Delhi, Shimla and Dehradun) I review these different yet often connected milieus and show how the discourse held by these actors (animal rights activists, lawyers, judges, forest guards, hunters) calls upon a variety of notions (of personhood, intentionality, responsibility, dignity, cruelty, morality), and of different kinds of ‘rights’—right to life, to live with dignity, animal rights, right to fly.
  6. Ben Brose (University of Michigan): “Taming the Monkey: Reinterpreting the Journey to the West in Early Twentieth-Century China”
    Sun Wukong, the wiley protagonist from the late-sixteenth century Chinese novel The Journey to the West, is arguably the most famous monkey in the history of China. While much has been written about the possible origins of this literary character, very little attention has been paid to the life of this enigmatic monkey after he was immortalized in the hundred-chapter novel. This paper begins with a discussion of the various roles Sun Wukong assumed in local Chinese ritual traditions, including exorcism, mortuary rites, and possession, from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. The remainder of the paper focuses on Republican-era efforts by Christian missionaries and Chinese intellectuals to domesticate Sun Wukong, to transform a powerful and potentially dangerous deity into a harmless fictional character.
  7. Huaiyu Chen (Arizona State University): “Demons, Converts, and Protectors: The Changing Images of Serpents in Medieval Chinese Religions”
    In the Chinese context, serpents and tigers were two major animals that threatened human lives, especially in the humid natural environment in medieval South China. From the perspective of religious history, the serpent was one of the most important animals in Indo-European culture and religion. It was notorious for tempting Adam and Eve in Abrahamic religions and becoming the symbol of one of three poisons that result in suffering in Buddhist cosmology. The religious meaning of the serpent originated in Indic cultures and was introduced to East Asia with the spread of Buddhism in the early medieval period. Since then, battling with serpents has become one of the most remarkable themes in Chinese Buddhist literature. In the meantime, some cultural heroes such as Fuxi and Nüwa in the myth of ancient Chinese civilizations appeared as the human heads on the serpent bodies. Medieval Daoists often portrayed serpents as their protectors against Buddhism while medieval Buddhists introduced their serpent-like nāgas as the Buddhist guardians. This paper aims to illustrate some important issues about various images of the serpent in medieval Chinese religions from multiple perspectives.
  8. Bernard Faure (Columbia University): “Haunting Foxes: The Imaginary Fox in Medieval Japan”
    Certain animals have haunted the Japanese imaginary. Among them, the fox and the snake are  the two most important, and in spite of their biological differences they share many symbolic affinities. I will focus here on the fox. On the one hand, the fox was perceived (already in China) as a demonic animal, a shape-shifter that could transform into a human or possess humans. As such, it was the object of many exorcisms. On the other hand, as mount of the Inari deity, it came to be worshiped as a symbol of fecundity. Its relationship with the goddess Dakiniten and with the wish-fulfilling jewel led to its symbolic apotheosis as “divine fox” or even, in anthropomorphic form, as “King of astral foxes” (Shinkoō). The paper will explore this ambivalence between the demonic and divine aspects of the fox.
  9. Phyllis Granoff (Yale University): “Dogs and Merit Making: Some reflections from Pali texts”
    From a wide range of Buddhist texts, we learn that being reborn as an animal is a retribution for grievous sin. Indeed, the pain and suffering in the animal realm are likened to the torments of hell. Those in hell may receive succor from the visits of monks or bodhisattvas or from the light emanated from the Buddha himself. Even the performance of rituals and donations by the loved ones they have left behind may aid them. Here  I argue that by contrast there is little help offered to the former sinners who have been reborn in the animal realm.  A striking exception is a collection of stories compiled in Śrī Laṅkā, the Rasavāhinī of the 13th century monk Vedeha Thera, in which helping starving dogs is a strong focus of merit-making. This text also describes in great detail a terrible famine that occurred at the time of the Tamil invasion of the island. I argue that the calculus of merit of normative texts was affected by the general suffering that the famine occasioned, and in the shadow of the great famine even  feeding a lowly creature like a dog became a greatly meritorious deed.
  10. Ann Heirman (Ghent University): “How to deal with dangerous and annoying animals: a vinaya perspective”
    Against the background of the general principle of non-killing, this paper first discusses how vinayas see the relation between monastics and animals. Several questions come to the fore. First of all, if one cannot kill how does one protect oneself against dangerous or annoying animals, such as tigers or mosquitos? Secondly, if animals are to be treated with kindness, is it allowed to make use of animals for practical purposes? Can one travel using an animal as a vehicle? And finally, is one allowed or supposed to help animals when they are in trouble, or to release animals when they are kept captive?As we will see, these questions, although sometimes not at the core of monastic regulations have all been discussed by the compilers of the vinaya texts. When these texts were translated into Chinese and later commented upon by vinaya masters of Medieval China, the same questions were again raised. This is the focus of the second part of this paper: how did Medieval Chinese masters interpret the guidelines on the protection against dangerous animals, the use of animals, or the help to and the release of animals?
  11. Jeehee Hong (McGill University): “The Meditating Monkey: Visualizing Silence in Southern Song Chan Culture”
    The monkey as a prime anthropoid has generated a spectrum of imageries that allegorize or satirize the human society and culture throughout history. In contrast to often morality-driven and generally negative images of the monkey in religious and intellectual discourses of certain cultures, the monkey had multivalent appeal to Buddhist communities in China. Once entering the realm of literary imagination in medieval times, the animal’s manifold anthropomorphic characteristics shaped in the poetic tradition were also integrated into Buddhist visual culture by the middle period (9th-14th centuries). My project engages a particular mode in which the monkey was portrayed in and around the Chan communities in middle-period China. The central case to be presented is an exquisite painting of a monkey formerly attributed to Mao Song 毛松 of the Southern Song, currently stored in Tokyo National Museum. Despite the lack of written sources that directly informs of this work, the image’s unusually specific pictoriality—its form, composition, material, and brushwork—as well as the subject itself lends itself to a solid case through which variegated conceptions of the animal as well as their religious connotations are revealed. The essay first pays close attention to the classical poetics of the monkey in which perceptual modalities of seeing and hearing densely weave the interspecific communion between a monkey and a lone traveler stepping in its habitat. The framing of the affective dynamics between a monkey and the subject recognized as such deeply resonates with the multifaceted imagery of the monkey as an anthropomorphized sitter in the painting. My discussion then explores how the seated monkey, by embracing a pictorial format evocative of the visual practice rooted in the portrait-making in the Chan culture of the late middle period, offered itself as a medium through which the viewer was routed to an undefined realm beyond the perceptible. While locating this painting in the rubric of the Chan Buddhist context, this paper shows how non-Buddhist and pre-Song poetic visions contributed to the imaging of the monkey that transcended a simple pictorial manifestation of the religious doctrine.
  12. Kaiqi Hua (University of British Columbia): “Cat and Buddhist Book Culture”
    This paper traces the emergence and popularization of Buddhist books that depict a close relationship between cat and humans. From the Tang-era Dunhuang manuscript of mao’er ti 貓兒題 to a Yuan-era printed divination talisman mao’er qi 貓兒契, I argue that the application of tutelary cats in Buddhist book culture rose with the development of printed culture and Buddhist canon conservation. In mid-imperial China, from the Tang to the Yuan, cats have been treated as guardians of Buddhist books, keeping rats from damaging libraries, and thus becoming close friends of the sangha and the dharma. The dramatically increasing printing industry of Buddhist books, facilitated the idea of having cats to protect the printed books. Scholars in that period, used both Buddhist sutras such as Baoyi mao’er jing 寶意貓兒經, and vernacular literature of spiritual attainment such as Xinkan yinyang baojian keze tongshu 新刊陰陽寶鑑剋擇通書, to deepen the connection between cats and Buddhist book culture. Cats, as depicted in printed texts and images, in the Buddhist world, became not just household pets, but an inevitable component of successful commercial printing and monastic daily life. Due to the commercialization and vernacularization since the Song dynasty, Buddhist monks also signed written contracts with cats to hire them for book protection and regulated their duties in these pseudo-legal documents. This new format of human-cat interaction also shows the popularity of the market economy and its influence on Buddhist viewpoints on the outside world of business.
  13. Richard Lynn (University of Toronto): “Birds and Beasts in the Zhuangzi, Interpreted by Guo Xiang and Cheng Xuanying”
    Birds and beasts often appear in the Zhuangzi, in fables meant to be read analogically as instructions for human thought and behavior.  Whereas the analogical significance of some fables is obvious, in others it is obscure and in need of explication, and even the readily accessible can be made to yield more clarity thanks to commentaries.  This paper explores contributions made by the commentaries of Guo Xiang (252-312) and Cheng Xuanying (fl. mid-7th cent.) to the understanding of such fables and other narratives.  Accounts of birds and beasts, parodies and satires, address the limitations, failures, delusions and faulty assumptions, narrow-mindedness, and other human foibles, all of which rooted in self-conscious thought and knowledge are deadly impediments to enlightenment.  Other passages about beasts and birds use them as exemplars of truth to endowed nature (xing 性) and the natural propensity to stay within the bounds of natural capacity (xingfen 性分).  Since the commentaries of Guo and Cheng add important dimensions to these accounts the paper will explore these as well.
  14. Petra Maurer (Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities): “Humanising horses: The application of Tibetan medical concepts in veterinary medicine.”
    In the 1980s and 1990s, Hamburg University’s German Nepalese Manuscripts Preservation Project (NGMPP) photographed approximately twenty, Tibetan-language manuscripts from the Dolpo and Mustang districts of Nepal, on hippiatry and hippoloy. I examined these manuscripts as part of a multidisciplinary Nepal-German project on High Mountain Archaeology, funded by the German Research Society.Tibetan texts on horse medicine like these describe a variety of diseases— such as diseases of the intestines and the musculoskeletal system, wounds, infections of the fell, possession by demons—, their symptoms and treatments. Some of the manuscripts detail physical examinations such as pulse diagnosis, urine and eye diagnosis. But despite descriptions of these techniques in texts, they are not generally used to examine horses (the one common exception to this rule being a horse healer’s diagnosis of a horse’s foreleg pulse).Another discord between the description and practice of the concepts described in the texts is the bla gnas treatment. In these medical texts, the bla  is understood a kind of vital force that cycles around in the animal’s body every thirty days. The body part occupied by the bla gnas is inappropriate for treatments such as moxibustion or cauterisation as these would harm the animal. However, none of the healers followed this instruction.This paper explains how the previously mentioned practices and the analysis of the bla gnas are probably adapted from Tibetan human medicine. It demonstrates that they are not described in the oldest written sources of horse medicine, such as the Pelliot Tibétain, and presents possible reasons for the adaptation of these examination methods and treatment restrictions. Through this examination, the article considers whether these methods and concepts were introduced from human medicine in order to standardize the written tradition of horse medicine or whether they derive from a change in the way that animals were seen in Tibetan culture.
  15. Michael Nylan (University of California, Berkeley): “Humans as Beasts and Gods in Pre-Buddhist China”
    This talk examines animals in relation to humans (as one sort of animal), from two discrete angles: first, the modern rationales for the inalienable rights of human beings (as studied, for example, by Jeremy Waldron and Samuel Moyn), and second, the early Chinese idea of “becoming a human.”  In the early Chinese texts, animals are credited with a vast array of capacities, including the capacity to plan rationally and to act virtuously.  Indeed, many early texts foreshadow contemporary treatments of animal play.  What, then, is distinctive about human beings and what goals define human beings?  The secondary literature to date has not touched on this discussion, presuming that the term “humanity” is unproblematic.  It is not.
  16. Reiko Ohnuma (Dartmouth): “The Heretical, Heterodox Howl: Jackals in Pāli Buddhist Literature”
    Buddhist literature in Pāli presents a world that is rich in animal imagery, with some animals carrying largely positive associations and other animals seen in a consistently negative light. Among the many species that populate the Pāli imaginaire, the jackal bears a particular status as a much maligned beast. Jackals are depicted in Pāli literature as lowly, inferior, greedy, and cunning creatures. The jackal, as a natural scavenger, exists on the periphery of animal society and is commonly associated with carrion, death, other lowly animals (such as dogs and donkeys), and low-caste people such as caṇḍālas. In this paper, I am interested in the use of the jackal as an image for both heresy and heterodoxy—that is, the jackal’s consistent association with heretical Buddhist figures such as Devadatta or Kokālika, and with heterodox teachers such as the leaders of competing samaṇa movements. In some cases, moreover, the imagery of the jackal is used to suggest that these figures should be condemned not only because of the actions they undertake or the teachings they propagate, but also because they are constitutionally inferior by birth. The Hindu language of jāti is used, and heretical and heterodox figures are demonized as “other” by virtue of their very make-up. In this paper, I will contrast several different registers in which the jackal-metaphor is used, and also attempt to address the question of why some Pāli sources—especially the jātakas—slip into a register inflected by notions of caste and birth.
  17. Robert Sharf (University of California, Berkeley): “What Do Nanquan and Schrödinger Have Against Cats?”
    Nanquan Puyuan 南泉普願 (c. 749-c. 835), a Chan master of the Tang dynasty, is famous for having sliced a kitten in two to make a point. The point, in short, is that any attempt to signify a reality or truth that lies beyond “conceptual construction” (fenbie 分別, vikalpa, kalpanā)—to deliver a whole or true kitten—is doomed to fail, as all signification involves slicing and dicing. The physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961) is similarly famous for sacrificing a cat to make a point. In Schrödinger’s case, the point is about the absurdity of the probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics, which led to the seemingly preposterous notion that is there is no determinative truth about things, such as a subatomic particle or a cat, prior to our observing them. This paper will argue that: (1) there is a deep connection between the philosophical conundrums with which Nanquan and Schrödinger were grappling; and (2) it is not entirely coincidental that they both concocted stories about killing cats to make their case.
  18. Koichi Shinohara (Yale University): “Animals in Chinese Buddhist monastic biographies”
    In daily life animals appear to us both as beings similar to ourselves and as beings very different. The teaching of karmic rebirth captures this tension by placing human and animal existences in the same continuum while highlighting their difference at the same time.  Still, does this doctrinal language do justice to the rich narrative potential of this fundamental tension in our experience of animals? In this paper I hope to explore this basic question by examining some stories in the Chinese Buddhist Biographies of Eminent Monks collections. In these biographies animals appear largely in stories of liminal states. Like the teaching of karmic rebirth these stories thus situate the tension in our experience of animals around the theme of transition, but they frame this transition in more complex and many-sided ways. I focus on two groups of stories. In stories about tigers tamed by monks of great attainments the dangerous animal behaves more like a human attendant. The focus shifts from the threatened village, normally orderly, to the peaceful forest, ordinarily filled with danger. In my second example, birds make uncanny appearances in stories of the death of accomplished monks.
  19. Daniel Stuart (University of South Carolina): “Becoming Animal: Karma and the animal realm envisioned through an early yogācāra lens”
    In an early discourse from the Saṃyuttanikāya the Buddha states: “I do not see any other order of living beings so diversified as those in the animal realm. Even those beings in the animal realm have been diversified by the mind, yet the mind is even more diverse than those beings in the animal realm.” (Bodhi [trans.] 2000 : 958). This paper explores how this key early Buddhist idea gets elaborated in a middle period Buddhist sūtra, the Saddharmasmṛtyupasthānasūtra. This third-century Indian Buddhist Sanskrit text on meditation practice, karma theory, and cosmology contains some of the most elaborate depictions of Buddhist cosmology known in South Asia during the first centuries of the Common Era. It also becomes a key source for later depictions of Buddhist cosmology throughout East Asia. I will show how the Saddharmasmṛtyupasthāna’s treatment of the animal realm (tiryaggati) involves a reworking of earlier Buddhist literary forms and contributes to the formulation of an idealistic theory of mind in the context of visionary meditation practices. The text psychologizes animal behavior and places it on a spectrum with the behavior of humans and divine beings. The details of animal behavior—and of the karmic limitations of animal life—presented in the text reveal an attempt to analyze psychology in cosmological terms. Exploring animal life becomes a means to exploring all life, which in the text can’t be separated from the human mind in life.
  20. Mingli Sun (Tsinghua University): “An Analysis of the Images of Birds as Shown in the Illustrations of Western Pure Land Sutra in the Sichuan Area, under the Tang and Five Dynasties”
    Under the Tang and Five Dynasties, the belief in the Western Pure Land became a prominent social phenomenon, while the flourishing of the images featuring the Western Pure Land shaped the remarkable characteristic of Buddhist material culture at that time. Referring to the images produced on the basis of the genre of scriptures devoted to the Western Pure Land, the illustrations of Western Pure Land Sutra comprehensively depict the visons in the world of Western Pure Land. The illustrations of Western Pure Land Sutra under the Tang and Five Dynasties in Sichuan area are not only comparable — both in quantity and scale—with the same-themed illustrations in Dunhuang area, but they also, through the form of cliff carvings, are capable of presenting the world of Western Pure Land in a more vivid fashion.The world of Western Pure Land, situated in the west of the saha world and celebrated as the ideal world for the departed saints to achieve their rebirth in, is called Western Pure Land. It is also called “Paradise of Ultimate Bliss” because all of the residents in this realm are free from any kind of suffering and blessed with a variety of happiness, and the physical space of this Buddha-land is replete with a multitude of gems. The transcendent scenes of this magnificent paradise consist in a diversity of pure visons, such as those of celestial palaces, lotus ponds, treasure trees, lotus flowers, birds, and sentient beings, etc. By analyzing the images of some remarkable birds associated with the pure land, this article aims at investigating their representations and significances in the illustrations of Western Pure Land Sutra in the Scihuan area, under the Tang and Five Dynasties. It will also hopefully shed new lights on an aspect of the complicated process of how Buddhist ideas and images of animals took root and developed in a seminal area under a period with crucial importance for that religion in medieval China.According to the Smaller Sukhavativyuha Sutra, translated by Kumārajīva (334-413) in the Later Qin (384-417 CE) Dynasty, the Pure Land is home to colorful treasure birds, including white cranes, parrots, peacocks, relic birds, kalavinka-birds and jīvajīva-birds (Ch. gongming niao 共命鳥; i.e., a two-headed bird). In the illustrations of Western Pure Land Sutra in Sichuan area under the Tang and Five Dynasties, the birds are portrayed as perching on the lotus branches, roofs, treasure trees, treasure pillars, arch bridges, treasure lands, as well as on the empty space above niches. All these fantastic birds are alleged to be the creations of the Amitabha Buddha in order to proclaim the dharma-sound. Their subtle voices not only broadcast the dharma-sound, but also prompt the sentient beings who listen to their sounds to praise the “Three Jewels” (i.e., the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) with an intention to be reborn in the Western Pure Land.
  21. Gilles Tarabout (Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS)): “Compassion for Animals in Indian Law Courts ”
    The Constitution of India, through an amendment of 1976, prescribes as one of the Fundamental Duties of any citizen ‘to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures’. Focusing on the introduction of the notion of ‘compassion’ in the legal field, this paper will explore how it has actually been referred to by the courts. Judgments explicitly mentioning the notion cover very diverse issues, concerning for instance stray dogs, trespassing cattle, birds in cages, bull races, cart-horses, animal sacrifice, or the question of charities. I shall analyze the judges’ discourses in a few cases in order to better understand how ‘compassion’, as an emotional and moral attitude, is articulated with the notion of ‘legal right’, and how the tension between animals-as-living-creatures and animals-as-goods has been arbitrated in Indian courts in recent time.
  22. Lina Verchery (Harvard University): “Human, Animal, and Buddha Nature: Trans-species Imagination in Modern Chinese Buddhism”
    This paper is an ethnographic exploration of how engagement with the nonhuman in Chinese Buddhist monastic life informs Buddhist moral aspiration. I argue that everyday encounters with animals – and the Buddhist moral frameworks used to interpret such encounters – serve not only as a foil against which Buddhists negotiate understandings of the nature and moral status of the “human,” but are also a means through which Buddhists seek to understand and apply the insights of Buddhist scripture. Drawing on ethnographic case studies, I show that while this imaginative engagement with animals sometimes serves to confirm and reinforce scriptural ideals, more often the realities of everyday human-animal interaction fall short of – and, indeed, even challenge – understandings of Buddhist cosmology. I consider the kinds of moral resources Buddhist draw upon in responding to such situations of ethical ambivalence, and in so doing bring Buddhist ideas into dialogue with broader trends in the Humanities — including emerging work in post-humanism and “the new ontology” — noting that much post-modern theory might actually look to Buddhist cosmological models for insights on the possibilities and limitations of anthropocentrism.
  23. Mimi Yiengpruksawan (Yale University): “Tweeting the Law: Some Avian Humanoids in Buddhist Discourse.”
    The Buddhist manifold encompasses a teeming realm of fantastic creatures. From the lambent strangeness of a Buddha’s body to the monstrous and biologically confounding form of Yamāntaka, the potential for a Buddhist evolutionary genomics seems limitless. Particularly with respect to the many zooanthropomorphs in this population, it seems likely that Buddhist insight about the human-animal interstice offers a glimpse into the posthuman future.There are many avian humanoids in the Buddhist commonwealth of zooanthropomorphs. I take up the vocalizers among them with particular emphasis on the kalaviṅka, whose mellifluous voice is said to reverberate with the Dharma. How bird song, or perhaps the cacophony of the avian realm, came to be thus understood is a question worth considering. It touches on the noise of the world as the sonic space of wisdom. To explore this preposterous idea I proceed on the assumption that, as the ancients knew, the reasoning mind has a vast capacity for wonder.