Readings of the Vessantara Jātaka

Edited by Steven Collins

Columbia University Press

Readings of the Vessantara Jātaka

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Pub Date: March 2016

ISBN: 9780231160391

232 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£24.95

Pub Date: March 2016

ISBN: 9780231160384

232 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $90.00£74.95

Pub Date: March 2016

ISBN: 9780231541008

232 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£24.95

Readings of the Vessantara Jātaka

Edited by Steven Collins

Columbia University Press

The Vessantara Jataka tells the story of Prince Vessantara, who attained the Perfection of Generosity by giving away his fortune, his children, and his wife. Vessantara was the penultimate rebirth as a human of the future Gotama Buddha, and his extreme charity has been represented and reinterpreted in texts, sermons, rituals, and art throughout South and Southeast Asia and beyond. This anthology features well-respected anthropologists, textual scholars in religious and Buddhist studies, and art historians, who engage in sophisticated readings of the text and its ethics of giving, understanding of attachment and nonattachment, depiction of the trickster, and unique performative qualities. They reveal the story to be as brilliantly layered as a Homeric epic or Shakespearean play, with aspects of tragedy, comedy, melodrama, and utopian fantasy intertwined to problematize and scrutinize Theravada Buddhism's cherished virtues.
Readings of the Vessantara Jataka will undoubtedly become a classic in the study of Buddhist biographical literature and its cultural contexts. The collection brings together excellent essays that show us how a central Buddhist narrative can resonate profoundly across a spectrum of dramatic, ethical, and cultural modalities. Juliane Schober, Arizona State University
This volume, taken as a whole, starts with some basic questions: what accounts for the tremendous popularity of the Vessantara Jataka in the Buddhist world? How and why did it become a tale better known even than the life story of the Buddha? In addressing these issues, the individual contributors go on to reveal and analyze the multiple (and often ambivalent) ways in which the story has been open to interpretation and to enactment in ritual, art, and society in both classic and modern times. Readings of the Vessantara Jataka is a pathbreaking work that will long endure as a go-to reference for anyone interested in this most significant and popular of Buddhist stories. John S. Strong, Bates College
The central figure in the Buddhism of Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, and even parts of Nepal is, as this book demonstrates, Prince Vessantara as much as it is the Buddha himself. This book is highly recommended not only for scholars interested in Buddhism as it is practiced but also for courses on Buddhism and society, religious studies, and anthropology and religion. Charles Keyes, University of Washington
Preface
Introduction, Dramatis Personae, and Chapters in the Vessantara Jātaka, by Steven Collins
1. Readers in the Maze: Modern Debates About the Vessantara Story in Thailand, by Louis Gabaude
2. Emotions and Narrative: Excessive Giving and Ethical Ambivalence in the Lao Vessantara Jātaka, by Patrice Ladwig
3. Blissfully Buddhist and Betrothed: Marriage in the Vessantara Jātaka and Other South and Southeast Asian Buddhist Narratives, by Justin McDaniel
4. Jājaka as Trickster: The Comedic Monks of Northern Thailand, by Katherine Bowie
5. Narration in the Vessantara Painted Scrolls of Northeast Thailand and Laos, by Leedom Lefferts and Sandra Cate
6. A Man for All Seasons: Three Vessantaras in Premodern Myanmar, by Lilian Handlin
7. Vessantara Opts Out: Newar Versions of the Tale of the Generous Prince, by Christoph Emmrich
Index

About the Author

Steven Collins is Chester D. Tripp Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago, where he teaches in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations and in the Divinity School. His books include Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism and Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities: Utopias of the Pali Imaginaire.