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Literary Buddhas

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The foremost way in which the Buddha lives both in Buddhist tradition and in the popular imagination is as a literary character. Whatever we know about him is an amalgamation of his various life-stories and portrayals across a vast range of texts, old and new. This volume acknowledges the plurality of ways in which authors have characterized the Buddha down the centuries and across cultures, beginning with ancient India, through wider Asian contexts, and then globally into modernity. Contributions to the volume offer case studies of different literary recreations of the Buddha that both preserve and create, drawing upon prior heritage yet constantly reimagining the figure of Śākyamuni – understood to be a ‘teacher of gods and men’ – for new audiences and settings.

The volume’s chapters examine the Buddha as a figure who lives and changes through literary accounts of his character, life and deeds. From ancient Magadha to modern Mexico, these studies draw out of Buddhist stories what we can learn about the different yet overlapping interests and concerns – political, philosophical, social and otherwise – of authors who brought to life the individual who has been the centre of Buddhist thought and practice for two and half millennia.

Published: Mar 1, 2025