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Book: Narrative Visions and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism

Chapter: 8. The Buddha as Spiritual Sovereign: Narrative Figurations of Knowledge and Power

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.39997


Do narratives make arguments? We may respond intuitively that they do. What else do we call the moral of the story? Yet, scholars have also pointed out some basic differences between narratives and arguments. Narratives create storyworlds complete with characters performing actions and experiencing events in worlds of spatial and temporal extension; arguments give series of inter-related propositions. The differences suggest that, while narratives may make arguments, they do so differently from systematic forms of discourse. How then do narratives make arguments? This chapter will explore this broader question by looking more specifically at how certain Buddhist narratives enact the Buddha as a “spiritual sovereign,” a figure of extraordinary knowledge and power. It will argue that narrative figuration and metaphor – the way narratives create figurative representations and use visual imagery – play active roles in this process. In this way, not only can we understand better how narratives make arguments, particularly in this case by giving concrete shape to abstract conceptions of ideal beings and states of flourishing; we can also propose a stronger (and potentially more comprehensive) interpretation of certain historical developments in the Buddhist tradition, especially in regard to the relationship therein between the so-called “spiritual” and “temporal” domains.

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