Professor Jonathan A. Silk (Leiden University)
The Significance of Buddhist Scriptures
In all of our careful philology, we often lose sight of what should be a fundamental question: What do Buddhist scriptures mean? This is not (here) a theologian’s question, but that of historian. To address this question as historians, we need to think about related questions, or sub-questions: To whom, and under what conditions, do these scriptures mean or signify in the first place?
There is an ambiguity here which Prof. Silk would like to explore: what something ‘means’ refers to its ‘significance,’ which in turn refers to the manner in which it is understood. Scriptures are understood both to ‘mean’ and to ‘be,’ that is, to convey content and to have status, or to put it in other words, both to have import and to be important. Regarding the importance of these scriptures, rather than assuming a status, we must think about those for whom they possess(ed) some importance or significance.
Jonathan A. Silk. Photo: Ute Hüsken
This presentation attempts to offer a few suggestions of ways to approach these fundamental questions. Among other things, it asks questions such as: if scriptures share pericopes or stock expressions, what—and how—do such shared materials signify in their different contexts? How are we to understand the relative importance of preserved scriptures when their contents often seem so similar? If scriptures are created through the collection of pre-existing elements, (how) do they differ from anthologies?
Approx. 44 minutes. 40,6 MB
About the lecturer
Jonathan A. Silk (1960) studied East Asian Studies at the Oberlin College in Ohio and subsequently Buddhist Studies at the University of Michigan. At the latter university he obtained his PhD in 1994 with the thesis: The Origins and Early History of the Mahāratnakūţa Tradition of Mahāyāna Buddhism, With a Study of the Ratnarāśisūtra and Related Materials.