Religious Studies | Studies in Buddhism: On Buddhahood
R552 | 11787 | R. Nance


When beings become Buddhas, what happens? What is lost in becoming a Buddha, and
what is gained? The nature of what might be called “Buddhahood”—the end point of the
Buddhist path—has long been an object of controversy among Buddhists; even the value of
such speculation is itself a subject of contestation within the tradition. Some
representatives of the tradition hold that Buddhas are simply human beings who are no
longer afflicted by greed, hatred, and delusion; others portray Buddhas in non-human (or
super-human) terms, as beings who simultaneously possess multiple embodiments, are
omniscient, can disappear and reappear at will, speak multiple languages at the same
time, and emanate whole universes without breaking a sweat.

This course traces some of the divergent ways in which the figure of the Buddha and the
nature of Buddhahood have been treated in Indian and Tibetan texts. We will read a
number of primary texts in translation (together with several secondary studies), and will
explore a number of interrelated topics. Among them: Buddhas as moral exemplars; the
vexed question of whether a Buddha can have thoughts and intentions; a Buddha’s multiple
bodies and their characteristics; the controversy over “Buddha nature” as ontological
and/or soteriological postulate; the notion of “skill in means” and its range of applicability;
divergent emphases found in narrative and philosophical texts; and the question of
whether—and what—historical conclusions regarding Buddhist traditions may justifiably be
drawn from the extant data. Prerequisite: B210 or permission of instructor.