A Metaphorical Study of Saundarananda

A Metaphorical Study of Saundarananda

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A Metaphorical Study of Saundarananda
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This book is an exploration of the metaphors that underpin Buddhism as a religious and cultural system. A focal point for the exploration is provided by the enchanting and richly metaphorical Sanskrit text, the Saundarananda by the Buddhist monk and poet Asvaghosa. The poet uses fundamental metaphors such as the Buddha as a physician or the dharma as a path as well as less familiar conceptual superimposition such as the parallel between meditation and gold refining to structure the poem and the guide the reader through the different stages of his hero’s conversion. Drawing on her wide knowledge of literary criticism, cognitive linguistic Sanskrit literature and Buddhist thought Linda covill provides a sensitive and thorough analysis of Asvaaghosa’s metaphorical genius and a convincing account of the conceptual metaphors of Buddhism.


Author of the book

LINDA COVILL received her D. Phil from the University of Oxford where she conducted research on Buddhist literature in Sanskrit under the guidance of Richard Gombrich. She has taught Buddhist studies and Sanskrit and has edited books relating to both fields. Handsome Nanda, her translation of the Saundarananda was published in 2007, Linda is primarily interested in how major Buddhist themes as well as land mark moments in an individual’s spiritual career, are projected in literary and religion texts in the form of conceptual metaphors. Linda and her family live in Oxford U.K


The Saundarananda exerted a strong pull form the first time. I came across it. It is a beautiful and compelling poem which manages to maintain a concentrated focus on the theme of spiritual reorientation, dramatised through the experience of the reluctant convert Nanda and his changing relationships with his wife Sundari and his half- brother, the Buddha. Discovering it as I did at a time when I had been thinking a great deal about the process of transformation and conversion it could not fail to enchant. I decided not only to translate the entire text of over a thousand verses, but also to make it the subject of my doctoral research conducted at the University of Oxford between 2001 and 2005. Although I Knew from the outset that I favoured a literary and broadly cultural approach to the text over a narrowly doctrinal one my work remained rather fragmentary until Richard Gombrich my supervisor at Oxford gave me the name of George Lakoff. Thereafter my ideas very quickly fell into place I began to notice metaphors everywhere even the most simple and practical communication seemed rich with layers of coded meaning. Lakoff’s understanding of metaphor illuminated the Saundarananda, a text from a far-off time and a different culture.

This book then is about metaphors, specifically Buddhist metaphors. In particular, it examines how one highly skilled transmitter of his culture, the kavi-bhiksu Asvaghosa, used Buddhist metaphors to convey his understanding of spiritual reorientation. The book therefore aims to provide a comprehensive examination of the content function and background of the Saundarananda’s conversion metaphors. That he was both a Kavi (poet) and a bhiksu (monk) must have been an enduring source of tension for Asvaghosa balancing the creative impulse with the Buddhist principles of restraint and disengagement. We cannot know for certain if Asvaghosa was a very good bhiksu, but he was undoubtedly a great poet and a convincing evangelist of Buddhism.

Given that the Saundarananda is a remarkable product of the literary and religious imagination, it is quite surprising that this is the first book-length study of the poem published in English. It seems to me that the time is ripe for the promotion of the Saundarananda, and Motilal Banarsidass Publishers are to be commended for undertaking to do so. Scholars working in the academic discipline of Buddhist studies will be the primary audience of this book but readers whose interested lie in early Indian culture the development of Sanskrit literature the use of metaphor for religious purpose and the wider application of Lakoff’s theories of metaphor will also find much relevant material within these pages. The broader audience may well include Buddhist practitioners and those fascinated by the interior process of religious conversion for the Saundarananda is after all a spiritual biography. The book is intended to be accessible to those readers with limited or no Sanskrit since an English translation is always provided for nay Sanskrit quotation. There is also a glossary which supplies brief definition of key Buddhist terms and other technical expressions. All quotation are given in the Roman script and compounds are hyphenated (Kavya-dharma for example) though not when Sandhi convention have fused the compound with one vowel (kavyopacara) for those who would like to read the entire Saundarananda, my Handsome Nanada (2007) has been published by New York University Press and clay Sanskrit Library in a handy format with Asvaghosa’s Romanised Sanskrit text and my English translation on facing pages.

This book is based on my D. Phil thesis “Metaphors for Conversion in Asvaghosa’s Saundarananda”, which was accepted by the University of Oxford in 2006. I am very glad to have the opportunity to thank my supervisor, Richard Gombrich for his enduring kindness his faith in me and his linguistic Rigour. Jim Benson at the faculty of Oriental Studies in oxford has been a gifted humane and extraordinary generous teacher of Sanskrit. I am also grateful to those who read all or part of this work including David Smith and Ulrike Roesler for their encouraging remarks and their help in weeding out errors and inconsistencies. My mother, who read the entire text with the vigilant eye of a non-native English Speakers helped to minimise the number of typographical errors. I think my father for his deep pride in me as well as his financial support. Finally, I am enormously thankful to the members of my family for their tolerance and love.

Contents and Sample Pages


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