Andy Rotman is a professor in the Religion Department and Buddhist Studies program at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. He received his PhD in South Asian languages and civilizations from the University of Chicago in 2003. His research concerns the ways in which narratives and images in South Asia function as a part of social history and material culture. He is the translator of the inaugural volume in Wisdom’s Classics of Indian Buddhism series, Divine Stories: Divyāvadāna Part 1, and of Divine Stories: Divyāvadāna Part 2.
Books, Courses & Podcasts
Divine Stories is the inaugural volume in a landmark translation series devoted to making the wealth of classical Indian Buddhism accessible to modern readers. The stories here, among the first texts to be inscribed by Buddhists, highlight the moral economy of karma, illustrating how gestures of faith, especially offerings, can bring the reward of future happiness and ultimate liberation. Originally contained in the Divyāvadāna, an enormous compendium of Sanskrit Buddhist narratives from the early Common Era, the stories in this collection express the moral and ethical impulses of Indian Buddhist thought and are a testament to the historical and social power of narrative. Long believed by followers to be the actual words of the Buddha himself, these divine stories are without a doubt some of the most influential stories in the history of Buddhism.
Actions never come to naught,
even after hundreds of millions of years.
When the right conditions gather and the time is right,
then they will have their effect on embodied beings.
Ancient Buddhist literature is filled with tales of past lives. The Buddha, surrounded by his followers, is asked how it came to be that a certain person has met a particular fate. With his omniscience, the Buddha looks into eons past and uncovers the events that led to the present outcome and foretells the future as well. With stories of wicked wives, patricidal princes, and shape-shifting serpents, Divine Stories offers a fascinating illustration of the law of karma—the truth that the power of good and bad deeds is never lost. These are some of the oldest Buddhist tales ever committed to writing, illuminating the culture of northern India in the early centuries of the common era and bringing to life the Buddhist values of generosity and faith.
Andy Rotman’s evocative translation combines accuracy with readability, with detailed editorial notes comparing readings in various Sanskrit, Pali, and Tibetan sources. Divine Stories is a major contribution to Indian and Buddhist studies.
Andy Rotman: The Divine Stories of Early Buddhism
Discover the powerful teachings on philosophy and faith woven into the classical stories of early Buddhism. In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast we meet Andy Rotman, professor of religion and Buddhist studies at Smith College and chief editor for Wisdom’s Classics of Indian Buddhism series. An expert in the field of Buddhist literature, Andy shares with us the important role of narratives in monastic and lay life in South Asia, and how they were used to cultivate wisdom and compassion. We also hear some of Andy’s favorite tales from his translations of Divine Stories (Divyāvadāna), one of the most important collections of ancient Buddhist narratives. Find out what to expect in the second volume of his translations—Divine Stories, Part 2.
“In this wonderful gem of a book, Andy Rotman offers us a compelling translation of a set of ten Sanskrit Buddhist stories about ‘hungry ghosts’ (preta) taken from the Avadānaśataka (“One Hundred Stories”), an important early Indian anthology of Buddhist narratives. Rotman has brought them into the limelight and shown how important they are for Buddhists and for all of us. Hungry Ghosts will become a standard work on the subject.”
—John Strong, Charles A. Dana Emeritus Professor of Religious and Asian Studies, Bates College
The realm of hungry ghosts is one of the unfortunate realms of rebirth in the Buddhist cycle of existence, and those reborn there are said to have led lives consumed by greed and spite. In one of the earliest sources about hungry ghosts, translated here, hungry ghosts know the error of their ways, and they sometimes appear among humans, like the ghosts that haunt Ebenezer Scrooge, as augurs of what may await. Artistic depictions of the travails of hungry ghosts are found throughout the Buddhist world, and some of the best examples are reproduced and richly described here. Discover how an understanding of the meanness (matsārya) that afflicts hungry ghosts illuminates the human condition, offering insight and inspiring compassion for readers both in ancient times and today.
“Rotman brings new life to old stories about hungry ghosts, and he provides unique insight into their development and their importance even for modern Buddhism. A must-read for students of Buddhist thought and art.”
—Monika Zin, Saxon Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Leipzig University