Buddhism and The Senses

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“This ingenious collection of essays by a great group of scholars takes a mainstay category in Buddhist theory of knowledge, the role of the senses, and expands the implications in astounding ways. The multidisciplinary studies included here look at Buddhist literature, philosophy, and practice, both ancient and modern. They reveal the extraordinary importance in Buddhism of the senses for the insights and wisdoms they can convey to us—that is, if only we knew how to notice, and appreciate, them.”—Janet Gyatso, Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies, Harvard Divinity School

“Professors DeCaroli and Lopez’s edited collection Buddhism and the Senses grew out of scholarly collaboration with a museum project highlighting the somatic dimensions of Buddhist art and culture. Their volume brings together the work of specialists in a range of Buddhist traditions and advances research on embodied or “lived” Buddhism in innovative ways. Categorized by sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, the individual essays probe ambivalences in Buddhist attitudes toward the physical senses, which Buddhist teachings have characterized both as snares for the ignorant and as vehicles of cultivation and insight. The difference between delusion and awakening, the authors find, involves not only the mind but also sensory experience. Nuanced and engrossing, this collection will delight scholars and students of Buddhism as well as anyone interested in religion and the body.”—Jacqueline I. Stone, Professor of Religion (emerita), Princeton University, and author of Right Thoughts at the Last Moment: Buddhism and Deathbed Practices in Early Medieval Japan


A Guide to the Good and Bad

Robert DeCaroli Donald S. Lopez Jr.

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Across Buddhist traditions, the five senses—sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch—are perceived both positively and negatively. Share eminent scholars’ fascination and deep insight into what makes a sensuous experience good or bad.

Following the exhibition Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice across Asia at the National Museum of Asian art, ten eminent scholars present their insights into Buddhism’s fascinating relation with the five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch), which careens between delight and disgust, rarely finding a middle way. While much of Buddhist literature is devoted to overcoming the attachment that dooms us to rebirth in samsara, primarily by deprecating sense experience and showing that whatever brings us sensual pleasure leads only to all manner of physical and mental pain, in texts such as the Lotus Sutra, sensory powers do not offer sensory pleasure but rather knowledge, clear observation, and ability to preach the Dharma. Considering  such religiously and historically contingent ambiguity, this volume presents each of the five senses in two instantiations, the good and the bad, opening up the discourse on the senses across Buddhist traditions.

Just as the museum departed from tradition to incorporate sensory experiences into the exhibition, this volume is a new direction in scholarship to humanize Buddhist studies by foregrounding sensory experience and practice, inviting the reader to think about the senses in a focused manner and shifting our understanding of Buddhism from the conceptual to the material or practical, from the idealized to the human, from the abstract to the grounded, from the mind to the body.

Includes essays by Bryan J. Cuevas, Debra Diamond, D. Max Moerman, Reiko Ohnuma, James Robson, Melody Rod-ari, Kurtis R. Schaeffer, John Strong, and Lina Verchery.

book information
  • Hardcover
  • 264 pages, 6 x 9 inches
  • $39.95
  • ISBN 9781614298908
about the author
Buddhism and The Senses

Robert DeCaroli is a Professor of South and Southeast Asian Art History at George Mason University. He is the author of Haunting the Buddha: Indian Popular Religions and the Formation of Buddhism, Image Problems: The Origin and Development of the Buddha’s Image in Early South Asia, as well as numerous articles and book chapters. Recently, he co-curated Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice across Asia at the National Museum of Asian Art. He has been awarded a Getty Research Institute Fellowship and the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Research Fellowship.

Buddhism and The Senses

Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. He is the author of numerous monographs, translations, and edited volumes on South Asian Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, and the European encounter with Buddhism. In 2014 his Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (with Robert Buswell) was awarded the Dartmouth Medal of the American Library Association for best reference work of the year. In 2000 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Other books by Donald S. Lopez Jr.:
Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics, Vol. 3
Beautiful Adornment of Mount Meru

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