Alf Hiltebeitel

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780195394238
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199897452 | DOI:

Series: South Asia Research


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From a verbal root meaning “to hold” or “uphold,” dharma is taken to have been the main term by which Buddhism and Hinduism came, over about five centuries, to describe their distinctive visions of the good and well‐rewarded life. From about 300 BCE to about 200 CE, Buddhist and Brahmanical authors used it to clarify and classify their mutual and contending values in relation to dramatically changing historical conditions. Before this, the term had no such centrality, and after it, each tradition came to define normative dharma separately as the term's interreligious dimension lost interest. This book about dharma in history thus attempts to get at the concepts and practices associated with the term mainly during this window, which opens on dharma's vitality as it played, and was played, across political, religious, legal, literary, ethical, and philosophical domains and discourses about what “holds” life together. It examines what dharma meant in eleven texts, including text clusters like the Aśokan edicts and the canonical Buddhist Three Baskets, that can be said to have made dharma their central concern. These eleven “dharma texts,” nine “major” (including those just mentioned, the dharmasūtras, the Sanskrit epics, The Laws of Manu, and the Buddhacarita), and two “minor” (the Yuga Purāṇa and a set of Buddhist prophesies of the end of the Buddhist dharma), are explored for their treatments of dharma as experienced “over time” during this period of dynamic change. Each chapter brings out ways in which dharma is interpreted temporally: from grand cosmic chronometries of yugas and kalpas to narratives about divine plans, implications of itihāsa or “history,” war, and peace, gendered nuances of genealogical time, royal biography (even autobiography with Aśoka), guidelines for the royal life including daily routines, householder regimens including daily obligations and life‐stages, and monastic regimens including meditation.

Keywords: dharma; Sanskrit epics; Mahābhārata; Rāmāyaṇā; Buddhacarita; Manu; The Laws of Manu; Aśoka Maurya; itihāsa; yuga; kalpa; royal dharma; rājadharma; women's dharma; strīdharma

Book.  768 pages. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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