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Power in Practice: Cosmic Sovereignty Envisioned in Buddhism’s Middle Period

Daniel M.Stuart 1

1University of South Carolina, Columbia

Candidate

ABSTRACT

The second to fourth-century CE Buddhist Sanskrit text, the Saddharmasmṛtyupasthānasūtra, allows scholars a glimpse into a largely unstudied early cult of Buddhist meditation practitioners (yogācāra). The text’s theoretical engagement with the path of Buddhist practice reveals an expansive vision of spiritual power founded on ethical mastery and culminating in powerful forms of insight knowledge. I argue that the text represents an explicit and unique attempt to theorize a Buddha’s omniscience and the path leading to such omniscience. Employing specific Buddhist insight practices as foundational for cultivating such knowledge, the regime of practice outlined in the Saddharmasmṛtyupasthānasūtra allows a Buddhist practitioner to experientially negotiate a variety of epistemological registers, from the ethical to the deconstructive, and to thereby acquire knowledge of the reality that serves as a powerful force in the development of cosmic sovereignty, Buddha-like power. I show how this theorization about Buddhist practice, knowledge, and power is carried out by drawing on traditional canonical textual sources and pushing beyond them in a layered narrative that figures the yogācāra practitioner as a powerful conduit of a Buddhist contemplative metaknowledge approaching omniscience.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.