[Buddha-l] Dharmapala, redux

JKirkpatrick jkirk at spro.net
Tue Aug 3 22:40:04 MDT 2010

>  "And I think it does relate to the "forced-conversion" issue,"
> No, it doesn't. There is no forced conversion issue.
> You think in literalist terms and not in the poetic terms
needed for
> dealing with folklore.
> Joanna K.
It relates, negatively?  I hope I am not being literalist!


No, it does not relate negatively or positively to real violence.
I now see that you need to learn more about the rhetoric and
poetics of tales, in their cultural context, of course---figures
of speech and how they are employed, and why. I think it's fair
to say that when you choose to consider the devata's threat as a
threat of "real" violence, you are being literal-minded---that's

My reading of the appearance of Vajrapani or whoever it was would
be that the man was being threatened with "death as a figure of
speech", in its extremity representing the extreme uncalled-for
rudeness of the man presuming not to reply when the Buddha
addressed him. In these tales, there is only one central figure
of course--the Buddha. Anyone else has to observe the expected
courtesies.  Even a king gets down from his carriage and walks
steps to the park where the sangha and the Buddha are staying for
his interview with the Buddha. (This is related in a story where
King Pasenadi goes to visit the Buddha but I can't recall the

Think of a comparable idiom from our own culture. Say, older
brother sees younger brother has
broken his hockey stick and says, 'I'm going to kill you for
that.' Of course he will do no such thing --it is a "figure of
speech," a hyperbole chosen to represent the dire nature of the
offense so far as the older boy is concerned. 
Vajrapani and his weapon are sheer hyperbole for the sake of the
moral point being rubbed in, and I'd guess, by extension, for the
sake of the shock of the onlooker monks at their lord and master
being treated so crudely. One could go even farther in rhetorical
terms and say that the man isn't "forced" to convert--that he
"converts" (which apparently is a matter of some doubt, but
anyway) would be even more of a public persuasion, a physical
statement (man at feet of Buddha) that one does not get away with
being rude to the Buddha, even as in this ascetic's organisation,
humiliation has access to redemption (conversion) and acceptance.

But if the guy really did not convert, as somebody on the list
averred, then conversion would not be a rhetorical motive of the
little drama. We'd then be left with the man being taught a civic
lesson (civic implying the audience in this tale-- because we
might imagine that if he and the Buddha were alone, with no
onlookers, vajrapani might not have appeared and the Buddha might
have just brushed him off.)

Cheers, Joanna

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