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Early Buddhists and their Ascetic Others

The Questions of Contact and Boundary Negotiations

The research project examines the dialogic influence of ascetic others, in particular the Jain other, on the early Buddhist monastic community’s identity development and boundary negotiation. More specifically, starting from the premise that ascetic others played a central role in the early Buddhist community’s development, the research investigates how and how much of their dialogic influence can still be traced in the Pāli Vinaya, being the monastic code of the Theravāda school. How does the Pāli Vinaya acknowledge, integrate, and deal with the Buddhist’s ascetic others, and how does this monastic text develop a ‘Buddhist’ identity rhetoric vis-à-vis these others? Underlying these principal research questions is a conception of ‘identity’ as relational. This is, if identity is understood as a dynamic, changing and dialectically negotiated notion, requiring and resulting from the so-called processes of othering.

The question of dialogue begs, of course, the question of contact. The project seeks to examine the socio-geographical proximity of the ascetic other. While interaction between early Buddhists and other ascetics is readily accepted, the important questions of the possibility, frequency and nature of this interaction have hardly been addressed. By means of a text-historical reading of various early Jain and Buddhist sources, it seeks to develop a typology of contact opportunities. How easily could Buddhist monk come into contact, whether direct or indirect, with their ascetic others and how did this contact affect their self-perception and ascetic organization? Addressing these questions, the research project shall be able to throw more light on the issues of boundary negotiations and intra- and inter religious debates within the early Indian ascetic landscape.