Karma and Rebirth Reconsidered

A thorough reconsideration of the myths of the afterlife (rebirth) and just world (karma) in Buddhism.

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Talking to the Kālāmas

A new translation of the Kālāma Sutta along with a commentary which explores the meaning of the text, and explodes some myths about it. 34 p. £4.50

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Visible Mantra
An encyclopedic resource for visualising and calligraphy of Buddhist mantras. Each mantra and seed syllable in four scripts, with extensive background material.
270 p. (A4 format) £19.99
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Nāmapadanamapada : a guide to names in the Triratna Buddhist Order
A guide to Sanskrit and Pali names used in the Triratna Buddhist Order.
90 p. £4.99

Pilgrimage Diary
A personal account of my pilgrimage around the Buddhist holy sites in India in 2003/4.

112 p. £6.99


Attwood, Jayarava. (2018). 'The Buddhas of the Three Times and the Chinese Origins of the Heart Sutra.' Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. 15: 9-27.
The phrase tryadhvavyavastithāḥ sarvabuddhāḥ “all the buddhas that appear in the three times” in the Sanskrit Heart Sutra is a hapax legomenon in Buddhist Sanskrit, but it is similar to the common Chinese idiom 三世諸佛 “buddhas of the three times”. In every case where this Chinese phrase is used in a Prajñāpāramitā text, other than the Heart Sutra, the corresponding extant Sanskrit texts have atītānāgatapratyutpannā buddhāḥ “past, future, and present buddhas” instead. Additionally, where one translator has used the phrase 三世諸佛 another frequently prefers 過去未來現在諸佛 “buddhas of the past, future, and present”, suggesting that their source texts also had this form with the three different times spelt out. The phrase tryadhvavyavastithāḥ sarvabuddhāḥ is unambiguously a Chinese idiom translated into Sanskrit in ignorance of Sanskrit Prajñāpāramitā conventions. This proves that the Heart Sutra was composed in Chinese.

Attwood, Jayarava. (2018). A Note on Niṣṭhānirvāṇa in the Heart Sutra. Journal of the Oxford Centre For Buddhist Studies, 14: 10-17.
Section VI of Conze’s edition of the Heart Sutra, containing the word niṣṭhānirvāṇaḥ or perhaps niṣṭhānirvāṇaprāptaḥ, has given translators and commentators considerable difficulty. Nirvāṇa being a neuter noun, the word niṣṭhānirvāṇaḥ, in the masculine, has to be a bahuvrīhi compound. Conze has divided niṣṭhānirvāṇaḥ and two other adjectives from the noun they describe—i.e. bodhisatvaḥ—by inserting a sentence break between them. Removing the extraneous full stop and reuniting the two halves of the sentence resolves many problems with the passage. 

Attwood, Jayarava. (2018). 'Defining Vedanā: Through the Looking Glass'. Contemporary Buddhism.  18(3), 31-46.
The Buddhist technical term vedanā continues to elude just the right translation. Using semantic methods, scholars have argued both for and against the usual choices: ‘feelings’ and ‘sensations’; as well as suggesting that phrases borrowed from psychology offer more semantic precision. In an attempt to break the deadlock and arrest the continuing search for the perfect translation, I argue that the term vedanā was not defined semantically. Instead, it was defined in the way that Humpty Dumpty defines words in Through the Looking Glass. Vedanā means what Buddhist say it means, neither more nor less, only because we say it does and not for any reason deriving from etymology or semantics. This observation leads me to conclude that methods from pragmatics, speech act theory, and cognitive linguistics offer better tools for analysing the term and settling on a translation.

Attwood, Jayarava. (2017) Form is (Not) Emptiness: The Enigma at the Heart of the Heart Sutra. Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, 13, 52–80.
Connections between Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra and Aṣṭasāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra suggest a new interpretation of an important passage in the Prajñāpāramitā-hṛdaya or Heart Sutra. I am able to show that the four phrases exemplified by “form is emptiness” were once a reference to the well-known simile, “Form is like an illusion” (rūpam māyopamam). As the Prajñāpāramitā corpus expanded, the simile became a metaphor, “form is illusion”. It was then deliberately altered by exchanging “illusion” for emptiness, leading to the familiar phrases. This connection opens the door to reading the Heart Sutra, and the early Prajñāpāramitā sutras, more generally along the lines of Sue Hamilton’s (2000) epistemological approach to the Pāḷi suttas; i.e. as focussed on experience and particularly the meditative experience known in the Pāḷi suttas as dwelling in emptiness (suññatā-vihāra). In this view, the Heart Sutra makes sense on its own terms without having to invoke paradox or mysticism. 

Attwood, Jayarava. (2017).  ‘Epithets of the Mantra’ in the Heart Sutra. Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, 1226–57. [Subscription required until May 2018]
In this article, I continue a detailed critical re-assessment of the text of the Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya or Heart Sutra begun by Jan Nattier (1992, see also Huifeng 2014, Attwood 2015). Nattier and Yamabe pointed out that where the Sanskrit Heart Sutra has the word mantra, some parallel passages in the Sanskrit 8,000 and 25,000 line Prajñāpāramitā sutras have the word vidyā (Nattier 1992: 211, n.54a). I show that in every other occurrence of this passage in Sanskrit and Chinese versions of these texts, Prajñāpāramitā is referred to as a superlative kind of practical knowledge or incantation (vidyā) and there is no mention of a mantra. Nor would we expect one, since these texts predate the assimilation of mantra into Buddhism. This suggests that mantra in the Sanskrit Heart Sutra is a mistranslation of a Chinese rendering of vidyā. I explain why this might have happened in semantic and historical terms. Given that the so-called mantra itself is better described as a dhāraṇī, it is hard to escape the conclusion that there is no mantra in the Heart Sutra and no mention of a mantra. This raises some interesting questions. 

Attwood, Jayarava. (2015). Heart Murmurs: Some Problems with Conze’s Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya. Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, 8, 28-48.
In his critical edition of the Sanskrit text of the Prajñāpāramitāhrdaya, first published in 1948, Edward Conze treated the verb vyavalokayati as intransitive and declined pañcaskandha as nominative plural, making the first sentence in the text difficult to parse. A comparison of some of the extant manuscripts, the canonical versions in Chinese and Tibetan, the Tibetan manuscripts found at Dūnhuáng, and the Indian commentaries preserved in Tibetan shows that they all understand vyavalokayati to be transitive and thus requiring an object. They also show that the most obvious object for vyavalokayati is pañcaskandha. I show that a simple amendment to the critical edition solves these and two other minor problems with the Sanskrit text. Conze’s own translation not only reflects the grammatical problems of his Sanskrit edition, but may give us insights into the reasoning behind his Sanskrit text by highlighting the role his religious faith played in his reading of the text.

Attwood, Jayarava. (2014). Escaping the Inescapable: Changes in Buddhist Karma. Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 21, 503-535.
Early Buddhist karma is an impersonal moral force that impartially and inevitably causes the consequences of actions to be visited upon the actor, especially determining their afterlife destination. The story of King Ajātasattu in the Pāli Samaññaphala Sutta, where not even the Buddha can intervene to save him, epitomizes the criterion of inescapability. Zoroastrian ethical thought runs along similar lines and may have influenced the early development of Buddhism. However, in the Mahāyāna version of the Samaññaphala Sutta, the simple act of meeting the Buddha reduces or eliminates the consequences of the King’s patricide. In other Mahāyāna texts, the results of actions are routinely avoidable through the performance of religious practices. Ultimately, Buddhists seem to abandon the idea of the inescapability of the results of actions.

Attwood, Jayarava. (2013) Translation Strategies for the Cūḷa-Māluṅkya Sutta and its Chinese Counterparts. Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, 5, 42-63. Online:
Translations of the Cūḷa-Māluṅkya Sutta provide some interesting comparisons of strategies used by contemporary English translations and 4th-century Chinese translators, particularly with respect to rare and unusual words.

Jayarava (2013). The Spiral Path or Lokuttara Paṭiccasamuppāda. Western Buddhist Review 6: 1–34. online:
A survey of the Spiral Path as found in the Pāli texts, and it's modern interpretations. The Spiral Path is considered under the headings of morality, meditation, and wisdom; with particular attention to the nature of the links between the stages on the path. Includes a critique of the Upanisā Sutta as locus classicus. (3rd draft Mar 2011.)

Attwood, Jayarava. (2012) Facing Death without a Soul: A Response to George Adams Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 47 (2) Spring.
After offering a critique of Adams's presentation of Buddhism as nihilistic, this essay addresses the question of why we believe we can survive the death of our body. Thomas Metzinger’s representationalist theory of consciousness, drawing on the objectivity of neuroscience is clearly consonant with non-essentialist views of the self, implying that belief in an eternal soul is objectively false. However I conclude by arguing that in any interfaith dialogue focussing on competing doctrines is less productive than empathising with common values.

Attwood, Jayarava (2012). Source Texts for the Five-fold Niyāma or 'Five Niyamas' - unpublished
A translation of the Pāli source texts for the five-fold niyāma (aka the five niyamas) including Sumaṅgalavilāsinī (2.431), Atthasālinī (272-274) and Abhidhammāvatāra (CST 66; vs. 468-473; PTS 54), including the medieval commentaries on the latter. Document includes representative texts on the use of niyāma in the Nikāyas. (Draft May 2012)

Attwood, Jayarava. (2012). Possible Iranian Origins for Sākyas and Aspects of Buddhism. Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, 3, 47-69. Online:
In 2010 Harvard Indologist Michael Witzel commented, on the Indo-Eurasian_Research online forum, that we should treat the Śākyas as an early incursion of Scythians (known in Sanskrit as Śaka, and in Iranian as Saka) who brought with them many ideas related to Iranian culture and/or Zoroastrian religion. This article explores the evidence for Witzel's suggestion and finds that it is not implausible. If true this would allow us give Buddhism a (pre-)history of ideas, whereas Buddhists treat Buddhism as historically unique and ahistorical. (Draft Jan 2012)

Attwood, Jayarava (2011) Is Paṭicca-samuppāda a Theory of Everything? Unpublished.
In this essay theory I compare the paṭicca-samuppāda to the Theory of Everything sought by physicists. The argument is structured around a translation and close reading of the Kaccānagotta Sutta (S ii.16). Far from being intended as a theory explaining the entire universe the paṭicca-samuppāda theory has limited application in the Pāli texts: it seeks to explain the arising and passing away of experience, particularly experience of suffering. (Draft July 2011)

Attwood, Jayarava. (2010). The Hundred Syllable Vajrasattva Mantra. Western Buddhist Review, Vol. 5, 1-13.
A review of the text of the mantra reveals that simple changes result in grammatical Sanskrit phrases. The essays discusses how errors might have crept into the mantra resulting in a garbling of the text.

Attwood, Jayarava. (2010). Did King Ajātasattu Confess to the Buddha, and did the Buddha Forgive Him?' Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 15, 279-307.
Is it possible to counteract the consequences of a moral transgression by publicly acknowledging it? When he reveals to the Buddha that he has killed his father, King Ajātasattu is said to “yathādhammaṃ paṭikaroti.” This has been interpreted as “making amends,” or as seeking (and receiving) “forgiveness” for his crime. Successfully translating this phrase into English requires that we re-examine etymology and dictionary definitions, question assumptions made by previous translators, and study the way that yathādhammaṃ paṭikaroti is used in context. We can better understand confession as a practice by locating it within the general Indian concern for ritual purity—ethicized by the Buddha—and showing that the early Buddhist doctrine of kamma allows for mitigation, though not eradication, of the consequences of actions under some circumstances

Attwood, Jayarava. (2004). Suicide as a response to suffering. Western Buddhist Review, 4.
What do the early Buddhist texts say about suicide? This survey highlights an ambiguity with regard to suicide, that modern scholars have struggled with. On the whole suicide would seem to be a negative act, and early Buddhists believed that death was no escape from the consequences of one's actions, unless one was an arahant, and this is precisely where the ambiguity lies since an arahant by definition cannot take life, though there are several cases of suicide in which the victim is said not to be reborn (i.e, they are an arahant.)
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