“Which wise man would worship beings who are tormented by sorrow and fear?” Powers and Weaknesses of Gods in Buddhist Literature

Location: OCHS Library
Speaker: Dr Ulrike Roesler
Date: November 21, 2011
Time: 2:00pm to 3:00pm

Buddhists do not deny the existence of gods, but they regard them as beings who are subject to karma and sa?sara and are therefore not free from the fetters of cyclic existence. Their life is extremely pleasant, but when they die they experience horrible agonies, and Buddhists say that there is no greater suffering in the world than that of a god who is dying. In early legends, gods like Indra and Brahma appear as supporters of Buddha Shakyamuni. Some later Buddhist authors, on the other hand, point out their weaknesses, describing them as “beings who are tormented by sorrow and fear, are devoid of compassion, bear various weapons and raise them with the intention to kill” – as opposed to Buddha Shakyamuni, who works solely for the welfare of others. The lecture will illustrate these multi-faceted views with examples from Buddhist literature.

Ulrike Roesler obtained a PhD in Indian Studies from the University of Münster (Germany). She held teaching positions in Indian and Tibetan Studies at the Universities of Marburg and Freiburg (Germany) and in Buddhist Studies at the University of Oxford, and has recently been appointed the Lecturer in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies at the University of Oxford. Her research interests are in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, the history of the Kadampa schoolof Tibetan Buddhism, and narrative and biographical literature. Her most recent publication is the volume Lives Lived, Lives Imagined: Biographies in the Buddhist Traditions. Ed. by L. Covill, U. Roesler and S. Shaw. Boston: Wisdom Publications 2010.