Virtuous Bodies: The Physical Dimensions of Morality in Buddhist Ethics

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Virtuous Bodies breaks new ground in the field of Buddhist ethics by investigating the diverse roles bodies play in ethical development. Traditionally, Buddhists assumed a close connection between body and morality. Thus Buddhist literature contains descriptions of living beings that stink with sin, are disfigured by vices, or are perfumed and adorned with virtues. Taking an influential early medieval Indian Mah=ay=ana Buddhist text-'S=antideva's Compendium of Training ('Sik,s=asamuccaya)-as a case study, Susanne Mrozik demonstrates that Buddhists regarded ethical development as a process of physical and moral transformation.

Mrozik chooses The Compendium of Training because it quotes from over one hundred Buddhist scriptures, allowing her to reveal a broader Buddhist interest in the ethical significance of bodies. The text is a training manual for bodhisattvas, especially monastic bodhisattvas. In it, bodies function as markers of, and conditions for, one's own ethical development. Most strikingly, bodies also function as instruments for the ethical development of others. When living beings come into contact with the virtuous bodies of bodhisattvas, they are transformed physically and morally for the better.

Virtuous Bodies explores both the centrality of bodies to the bodhisattva ideal and the corporeal specificity of that ideal. Arguing that the bodhisattva ideal is an embodied ethical ideal, Mrozik poses an array of fascinating questions: What does virtue look like? What kinds of physical features constitute virtuous bodies? What kinds of bodies have virtuous effects on others? Drawing on a range of contemporary theorists, this book engages in a feminist hermeneutics of recovery and suspicion in order to explore the ethical resources Buddhism offers to scholars and religious practitioners interested in the embodied nature of ethical ideals.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Susanne Mrozik's Virtuous Bodies makes a valuable contribution by demonstrating, in a clear and compelling way, how morality is associated with the body in ancient Indian Buddhism. We learn that physical bodies, far from being just loathsome and defiling things, were sometimes viewed as beautiful and capable of aiding others in the pursuit of liberation. As such, Mrozik's work represents an exemplary study whereby a single text-Santideva's Compendium of Training in tandem with insights from feminist and critical theory can be used to illuminate an important, and often overlooked, facet of early Buddhist thought." —Stephen C. Berkwitz, author of Buddhist History in the Vernacular: The Power of the Past in Late Medieval Sri Lanka

"Using Santideva's Compendium of Training as its point of focus, Mrozik's study redresses a major imbalance in modern discussions of Buddhist ethics, which have tended to emphasize the importance of the affective and cognitive dimensions of the moral development of the bodhisattva. Virtuous Bodies convincingly demonstrates that Buddhist moral discourse emphasizes the cultivation of physical qualities as much as it does psychological qualities. By clarifying the importance of the morally transformative power of Buddhas' and bodhisattvas' bodies in Mahayana literature, Mrozik offers a new way of conceptualizing the negative Buddhist discourse that devalues bodies as impermanent, foul, and lacking in intrinsic value." —Peter N. Gregory, Jill Ker Conway Professor of Religion & East Asian Studies, Smith College

"Virtuous Bodies is a masterful interdisciplinary work. Mrozik's innovative approach breaks down disciplinary boundaries between ethics, gender studies, history of religions, and critical theory." —Liz Wilson, Professor and Chair, Department of Comparative Religion, Miami University

"This clear, informative, well-documented study would be a welcome addition to any course on Buddhism." —Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195305005
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 7/20/2007
  • Series: American Academy of Religion Book Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Susanne Mrozik is Assistant Professor of Religion, Mount Holyoke College

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