How can comparative categories be used with vigorous attention to historical context and cultural variation? My example is the concept of prayer applied to various forms of premodern Buddhism. After analyzing past attempts to square theocentric notions with Buddhism, I propose a more circumspect mode of comparison. Adopting a performative approach to the study of religious language, I stipulate prayer as "speech acts directed toward seen and unseen sentient beings."This strategy broadens the addressees in prayer discourse to include Buddhas, bodhisattvas, minor gods, ghosts, spirits, and other beings. It also covers a wide range of Buddhist practice and focuses on exchange, morality, and bodily engagement. The article then analyzes a specific ritual, the supreme offering, found in many articulations across Buddhist cultures. The conclusion argues that this approach offers several insights. Engaging a wide range of beings in the cosmos, the supreme offering envisages a hierarchical moral community. The different steps in prayer highlight the importance of karma in Buddhist ritual. As a regimen of practice, the supreme offering aims at forming ethical dispositions and cultivating character.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Religious studies