Tagore’s Encounter with Mahayana Buddhism

Conference: The European Conference on Arts & Humanities (ECAH2022)
Title: Tagore’s Encounter with Mahayana Buddhism
Stream: Literature/Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Eiko Ohira, Otusma University, Japan


Buddhism came to the attention of Europe in 1844 when Eugene Burnouf’s influential work L’introduction a l’istoire du bouddhisme indien was published. This work also led to a reassessment of Buddhism in India. Burnouf’s view, that when Buddhism moves away from its pure origins it deteriorates, raised serious doubts about Mahayana Buddhism. Such doubts influenced the way Indian intellectuals understood Buddhism in the period of the Buddhist revival movement. The Maha Bodi Society in Calcutta, founded by Anagarika Dharmapala from Sri Lanka in 1892, led this movement, focusing on the doctrinal contents of Haryana Buddhism, which was accepted in India as authentic. Thus, Mahayana Buddhism was not properly recognized there. Rabindranath Tagore was one of the few influential figures of his day who was interested in Mahayana Buddhism. The revival of Buddhism in Bengal as well as in Japan led Tagore to exchanges with Japanese Buddhist scholars and monks. This helped Tagore understand Mahayana Buddhism, which led to his own belief in Buddha’s teachings and to the composition of powerful Buddhist dramas such as Malini (1896), Natir Puja (1926), and Chandalika (1933). I would like to focus on Tagore’s understanding of Mahayana Buddhism, examining his essays and dramas.

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