What is Imagery in the Early Buddhist Texts?

The Imagery in the Early Buddhist Texts is the way that the Buddha used suggestive language to convey his teachings.

All language is (of course) in some way referential: words are merely pointers. But more so than many works of literature, the Early Buddhist Texts are so tightly interwoven that it’s almost cliche to call the dhamma “a net.” As we pick up any of the words, images, or strands of the teachings, its associations, connections and references seem inevitably to take the whole of the Canon with it!

Because of this, coming to understand the words and images of the Canon can be both incredibly challenging and rewarding: a powerful “Dharma Gate” that has inspired (and awakened!) a hundred generations of Buddhists — from the first “turning of the wheel” up to the present day.

Prerequisites

This course assumes some prior familiarity with the Early Buddhist Texts.

Textbook

This course will center around Bhikkhu Anālayo’s two “Excursions into the Thought World of the Pāli Discourses”:

  • These two books each give a systematic treatment to a dozen important terms from the Pāli Canon, analyzing their nuances and the various ways each term is used.

A thorough introduction to the similes of the early Canon, Hecker retells 85 similes and then gives a commentary on each.

As we read through the Excursions we will also weave in the similes from this anthology to illustrate and “flesh out” the terms with images from the Canon.

Please note that the Sutta references given throughout Bhikkhu Anālayo’s two books are to the volumes and page numbers of the PTS edition of the Pāli Canon, not to sutta numbers as you may be familiar with. Thankfully there is a converter tool online you can use to turn the PTS references into “normal” sutta numbers (and even links to SuttaCentral).

Note also that while a few suttas are “assigned reading” below, please don’t let that limit you! Feel free to explore Anālayo and Hecker’s many sutta references, even if they aren’t on the assigned reading list!