The Protective Buddha: On the Cosmological Logic of Paritta

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Abstract

Paritta — ritual chanting — is a central institution in Theravāda Buddhism, with deep roots in all historical forms of Buddhism in Asia. Nevertheless, no study provides a convincing framework for how the protective potency of the Buddha and his words is understood. Earlier strands of scholarship highlighted the psychological aspects of ritual chanting that were thought to have a positive effect on participants. Later scholars emphasized the role of paritta in the training of monks. These studies do not explain “how paritta works,” that is, for example, why, according to the views encapsulated in the texts themselves, bringing the Buddha to mind can act against demons or change reality. This article offers a close reading of the central texts of the genre in order to conceptualize the metaphysical understanding they employ. It thus provides insights regarding the unique ontological position and cosmological function of the Buddha according to the texts.

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