HUM 234 final - David Grauer The Mantras of The Tale of the...

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David Grauer May 15, 2007 The Mantras of  The Tale of the Heike : Repetitive Themes and Images “When young Dawn with her rose-red fingers shone…” 1  So begins nearly every  chapter and important section of Homer’s epic   The Odyssey .   Its repetition gives a  rhythm and pace that, among other things, would have been useful for the bards who  recited its stories.  Such repetitive phrasing, imagery and themes are prevalent in other  epic works as well.  The reasons for their appearances in each respective work, however,  differ.   When looking at   The Tale of the Heike , such themes and images appear in  astonishing   variety   and   frequency.     This   examination   will   delve   into   four   specific  thematic repetitions – dewdrops, the name of Amida Buddha, personal names and armor.  In looking at these motifs, this paper will attempt to divine the rationale for their  repetitive appearance both as a whole and what each specifically brings to the table.  Given the clear Buddhist framework of the writing, some of the apparent motives and  implications associated with each motif can contradict that Buddhist framework as often  as they reinforce it.  Thus, the question becomes, can we rely on Buddhism as a veritable  framework for the story? As in  The Odyssey , repetition adds an important character to the story that, as a  whole strengthens the Buddhist setting.  Unlike  The Odyssey The Tale of the Heike  is not  1 Homer (trans. Robert Fagles). The Odyssey. New York: Penguin Books (1997). pg. 93
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an oral tradition, so the repetition cannot be thought of as a meter for oration.  Within the  Buddhist context however, its appearance does have reason.  It is easy to think of the  repeated words and images as analogs to the mantras chanted during meditation.  Some  of the motifs are, in fact, mantras themselves such as the name of the Amida Buddha.  Mantras, syllables are phrases repeated during meditation, are a mechanism familiar to  Buddhism among other religions.   They are a mechanism to increase concentration  during meditation by keeping the mind connected with an important idea associated with  that specific mantra.   Repeated images and phrases, like dewdrops, help to keep the  readers mind on a specific theme throughout the long story.  These literary road markers  are especially helpful in epic literature like   The Tale of the Heike   where readers can  become inundated in the onslaught of the running plot.  They help to keep the reader’s  mind focused on ideals that might otherwise be lost in amongst the battles and court life  of the plot.
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