Garbhāvakrāntisūtra: The Sūtra on Entry into the Womb, by Robert Kritzer
Garbhāvakrāntisūtra:, by Robert Kritzer
A critical edition and annotated translation of ‘a sūtra centered on a description of conception, the thirty-eight weeks of gestation, birth, and the suffering that afflict all beings after birth’ (p. 3). The scripture has survived in Tibetan and Chinese translations, the earliest one going back to 281 or 303. The author analyses in great detail the textual and historical aspects of these translations carefully pointing out the differences exiting between various versions (pp. 109-199).
The introductory chapter (pp. 3-35) examines the Garbhāvakrāntisūtra in the broader context of Indian mythology, classical medical literature, ‘ascetic misogyny’ (a term borrowed from Alan Sponberg), and the Buddhist contemplative tradition of meditation on the impure as well as the ubiquitous stress on the suffering inherent in all conditioned existence.
The Tibetan version of the Garbhāvakrāntisūtra in the Vinaya Kṣudrakavastu (Tōhoku 6) is critically edited, on the basis of a meticulous collation of ten textual witnesses (pp. 201-416), and faithfully rendered into English (pp. 37-108), with copious annotations which highlight important philological differences and gloss obscure terms and phrases.
Though little known outside academic circles, the sutra no doubt represents a very important source for our understanding of the way Buddhist contemplatives and scholars conceived the mechanism and physiology of (re-)birth. Robert Kritizer does a great service to any modern reader interested in the subject by providing a wonderful critical edition, reliable translation, and illuminating analysis.
The classical Indian medical texts all contain detailed chapters on embryology, and many Indian religious works also discuss the topics of conception and gestation. Although much of the content of the medical and religious accounts is similar, the attitudes revealed are, not surprisingly, quite different; the medical treatises maintain a neutral tone and seek to promote the birth of healthy male babies, while the religious texts dwell on the suffering of both mother and fetus and on the undesirability of rebirth. The Buddhist Garbhāvakrāntisūtra contains an unusual week-by-week account of gestation, which in this chapter is compared to a month-by-month account found in the medical text Carakasaṃhitā.