From Similes to Allegory: The Deconstruction of Chariot Imagery in Early Buddhist Texts, Analyzed with Cognitive Metaphor Theory

Schlieter, Jens (23 August 2014). From Similes to Allegory: The Deconstruction of Chariot Imagery in Early Buddhist Texts, Analyzed with Cognitive Metaphor Theory (Unpublished). In: 17th Congress of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (IABS). Wien. 18-23.08.2014.

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The presentation will start by unfolding the various layers of chariot imagery in early Indian sources, namely, chariots as vehicles of gods such as the sun (sūrya), i.e. as symbol of cosmic stability; chariots as symbols of royal power and social prestige e.g. of Brahmins; and, finally, chariots as metaphors for the “person”, the “mind” and the “way to liberation” (e.g., Kaṭ.-Up. III.3; Maitr.-Up. II. 6). In Buddhist and non-Buddhist sources, chariots are in certain aspects used as a metaphor for the (old) human body (e.g., Caraka-S., Vi.3.37-38; D II.100; D II.107); apart from that, there is, of course, mention of the “real” use of chariots in sports, cults, journey, and combat. The most prominent example of the Buddhist use of chariot imagery is its application as a model for the person (S I.134 f.; Milindapañha, ed. Trenckner, 26), i.e., for highlighting the “non-substantial self”. There are, however, other significant examples of the usage of chariot imagery in early Buddhist texts. Of special interest are those cases in which chariot metaphors were applied in order to explain how the ‘self’ may proceed on the way to salvation – with ‘mindfulness’ or the ‘self’ as charioteer, with ‘wisdom’ and ‘confidence’ as horses etc. (e.g. S I. 33; S V.7; Dhp 94; or the Nārada-Jātaka, No. 545, verses 181-190). One might be tempted to say that these instances reaffirm the traditional soteriology of a substantial “progressing soul”. Taking conceptual metaphor analysis as a tool, I will, in contrast, argue that there is a special Buddhist use of this metaphor. Indeed, at first sight, it seems to presuppose a non-Buddhist understanding (the “self” as charioteer; the chariot as vehicle to liberation, etc.). Yet, it will be argued that in these cases the chariot imagery is no longer fully “functional”. The Buddhist usage may, therefore, best be described as a final allegorical phase of the chariot-imagery, which results in a thorough deconstruction of the “chariot” itself.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute for the Science of Religion
06 Faculty of Humanities > Other Institutions > Walter Benjamin Kolleg (WBKolleg) > Center for Global Studies (CGS)

UniBE Contributor:

Schlieter, Jens


200 Religion




Jens Schlieter

Date Deposited:

07 Nov 2014 11:04

Last Modified:

05 Feb 2018 20:44


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