On the Symbolism of the White Elephant in Chinese Translations of the Buddha's Biography
漢譯佛傳 ； 符號 ； 入胎相 ； 白象 ； 右脇 ； Chinese translations of the Buddha's biography ； symbol ； image of reincarnation ； white elephant ； right flank
|Volume or Term/Year and Month of Publication||
新5卷2期（2019 / 07 / 01）
105 - 142
The narrative of the Buddha's birth in Chinese translations of the Buddha's biography can be divided into two types: 1. The Buddha came from tushita heaven, became a six-tusked white elephant, and entered the right side of Mahamaya; 2. The Buddha rode a six-tusked white elephant from tushita heaven and entered the right side of Mahamaya. This differs from people's ordinary idea of conception, suggesting a literary poetic imagination. Therefore, its symbolic meaning can be considered through the relationship between signifier and signified. From the perspective of semiotics, people live in a created symbolic world, of which religion is also a part. Therefore, Chinese translations of the Buddha's biography are filled with symbols of supernatural expression, understood not as original superstition or delusion, but as representing a systematic conceptual structure. The present article analyzes Chinese translations of the Buddha's biography from the perspective of semiotics, focusing on the idea of a white elephant becoming a fetus. The analysis of the white elephant looks at its role in Indian culture and Buddhist scriptures. Biographies of the Buddha describe the symbolic significance of the Buddha's transformation into a white elephant or riding white elephant into his mother's right side, which is unique to Buddhism. This is a symbol representing the Buddha's personality and doctrine. It is related to Buddhism's interpretation of life. It can also be understood in terms of reincarnation. Only in this way can there be corresponding interpretations of the symbol, and an understanding of the subtleties of the Buddhist narrative. Through the study of the Buddhist scriptures, this article shows that the white elephant represents nobility, auspiciousness, treasure, braveness, purity, goodness, harmony, and the ability to take on all things in Indian culture. Symbolically, the white elephant or the six-tusked white elephant is used as a symbol of the Buddha's reincarnation, indicating that the Buddha possesses these qualities. It also means that Buddhism is rare in the world. Entering Mahamaya's right side is symbolic of right-handedness in India. It also symbolizes the solemnity and sacredness of the Buddha's birth, which is pure, unstained, without lust, and without desire. In addition, when the Buddha rides the white elephant rather than becoming it, this may be a product of receptive hermeneutics in the translation process. Nonetheless, the two versions have the same symbolic meaning.