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Animals have held complicated positions in Indian Buddhism. Being reborn as an animal is considered a durgati or a most “unfortunate destiny,” begot from bad karma and lack of moral character. But, descriptions of Buddha’s past lives include wise and virtuous animals, critical of mankind’s failings. In her new book, Unfortunate Destiny: Animals in the Indian Buddhist Imagination, Reiko Ohnuma CN ’95 explores the roles played by nonhuman animals.

Using imagery and dialogue and by considering specific animal characters, Dr. Ohnuma examines how animals serve as an important counterpoint to human activities throughout South Asian Buddhist texts. Animals and humans are connected in ways that are supportive and friendly but also cruel and abusive. But, as the book explores, these animal characters and stories always stand opposite humans in a way that distills human nature and the principals of Buddhism.

Dr. Ohnuma is a professor of religion, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Dartmouth College

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