Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Religious Studies Dept.


Nikky-Guninder K. Singh


The Little Pilgrim is written by Korean author Ko Un and was translated into English by Brother Anthony of Taizé. This text, a fictional rendering of the Gandavyuha Sutra, is an instant classic of contemporary Buddhist literature. The Gandavyuha Sutra comprises one-third of the fifteen hundred page Avatamsaka (Flower Garland) Sutra. The Avatamsaka has been described as the epitome of Buddhist thought, Buddhist sentiment, and Buddhist experience and is popular with all schools of Mahayana Buddhism, in particular, The Pure Land and Zen. The Avatamsaka Sutra is the longest sutra of the Buddhist canon and one of the oldest, dating back nearly 2,000 years. The Avatamsaka contains forty chapters on disparate topics, although the overarching themes are the interdependency of all phenomena and the progression of the Buddhist path to full Enlightenment. The Gandavuha, the Avatamsaka’s penultimate chapter, aesthetically merges the topics of interdependence and attaining Enlightenment in the form of a boy’s quest for awakening.

The Little Pilgrim describes the pilgrimage of the Gandavyuha’s protagonist, the youth Sudhana. At the behest of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, he visits fifty-three masters to attain a greater understanding of the nature of reality. My question is: How does Ko Un’s aesthetic approach employ Sudhana to represent the Bodhisattva ideal? In Buddhism the Bodhisattva is a near perfect being. Un utilizes Sudhana as a pedagogical tool to espouse the primacy of experiential insight through which spiritual liberation is attained. My thesis focuses on how Un’s aesthetic approach portrays Sudhana as a Bhodhisattva to teach the reader the ideal way to live.


Buddhism, literature

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