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Material objects and Spirituality

Material objects and Spirituality

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Material objects and Spirituality

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  1. Material objects and Spirituality • Human’s search for spirituality or spiritual development through religions ties closely to material objects • Often found in rituals • Material objects associated with Buddhism proliferated in the course of Chinese dynastic history

  2. The numerous Buddhism-related material objects produced in Chinaalsobespeak the sinification of Buddhism • There is, however, an inherent paradox in the use of materials objects when one practices Buddhism A golden Casket used to store sarira, 1043, the Song Dynasty

  3. The Paradox of Renunciation • “Renunciation” is a fundamental element of Buddhism, the beginning of the path • Renunciation of the world of sensory desire • Renunciation of the world of material things • Enter the order, living in a life of simplicity in a monastery • All dharmas are empty; all realities are illusions Asoka’s Stupa, Five Dynasty

  4. But a monastery cannot sustain itself without the support of lay persons • Monastery solicits funds for its basic infrastructure and for making images and devotional objects • The result: • “Renunciation of material things” goes hand in hand with “promotion of the use of material things” • Illusions and realities emerge • Simplicity is compromised for complexity

  5. Material Aspects of Buddhism • A wide array of material objects exist in Chinese Buddhism • These objects range from the Buddha’s relics to things that may have only tenuous connection with Buddhism

  6. Objects inherited with sacred power and imbued with symbolism are most reverenced • Relics • Icons • Monastic uniforms, including robes and accessories • Tools for living, traveling and other activities • Ring-staff, rosary, ruyi sceptor etc.

  7. Three types of relics • Bodily relics (of the Buddha) • Bone • Hair • Teeth • Flesh • Contact relics • Everything the Buddha had touched • Things he had used, placed he had lived and preached etc. • Reminder relics • scriptures • images

  8. Relics in Buddhist Culture • The Buddha’s relics • Legends say that the Buddha’s relics were divided into eight equal parts and distributed among eight regions wherestupas were built to house them • King Asoka collected all the relics and redistributed among 84,000 stupas all over the world • The cult of relics is as old as Buddhism itself

  9. The Veneration of relics • Reasons for the veneration: • The presence of sacred power in relics • Capable of answering prayers to heal illness or to bring children to the barren • Functions and outcomes of the Veneration of relics • A distinguishing feature of Buddhism and a useful medium for proselytizing • accounted for the success of Buddhism • Worship of relics brought merit to the devotee, assuring a better rebirth

  10. Indian Relics Introduced to China • Legends tell that relics appeared in China in the third century • Story-tellers said that relics appeared in a vase due to monk’s ability to “produce” or “summon” them. • Some Chinese rulers tried to destroy them, only to help reaffirm their numinous power • The thirst for relics, among other things, prompted Chinese monks to make pilgrimage to India • Chinese pilgrims often claimed that they saw the Buddha’s relics or brought back some of them • Faxian (5th century) and Xuanzang (7th century) were two examples • Faxian saw the skull bone of the Buddha

  11. Chinese Rulers Venerated Relics • Emperor Wendi of the Sui dynasty ordered the distribution of relics throughout the empire • Emperors of the Tang paid reverence to relics of the Buddha housed in monasteries • A tooth relic • A finger-bone relic • The finger-bone relic remains in the Dharma-Gate Monastery in China today.

  12. Indigenous Relics • While relics of the Buddha continued to be worshiped, relics of eminent Chinese monks emerged as respectable sacred objects. • These relics were remains of monks’ cremated bodies: • Teeth, bits of bone, flesh • They possess magical properties: • They may emit light • When burned, they leave behind hard relic grains • Capable of producing miracles (curative properties)

  13. Other forms of relics: • Mummified corpses of eminent monks covered with lacquered cloth and stored in big urns • Gilded mummy

  14. Icons in Chinese Buddhism • Icons: Images and statues of buddhas, bodhisattvas, arhats,… • Who made icons? • Sculptors, painters, metal workers, embroiderers, potters,….

  15. Early Buddhism was aniconic; Icons were not objects of worship, but became a significant part of Buddhism when it was spread to China • Early Chinese called Buddhism “Teaching of the Icons” (xiangjiao) • The Chinese continued to celebrate and worship Images of buddhas, bodhisattvas…throughout history

  16. Image-Making • Buddhist Images were considered sources of sacred power • Image-making was perceived as creation of Buddhist art • It tied disparate social groups, from nobles to commoners, to the same rope. • It inspired and facilitated material culture • It gave the faithful opportunities to enter the presence of a buddha or bodhisattva, “taking refuge in the one of the three jewels.”

  17. Images are made from clay, stone, wood, bronze, gold • Yielded different arts: sculptures, paintings, cave reliefs, murals • Developed independently from the art of literati One of thousands of stone sculpture in the Longmen Caves near Luoyang, Henan Province (Northern Wei, 492 AD)

  18. Social Functions of Images • Images, once made, appeared everywhere, used by people from all walks of life, and became an integral part of the devotional life of all Buddhists. • Images were objects of worship, repositories of powers capable of rewarding the pious and punishing the disrespectful Guanyin (Song Dynasty)

  19. Often used inrituals (such as confession rituals) • Contemplation exercise (as objects of visualization) • Image decoration • Objects of prayers for pregnancy, cure from sickness, success in an examination or business venture, general well-being Bodhidharma

  20. Rituals Connected to Images • Confession ritual: • Monks/nuns confess their faults before an image of the Buddha • Visualization ritual: • Monks/nuns attain a state of samadhi

  21. Rituals bringing life to images • Ceremony called “open the vision” (kaiguang or dotting the eyes) took place when a new image [of the Buddha or bodhisattva] was almost completed. • This is said to bring life and power to the image • Images given life include “ash icons” Clam-dwelling Guanyin

  22. The Proliferation of Images • Massive image-making resulted in the proliferation of images • Artisans created a wide variety of forms of buddhas and bodhisattvas • Most basic form: a buddha/bodhisattva faces a devotee/viewer, gazing at one who pays obeisance to Him/Her.

  23. Popular perception of images • Body of the law: dharmakaya • Living entities with distinct personalities rather than emanations of the transcendent Buddhist images described in scriptures • Literary representation of images • Compassionate but can be deceptive, violent, and vengeful Clam-dwelling Amitabha

  24. Iconoclasm and Iconophobia • Skepticism and hostility toward the Buddhist icon occurred alongside the tradition of image reverence • Anti-Buddhism: Suppression of Buddhism entailed the burning and destruction of Buddhist images, showing a contempt for the Buddhism and a rejection of the “divine power” of Buddhist images

  25. The falsity of image: Chan monks in late Tang and Song times refuted the veneration of image as part of their emphasis on the limitations of languages, images… • Some went so far as to burn images of the Buddha: Danxia Tianran of the Tang (see p.76) • The destruction of images is a metaphor for the destruction of delusion

  26. Confucian Iconoclasts • Opposed the practice of representing Confucius and his disciples with statues/images in Confucian shrines • Recognized that the practice was the result of Buddhist influence • Confucian objections were translated into action: images were destroyed or removed from Confucian shrines