material objects as symbols n.
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Material Objects as Symbols

Material Objects as Symbols

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Material Objects as Symbols

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  1. Material Objects as Symbols • Material objects are often symbols in the practice of Buddhism • Some are connected with Buddhist ethics, others are with new social mores emerged with the adaptation of Buddhism in China In Wuxi, China

  2. Major materials objects imbued with symbolism: • Robes • alms bowls • rosary • ruyi-sceptor Bodhidharma, by Liaoan Qingyu, Yuan Dynasty. His robe symbolizes the transmission of Chan teachings

  3. Robes and Bowls as Symbols • Transmission from the Fifth Patriarch to the Six Patriarch featured: • Dharma robe • Alms bowl • Gatha (verse)

  4. Robes and alms bowls are full of symbolism: • Ascetic symbol-- renunciation of wealth and comfort, living the life of mendicancy and austerity • Doctrinal symbol-- • Transmission of the dharma

  5. Monk’s Robes in China • Called Jiasha (S. Kasaya): • Monks wore robes in different colors in different regions, normally, black, pitch-black, grey-black • The three robes: inner robe, upper garment, and outer robe • Comprised of strips and patches: patched-robe • Materials for robes • In India, robes were made of silk • Chinese monks used linen and cotton to make robes

  6. Purple robes conferred on monks • Tang emperor began to recognize the monk of distinction by conferring a purple robe on him • A worthy monk often received purple robes along with an honorary title • Some monks scrambled for lavish purple robes, showing their desire for prominence and prestige

  7. Other material objects • Other material objects imbued with symbolism: one of the three jewels • Rug: supposedly a symbol of the holy dharma, but no longer common

  8. Ring-staff: symbol of the monk • Used in travel; expressions such as “picking up his ring-staff” signify that a monk set off on a journey or settled in a far-off place • Rosary: • used primarily as devotional object nowadays, at least in some circles (e.g., Pure Land society)

  9. Ring-staff, Tang Dynasty

  10. Indian Origin of Rosary • Used by the Buddhist laity to gain merit by chanting the name of the “three jewels” • Used to keep track of recitations of • Spells • The names of bodhisattvas • The names of buddhas • Possess magical properties of its own • Number of beads (108) represents number of afflictions. Consecration or empowering of the beads increases its efficacy.

  11. Ring-staff made of gold (Tang Dynasty), appeared in the 2007 Beijing Spirng Auction

  12. The Alms Bowls • Carries symbolic association with the life of the peripatetic Buddhist ascetic • Substances: • Earthenware • Wood • Ceramics • silver • Copper • Gold

  13. Rosary • substances of beads: • iron, pearl, crystal, seeds of bodhi tree, wood, jade….

  14. Rosary in China • Pure Land monks championed the use of rosary • Daozhuo (562-645) encouraged his followers to chant aloud the name of Amitabha • Used objects such as sesame seeds to keep track of the number of recitations • Rosary was widely used in Tang times and later • Laypeople used rosary to show their devotion to Amitabha Buddha

  15. Material Objects and Merit • Merit accrues when one becomes generous donor or engages in gift-giving • Merit can be transferred • Merit derives from the creation or making of some material objects associated with Buddhism: • Producing books • Building monasteries • Constructing bridges

  16. Books and Merit • Producing or reproducing books associated with Buddhism helps one gain merit • Copying or printing scriptures, dharani, treatises, tracts, morality books… • Belief in the idea that merit comes from producing/reproducing books is among many influences that scriptures have exerted • This belief is evidenced by the frequent and sometimes massive production/reproduction of some Buddhist scriptures: • The Diamond Sutra • The Heart Sutra

  17. Reproduction of Sutra through Copying • The copying of sutra was already a common practice in the 4th and 5th centuries • Monks engaged in the copying of sutra • Common people • Emperor and members of imperial household • Copying became even more popular during the Tang: • Government-sponsored copying • Monastery-sponsored copying • a good calligrapher would be hired as “copyist of sutra”, which became a specialization in Tang times

  18. Monastery-construction and Merit • While Buddhist clergy often questioned the validity of building large monasteries to gain merit, most monks took this business for granted. • Lay persons involved in the construction of the monasteries because of this belief: • This is a form of constructing “field of merit” (futian 福田)

  19. Massive construction of Buddhist monasteries occurred in the 5th century and later when Buddhism was under the protection of imperial patronage • Transformed the landscape of China • Enhanced the relationship between clerics and lay persons Field of Merit

  20. Monasteries in China • Early monasteries came from the conversion of private houses donated to the clergy by wealthy lay persons • Construction of new monasteries became common among lay persons • Monasteries built to provide merit for the deceased parents • Imperial households participated in the construction of monasteries: • Emperors of the Tang dynasty • Repairing or restoring monasteries yielded merit too

  21. Large monasteries have a gate called “Mountain Gate”

  22. A main hall called “Buddha Hall”

  23. Questioning Merit • Critics questioned the building of monasteries on these grounds: • Lavish buildings of new monasteries were at odds with Buddhist doctrines of austerity and emptiness • Money involved in the construction has little to do with the essence of enlightenment and the truth of emptiness • Monks and nuns were aloof from the lofty doctrine of Buddhism when they and patrons exchanged service and cash donations

  24. Bridge, bridge-building, and Merit • Monks played a prominent role in building and maintaining bridges • Motivated by the pervasive Buddhist notion of religious merit in connection with bridge-building • Bridge-building is a “blessed work”, that would bring “blessings,” or merit, to those involved

  25. Monastic institution supported bridge-building because it is extolled in Buddhist scriptures as a compassionate act and it improved the social standing of the monastery in the local community • Bridge-building was considered an act of kindness (bridge a metaphor for the compassion of bodhisattva, that deliver all beings to the other shore)

  26. Monks were technical specialists in bridge-building and specialists in the art of soliciting funds • some of them built hundreds of bridges

  27. Lay Buddhists and Bridge-building • Lay persons participated in bridge-building • Common people, through donations to bridge construction, believe that bridge-building would improve one’s lot… • local officials, by working with monks and donors, built bridge to fulfill part of their official duties—an expression of their being “parenting officials” (fumu guan 父母官)

  28. Stone Stele • Stone stele associated with Buddhism emerged from the 5th century and increased thereafter • Erecting stone stele is a meritorious act • Inscriptions indicate the reasons why donors want to have the stele made • Monastic bells and drums • Also showed inscriptions indicating donors’ quests for good rewards through their donations of bells and drums to monasteries

  29. Temple Bell

  30. Inscriptions on Stelae, Images, etc. • Why names of donors inscribed? • For donors: • A means of securing prestige, asserting or improving their social status • show they fulfilled their duty in a proper way • For monasteries: a means to show wide support, particularly that of high officials or of even emperors