Why? Deathpower!

Here’s a fantastic quote from Robert Sharf, in a brief essay on the study of Buddhist relic veneration by western scholars of Buddhism:

[D]espite their enthusiasm for the subject, to date Buddhologists have done little more than document the phenomena. While they readily attest to the extent and popularity of relic veneration, they have yet to say much with regard to the question ‘Why?’ Why have Buddhists been so obsessed with bits of desiccated or otherwise transmogrified remains of the dead? Why, for that matter, would anyone attribute apotropaic or salvific power to scraps of dead organic matter…? ((Germano, David, and Kevin Trainor, eds. 2004. Embodying the Dharma: Buddhist relic veneration in Asia. Albany (NY): State University of New York Press. 166))

This is, of course, precisely the question my research attempts to answer. I am trying to answer it through the concept of ‘deathpower,’ that power which resides in, or is thought to reside in, or (perhaps best) is produced through interaction with, death and the dead.


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