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Sounding on Buddhism for September 1 2011

From the Isn’t It Cool files: one of the most important Buddhist institutions of learning in history is about to be rebuilt. Thanks to news from Noel of the Southeast Asian Archaeology Weblog.

The site is the ancient Dong Duong Buddhist College, built in ancient Champa, and hence on the crucially important sea routes between China and India (and beyond). Many important Buddhist travelers stopped, stayed, studied, and taught at Dong Duong.  The Encyclopedia Brittanica writes of Dong Duong that

Apart from My Son there are one or two other sites in north and central Vietnam where Cham art was made in quantity. The most important of these is Dong Duong, in Quang Nam. It is a ruined Buddhist monastery complex of the late 9th century, conceived on the most beautifully elaborated plan of structured space in Champa. The architectural detail is distinguished from the My Son work by its greater emphasis upon the plasticity of architectural elements such as angle pilasters and porticoes. The circuit wall was about half a mile (1 km) long and once contained many shrines dedicated to Buddhist deities. It is possible that, when this complex of brick courts, halls, and gate pavilions was intact, it may have resembled very closely the contemporary Buddhist monasteries of northeastern India.

Dong Duong is a total mess at the moment: Continue reading

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Alfred Gell describing ‘deathpower.’

Both of my long-term readers know that the key concept in my work on Cambodian funerals and religion is deathpower, the social power created through the proper (moral or amoral) management of death. A colleague recommended Alfred Gell‘s monumental 1998 volume Art and Agency: an anthropological theory to me, and what do I find on p. 149 but this gem, which practically describes my work:

A Buddha statue celebrates the possibility of a ‘good death’ and monks are semi-dead individuals who aspire to the ultimate good-death condition….In a sense, then, what the relic does is make the Buddha state like the Buddha, by making it ‘dead’ through the insertion of a ‘death-substance’–in the rather paradoxical sense that Buddha-hood implies death-in-life.

<grin>

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Happy Parinirvana Day!

Today is the day that Buddhists around the world mark the death of the historical Buddha, a moment called his parinirvana.  Thanks to Rev. Danny Fisher for the reminder. on the BBC page about this day, they remark that

The day is used as an opportunity to reflect on the fact of one’s own future death, and on friends or relations who have recently passed away. The idea that all things are transient is central to Buddhist teaching. Loss and impermanence are things to be accepted rather than causes of grief.

Having just last week lost a woman from my family that I have routinely described as the living hearth of my extended family, I will certainly be meditating on her passing, and impermanence.  I miss you, Aunt Jackie.

Now, a word about the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, the Buddhist text which describes the days leading up to the Buddha’s final nirvana:

The Mahaparinibbana sutta is the locus classicus for discussions of funerary ritual, relics, and post-mortem attitudes toward the dead.  Toward the end, the Buddha gives directions for his funeral (which is expertly analyzed by John Strong in his excellent book Relics of the Buddha as a rejection of kingly, brahmanical authority and prestige), and the division of the Buddha post-cremation relics.

What is rarely noted about the text however, is the way in which the entire sutta is framed by war.  At the beginning, patricide king Ajatasattu (“He who is without enemies,” largely because he seems to have murdered them all) asks the Buddha for advice on how to conquer a neighboring republic.  The Buddha advises the king that as long as Ajattasattu’s neighbors continue to practice the community teachings of the Buddha – which are explicitly non-religious, and not even terribly ‘Buddhist’, but generally just good advice – he will be unable to conquer them. The king decides to go after them anyway, and begins preparations for war. Continue reading

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Sounding on archaeology

The National Museum in Phnom Penh has received 4 new pre-Angkorean Statues:

“There are two sculptures of the Buddha and two male deities. The sculptures are very outstanding in terms of historical and artistic quality. The standing Buddha is one of the best we have, truly a masterpiece of Khmer art.”
[link, via]

The remains of King Le Du Thong (1679-1731) was reburied earlier this week in a ceremony mixing traditional and contemporary practices. The remains of the king were uncovered in the middle of the last century and were housed in the Vietnamese History Museum until reburial. [link]

Apparently my good friend Hun Hunahpu, the Maize God, was on BBC radio recently. [link and image via Agro Biodiversity Weblog]

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Southeast Asia Sounding: 1/18/2010

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The Buddha's Father was cremated

I’m writing the ethnographic description chapter of my dissertation on Cambodian funerals, and was looking for images of the cremation of Suddhodana, Siddhartha Gotama’s father.

In Cambodia, the Buddha is often shown lighting the cremation fire, an image which occasionally causes some controversy, since it is understood that Buddhist monks are not to light fires, especially those for cooking (note the correlation between cremation fires and cooking fires).

And I found this lovely image from a Burmese mural of the Buddha presiding over Suddhodana’s funeral (but not explicitly lighting it.)

via Buddhist eLibrary :: – The Buddha’s Father was cremated

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