Author Archives: buddhistartnews.

A photobook in search of context and sequence: The Monks Of Rural Thailand

monks rural thailandReview by Jeffrey Martin

Cracker, Lee. The Monks Of Rural Thailand. San Francisco: Blurb, 2014.

While American photographer Lee Cracker’s images have appeared in mass circulation publications, he has taken lately to self-publishing a number of Thai-based projects, including books on the 2014 coup and a collection of Bangkok street images.  If these are in any way similar to this volume on Buddhist monastics, they would benefit greatly from an editor familiar with the topic, and more fundamentally with visual narration.

The electronic version of The Monks of Rural Thailand is a 71-page pdf containing several lovely images of Thai bhikkhus engaged in typical monastic behavior. The images are accompanied by a brief description of Thai monasticism and a handful of Buddha quotes on the nature of suffering and liberation.  

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One of the impressive images featured in The Monks of Rural Thailand.

But the story, such as there is, feels incomplete and lacking direction.  Most of the images appear to have been taken at public events.  There are few private moments, such as monks in their quarters, or monks studying, or monks meditating.  But even if there were, it might be difficult for viewers unfamiliar with their world to understand what they are seeing.  Perhaps Cracker prefers a visual presentation that doesn’t require text, but I suppose the average viewer coming to this book would like to know what is pictured.  As someone who has studied Buddhism formally, as well as practiced among Asian Buddhists, I have some familiarity with Buddhist monastics, but even so a few of the images in this collection left me wondering exactly what was happening.  Cracker doesn’t even tell us in what part of Thailand these photos were taken.  In addition, sequencing is opaque.  There appear to be a set number of activities – praying, walking alms rounds, receiving donations, and taking part in ordination ceremonies – but the images are not suitably grouped and some seem to have no particular value in telling a story. Continue reading

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Book Review: Illuminating the Life of the Buddha: An Illustrated Chanting Book from Eighteenth-century Siam (2013)

Review by Jeffrey Martin

illumbuddhaAppleton, Naomi, Sarah Shaw, and Toshiya Unebe. Illuminating the Life of the Buddha: An Illustrated Chanting Book from Eighteenth-century Siam. Oxford, England: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2013. Print. 142 pp.

This brief book describes and illustrates (in 86 photographs) an 18-century samut khoi, an illuminated Thai manuscript now in the collection of the Bodleian Library, Oxford University.

The manuscript’s format is traditional to Buddhist texts in many countries: a stack of long sheets of paper bound between planks of leather, wood, lacquer, or other hard material as covers.  This particular manuscript was made of several sheets of paper joined into one long piece, folded fan-like, into a stack 660mm long by 95mm wide. Each fold in the fan contains two flanking illustrations, with text in the center, but the content of the paintings and the text are only loosely related.   The text is an assortment of canonical material, from Vinaya to Abhidhamma to Qualities of the Buddha.  The illustrations depict the last 10 Jātaka stories, the early life of the Bodhisatta, and the Life of the Buddha.  It is possible this text was created in Thailand specifically for Sri Lankan monks and thus contains what were considered essential texts to help restore what was then a lapsed monastic tradition.

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A visual map of the manuscript

A textual map of the manuscript

A textual map of the manuscript

Continue reading

Book: Vibrant Rock offers a rare peek into stone sculptures in Bengal

The Hindu
SHIV SAHAY SINGH
July 20, 2014

The first-ever catalogue of stone sculptures collected from different parts of West Bengal, Bihar, and parts of Bangladesh belonging to Brahmanical, Buddhist, and Jain pantheon has been published by Directorate of Archaeology and Museum, Department of Information and Cultural Affairs, Government of West Bengal.

Archaeologists say the first-ever catalogue of historical stone sculptures in the region titled Vibrant Rock contains a comprehensive details of 444 stone sculptures housed in the State Archaeological Museum at Behala in the southern parts of the city, dated between the sixth and 19th century AD. Continue reading

Dancing With the Dead

huffingtonpost.com
Stephen Henry Fox
07/09/2014

 

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The Obon transcends time, connecting the living to centuries of ancestors, an unbroken line dancing across the eons around the yagura.

Immigrant farm workers from Japan and Okinawa brought the Obon festival, orBonduri, with them to Hawaii, and each summer, traditional drums, flutes, and voices accompany dancers at every Buddhist temple across the state. No Obonappeals to the imagination more than the Lahaina Jodo Mission’s, with its floating lantern ceremony.

A distraught disciple, Mokuren, implored the Buddha to help his recently departed mother find liberation from her purgatory in the Bardo realm, according to the lore of the Obon. The festival celebrates the liberation of that soul, and by extension, seeks liberation of us all as we depart the world of mortal limitation. On another level, the Bonduri festival echoes ancestral veneration rituals of ancient China, in which the ancestors are invited to return, dine, drink, and dance with the living, feel loved and appreciated across time, and return to the world of spirit. On the first day of the festival, the welcoming mukae bi fire draws departed ancestors to gather near. Ritual offerings nourish them and prayers seek to assuage any residual issues holding the souls back from ultimate cosmic bliss. Then the ancestors are thanked for their benevolence and sent off to the spirit realms, symbolized by the okuri bi lights of floating lanterns in Lahaina and a couple of other seaside temples around Hawaii. Continue reading

Rapping nuns, singing monks fire up prayer competition in South Korea

The Straits Times
July 17, 2014

Nuns hold placards reading ‘you rock’ as they shout support for performers at a Buddhist prayer competition at the Jogyesa temple in Seoul on July 17, 2014. South Korea’s top Buddhist organisation held an experimental “prayer competition” on Thursday, July 17, 2014, featuring rapping nuns and singing monks in a bid to attract new, younger followers. — PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) – South Korea’s top Buddhist organisation held an experimental “prayer competition” on Thursday, featuring rapping nuns and singing monks in a bid to attract new, younger followers.

More than 300 monks and nuns packed a large temple in downtown Seoul to take part in the competition hosted by the Jogye Order. Continue reading

[India] Tourism Ministry outlines strategy to develop Buddhist circuit

The Hindu
NAVADHA PANDEY
July 17, 2014

The Buddhist circuit is a globally important route for over 500 million Buddhists. This file picture is of the temple in Bodh Gaya, Bihar.

The Buddhist circuit is a globally important route for over 500 million Buddhists. This file picture is of the temple in Bodh Gaya, Bihar.

The Government on Thursday launched a strategy for integrated tourism development of Buddhist circuit in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Shripad Naik, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Tourism and Culture released the strategy document ‘Investing in Buddhist circuit’. It is a combined initiative of the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, the State Governments of Bihar and UP, the private sector, Buddhist monasteries and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). IFC is an arm of the World Bank. Continue reading

A Buddhist Tradition: Boating Through Bago Paddy Fields

THE IRRAWADDY
JPAING
July 16, 2014

People make offerings to the statue of Kamae Phyin Bo Bo Gyi . (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

People make offerings to the statue of Kamae Phyin Bo Bo Gyi . (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

KA WA, Bago Division — Once every year, this sleepy provincial town in Bago Division sees a throng of visitors.

Under cloudy skies on the Full Moon Day of Waso, thousands of Buddhists from Rangoon and the divisional capital Bago descend upon the town of Ka Wa to pay homage to Khamae Pyin Bo Bo Gyi, a local guardian spirit long believed to offer blessings of safety, prosperity and good health.

The town is about 22 miles from Bago, and when visitors arrive for the holiday, they look forward to another joyous activity: throwing water at each other during a boat-ride through flooded paddy fields on the way to the guardian spirit’s shrine. Continue reading