Category Archives: Books

NEW BOOK: Archaeology and Buddhism in South Asia

Archaeology and Buddhism in South Asia
By Himanshu Prabha Ray

© 2018 – Routledge India

140 pages | 12 B/W Illus.

Hardback: 9781138304895
pub: 2017-08-29
$150.00

eBook (VitalSource) : 9780203728543
pub: 2017-08-31
$49.46

Description

This book traces the archaeological trajectory of the expansion of Buddhism and its regional variations in South Asia. Focusing on the multireligious context of the subcontinent in the first millennium BCE, the volume breaks from conventional studies that pose Buddhism as a counter to the Vedic tradition to understanding the religion more integrally in terms of dhamma (teachings of the Buddha), dāna (practice of cultivating generosity)and the engagement with the written word. The work underlines that relic and image worship were important features in the spread of Buddhism in the region and were instrumental in bringing the monastics and the laity together. Further, the author examines the significance of the histories of monastic complexes (viharas, stupas, caityas) and also religious travel and pilgrimage that provided connections across the subcontinent and the seas.

An interdisciplinary study, this book will be of great interest to students and scholars in South Asian studies, religion, especially Buddhist studies, history and archaeology.

About the Author

Himanshu Prabha Ray is affiliated to Ludwig Maximillian University, Munich, Germany, and is recipient of the Anneliese Maier research award of the Humboldt Foundation. She is former Chairperson of the National Monuments Authority, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, and former Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. She is Member of the Governing Board, The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. Her recent books include The Archaeology of Sacred Spaces: The Temple in Western India, 2nd Century BCE–8th Century CE (with Susan Verma Mishra, 2017); The Return of the Buddha: Ancient Symbols for a New Nation (2014); and The Archaeology of Seafaring in Ancient South Asia (2003). Among her earlier works are The Winds of Change: Buddhism and the Maritime Links of Early South Asia (1994) and Monastery and Guild: Commerce under the Satavahanas
(1986).

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The Buddhist art of living in Nepal : ethical practice and religious reform

41HB8vuNeZL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Buddhist Art of Living in Nepal Ethical Practice and Religious Reform
By Lauren Leve
2016 – Routledge
268 pages
Hardback: 9780415617345
pub: 2016-07-28

Theravada Buddhism has experienced a powerful and far-reaching revival in modern Nepal, especially among the Newar Buddhist laity, many of whom are reorganizing their lives according to its precepts, practices and ideals. This book documents these far-reaching social and personal transformations and links them to political, economic and cultural shifts associated with late modernity, and especially neoliberal globalization.

Nepal has changed radically over the last century, particularly since the introduction of liberal democracy and an open-market economy in 1990. The rise of lay vipassana meditation has also dramatically impacted the Buddhist landscape. Drawing on recently revived understandings of ethics as embodied practices of self-formation, the author argues that the Theravada turn is best understood as an ethical movement that offers practitioners ways of engaging, and models for living in, a rapidly changing world. The book takes readers into the Buddhist reform from the perspectives of its diverse practitioners, detailing devotees’ ritual and meditative practices, their often conflicted relations to Vajrayana Buddhism and Newar civil society, their struggles over identity in a formerly Hindu nation-state, and the political, cultural, institutional and moral reorientations that becoming a “pure Buddhist”—as Theravada devotees understand themselves—entails.

Based on more than 20 years of anthropological fieldwork, this book is an important contribution to scholarly debates over modern Buddhism, ethical practices, and the anthropology of religion. It is of interest to students and scholars of Asian Religion, Anthropology, Buddhism and Philosophy.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction: Seeing Things As They Are

Chapter 2: ‘A Garden of Every Kind of People:’ Newar Buddhists in Hindu Nepal

Chapter 3: The Revival of “Pure Buddhism”

Chapter 4: What Makes A Theravada Buddhist?

Chapter 5: Becoming “Pure Buddhist” (1): Practices of Personhood

Chapter 6: Becoming “Pure Buddhist” (2): Vipassana Meditation and the Theravada Care of the Self

Chapter 7: The Best Dharma for Today: Post-Protestant Buddhism in Neoliberal Nepal

Conclusion: The Buddhist Art of Living, in Nepal and Elsewhere

BOOK REVIEW: The Buddha and Dr. Führer

prod_main209Short Review by Jonathan Ciliberto

The Buddha and Dr. Führer: An Archaeological Scandal
by Charles Allen

Buddhist art began with relics: bits of hair and bone purportedly from the Buddha or other figures that gave practitioners something on which to focus, or acted as talismans or objects of veneration. There are myriad things to say about the European explorers, military men, colonial administrators, and scholars who unearthed the antiquities of Egypt, Palestine, India, et al… certainly they were industrious! As much as they uncovered the past, they wrote it. This book is about one particular excavation, in 1898, of a reliquary that was trumpeted as holding the ashes of the historical Buddha himself. The discovery soon became the source of controversy and confusion when a German archaeologist (Dr. Führer), who became associated with the find, was involved a separate archaeological scandal, tainting the 1898 discovery. “Führer wanted,” writes Allen, “to believe that the sacred landscape explored […] in the fifth and seventh centuries still existed in that same idealized form in the last decade of the 19th century. So strongly did he believe this that he sought to make it so.” Allen has written a very detailed book, with quite a bit of background history.

Preserving the arts through books

28072016103732charya-dance-book-600x0Kathmandu Post

Aug 3, 2016- Chandra Man Munikar, the founding Chairman of Vajra Kala Kunja, recently published a translation of his book on the mystical Charya dance form. The book, Vajrayana Tantrika Charya Dance, which was previously published in Nepali, has been widely appreciated not only in Nepal but various part of the world for its promotion of the dying dance form. In this interview with The Post, Munikar, a dancer himself, talks about his love for the Charya Dance and why art forms need to be documented. Excerpts:

Tell us about your new book?

Charya Nepal—Vajrayana Tantrika Charya Dance has been one of the most ambitious projects of my life. The book is about preserving the classical Charya Dance. With rampant modernisation, we are slowly losing parts of our culture, tradition and values. Charya, for instance, is the only classical dance form still widely practiced in Nepal now. In the book, I have tried to give an in-depth analysis of the dance and its facets. Thanks to a lot of encouragement from my peers, I have now published an English version of the book. The Nepali version has been available in the market for the past three years.

As an artist, did you ever think you would publish a book of your own?

I never considered myself a writer; I am a lover of performance arts. I come from an agricultural background but, thankfully, I had the opportunity to go to school and I keenly read whatever was provided through textbooks. I was only 16 when I was introduced to Charya Dance and I instantly fell in love with it. With regards to the publication of the book, I give all the due credit to Satya Mohan Joshi, who constantly encouraged me to preserve the art form through a book.

Can you tell us more about the essence of the book—Charya Dance?

There is a misconception that Charya Dance is a Newari dance but that is misguided. The Charya Dance is a Buddhist ritualistic dance. This form of classical dance had been widely popular in Bengal for centuries before it slowly faded away with modernity. All those involved with Charya Dance happened to flock to Nepal and the Charya community here has been preserving it since then. The people involved in the Charya community desire to make it extremely exclusive and keep it a secret—they believe this way they are preserving the pristine tradition but I disagree. Secrecy is definitely not the way to preserve a culture—hence this new book. At the moment, Tuladhars, Bajracharyas, Shakyas and Munikars are actively involved with this classical form of dance.

How has the response to the book been so far?

I have received great reviews for the Nepali version. The book was thoroughly enjoyed by the Buddhist community and students pursuing a degree in Buddhism. Three years ago, many people asked me to publish more prints due to the book’s high demand. People wanted to read more about it. I am currently sending my books to countries like India, Sri Lanka, China and France. The book has seen wide readership both in the country and abroad. Continue reading

BOOK: The Museum on the Roof of the World

9780226213170The Museum on the Roof of the World
ART, POLITICS, AND THE REPRESENTATION OF TIBET
CLARE E. HARRIS
University of California Press
328 pages | 19 color plates, 50 halftones, 1 line drawing | 7 x 10 | © 2012

For millions of people around the world, Tibet is a domain of undisturbed tradition, the Dalai Lama a spiritual guide. By contrast, the Tibet Museum opened in Lhasa by the Chinese in 1999 was designed to reclassify Tibetan objects as cultural relics and the Dalai Lama as obsolete. Suggesting that both these views are suspect, Clare E. Harris argues in The Museum on the Roof of the World that for the past one hundred and fifty years, British and Chinese collectors and curators have tried to convert Tibet itself into a museum, an image some Tibetans have begun to contest. This book is a powerful account of the museums created by, for, or on behalf of Tibetans and the nationalist agendas that have played out in them.

Harris begins with the British public’s first encounter with Tibetan culture in 1854. She then examines the role of imperial collectors and photographers in representations of the region and visits competing museums of Tibet in India and Lhasa. Drawing on fieldwork in Tibetan communities, she also documents the activities of contemporary Tibetan artists as they try to displace the utopian visions of their country prevalent in the West, as well as the negative assessments of their heritage common in China. Illustrated with many previously unpublished images, this book addresses the pressing question of who has the right to represent Tibet in museums and beyond.

CONTENTS

List of Illustrations

Introduction
1 The Tibet Museum in the West
2 The Younghusband Mission and Tibetan Art
3 Picturing Tibet for the Imperial Archive
4 Photography and the Politics of Memory
5 The Tibet Museum in Exile
6 The Tibet Museum in Lhasa
7 The Invention of Tibetan Contemporary Art
8 The Buddha Goes Global

Acknowledgments
A Note on Languages
Notes
References
Index

REVIEWS

Choice
“Oxford anthropologist Harris provides a highly readable discussion of the ways in which political power has shaped perceptions of Tibet and its material culture, and how contemporary Tibetans are appropriating the ‘soft power’ of art as a political tool. . . . Highly recommended.”
ArtAsiaPacific
“Written with elegance, clarity and passionate objectivity . . . Harris takes us from skull drums and thangkas to New Buddhism and the world of contemporary Tibetan artists at home and in exile, explicating the crisis of Tibetan identity and culture. Harris gives us a highly focused contribution to the discourse on the postcolonial world that is also a pleasure to read.”
Asian Ethnologist
“Clare Harris’s works are consistently novel and full of unique ironic twists and marvelous insight, a treat for the world-weary on roads far too traveled. Innovation and creativity are rare in modern Tibet studies, so it is with eager anticipation that one should always approach Harris’s writings. The reader ofThe Museum on the Roof of the World will not be disappointed. She is as magical in this book as reindeer flying through the skies and as entertaining as Santa squeezing through the chimney.”
Numen
“Harris’ account of Tibetan contemporary art is by far the most comprehensive and incisive published to date. . . . The Museum on the Roof of the World is a book that richly rewards the reader, including those who have made it their business to study Tibet, its history, and its culture, with new and fascinating insights.”
newbooks.asia
The Museum on the Roof of the World is a welcome addition to the literature on museums and nationalism, and makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of how the leadership of the modern Chinese state used European imperialist techniques, like building museums, to gain control of the multi-ethnic Qing territories.”
Art Bulletin
“Exceptionally original and superlative in terms of the sheer range of its research materials, the sensitivity of its approach and content, the nuanced style of the writing, and its contributions to various theoretical concerns. . . . Harris’s book is a remarkable work that reveals how one state and its culture can have changing and even multiple identities when placed in different national and political contexts over time.”
Jamyang Norbu, author of Mandala of Sherlock Holmes and Shadow Tibet
“A fascinating study of how Tibet’s art and imagery was pressed into the service of two imperial powers, Britain and Communist China, to provide the rationalizations for their respective ‘missions civilisatrice’ into Tibet—the Younghusband expedition of 1904, and China’s ‘Peaceful Liberation’ of 1950 and ongoing occupation. Clare E. Harris’s instructive art history does not lack in entertaining anecdotes and arcana, of which ‘the Skull of Confucius’ alone is worth the price of the book.”
Robert Linrothe, Northwestern University
The Museum on the Roof of the World overturns old stereotypes, makes new discoveries, and is filled with insights about the many sad ironies in the historical experience of Tibet between the late eighteenth century and the present. Clare E. Harris knows Tibet, its history and culture, contemporary life of Tibetans in exile, and Tibetans still in the Tibet Autonomous Region. She strikes a wonderful balance between generalized observations and detailed explication, successfully documenting the aims of Tibetan museums and revealing the dubious claims of ownership of Tibetan art. Well illustrated and accessible, this book will appeal to audiences in critical museology, Tibetology, history of photography, anthropology, and postcolonial studies.”
Patricia Berger, University of California, Berkeley
“In The Museum on the Roof of the World, Clare E. Harris provides a coherent, wonderfully readable, gripping account of the modern encounter with Tibet, in which she brings together a wealth of detail couched in a rhetorical framework of postcolonialist anthropology and museology. This is an important, original book with a timely focus.”

Book Review: A Cultural History of Japanese Buddhism

1405167009A Cultural History of Japanese Buddhism

William E. Deal, Brian Ruppert
ISBN: 978-1-4051-6700-0
314 pages
June 2015, Wiley-Blackwell

Review by Jonathan Ciliberto

Intended for “upper-level undergraduate and graduate students as well as scholars,” A Cultural History of Japanese Buddhism fills a gap by presenting largely recent work of Japanese and Western scholars on Japanese Buddhism. The authors consider prior books on Buddhist cultural history as largely from Indian and Tibetan viewpoints. The particular presumptions, intellectual models, or even prejudices of such positions (e.g., to view Japanese Buddhism as a distant reflection, or a corruption, of a continental original) are seen as obstacles to an accurate history of Buddhism’s influence and interaction with Japan.

The great value of the book is to direct readers to approaches and theories perhaps overlooked by more general histories of Buddhism. Each chapter includes its own bibliography and notes, making the book useful for study of narrow sections of Japan’s history.

Published in 2015, many summaries of and citations to recent scholarship are incorporated. Although a relatively short volume (~200 pages, absent notes and biolographies), it includes a great deal of purely historical information surrounded by “cultural history,” covering Japan from protohistory to the present. The book includes a character glossary.

Some themes that run through the book are: that Buddhism in Japan was not a monolithic “ism,” and that individual sects were not exclusive of one another but rather interacted in practice and doctrine; the complex interaction of indigenous religion with Buddhism; Buddhist lineages in Japan as the agents of cultural influence (e.g., “lineages had already begun to pursue the possibility of an ultimate deity”).

Many chapters include subsections on women and gender in Japanese Buddhism, including a fascinating section on the link between literary salons “established in women’s circles” and often held within monasteries and creating an environment for “the evolving and intimate connection between monastic Buddhists and their lay supporters” (102-4). More generally, these sections illustrate the important influence of women on Japanese Buddhism throughout its history. The book also devotes substantial attention to religion in Japan in the modern period, a much-needed resource.

One instance of a simplification of Japanese history that the authors seek to correct is the view that Shinto and Buddhism remained largely separate strands. While the doctrine of honji-suijaku is relatively well-known, the book reveals in greater depth the complex interplay between the two religions by reference to the writings of recent (and less-recent) scholars.

Another attempt to reveal subtlety beyond a stock scholarly view concerns (in the Heian period) the “limitations of the ‘rhetoric of decadence’ [that] some scholars attribute to ‘old’ Buddhism”. The authors offer Minamoto no Tamenori’s (d. 1101) Sanbo’e as an attempt “to incorporate other parts of the populace” beyond the aristocracy. This undercuts the claim that “practitioners of the ‘old’ Buddhism were completely unconcerned with those outside their walls” as a cause of the emergence of “religious heroes” (like Kukai and Nichiren) (88-90). (That said, the ongoing theme of Japanese Buddhists, unsatisfied with the quality of teaching in Japan, who sought original texts and more authoritative teachers in China, does support the basis of a kind of “decadent” Buddhism.)

It is important to have a sense of what “cultural history” is, or what it intends to do, before considering the authors’ approach to a history of Japanese Buddhism. Given that cultural history includes an extremely wide set of approaches, determining the present authors’ use of it as a method is largely about picking out strands from the mass of possibilities. (One author refers to “the notorious difficulty of organizing the disorderly profusion of intradisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, and varying national-intellectual meanings and understandings of the “culture concept” into anything resembling consensual form” [Geoffrey Eley, “What Is Cultural History?”, New German Critique, No. 65, Cultural History/Cultural Studies, Spring – Summer, 1995, pp. 19-36].)

While the authors don’t set out their approach, generally in the present volume they tend to consider Buddhism in Japan less in terms of its religious or spiritual character or content and more as a generator of social and political forms. Or, rather, it is unspoken that religion was the driving force in developing myriad cultural effects in Japan, but the book doesn’t dwell much on religion itself, as it does on these effects. While explanation of religious ideas is largely absent, a few instances exists (for instance, the brief description of the bodies of the Buddhism is perhaps the first I’ve read that I immediately understood).

It is unclear whether this approach is based on the position described by the scholar of medieval Japanese Buddhism Bernard Faure when he refers to an “absolute standpoint” as a “contradiction in terms” (Faure, Visions of Power (2000), 9). (Faure is frequently cited in A Cultural History of Japanese Buddhism.) That is: there are no “religious” standpoints motivating individuals, in terms of absolute or ideal concepts, or at least that taking direction from such standpoints is delusional.

Faure’s view (following from Le Goff) is that “literary and artistic works of art (and, in the case of religion, ritual practice) do no represent any eternal, unitary reality, but rather are the products of the imagination of those who produce them” (Faure, 10, emphasis added). A similar view of religion advocates a “History of Religions approach – trying to figure out how and why certain forms of religiosity took shape the way they did instead of assuming that it was religious experience that made religion” (Alan Cole, Fathering Your Father  (2009), xi).

Thus, Faure and historians who follow his approach write religious history absent of religion as an internal activity, aimed at self-improvement, transcendental, or altruistic. Or perhaps this approach simply considers individual “religious” experiences too personal, too psychologically opaque, to form the basis of historical inquiry, and thus discards consideration of such experiences as “religious” in nature, and instead consider them in mainly terms of materiality and politics.

The authors of A Cultural History of Japanese Buddhism follow more directly the historian Kuroda Toshio’s sociopolitical functionalist approach. While occasionally offering descriptions of Buddhist practice and doctrine, the book largely focuses on: state-control over and connection with Buddhism in Japan (“Buddhism was firmly controlled by the state” during the early period (66)); art as narrative or purely visual, rather than a function of practice (99); Buddhist practice as a means of gaining influence or power at court, and the claim that “undoubtably” the introduction of esoteric lineages was related to the royal court’s interest in such power(106); that the court drove ritual (“Pivotal organizational and philosophical changes begin to arise in the royal court with the consolidation of the annual court ceremonies” (88, 106)).

Throughout, the authors take pains to connect influential Buddhists with the court: “The Daigoji halls, like those in other major monasteries, primarily housed scions of Fujiwara and Minamoto heritage” (107); “The Shingon lineages, from a very early point, […] had a special connection with the royal line” (108); “the intimate association between Tendai’s Enryakuji (Hiei) and the leading Fujiwaras” (108). Every monk who was a member of a royal family is identified in such a manner.

The author’s de-emphasis on “religious” explanations for religious history in Japan is intended to counterbalance writers who rely too much on such explanations. Citing the notable effect of D.T. Suzuki’s presentation of Zen Buddhism to the West (absurdist, gnomic, iconoclastic), and pointing out that “few Japanese Zen adherents, except those in the modern period and particularly those with access to the writings of Suzuki translated into Japanese”  would recognize it, the author’s more social-science approach finds some justification. (146-7).

Performance theory is connected with the authors’ approach. A Cultural History of Japanese Buddhism doesn’t lay any groundwork for the reader as to what the doctrine or technique of applying performance theory are. It is a notoriously amorphous field of inquiry. One description of the approach states that “the performative nature of societies around the world, how events and rituals as well as daily life [are] all governed by a code of performance,” and one sees how this aligns with Deal and Ruppert’s approach in the present volume: religious acts are not generated by authenticity, but rather are ritualized and “for show.” Performance theory is difficult to understand as contributing much to an analysis of history, since all human action is outward, and thus all actions are, in a literal sense, “performed.” The negative application of the theory is applied in the present volume: performance theory supports the strategy of  avoiding examination the motivations, hearts, or minds of individual in Japanese Buddhist history.

This is a strategy for writing history, and indicates the above-mentioned scholarly caution, perhaps, but also it tends to paint individuals as acting according to a plan (or with hindsight), rather than by caprice, calling, sincerity, compassion, or irrationality. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, in terms of cultural history, whether or not an effect was caused by religion or some other motivation, but only that the effect did occur.

With regard to Buddhist art, the authors acknowledge – particularly as to poetry – that the “undoubted” motivation for including Buddhist themes was a recognition of the contrast between non-attachment and the “intoxication of those who made use of or found beauty in the linguistic arts” (102). Oddly – although in keeping with the author’s “non-religious” approach to religious art – the idea that such an aesthetic intoxication is meant exactly to advance individuals’ practice (e.g., through visualization) is never mentioned, with respect to poetry or any other art form.

 

 

Puja and Piety: Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist Art from the Indian Subcontinent

9780520288478
Puja and Piety: Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist Art from the Indian Subcontinent
Pratapaditya Pal (Editor), Stephen P. Huyler (Contributor), John E. Cort (Contributor), Christian Luczanits (Contributor), Debashish Banerji (Contributor)
Available worldwide
Hardcover, 256 pages
ISBN: 9780520288478
April 2016
$65.00, £48.95

Puja and Piety celebrates the complexity of South Asian representation and iconography by examining the relationship between aesthetic expression and the devotional practice, or puja, in the three native religions of the Indian subcontinent. This stunning and authoritative catalogue presents some 150 objects created over the past two millennia for temples, home worship, festivals, and roadside shrines. From monumental painted temple hangings and painted meditation diagrams to portable pictures for pilgrims, from stone sculptures to processional bronzes and wooden chariots, from ancient terracottas to various devotional objects for domestic shrines, this volume provides much-needed context and insight into classical and popular art of India. Featuring an introduction by the eminent art historian and curator Pratapaditya Pal; accessible essays on each religious tradition by Stephen P. Huyler, John E. Cort, and Christian Luczanits; and useful guides to iconography and terms by Debashish Banerji, this richly illustrated catalogue will provide a lasting resource for readers interested in South Asian art and spirituality.

Published in association with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Exhibition organized by Susan S. Tai, Elizabeth Atkins Curator of Asian Art

Exhibition dates: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, April 17–July 31, 2016