An object is said to be Buddhist when it gives an impression of Budha, manifests beliefs, or represents practices in the religion. For instance, a Buddhist prayer bell is made with a pattern that represents the complexity of the faith, and the sound of the bell symbolizes the voice of Budha and indicates prayer time as well. All objects used in Buddhism bear a unique and sacred meaning to believers.
In his article, Gregory Lavine argues that the beginning of a new prospect in Buddhism was purely coincidental (Gregory P.A. Levine 5). An artist named Casey O’ Connor recklessly threw hundreds of tiny porcelain objects bearing the shape of Buddha’s head into in American River nearby a town called Colfax. Little did he know that his deeds would bring revolution in the faith of believers in the area. The finding of these objects in the river created questions of nature of the landscape, reflected California histories of the gold rush, led to construction Central Pacific railroad, caused immigration, and triggered the current understanding of Buddhism. Colfax was longer a town but became a new industrialized, and uncanny center forged entirely by Buddhism faith. The river was the least expected area to find Buddha, therefore when the people found these objects there, the legend grew. In the article, the author explains O’Connor cast the porcelain into a river to entertain himself and to surprise tourists and swimmers. He thought it would look appealing when the objects awesomely floated on the water. Neither was his act influenced by previous actions where religious statues were damped in the river as a sign of purification, punishment, or revolution. This incident stimulated many theories and questions; one among them argued that aliens dropped the Buddha’s heads. Another suggested that the pieces were deposits from the construction of the railroad done by Chinese workers. However, the occurrence was viewed as divine case and changed the art of Buddhism.
In the second lecture, the art of Buddhism is drawn from manifestation and the interpretation of the events. Traditionally, bodhisattvas Fugen and Monju were the iconic representations of Buddism. Fugen symbolized personification of dynamic aspects of Sa-kyamuni’s life, and Monju was a symbol of Budha’s insight and wisdom. It was believed that the bodhisattvas could manifest to the people without their expectations. For instance, one monk on his way to sacred Mt Wutai considered a residence of Monju, encounters a donkey; it was concluded as a manifestation of Monju. The belief that bodhisattva takes a prostitute evolved after a dramatic encounter with a prostitute of a monk in ancient times. The poet monk Saigyo was in deep prayers when he received a heavenly revelation to worship courtesans in a nearby town since she was a sign of manifestation of Fugen.
The monk obeyed the call and headed to the tavern with five followers after changing into white robes from the initial black. On arrival, the monk was warmly received with sake, and the courtesans sang and danced. The monk sank into deep thoughts and meditation and saw the prostitutes as a living manifestation of Fugen seated on a white elephant. He heard the prostitute’s song as a holy sutra during his meditation. The monk interpreted the vision and came to the conclusion that prostitutes signified a powerful being and the songs they were Holy Scriptures. Another similar story is an encounter of a monk named Saigyo and Eguchi(a prostitute) who refused to lodge him (De Sabato Swinton and Clark 7). They then engage in an epic confrontation that has significant meaning in the Buddhist religion. The prostitute later expressed desires to become a nun and turn away from a sinful life. Eguchi henceforth became a representation that even immoral persons can be forgiven and decisively change their lives.
Other objects discussed in the articles that become part of Buddhist art in a way include candles, pendants, earrings, and tattoos, among others. These objects have, in common, a representation of Buddha’s head. In modern times heads of Buddha and Bodhisattva statues are painted in museums, homes, shrines, and other premises. In conclusion, religion is an aspect of faith that requires no justification. It makes and defines a particular community and is unquestionable to the believers; Buddhism is a perfect example.
De Sabato Swinton, Elizabeth, and Timothy Clark. “Ukiyo-e Paintings in the British Museum.” Journal of Japanese Studies, vol. 20, no. 2, 1994, p. 522. Accessed 2 June 2020.
Gregory P.A. Levine. “Buddha Rush: A story of art and its consequences.” Boom: A Journal of California, vol. 2, no. 3, 2012, pp. 45-61. Accessed 2 June 2020.