Becoming the Buddha
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Becoming the Buddha : The Ritual of Image Consecration in Thailand

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Becoming the Buddha is the first book-length study of a key ritual of Buddhist practice in Asia: the consecration of a Buddha image or "new Buddha," a ceremony by which the Buddha becomes present or alive. Through a richly detailed, accessible exploration of this ritual in northern Thailand, an exploration that stands apart from standard text-based or anthropological approaches, Donald Swearer makes a major contribution to our understanding of the Buddha image, its role in Buddhist devotional life, and its relationship to the veneration of Buddha relics. Blending ethnography, analysis, and Buddhist texts related to this mimetic reenactment of the night of the Buddha's enlightenment, he demonstrates that the image becomes the Buddha's surrogate by being invested with the Buddha's story and charged with the extraordinary power of Buddhahood. The process by which this transformation occurs through chant, sermon, meditation, and the presence of charismatic monks is at the heart of this book. Known as "opening the eyes of the Buddha," image consecration traditions throughout Buddhist Asia share much in common. Within the cultural context of northern Thailand, Becoming the Buddha illuminates scriptural accounts of the making of the first Buddha image; looks at debates over the ritual's historical origin, at Buddhological insights achieved, and at the hermeneutics of absence and presence; and provides a thematic comparison of several Buddhist traditions.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 352 pages
  • 154.94 x 236.22 x 30.48mm | 657.71g
  • Princeton University Press
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • New.
  • 0691114358
  • 9780691114354
  • 1,680,158

Review quote

"A thorough and magisterial study. . . . This book will be essential reading for anyone interested in Buddhism, Buddhist 'theology,' images, and the material culture of religions."--John E. Cort, Religious Studies Review "Wide-ranging. . . . Although this study concentrates on one ritual in one region of Thailand, Donald K. Swearer extrapolates from the relatively small area of focus to illuminate a large area of debate."--Catherine Newell, Journal of the Siam Societyshow more

Back cover copy

"In Becoming the Buddha Donald Swearer has provided a multifaceted historical, ethnographic, and comparative study of an image consecration ritual that lies close to the very heart of popular Buddhist piety. Drawing on more than four decades of textual research and field experience in northern Thailand, Swearer provides compelling descriptions and probing analyses that will command the attention of scholars in Buddhist studies and ritual studies for many years to come."--Frank Reynolds, co-translator of Three Worlds of King Ruang: A Thai Buddhist Cosmology "Reading Becoming the Buddha was an exciting, note-taking, eye-opening experience that stimulated my thinking about the field and about my own work. This book is the product of a mature scholar whose many years in the field and whose prolific writings have made him one of the world's top authorities on Thai religion and culture, and yet it retains a freshness in the approach it takes, the topic it tackles, and the conclusions it upholds. There is nothing like it in print that I know of. I have every confidence that it will become, in a few years' time, a much referred to, often quoted, classic."--John S. Strong, Bates College, author of The Legend and Cult of Upagupta "This is the first major book-length study of image consecration for Indian or Southeast Asian Buddhism that is accessible to a general readership. The scholarship behind it is enormous. Donald Swearer has collected a great range of texts and translated them adeptly while also incorporating ethnographic materials that are not only excellent but at times quite delightful."--Richard Davis, Bard College, author of Lives of Indian Imagesshow more

About Donald K. Swearer

Donald K. Swearer is the Charles & Harriet Cox McDowell Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Swarthmore College. His recent books include The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia and The Legend of Queen Cama.show more

Table of contents

List of Illustrations xiiiPreface xvNote and Abbreviations xviiPART IINTRODUCTION 3CHAPTER 1. BUDDHA AND BUDDHA IMAGE 9The Power of Images 10The Buddha Image in Northern Thailand 12Scriptural Accounts of the First Buddha Image 14The Buddha Image: An Art Historical Perspective 24CHAPTER 2. MEETING THE BUDDHA: TEMPLE, IMAGE, AND RELIC 31Wat, Reliquary, and Buddha Image 31Reliquary and Image: Correlative Signs of the Buddha's Presence 35Buddha Image and Wat: Nature and Function 40Consecration and Renewal 42CHAPTER 3. CONSTRUCTING A BUDDHA IMAGE 46Bronze Image Manufacture in Northern Thailand 46Texts 50Tamra Kan Kosang Phraphuttharup (Manual for Making a Buddha Image) 50Anisong Kan Kosang Phraphuttharup (The Meritorious Blessing for Making Buddha Images) 60Yan Phraphuttharup (Buddha Image Yantra) 63Analysis 68PART IICHAPTER 4. THE RITUAL: OPENING THE EYES OF THE BUDDHA 77The Setting 79The Bodhimanda 79Offerings to the Guru 83The Ritual Process 86Preliminaries 86Paritta and Image Consecration 88Texts 90Buddhajayamangala Atthagatha (The Auspicious Victory) 90Dasa Parami (The Ten Perfections) 91Sukho Buddho (Happiness Is the Buddha) 92Jinapanjara Gatha (The Victor's Cage) 92Paritta and Abhiseka 93Opening the Eyes of the Buddha 94Sermons: Ordaining the Buddha 96The Performative Power of Meditation and Holy Monks 99The Third Watch of the Night 102Texts 107Mangala Udana Gatha (Stanzas of Auspicious Joy) 107Yo Kho Ananda (O Ananda) 107Buddhanussati (Remembering the Buddha) 107Making the Buddha Present 108Appendix 4.1 Paritta and Suat Mon 115Appendix 4.2 Monastic Biographies: Luang Pu La , Luang Pu Waen, Khruba Phrohm 118CHAPTER 5. INSTRUCTING THE IMAGE 122Introduction and Analysis 122Texts 129Pathom Somphot (The Buddha's Supreme Enlightenment) 129Anisong Pathom Somphot (The Meritorious Blessing for Copying or Listening to the Pathom Somphot) 137Sitthat Ok Buat (Siddhattha's Renunciation) 138CHAPTER 6. EMPOWERING THE IMAGE 152Introduction and Analysis 152Texts 156Buddha Abhiseka (Consecrating the Buddha) 156Suat Boek Phranet (Opening the Eyes of the Buddha) 164PART IIICHAPTER 7. THE BODY OF THE BUDDHA: POPULAR BUDDHISM AND BUDDHOLOGICAL THEORY 175Buddhas: Past, Present, and Future 176Buddha-body and Dhamma-body 184Buddha Images, Kings, and Power 192Texts 197Tamnan Ka Phu'ak (The Chronicle of the White Crow) 197Tamnan Phra Sila (The Chronicle of the Stone Buddha Image) 205CHAPTER 8. CONSECRATION TRADITIONS IN OTHER BUDDHIST CULTURES: REASSESSING THE BUDDHABHISEKA 211Auspicious Eyes: Enlivening the Image 212Dhammicization: Image and Reality 218Transformation: Sadhana 222Syncretization: Buddha, Gods, and Ancestral Spirits 224Conclusion: Stories and Saints, Icons and Images 230Appendix 8.1 Hindu or Buddhist? 232EPILOGUE: IF YOU MEET THE BUDDHA, KILL HIM! 235P. A. Payutto (Phra Dhammapitaka) 238Sacred Objects, Efficacious Deities, and Miracles 239Buddhad sa Bhikkhu 242Who Sees Me Sees the Dhamma 243Everyday Language/Dhamma Language 244Phra Bodhirak and Santi Asok 246Notes 249Glossary of Selected Pali and Thai Terms 299Selected Bibliography 303Index 321show more

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