Posts Tagged 'Buddhism'

Ceremonial Phurba (Kila) Dagger

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Figure 1. Phurba Dagger within the Sam Noble Ethnology Collection. E/1958/26/001

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Ceremonial Dagger: Phurba, Kila

Tibetan or Nepalese

Asia

ca. 18th Century

Bronze, Turquoise Stone

The Tibetan Phurba or Kila (in Sanskrit)  is a ceremonial dagger traditionally used in Tibetan Buddhism for tantric rituals. The Phurba (pronounced Pur-pa) can be fashioned out a of a variety of materials, including: wood, bone, glass, clay, horn and even crystal. (1) See figure 3. to see an example of a crystal phurba dagger on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Despite the array of materials used in the creation of phurbas, these ceremonial daggers have a distinct blade which makes them easily identifiable. The unusual blade of the phurba dagger is designed to have three edges. This gives the blade the appearance similar to a stake used to tether objects to the ground, much like the pegs you see today to secure tents. It has been theorized that this stake design is inspired by earlier Tibetan ceremonies, where shamans tethered sacrificial animals to the ground. However, other researchers debate its shape is meant to represent the pegs used to tether a horse, to keep it from wandering. Whatever its design origins, a phurba dagger is never used to stake anything physical. Its power resides in its spiritual ability to tranfix spirits or demons to the earth. (2)

 

Tibetexpedition, Fürst von Gautsa

Figure 2. Photograph of a Tibetan Shaman. Notice the Phurba dagger in his left hand. Photo by Klause Ernst, Tibet, 1938

Indeed, the dagger’s three sided blade usually has a dull edge, proving ineffective in battle. However, Phurbas have grown in popularity in recent years as tourist items, meditative objects, and have even been adopted as a weapon in some schools of marital arts. An example of the phurba dagger being used non-traditionally as a martial arts weapon can be seen here.

Due to it’s wide use in Tibet and some parts of India, the phurba dagger and its

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Figure 3. A Crystal Dagger on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 15th Century. Image Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.

ceremonial origins may have evolved from the ancient and native Bon religion in Tibet. (3)  This argument suggests that the dagger always served a spiritual weapon, intended to tether negative spirits in place so that they can be driven from the sites of sacred ceremonies, or to force demons from the sites where shrines will be constructed. (4) In fact, the phurba’s ability to bind spirits was put to use in building thirteen Buddhist temples and stupas within Tibet. It was believed that before Buddhism could be successfully introduced into Tibet, the wild spirits within the region needed to be subdued. The building of Buddhist temples in the area served as both the symbolic and physical tethers binding the goddess of the region, limiting her powers. (5)

 

Many elaborate daggers depict three different faces on the pommel of the dagger. This particular Phurba dagger appears to show the deity, Vajrakilaya, a wrathful but powerful deity of Tibetan Buddhism. Vajrakilaya is the over thrower of obstacles. By meditating on the forces that work against the user, Vajrakilaya removes the interference to bliss, happiness, and enlightenment. This tantric practice was eventually absorbed into all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and the phurba dagger serves as the primary object of focus during the mediation process. (6) Unfortunately, the details about this ceremony and the phurba’s exact role have been hidden away. These teachings are left to the understanding of the most devout followers and their instructors.

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Figure 4. Depiction of Vajrakilaya as a ceremonial dagger.

Footnotes:

1. Ryan Hudson, “Phurba with Three Faces of Vajrakila Buddha,”  http://www.tibetanculture.weai.columbia.edu/phurba-with-three-faces/. (accessed August 16, 2017)

2. Georgette Meredith, “The “Phurbu”: The Use and Symbolism of the Tibetan Magic Dagger”, History of Religions 6, no. 3 (1967): 246.

3. Meredith, “The “Phurbu”, 240.

4. Meredith, “The Phurbu”, 246.

5. Janet Gyatso, “Down with the Demoness: Reflections on a Feminine Ground in Tibet”, The Tibet Journal 12, no.4 (1987): 41.

6. Robert Beer, The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs (Boston: Shambala Publishing, 1999), 246.

 

Additional Reading:

 

The Tibetan Book of the Dead. “Ceremonial Objects.” Virginia University. Last Modified 2017. Accessed August 16, 2017. https://www.lib.virginia.edu/exhibits/dead/ceremon.html

 

((Christina J. Naruszewicz))

Object: Buddha and Halo

Figure 1 Statue of Buddha with Halo from Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Statue of Buddha with Halo from Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

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Buddha and Halo statue
Asia: India/Nepal
Brass

This Buddha statue with flaming halo is roughly 29 ¾” tall, 18” wide, and 8 ½” deep. It features a Buddha figure on a lotus flower pedestal, with a halo of flames and Hindu deities surrounding him.

Buddhism is a widely practiced religion based on the teachings of Siddartha Gautama, an ancient prince who is believed to have given up all his worldly possessions and achieved the highest spiritual freedom: enlightenment. Different traditions of Buddhism have different beliefs about Buddha. Some believe he was an actual prince, others believe he was a reincarnation of a Hindu god, while still others believe there was no man at all, but simply the development and spread of an ideological belief system.

The hand symbols of any Buddha statue are significant in understanding the meaning of the statue’s presence. The hand positions are called “mudras” or “mark of identity” in Sanskrit. They are used in both Hinduism and Buddhism as a kind of language to evoke certain ideas or principals. This particular statue has the right hand in the position of charity and generosity, while the left hand appears to be in the position of wisdom.

The lotus throne that the Buddha is sitting on is a common theme in Asian religions, representing the path to enlightenment. The lotus flower is firmly grounded in the earth, yet is able to grow above the murky water of earthly suffering to enlightenment. The Buddha is commonly depicted with a lotus flower, or some kind of lotus reference, as seen here with his pedestal.

The Buddha is surrounded by Hindu deities in this statue, which helps contextualize the way Buddhism was received and adapted into cultures as it spread throughout Asia. Buddhism’s basic tenets speak to the basic tenets of many ancient and modern religions. To be a good Buddhist is to be morally right in knowledge, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. These tenets are then further identified in each regional interpretation of Buddhism. In this Buddha statue, we see that the ideas of reincarnation and a pantheon of gods are incorporated into the Buddhist framework of Indian and Nepalese beliefs.

To learn more about Buddhism, take a look at this BBC documentary:

[Anna Nowka]

Other Resources:

https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/budd/hd_budd.htm

http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/beliefs/purpose.htm

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/study/history_buddhism/general_histories/spread_buddhism_asia.html

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/approaching_buddhism/teachers/lineage_masters/who_was_shakyamuni_buddha/transcript.html

http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/lotus.htm

Harvey, Peter. 2013. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press: New York.

Object: Statue of Vishnu Riding Garuda

Figure 1    Basalt statue of Vishnu riding Garuda from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Basalt statue of Vishnu riding Garuda from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/2003/14/1
Statue of Vishnu Riding Garuda
Indonesia
Unknown Date
Materials: Basalt, stone

Carved basalt statues of Vishnu riding Garuda are a prominent artistic and religious feature of southeastern Asia. These particular types of carved statues are often found in temples and shrines dedicated to Vishnu and his bird mount Garuda. The image of Vishnu and Garuda spread throughout Southeast Asia with the spread of Hinduism, and has even been adopted as the national emblem of Indonesia and Thailand. This statue from the Ethnology Collection is carved from basalt—a volcanic rock found naturally in plateau deposits and volcanic terrains—and is commonly used for carving statues, tools, and weapons. Carved basalt statues like this are incredibly heavy, which indicates that they aren’t intended to be moved around, but instead stationed at a temple or shrine for long periods of time. Statues of Vishnu and Garuda are often carved from basalt, granite, wood, and bronze, and are also featured in pillars and architecture. This particular statue was acquired in Indonesia, and measures about 5 feet in height.

Vishnu is one of the three iconic deities of the Hindu faith and is often depicted with his mount, Garuda. Garuda is often portrayed as half man, half bird, with his wings spreading out as he supports Vishnu. Stories and myths of Garuda date back more than 3,000 years, and his image can be found throughout Buddhism as well as Hinduism. The Hindu myth of Garuda tells that he became the mount of Vishnu when he attempted to steal the elixir of immortality from the gods to free his mother from the serpents who imprisoned her. Garuda resisted drinking the elixir himself and prevented the serpents from taking it. Vishnu was impressed by his strength and determination and made him king of all birds. After that point, Garuda became the mount of Vishnu and the enemy of all serpents. The image of Garuda is often used today for protection against snakes and snakebites, and he continues to be an important religious icon across Southeast Asia.

Take a look at this video of a sculptor carving a wooden statue of Vishnu riding Garuda:

[Adisson Bolles]

References Cited:

Behera, Prajna Paramita. “The Pillars of Homage to Lord Jagannatha” http://www.orissa.gov.in/e-magazine/Orissareview/jun2004/englishpdf/pillar.pdf

“Carved and painted figure of Vishnu riding Garuda” britishmuseum.org. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/asia/f/figure_of_vishnu_riding_garuda.aspx

Dietrich, R. V., “Basalt” Gemrocks: Ornamental and Curio Stones. Accessed February 12, 2015. http://stoneplus.cst.cmich.edu/basalt.htm

“Garuda Wisnu Kencana Statue” GWK Cultural Park. Accessed February 14, 2015. http://www.gwkbali.com/about/2/garuda-wisnu-kencana-statue

“Hindu deity Vishnu, 1100-1200” Asian Art Museum. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://education.asianart.org/explore-resources/artwork/hindu-deity-vishnu-1100%E2%80%931200

“Prambanan Temple Compounds” unesco.org. Accessed February 15, 2015. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/642/

“Opposites Attack” American Museum of Natural History. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/mythic-creatures/air-creatures-of-the-sky/opposites-attack

“Prambanan Temple Compounds” unesco.org. Accessed February 15, 2015. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/642/

Object: Bronze Foo Dog

 

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Foo Dog/Lion Statue
Asia
Unknown Date
Materials: Bronze

This is a bronze Foo Dog statue from Asia. It is 18” in height, 30.5” in width, and 10.5” in diameter. It has a detachable tail. Its mouth is open and there is a globe located under its right paw.

 Lion-Dog or Foo Dog statues can be found throughout Asia and Southeast Asia and are made of everything from porcelain to bronze. Historically, lions have represented wisdom, royalty, pride, and protection in many cultures around the world. These Lion-dog or Foo Dog statues are highly symbolic in Buddhism. Lions are viewed as iconographic figures in Buddhism because they protect “cosmic law and order,” serving as guardians for monasteries and shrines. One ancient story involves Buddha taming a wild lion. This tame lion would follow at Buddha’s heels like a “faithful dog.” Additionally, Buddha’s teachings are often referred to as the “Lion’s Roar” because of their power and strength.

Foo Dogs also feature prominently in ancient Chinese culture. During the Han Dynasty (206 BCE- 220CE) people began placing two lion statues in front of an image of Buddha. However, it was not until the beginning of the Heian period (794-1185 CE) that Lion-dog statues began to appear outside of temples and shrines. These statues were meant to honor the Buddha and protect the inhabitants of the site.

Since the Han Dynasty, Lion-dog statues are usually found in pairs: one female and one male. This bronze Foo Dog is also part of a pair. It is considered a male because of the globe located under its paw, which signifies protection of its territory and home. An open mouth on a male Foo Dog usually indicates an ending. On the other hand, for Female Foo Dogs, an open mouth symbolizes beginnings. Female Foo Dogs also have a cub under their left paw symbolizing strength and protective maternal instincts.

Foo Dog statues can still be found throughout Asia and Southeast Asia today, many still guarding homes, temples, and palaces. They appear in various shapes, sizes, and colors, and continue to symbolize protection. It is not uncommon to find Foo Dogs or other guardian statues outside of homes all around the world.

[Bryanna Evans]

References:

http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-BH/bh117490.htm

http://www.sfweekly.com/exhibitionist/2013/05/31/recent-acquisitions-the-asian-art-museum-now-guarded-by-bronze-lions

http://rohsska.se/en/om-rohsska-museet/historik/1261/

http://art.thewalters.org/browse/community/19/

http://www6.miami.edu/lowe/collection_art_of_asia.html

Object: Brass Emblem

E/1955/18/251
Brass Emblem
Nepalese
Asia: Nepal
Unknown Age
Material: Brass

This is a brass religious emblem from Nepal. It is 17.5 inches tall and 5.5 inches in diameter. We do not know where specifically this object comes from, but we do know it represents the Tower of Life, a holy emblem in Hindu and Buddhist belief systems. This symbol is often used to mark temple entrances. Each tier of the emblem represents a plane of human consciousness and existence that reaches upward towards heaven.

The Indus Valley region was home to the early Vedic religions, which focused on ritual and social obligation and included a pantheon of deities. Reincarnation, or rebirth, and karma were ideas introduced very early in this belief system in religious texts such as the Vedas, Brahamanas and the Upanishads. These are all influential teachings in Hinduism, which developed from these early Vedic beliefs. Hinduism today believes in one Supreme Being that manifests itself in many forms, primarily Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, forming the Hindu trinity.

Siddhartha Guatama, a Hindu man born in Nepal, supported certain aspects of his native religion, such as karma – the notion of moral cause and effect, based on behavior.  However, he rejected other facets of this theology, such as the strict caste system deeply embedded in Hindu societies, and the importance of rituals. Instead, he encouraged people to disassociate themselves from earthly pleasures, and focus instead on attaining personal enlightenment, or Nirvana, by eliminating all desire. After reaching enlightenment, Guatama became known as Buddha, and his teachings became the backbone of the Buddhist belief system that then swept through                                                                          East Asia and then around the world.

As Buddhism and Hinduism developed and changed over the centuries throughout Asia, both religions prospered in Nepal, producing a powerful artistic and architectural fusion. Buildings reflect outstanding craftsmanship in their intricate ornamentation in brick, stone, timber and bronze that are some of the most highly developed in the world.

Take a look at this PBS Documentary to learn more about the development and spread of Buddhism:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Bronze Head

E/1955/18/138
Bronze Head
Dynastic China
Location: Asia, China
Unknown Date
Materials: Bronze

We can learn a great deal by looking at the details of objects to uncover the mystery of what they mean. This Chinese statue is an excellent example. It is a large 32-inch tall hollow cast bronze head of a woman. By looking closely at the head, we can see she has an elaborate hairstyle with an ornate headpiece. The headpiece has a miniature figure of Buddha in front, over her forehead. Her eyes are closed, as if asleep, and she has a slight smile on her lips. There is no evidence that there was ever a body attached to this head. So what are we to make of this unusual object?

 

First, we look at how it was made. The process of bronze casting is very old, beginning in China around 1600 BC, in what was known as the Shang Dynasty. Bronze is an alloy, or combination, of copper and tin and forms a very durable metal. While we do not know how old this statue is, it certainly developed out of this long-standing bronze working tradition.

With her serene facial expression, this head may represent the figure of Kuan Yin (Kwan Yin) or “She Who Hears the Cries of the World,” goddess of mercy, compassion, kindness, and love in the Buddhist faith. This Chinese Buddhist goddess is said to be based on a real woman. According to one legend, Kuan Yin’s father murdered her and she went down to the underworld. When she got there, she recited words from the Buddhist holy books, preventing the god of the underworld from torturing the souls of the dead. He was not pleased, so he sent Kuan Yin back to be alive once more. After returning to the world of the living, she spent all her time studying Buddhist ideas and teachings, learning from the Buddha. As a result of her dedication and her compassionate nature, the Buddha made her immortal, and she became the goddess of mercy and compassion.

In paintings, Kuan Yin is often depicted as wearing white robes and sitting on a lotus flower, which also symbolizes peace. Sometimes she is even shown with a thousand heads and a thousand arms, so that she can more effectively bestow her mercy on the world. Stories about Kuan Yin seem to have begun with stories about a male Indian boddhisatva (holy person) called Avlokitesvara. By the 1st Century AD in China, Kuan Yin not only changed names, she also changed genders! She is known my many different name all across East Asia, and a wide range of different stories are told about her.

If you want to see this bronze statue for yourself, come by the Sam Noble Museum! It is currently on exhibit in our Orientation Gallery, the first gallery to the right after you enter the main part of the museum!

Take a look at this great video by the San Diego Museum of Art on the history of Buddhism:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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