Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

During the first week of March, I made a trip with a friend to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Every first Sunday of the month, admission into the museum is free, with the exception of $5 to see the featured exhibit, of which was themed around Bali.

Bodhissatva Maitreya

I was quite impressed with the collection of Buddhist items, with entire sections dedicated to Buddhism from different time periods and regions. Of all the historical artifacts, I would say what became most apparent and valuable as a take-away lesson was the diversity of Buddha imagery in Buddhism, again depending on time periods and regions. As I walked from one room to the next, I sometimes found myself not sure if I was even still browsing the Buddhist exhibit in seeing images I would initially associate with Hinduism or other Eastern religions.

Specifically, this statue of the Buddha surprised me. My first impression, as I think yours might be, is that it looks quite like a certain other religious leader popular and dominant in Western culture.

Description of Bodhisattva Maitreya

The description of the statue points out certain details that mark this to be a figure of Bodhisattva Maitreya, namely the princely garments and water bottle held in the left hand. Moreover, with origins  inPakistan, it is no wonder that their regional depiction of Maitreya is much different than the Chinese-derived Buddhist images I’m used to.

And though I enjoyed the informative exhibits and felt the museum overall was well worth my time (especially for free), I did notice one detail near the end of the exhibit that triggered a cringe, especially for such a reputable facility.

Asian Art Museum restroom

What do you notice in the picture below? Yes, you’re right. Those are restrooms right across from Buddhist figures that are as much part of the exhibit as any of the other statues. Really? Could they find no where else to put those items? It seems as though in treating the museum items as representatives of history and culture, the curators seem to have forgotten their original function as representatives of religion and faith, a significant factor to consider regardless of whether placed in a temple or museum.

Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

During the first week of March, I made a trip with a friend to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Every first Sunday of the month, admission into the museum is free, with the exception of $5 to see the featured exhibit, of which was themed around Bali.

Bodhissatva Maitreya

I was quite impressed with the collection of Buddhist items, with entire sections dedicated to Buddhism from different time periods and regions. Of all the historical artifacts, I would say what became most apparent and valuable as a take-away lesson was the diversity of Buddha imagery in Buddhism, again depending on time periods and regions. As I walked from one room to the next, I sometimes found myself not sure if I was even still browsing the Buddhist exhibit in seeing images I would initially associate with Hinduism or other Eastern religions.

 

Specifically, this statue of the Buddha surprised me. My first impression, as I think yours might be, is that it looks quite like a certain other religious leader popular and dominant in Western culture.

 

Description of Bodhisattva Maitreya

The description of the statue points out certain details that mark this to be a figure of Bodhisattva Maitreya, namely the princely garments and water bottle held in the left hand. Moreover, with origins  inPakistan, it is no wonder that their regional depiction of Maitreya is much different than the Chinese-derived Buddhist images I’m used to.

And though I enjoyed the informative exhibits and felt the museum overall was well worth my time (especially for free), I did notice one detail near the end of the exhibit that triggered a cringe, especially for such a reputable facility.

Asian Art Museum restroom

What do you notice in the picture below? Yes, you’re right. Those are restrooms right across from Buddhist figures that are as much part of the exhibit as any of the other statues. Really? Could they find no where else to put those items? It seems as though in treating the museum items as representatives of history and culture, the curators seem to have forgotten their original function as representatives of religion and faith, a significant factor to consider regardless of whether placed in a temple or museum.

Bodhi Branding

A friend passed along a question from a sibling on whether or not bodhi is an appropriate word to include in a professional logo. My short response is, “It’s fine.” I’ve shared the longer reply below.

Bodhi means “enlightenment” in the ancient Indian language of Pali. It’s also the name for the tree under which Siddhartha Gautama became enlightened as the Buddha. This word has a special spiritual meaning for Buddhists, but it’s also crossed into mainstream English usage with a broader range of associations. Just look at what sort of brands use the term “bodhi”…

Continue reading “Bodhi Branding”

Prapañca: a Buddhist Journal

Dr. Scott Mitchell has announced a new online Buddhist journal coming out this June!

Along with the help of some friends, we’re launching Prapañca, a quarterly, online Buddhist journal featuring both original reporting and opinion pieces on a wide variety of Buddhist topics, but also fiction, poetry, and the arts. The co-founders/editors and I are passionate not only about bringing a wide diversity of Buddhist voices to our future readers, we’re also passionate about creating a venue for writers of Buddhist fiction and poetry to showcase their work.

I hope this magazine is able to showcase and promote the otherwise overlooked diversity in the Buddhist community. You can visit the home page here, and the submissions guidelines here. I’m definitely going to submit something!

Controversy over the Rock Opera

Where Elephants WeepWhen writing up my last post, I forgot to check with Cambodge Soir. As I read there today, I found out that the rock opera Where Elephants Weep has not been banned outright, as is also reported in a (translated) piece on KI Media. I found the Cambodge Soir report particularly insightful, relating who exactly said what and also including the views of the monk, the government and the opera representatives. You can read the original report in French by Ung Chansophea and Alain Ney on Cambodge Soir. My translation is below.

I must ask for forgiveness in advance. My translation from French is as bad (and liberal) as it is from Khmer. I hope that you can at least walk away from this with an understanding that there is a more complex story behind a headline as simple as “Monks Force Rock Opera Off Air.”

Continue reading “Controversy over the Rock Opera”

Portable Altar

Closed Portable AltarThis past Thanksgiving my father let me borrow his wooden travel altar. In a lot of respects, this altar isn’t very unique. It’s a generic Pure Land altar. On the outside is written 佛光普照 ([Amitabha] Buddha’s light is all-illuminating) and 普度眾生 (universal salvation).

(At first, I thought the second line had a misspelling — you more often see 普渡眾生 — but apparently both spellings are okay. If you happen to be a Chinese speaker and can think of a better translation for this line, please let me know!)

The cool aspect is that this altar was designed for travel. Not only does it fold shut, it also locks itself without any sort of fastening device. At first I wasn’t able to open at all. I was about to pry it open with a knife, when my father snatched it from me. To open it, you have to press down on the top and tilt it to the side. The box then swings open on its own.

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Raise the roof!

Buddhism is filled with a wonderful lyricism stretching all the way back from it’s oral tradition to it’s more modern expressions. The following are just some modes of expression I found interesting in these last few months. Disclaimer: this is in no way meant to be complete or representative.

Continue reading “Raise the roof!”

Throwing away your Buddha

On a Vesak celebration four years ago, a monk presented me with a Buddha statue to thank me for my service in the community. It was a typical statue of Lord Buddha sitting with legs folded, made of white plaster and set in a mold that the monk himself had crafted with his own hands. It was relatively large — bigger than a basketball — and heavy. A year later, when I unpacked the statue from a cross-country move, I found it broken in two.

Broken Buddha statuesI was faced with a personally unfamiliar dilemma (related to a previous post): What do you do with a broken Buddhist statue?

According to one gardener: “When a household statue of Buddha is broken, it cannot be thrown away. Instead, it is left at the base of a Bodhi tree.”

What if you don’t have a Bodhi tree?

Why can’t you throw it away?

Continue reading “Throwing away your Buddha”

Norton Simon and the Buddha Torso

Inspired by the always delightful DharmaRealm podcast which discussed the oddity of seeing Buddha statues in museums in a recent episode

A year or so ago, when I went to the Norton Simon museum for a completely non-Buddhist reason and found a basement full of Buddhist art, I had three main questions: