Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - When is an Image Not Merely an Image?

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Wilson C, Mezzanine Level

A number of studies over the past two decades have focused on the ways in which images function within Buddhism, and, in particular, the magical, healing, or other powers attributed to the images. Simultaneously, other studies have explained how Buddhist images are brought to life through the process of consecration, thus activating their powers. Consecration methods include opening the eyes of the image, inscribing the image with an invocation, inserting texts and relics, and reciting texts to provide the image with the appropriate knowledge and memories. A consecrated image is considered fully alive and capable of actions, such as granting prayers and blessings. The important work on these intertwined topics by recent scholars enables us to look at one of the most controversial issues in Buddhist art‐historical scholarship—the origin of the Buddha image— through a new lens. Rather than seeing the issue simply as an artistic one, as previous scholarship has done, we can shed new light on the problem by asking a different set of questions. What purpose did the Buddha image serve and how was it intended to function? Why was it necessary to create an image of the Buddha? Was the practice of consecrating, and therefore enlivening, the image in existence at the time of the first images? If not, at what point in Buddhist history in India did images start to be consecrated and invoked? By addressing these questions, this paper proposes to shed new light on the issue of the origin of the Buddha image.

Susan L. Huntington

Ohio State University, Ohio

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