Image Consecrations

Cameron Warner

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Image Consecrations

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Buddhists erect shrines within monasteries and temples, at home, or even in the workplace in order to have a proper context for performing rituals. Representations of the body (images), speech (texts), and mind (stūpas) of the Buddha serve as the focal point of a shrine. Images might be a two-dimensional painting or a three-dimensional statue. Often, before a new image is installed in a shrine, a ritual specialist has consecrated (pratiṣṭhā/buddhâbhiṣeka) it. When consecrating an image, the ritual specialist, usually a Buddhist monk or priest, brings it to life for the patron, a local devotee or resident clergy, who sponsored the ritual. In the Tibetan tradition, in the case of a two-dimensional image, a mantra or dhāraṇī might be inscribed on the back at points that correspond to the head, throat, and chest region, symbolizing respectively the body, speech, and mind. Three-dimensional, hollow images are filled with other representations of the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha. In the East and Southeast Asian traditions, faux organs might be inserted. However, many consecration rituals contain within their liturgy an understanding that, ontologically speaking, the presence of the Buddha already pervades all space. Ultimately, there is no need to perform a consecration ritual. The intention is to entice the presence of the Buddhist deity in question to dwell in the image, therefore making it possible for the community to interact with the presence of the Buddha (or a related deity). However, the rituals are performed with an understanding that they facilitate a person’s relationship to the Buddha’s presence. All evidence indicates that Buddhists have been performing image consecration rituals since the beginning of the Buddhist cult of images over 1,500 years ago. It is still a popular practice for contemporary Buddhists worldwide. Though the ritual has evolved over time in local contexts, the main features of image consecration are still very similar across Buddhist Asia and the West, and they share some features with Jain and Hindu image consecration. As a research topic, image consecration is connected to other subfields of Buddhist studies, especially art history, ontology (multiple bodies of the Buddha), and literature on the life of the Buddha.

Article.  3775 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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