Material practice and the metamorphosis of a sign: Early Buddhist stupas and the origin of Mahayana Buddhism

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

From at least the third century b.c., Buddhist ritual focused on stupas, stylized replicas of the mounds of earth in which early Buddhists interred relics of the Buddha. Beginning in the first century b.c., Buddhist monks in western India began manipulating the physical shape of monastic stupas to make them appear taller and more massive than they actually were. Buddhist monks used these manipulations to help assert authority over the Buddhist laity. Employing theories of practice, materiality, and semiotics, I argue that physical manipulations of the shape of stupas by Buddhist monks led to the progressive detachment of the primary signs of Buddhism from their original referents. Where earlier stupas were icons and indexes of the Buddha encased within indexes of his presence, later stupas were symbols of the Buddha and Buddhist theology. This change in the material practice of Buddhism reduced stupas' emotional immediacy in favor of greater intellectual detachment. In the end, this shift in the meaning ascribed to stupas created the preconditions from which the Buddhist image cult and Mahayana Buddhism emerged in the first through fifth centuries a.d. The development of Mahayana Buddhism and Buddha images signified a return to iconic worship of the Buddha.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)278-310
Number of pages33
JournalAsian Perspectives
Volume51
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2012

Fingerprint

Buddhism
metamorphosis
manipulation
India
theology
ritual
semiotics
religious behavior
symbol
material
index
Mahayana Buddhism
Buddhist
Metamorphoses
Buddha

Keywords

  • Archaeology
  • Buddhism
  • Materiality
  • Semiotics
  • South Asia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • Arts and Humanities(all)

Cite this

Material practice and the metamorphosis of a sign : Early Buddhist stupas and the origin of Mahayana Buddhism. / Fogelin, Lars E.

In: Asian Perspectives, Vol. 51, No. 2, 2012, p. 278-310.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

@article{32a8b6c8fc5a4d7588a54a3fdbc1a5f6,
title = "Material practice and the metamorphosis of a sign: Early Buddhist stupas and the origin of Mahayana Buddhism",
abstract = "From at least the third century b.c., Buddhist ritual focused on stupas, stylized replicas of the mounds of earth in which early Buddhists interred relics of the Buddha. Beginning in the first century b.c., Buddhist monks in western India began manipulating the physical shape of monastic stupas to make them appear taller and more massive than they actually were. Buddhist monks used these manipulations to help assert authority over the Buddhist laity. Employing theories of practice, materiality, and semiotics, I argue that physical manipulations of the shape of stupas by Buddhist monks led to the progressive detachment of the primary signs of Buddhism from their original referents. Where earlier stupas were icons and indexes of the Buddha encased within indexes of his presence, later stupas were symbols of the Buddha and Buddhist theology. This change in the material practice of Buddhism reduced stupas' emotional immediacy in favor of greater intellectual detachment. In the end, this shift in the meaning ascribed to stupas created the preconditions from which the Buddhist image cult and Mahayana Buddhism emerged in the first through fifth centuries a.d. The development of Mahayana Buddhism and Buddha images signified a return to iconic worship of the Buddha.",
keywords = "Archaeology, Buddhism, Materiality, Semiotics, South Asia",
author = "Fogelin, {Lars E}",
year = "2012",
doi = "10.1353/asi.2014.0005",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "51",
pages = "278--310",
journal = "Asian Perspectives",
issn = "0066-8435",
publisher = "University of Hawaii Press",
number = "2",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - Material practice and the metamorphosis of a sign

T2 - Early Buddhist stupas and the origin of Mahayana Buddhism

AU - Fogelin, Lars E

PY - 2012

Y1 - 2012

N2 - From at least the third century b.c., Buddhist ritual focused on stupas, stylized replicas of the mounds of earth in which early Buddhists interred relics of the Buddha. Beginning in the first century b.c., Buddhist monks in western India began manipulating the physical shape of monastic stupas to make them appear taller and more massive than they actually were. Buddhist monks used these manipulations to help assert authority over the Buddhist laity. Employing theories of practice, materiality, and semiotics, I argue that physical manipulations of the shape of stupas by Buddhist monks led to the progressive detachment of the primary signs of Buddhism from their original referents. Where earlier stupas were icons and indexes of the Buddha encased within indexes of his presence, later stupas were symbols of the Buddha and Buddhist theology. This change in the material practice of Buddhism reduced stupas' emotional immediacy in favor of greater intellectual detachment. In the end, this shift in the meaning ascribed to stupas created the preconditions from which the Buddhist image cult and Mahayana Buddhism emerged in the first through fifth centuries a.d. The development of Mahayana Buddhism and Buddha images signified a return to iconic worship of the Buddha.

AB - From at least the third century b.c., Buddhist ritual focused on stupas, stylized replicas of the mounds of earth in which early Buddhists interred relics of the Buddha. Beginning in the first century b.c., Buddhist monks in western India began manipulating the physical shape of monastic stupas to make them appear taller and more massive than they actually were. Buddhist monks used these manipulations to help assert authority over the Buddhist laity. Employing theories of practice, materiality, and semiotics, I argue that physical manipulations of the shape of stupas by Buddhist monks led to the progressive detachment of the primary signs of Buddhism from their original referents. Where earlier stupas were icons and indexes of the Buddha encased within indexes of his presence, later stupas were symbols of the Buddha and Buddhist theology. This change in the material practice of Buddhism reduced stupas' emotional immediacy in favor of greater intellectual detachment. In the end, this shift in the meaning ascribed to stupas created the preconditions from which the Buddhist image cult and Mahayana Buddhism emerged in the first through fifth centuries a.d. The development of Mahayana Buddhism and Buddha images signified a return to iconic worship of the Buddha.

KW - Archaeology

KW - Buddhism

KW - Materiality

KW - Semiotics

KW - South Asia

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=84902081553&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=84902081553&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1353/asi.2014.0005

DO - 10.1353/asi.2014.0005

M3 - Article

AN - SCOPUS:84902081553

VL - 51

SP - 278

EP - 310

JO - Asian Perspectives

JF - Asian Perspectives

SN - 0066-8435

IS - 2

ER -