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Sanga In Mahayana Buddhism

Images play a major role within our society today. Social media, magazines, advertisements have become a major part of our lives. We are constantly evolving in order to keep up with the people around us; this same concept applies to religions. When people hear the word, “Buddhism,” most people think about a bald man sitting in a room meditating. However, Buddhism has changed over the years just like everything else in our daily lives. Physical representations play a key role in the Buddhist religion in various ways.

Each representation may have a different meaning to different people; however, the main purpose of physical representations or icons of Buddha will come back to one central idea. These icons provide Buddhists a physical thing to visualize and relate to. Today, physical representations of Buddha provide Buddhists a reminder of who they are and where they come from. Buddhism is not a religion of the past; it is also not only a religion that someone can find the Asian countries. This religion and icons of Buddha can be found right here in the United States.

Icons of the Buddha have an impact on more people than Buddhists alone. In the early 2000s, a man named Dan Stevenson “purchased a 2-foot-high stone Buddha and installed it on the median strip in a residential area” in Oakland (Johnson). This man was not a Buddhist, nor did he feel he belonged to any sort of religion. His goal for installing this icon of Buddha was to “bring tranquility to a neighborhood marred by crime: dumping, graffiti, drug dealing, prostitution, robberies, aggravated assault and burglaries” (Johnson). This simple icon of Buddha had an effect on this society unlike any other.

This representation truly brought the ideals of Buddhism to their community. In Bones of the Master, Georgie is affected immediately in the story as Tsung Tsai presents an icon of Buddha. Although Georgie believes that the icon made him uncomfortable, it began his journey into the wonders of Buddhism. In Oakland, the icon of the Buddha had a positive effect on the community as a whole. Crime reports demonstrate how much the crimes have gone down in the area. Buddhism is constantly evolving. The community surrounding the idea of Buddhism is constantly evolving.

Georgie evolves into a different person as he spends more time with Tsung Tsai. Everything, including the icons of this sacred religion, is evolving. However, the icons are still a reminder of the deep roots of Buddhism. Icons of Buddha are not only important in our communities, these “images of the Blessed One occupy a prominent place in Buddhist devotional ritual” (Swearer 197). These images are a representation of where Buddhism came from. They remind Buddhists of who Buddha was and what he did. In Thailand, there are ceremonies that are held prior to an image being installed.

During these ceremonies, “various ritual acts infuse into the image the wisdom and power associated with Prince Siddhartha’s victory over Mara and his attainment of enlightenment” (Swearer 197). These images bring the religion of Buddhism together as a whole. The icon of the Buddha is something any Buddhist can relate to. The image is “a material object representing the story, wisdom, and power of the person of the Buddha” (Swearer 198). It is more than an image of the stereotypical fat bald man; it is a representation of everything that Buddhism stands for. Buddha was just an ordinary man for a long time; he was a “layman” (Swearer 199).

In Tibetan Buddhism, this type of person is part of the Sanga, as are monks, nuns, laywomen, and Dharma protectors and Dakinis. In Mahayana Buddhism, this type of person is also a part of the Sanga, along with monks, nuns, and laywomen. The goal of the members of Sanga in Mahayana Buddhism is Bodhisattva. In class, we discussed that the Bodhisattva provides compassion for people residing in Samsara. In Consecrating the Buddha, Swearer explains the “Bodhisattva came to understand the nature of all compounded things which, because of ignorance continually die and are reborn” (Swearer 201).

This is the person who is now the icon of Buddha. He pertained “wisdom like the radiance of a great diamond, perceived the three characteristics of existence – impermanence, suffering, and not-self – and the nature of the cause and effect of all things” (201). These are the ideas of Dharma, the three marks of existence. In Bones of the Master, Tsung Tsai asks Georgie to translate the Diamond Sutra. He tells Georgie, Diamond can cut many, many hard material. Material cannot cut diamond. Means wisdom can cut foolish. Foolish cannot cut wisdom. I tell you clear the philosophy and nature of Diamond Sutra.

Of Buddha mind (Crane 224). Those refer to the diamond as being something hard, something that cannot be penetrated by other ideas. This idea comes from “the diamond vehicle” in the Dharma of Tibetan Buddhism. Buddha’s wisdom is something that is one of a kind, strong, and powerful, like the Diamond Sutra in Bones of the Master. At the “Famen Temple,” Tsung Tsai “prostrated himself on frozen earth, not caring if he was seeing, and chanted sutras, not caring if he was heard” (Crane 39). These sutras are a different representation of Buddhism that people can relate to.

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