Buddhist Museums and Curio Cabinets
Buddhist Museums and Curio Cabinets
Shi Fa Zhao and Ecumenism without an Agenda
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter looks at the rise of Buddhist museums in contemporary Asia. Curators at private and sometimes explicitly sectarian Buddhist museums have attempted to appeal to a wider audience and have abandoned particular sect’s rituals, liturgies, symbols, and teachings to promote a new vision of Buddhism without borders. This opening up of their collections, as well as the active acquisition of new material, demonstrates a particular type of Buddhist ecumenism – an ecumenism without an agenda. The multiple affective encounters these museums allow create ecumenical environments allow visitors to leisurely experience Buddhist distraction What follows are stories of curators, architects, and monks who favor display over dogma, curiosity over conversion, spectacle over sermon, and leisure over allegiance. Specially, Shi Fa Zhao’s Temple of the Buddha’s Tooth in Singapore, The Ryukoku University (Jodo Shinshu) Museum in Kyoto, and others are compared to Buddhist galleries at museums in Europe and North America.
IN 1894, A FREEMASON WHO WOULD LATER CREATE the first Buddhist temple museum in the United States traded a collection of engraved gems for a professorship at the University of Pennsylvania. His name was Maxwell Sommerville. This eccentric collector was a prominent member of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Philadelphia, where a portrait of him still hangs, and spent much time walking between the large lodge next to city hall on Broad Street and the new University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology on Thirty-Third Street. On the streets he was the picture of a wealthy Caucasian aristocrat, in a black topcoat and tie. Inside the museum, he often changed into an embroidered Chinese silk robe and Mandarin scholar’s hat. He was comfortable playing multiple parts in the strange play he wrote for his life.
Sommerville was born in 1829. Like Lek Wiriyaphan, he was not particularly wealthy and did not have much formal education from prestigious institutions. However, also like Lek, he was ambitious, eccentric, and he married well. He was born in what is now Clarksburg, West Virginia, to a middle-class family who moved to Philadelphia for work, and because Maxwell’s grand father had come into some money. Maxwell graduated from the public Central High School, not a prestigious Quaker private school like Penn Charter or Germantown Friends School. He never attended university, but moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to take a job as a small-town newspaper editor. He eventually moved back to Philadelphia and married Anna Julia Sherman, in 1863, after serving as a Union chaplain in the Civil War. Through that relationship he garnered a position at his new father-in-law’s print company. Eventually taking over the company, he amassed a small fortune and (p.132) tried to buy his way into the elite social society of Philadelphia. This proved more difficult than he had imagined, however, and he spent much of his time out of the country. He traveled to China, India, Japan, Siam/Thailand, the Sahara Desert, and parts of Eu rope.1 Like other wealthy Americans of the time, when he traveled, he collected many antiquities in Asia and Africa.2 He studied languages and history, although he was never formally trained in any academic discipline. He was most keen on collecting engraved gems and small Buddha images.
His gem collection came to the attention of Dr. William Pepper, the provost of the University of Pennsylvania.3 Dr. Pepper had established the university museum in 1887 and was planning a massive building project to house the university’s art and artifact collection. The museum would become one of the premier institutions in the country (and one of the main reasons I moved there from my former job in sunny Southern California back to my home state of Pennsylvania to teach and research). Dr. Pepper wanted Sommerville’s collection for the new museum, and in exchange for the collection, Sommerville got what he craved—academic recognition and social prestige.
Pepper made Sommerville the chair and only faculty member of the newly created Department of Glyptology (the science and study of engraved gems).4 As far as I know, it is the only chair and department of its kind ever to exist, and it lasted as long as Sommerville did. The effect of this was likely opposite what Sommerville had intended, as he supposedly became the punchline of many a joke.5 A document in the university archives written by former Asia collection curator Stewart Culin, who had a difficult relationship with Sommerville and was likely dismissed from his position as a result of their altercations, described “the Professor of Glyptology [Sommerville]” as pompous and overweening and also as performing séances at his home, accompanied by a mysterious Japanese body servant speaking in an unknown tongue.
Sommerville wanted to display the artifacts he had collected in a ritual setting and invite members of the local Buddhist communities (mostly ethnic Japanese residents who had moved to Philadelphia in large numbers—about two thousand people—to help build the Japanese exhibition hall and massive displays for the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park in 1876) to conduct services in the museum. The “temple,” as he called it, was a Japanese Shingon altar (butsudan) with dozens of images of buddhas and bodhisattvas from China and Japan such as Avalokiteśvara (Japanese: Kannon), Kṣitigarbha (Japanese: Jizo), and others, alongside silk banners, brass censers and lamps, Tibetan thangkas, brocade and silk scarves, ornamental and ritual items, and a sizable statue of a white elephant (that has dis appeared) from Siam/Thailand. Sommerville transformed himself into a type of Buddhist priest and walked around the temple in silk Mandarin scholar’s robes.
(p.133) According to photographs, this crowded forest of material would be much more familiar to visitors of Buddhist temples than to museum visitors. No item was labeled or well lit. Individual pieces were covered or behind others and were hard to see. A framed photograph of Sommerville himself was placed among the buddhas. photographs of the temple show items from India, China, Java, and elsewhere (these fascinating photographs are what first sparked my interest in Sommerville in 2009). Sommerville staged the photographs and
(p.134) placed himself in his formal robes hidden among the statues, ritual implements, and hangings. I often play a type of “Where’s Waldo?” game with my students when they first see the photographs, to see if they can find Sommerville, standing like a statue among his collection.
Sommerville was not focused only on making himself and his collection the object of display: he wanted to transform the raison d’être of the museum itself. He gave sermons in front of the shrine he set up in the “temple” and encouraged Buddhist visitors to chant and make offerings. His monograph on the Buddhist temple, first published in 1900,6 describes Sommerville’s ecumenical intent in detail. He writes, “The Temple you enter here is not Korean, Tibetan, Chinese, or Japanese, not of any one Oriental nation. It is a Buddhist temple, constructed here of material purchased of priests in charge of Buddhist temples in many Eastern lands. It is so installed in the Free Museum of the University of Pennsylvania that all may form an idea of such a place of worship, while through its completeness, Mongolians and Buddhists will generally recognize a shrine where they may perform their accustomed acts of devotion.”7
Sommerville was partially stymied in these escapades when he and his fellow worshippers were banned from lighting incense and candles for fear of fire. However, according to newspapers and university publications from the late nineteenth century, his “temple” received thousands of visitors.8 He notes that “of particular note are reports that Japanese visited during the Russo-Japanese war to pay homage to the Fudo image.”9 We also have hint of a negative reaction in North America regarding the theft of images intended for the temple: “It is known that Professor Sommerville’s Buddhist Temple … has been a source of annoyance and humiliation to the followers of Buddha in the United States, who consider the model in the light of a sacrilege. The Chinese Buddhists in San Francisco are numerous and devout, and no one questions that they would steal the guardians if they got an opportunity.”10
Sommerville’s temple was dismantled after he passed away in 1904, but for eight years a Buddhist place of worship existed on the campus of the oldest university in the United States—a university founded on the Benjamin Franklin ideal of a secular and rational education, free of the interference from divinity school faculty that characterized America’s oldest colleges like Harvard and Yale. There has not been a Buddhist temple or ritual center on the campus or near the university since. No museum in North America, as far as I have been able to surmise, has ever had a curator (or a professor of glyptology) attempt to establish such a functioning (albeit ecumenical, and with an eccentric West Virginian collector as its head priest) Buddhist temple in its galleries. Indeed, the separation of Buddhist artifacts and images from their ritual and liturgical context is one of the most consistent realities about the establishment of Asian wings and galleries in Western museums. Buddhist objects (p.135) in museums are meant to educate and perhaps enrapture mostly non-Buddhist viewers, not serve practicing Buddhists. Of course, images in museums can’t be touched. Sommerville wanted to erase the distinction between the museum and temple, the collector and the monk. He might have been before his time, but he wouldn’t be the last. A century later, many curators, especially Shi Fa Zhao, as we will see, are erasing this distinction again.
In this final chapter I investigate the rise of Buddhist museums in contemporary Asia. Chapters 1 and 2 looked at how local conditions and material agency affected the way architects, monks, and creative visionaries executed their ecumenical and eclectic public leisure projects. This chapter looks at private and sometimes explicitly sectarian Buddhist museums that have attempted to appeal to a wider audience and have abandoned the rituals, liturgies, symbols, and teachings of particular sects to promote a new vision of Buddhism without borders. This opening up of their collections, as well as the active acquisition of new material, demonstrates a particular type of Buddhist ecumenism—an ecumenism without an agenda. What follows are stories of curators, architects, and monks who favor display over dogma, curiosity over conversion, spectacle over sermon, and leisure over allegiance. They show that one can build a Buddhist museum that is not necessarily a religious museum.
The “Other” Temple of the Tooth Relic
“You scholars might like things old and dusty, but we want our museum to be clean and open for inspiration and education, not just history and scholarly things,” Ee Tiang Hwee said as he laughed and apologized for the third time about the mixture of “museum-quality” statues, photographs on poster board, and newly forged “low-quality” statues in the Buddhist Culture Museum. Like Lek Wiriyaphan, Ee Tiang Hwee, the executive director of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Singapore, saw the function of Buddhist art not as a record of the past, valued for the rarity of its material, its age, style, or provenance, but in its value to tell a story, to educate, and to inspire visitors. Unlike Lek, Ee Tiang Hwee did not resent the importance scholars placed on historical authenticity and artistic skill. Indeed, he and the director of the museum (housed within the temple), Goh Aik Sai, who completed his degree in European Renaissance Art in Eng land, both requested my help in identifying museum-quality pieces, which they regularly bid for at Christie’s Auction House in New York.11 Goh Aik Sai often bids on individual reliefs and statues (often Gandharan) costing as much as 80,000 USD.
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple was founded by the monk Venerable Shi Fa Zhao in 2007. It is not to be confused with the famous sixteenth-century Temple of the Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa) in Kandy (Sri Lanka), which is one of the most ritually and historically important monasteries in (p.136) Asia. However, by giving his temple this name, Shi Fa Zhao is clearly trying to share in the prestige of his temple’s Sri Lankan namesake. Previously, from 1989 to 2007, Shi Fa Zhao had been the abbot of the much smaller Golden Pagoda Buddhist Temple in Singapore. Like Sommerville, he is a bit of an eccentric. His temple was a strange temple for Singapore because instead of having a Thai, Chinese, Malaysian, Tamil, Japanese, Sri Lankan, Burmese, or other easily identifiable national and ethnic origin, it had art and texts from many different Buddhist and linguistic traditions. Singapore’s government heads, over the past sixty years, have promoted a system of quotas, multi-language signs and schools, and tourist zones and ethnic neighborhoods that promote Singapore’s diversity (at least to tourists and foreign investors) and highlight how the country’s ethnic and religious groups live parallel and peaceful lives. In the same way, Shi Fa Zhao has promoted bringing together the ethnic divisions of Buddhism. While most of the visitors at his temple were Chinese speakers, and aesthetically the temple was Chinese, Shi Fa Zhao wanted to create an ecumenical space, and he started with diverse pieces of art. The Temple grew in popularity thanks in part to Shi Fa Zhao’s advertising, his trips abroad (especially to India, Burma, and Sri Lanka), and his aggressive efforts to work with the Singapore Tourism Board.12
Shi Fa Zhao had identified a rare free lot on the edge of Chinatown on Sago Lane. Sago was famous as the “street of the dead” or “street of ghosts” because of the large number of end-of-life hospices for poor, mostly Chinese, immigrants on the street, which had operated between 1880 and the 1970s. There was a small temple in this location called Toh Peh Kong, but most of the houses on the edge of the street and the shops selling funerary items had closed by 1997. Shi Fa Zhao’s original design for the temple was a modern high rise, with floors serving several functions. However, the tourism board wanted a “traditional” Chinese-looking temple instead, to attract tourists and blend in with the architecture of Chinatown. They also wanted an open-air stage for Chinese theatre and other events. Shi Fa Zhao agreed, and by 1998 had drawn up a design for what was called the Gajah Ratna Buddhist Temple that would attract tourists but also serve temple needs.
The fortunate meeting of both free space and government support was further supported by a gift Shi Fa Zhao received—a tooth, supposedly of the historical Buddha from Mrauk-U in the Arakan region of Burma/Myanmar.13 The story in several of the temple’s publications and on their website was kindly related to me by Ee Tiang Hwee in our long interview in July 2012.14 At the Bandula monastery in Mrauk-U, a Burmese monastery of the Pali Buddhist tradition, was a tooth relic of the Buddha along with some very rare buddha images and relics of local monks from Arakanese history. Shi Fa Zhao was shocked to see how little security and safety was employed in protecting (p.137) these images and the relic. Although there is very little archaeological or historical evidence for this claim, the relic was supposedly given to King Min Yaza by a delegation of monks from Sri Lanka in 1513 CE. A stupa to house the relic was constructed under the orders of Prince Min Bar Gyi in 1531. The relic was moved a few times over the centuries, but after the fall of the Arakanese dynasty in 1748, the relic was lost. It was supposedly found by an Indian Muslim who was looting old stupas, and when he was caught, his wife threw the relic and some jewels out of their window. The bag was found in a pineapple tree. The relic was sent to Phayabaw monastery, was lost again, and then eventually turned up and was given to U Pandissa of Bandula monastery in 1900 and passed down to Venerable Sakapala, the abbot, in 1988. Shi Fa Zhao was impressed with Sakapala’s outreach efforts among the poor in the region and his attempts to build a proper museum at Bandula. He donated 10,000 Singapore dollars (SGD) to the monastery and subsequently invited Sakapala to visit Singapore and bring the Buddha’s tooth on a tour there. He gave him an additional 80,000 SGD. Sakapala passed away in 2002. The elaborate description of Sakapala’s funeral in the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple’s publications adds weight to the importance of Sakapala’s fame and therefore adds authenticity to the story of the relic.15 Shi Fa Zhao claims that Sakapala agreed to give the relic to Singapore on August 4, 2002, before he passed, on the condition that Shi Fa Zhao build a museum to house it (something that Sakapala had been struggling to do for years in Mrauk-U). To make himself worthy of possessing the relic, Shi Fa Zhao took on a one-year silent retreat to mentally prepare himself, a tradition that some members of the temple undertake to this day. Shi Fa Zhao knew that his old small Golden Pagoda Temple would be inadequate to hold the relic and therefore worked hard with the Singapore Tourism Board to get construction started on the new temple, which he renamed the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.
The temple broke ground on March 13, 2005, and was completed in 2007; it was officially called the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum or Xīnjiāpō fóyá sì lónghuá yuàn (Singapore Buddha Tooth Temple Longhua [Dragon Floriate] Court) in Chinese.16 Dignitaries from the various Buddhist lineages of China, Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, and Bhutan, as well as heads of state and foreign ministers have been invited to the temple. photographs of all these important delegations are displayed on a continuous loop on two large flat-screen television monitors at the entrance to the temple. Gifts from visiting nuns, monks, corporate heads, famous musicians, and the like are prominently displayed in glass cases in the temple. The ceremony to complete the exterior of the temple on June 5, 2006, was attended by the tourism board’s director, Lim Neo Chian. The president of Singapore, S. R. Nathan, helped with the ribbon-cutting on Vesak Day (the (p.138)
largest annual Buddhist holiday in many Pali Buddhist countries, like Laos and Burma, which has also grown in popularity in other Buddhist places recently) on May 30, 2007.17
The temple and museum were designed by Shi Fa Zhao, in consultation with designers from the Satō Kōgyō architectural firm of Japan and other firms. photographs of Shi Fa Zhao wearing a hard hat, surrounded by piles of dirt and construction equipment, and looking intently at blueprints for the temple are on display at the temple and in publications. Like Lek, Shi Fa Zhao wanted to be involved at every stage of design and construction for this project even though, unlike Tange, he had no formal training in architecture. The temple and museum are impressive.
Ee Tiang Hwee repeated to me several times that the site is meant to bring together many different Buddhist traditions, but the overall style of the temple, because of the request of the tourism board, is Chinese. However, it is not architecture from the Hakka-, Hokkien-, Hainanese-, or Teo Chiuspeaking regions of the southern Chinese littoral (primarily Fujian and Guangdong Provinces), even though most of the ethnic Chinese in Singapore are from this region and Sago Street was dominated (and still is) by Cantonese (Yuè/Guangzhou-dialect) speakers.18 The architecture is inspired by Japanese interpretations of Northern Chinese Tang dynasty architecture. This was emphasized to me by Ee Tiang Hwee because there is very little actual Tang dynasty monastic architecture preserved well in China proper, and (p.139)
Japan’s great temples in Nara, especially the Todaiji, preserve this style well. Moreover, the Tang dynasty was the greatest period of Buddhist cultural and intellectual flourishing, according to Shi Fa Zhao. He wants to bring back the glories of the Tang dynasty in Singapore.
One of Shi Fa Zhao’s goals with the Tang design is to clear up misconceptions that Singaporeans have about Buddhism. He believes that after the Tang dynasty, Daoism and Buddhism were mixed, and “true” Buddhism existed only during the Tang.19 Shi Fa Zhao made trips to China and Japan to see architectural examples and has an entire library of architectural books at the temple. The lacquer, lamps, columns, roof beams, and other major architectural elements are all Tang era from Japanese exemplars in Nara and Kyoto.20 Artists were invited from Japan and China to help with the window frames and roof design. Ee Tiang Hwee joked that Shi Fa Zhao’s temple was a museum of Tang design for the rest of the world to see in Singapore. The only non-Tang elements on the exterior of the temple are four small Naga trees donated by the Sri Lankan government. Two are thriving and two seem to be dying. They are Naga trees, not the more traditional Bodhi trees, because Maitreya, the temple’s primary sacred patron figure, is associated with Naga trees. I examined some of the books in his private collection on my last visit (most in Japanese and Chinese language) and was amazed at the number of notes Shi Fa Zhao had made in these volumes. He took this design extremely seriously.
As for the cost, Ee Tiang Hwee was not shy about this issue at all. Prices for ceremony fees, gifts, buddha images, and the like are prominently (p.140) displayed throughout the temple and on the temple website. Donations and purchases can be made online. The temple cost seventy-six million SGD to build (sixty-one million USD) initially, and staff costs and utilities are high. Through donations, service fees, and sales, the temple makes a surplus of about 20 percent per month and uses that money to open up eight foreign charity and ritual centers, mostly in Burma, and ten centers in Thailand, including an entire school in Chiang Rai (Northern Thailand). The surplus also helps fund the “world metta society” with centers in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Burma (especially the Arakan region). The temple also uses this surplus to bid on Buddhist art for the museum and hire artisans to come to the temple. Free films and vegetarian food are offered in the basement of the temple. The place is extremely open and friendly, and the executive staff answered every question I had without suspicion or skepticism.
The temple’s interior art and ritual areas are not so homogeneous in their aesthetic as the Japanese-inspired Tang Chinese exterior. Indeed, they reflect Shi Fa Zhao’s attempt to create an ecumenical Buddhist center. The first floor is primarily for ritual and large meetings. Every day, chanting sessions are led by one monk with four assistant monks. On my numerous visits there (nine times between 2007 and 2015), the size and makeup of the audience was very similar: about forty-five people, mostly middle-aged to elderly ethnic Chinese laywomen and one or two older laymen, sit and chant while listening to the lead monk and reading along in their liturgical books. The chanting and the books are in Mandarin Chinese, and usually the chanting is very fast without cadence, musical accompaniment, or changes in rhythm or pace. During one visit, I witnessed the chanting of the Chinese-language edition of the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra (Chinese: Nièpán Jīng). The temple’s edition has six hundred chapters, and six chapters are chanted per day for one hundred days of the rains retreat (usually late June to October every year). The temple has a special room where the six hundred chapters are held. These texts were handwritten by a team of monks in China, specially commissioned by Shi Fa Zhao. Most of the lay chanters cannot understand the meaning of the sutra, because it is in classical Chinese and orally/aurally it is chanted too quickly to understand. The texts given to the audience have phonetic aids (Pinyin Romanization) to help them sound out the words. Besides this ritual chanting every morning and the occasional evening chanting, other ritual activities on this floor include offering gifts (usually incense, flowers, packaged food, and cash) to the main images and the images in the antechamber behind the main images. A very large donation bowl in the Thai style in front of the room measures six feet across.
The main image is the future Buddha Maitreya. Shi Fa Zhao did not want the main image to be the Song dynasty style “fat” Maitreya, but the Tang style. The main inspiration, according to Ee Tiang Hwee, is an image of Maitreya found at two temples on Mount Wutai (Foguang Si and Nanchan Si). (p.141) An artist from Japan carved the large image out of a single piece of wood, and he also created new images for the museum on the third floor. The silk and gold thread embroidered wall hanging behind the main image was also made in Japan and features a dragon. Goh Ee Choo, a local artist, helped paint and design many of the large images based on Tang design. Surrounding the walls of the main chanting room are several hundred buddha images in Tibetan style gau or niches, which could be donated to the temple for a cost of 5,000 SGD each. There are also some larger Buddha images that cost 100,000 SGD each. The entire balcony of the main hall is covered by relief carvings of dragons based on a design from Xian (Northern China). The antechamber contains a dozen images of different bodhisattvas and buddhas including Mañjuśri, Samantabhadra, Vairocana, and Acala. Each represents a different year of the Tang zodiac, and instructions are included about how to offer gifts based on the year of your birth to each image. They all surround a large image of Avalokiteśvara (Kuan Yin) carved from a large tree from Taiwan. Behind the image is the full text of the Heart Sutra in Chinese (Sanskrit: Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya Sūtra; Chinese: Bōrěbōluómìduō Xīnjīng). The work was done by a Chinese artist named Zhang Jian (from the Shanghai You Shan Guan Decorative Design Company), who trained in Japan for eighteen years. At the rear entrance to the main floor, next to the outside stage, sits a large statue of the dragon, Kulilah, and the protector god Dzambala, based off a Nepali design. The dragon was originally black, but Shi Fa Zhao had it painted many colors because he wants his temple and museum to be an open and bright place, not a mysterious smoke-filled hall. He does not want it to be intimidating to foreigners. Both of these images are associated with Tantric Buddhism.
The mezzanine level, which is largely a wide balcony overlooking the main chanting hall, can be reached by elevators or stairs. Like the upper floors, it is much quieter. The few visitors here find a small shrine to Avalokiteśvara and a rather large Eminent Saṅgha Museum, a series of display cases that feature the most prominent monks (as well as two nuns) in Singapore’s history. Initially the designers wanted this to be a wax museum for the famous nuns and monks, but the cost was too high.21 Figures here include Venerable Guang Qia (1900–1994) from Fujian (China), who moved to Singapore in 1937; Venerable Song Nian (1911–1997) from Jiangsu (China), who moved to Singapore and became the abbot of Phou Tai Kok Monastery in 1964; Venerable Tan Chan (1919–2006) from Fuzhou (China), who became the abbot of Shuang Xin Monastery in Singapore in 1975; as well as eminent nuns like Venerable Fa Kun (1927–2002), who came to Singapore in 1936 and over time did considerable social service work; and Venerable Jing Run (1908–2006) from Guangzhou, who moved to Singapore in 1924. Other monks either taught or inspired Shi Fa Zhao, like Venerable Zhen Dun of Taiwan, who headed the Fo Guang Center in Bangkok; Venerable You Tan (1908–1993) from Anhui; and Venerable Galboda Gnanissara from Sri Lanka. Shi Fa Zhao is given prominent (p.142) position in the center of the exhibition, surrounded by photographs of him meeting the King of Thailand and political and religious leaders in East, South, and Southeast Asia.
Behind this museum is a small but surprisingly busy room, one of the two places (the other being the relic chamber) that restricts photography: the funerary hall named after the Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha, for people to offer gifts to their ancestors. The main image, however, is of the Japanese Bodhisattva Jizo (Sanskrit: Kṣitigarbha). Ee Tiang Hwee was unsure why this Japanese style image was chosen over a Chinese one. This hall was generally not advertised to foreigners, only family members of the deceased.
Until 2015, the second floor contained the Aranya Gallery, along with a tea room, library, and gift store selling amulets, clothes (including monastic robes), candles, paintings, small statues, ritual tools, tourist items, and books (primarily in English with some Chinese) on Buddhist art, ethics, and history from mostly academic presses. The tea room received few visitors, however, so it closed in 2009 and has since gone through a series of renovations. When I visited, in November 2013 and March 2015, another series of renovations has been completed. A new meditation and meeting space, some books, large tangkhas, and a new altar had been finished, which replaced the old bookstore, which is now temporarily housed on the first floor. Behind this new reflective space is a small exhibition hall named after Mañjuśri, which holds temporary shows of certain types of Buddhist art. The six hundred handwritten chapters of the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra are also held here.
The fourth floor contains the tooth relic. Another small relic hall behind the museum on the third floor contains relics supposedly of the Buddha’s heart, brain, liver, nose, among other relics of prominent monks. These were given as gifts from visiting Burmese monks in gratitude for the several Buddhist educational and outreach centers donated by Shi Fa Zhao to Burma (mostly Arakan region). The tooth relic has its own separate floor. The room is divided into two sections: the carpeted meditation and relic viewing space. This part of the room is also the only part of the temple in which visitors have to take their shoes off. The second half of the room is off-limits to all visitors. The floor of this secure space is made of solid gold and was made through visitors donating their old gold jewelry to be melted down by the temple.22 The gold sheets on the floor are held between two sheets of thin crystal. Placed on this floor is the shrine holding the relic stupa. The entire space holding the stupa and relic cannot be stepped on and is shielded from visitors with bulletproof glass. The relic itself is inside a six- to seven-foot-tall stupa made entirely of gold and designed by a Thai artist from Chiang Mai named Amnuai Kantian (director of the Art and Culture Promotion Center at Chiang Mai University). The artist based his design on a combination of two stupas, one on a piece in the Calcutta (Kolkata) Museum in India and the other from the national (p.143) museum in New Delhi. On it are carvings of the eight major episodes from the life of the Buddha (birth, awakening, death, and the like).
The roof of the temple supports a beautiful and lush outside garden and is a rare quiet outdoor place in one of the busiest parts of Singapore. In the center of the garden is a large bronze Tibetan prayer wheel, about fifteen feet tall and eight feet in circumference, covered in the Tibetan script of the Mahāvairocana Sūtra. Surrounding the rotating prayer wheel are small shrines to the five “wisdom” or dhyani buddhas popular in Tibetan and Chinese tantric schools: Akṣobhya, Ratnasambhava (Ratnaketu), Amitābha, Amoghasiddhi, and Vairocana.
The third floor in the museum is called the Buddhist Culture Museum or the Nagapuspa (Sanskrit: nāgapuṣpa; English: flowers of the Naga tree or Mesua roxburghi) Buddhist Culture Museum. Like the old Aranya (Sanskrit: araṇya/forest) Gallery and store on the second floor, this room also uses a Sanskrit title.23 As in most places in Singapore, the English name of the temple is the most prominent and used on all of their publications and signs. The Chinese name is not as prominent. It is rare to have Sanskrit names for rooms or shrines in Singapore, and this is a conscious choice by Shi Fa Zhao to promote the ecumenicalism of the museum. The museum is only one large room, but it is impressive considering it has been open only eight years. It is set up historically, moving from early Buddhism to modern Buddhism, but essentially having very few pieces or documentation after the Tang period. The structure of the museum is divided into three areas, described as teaching the path toward enlightenment, the story of the future Buddha Maitreya, and the story of Avalokiteśvara. As noted above, it is a mixture of new pieces representing older styles, photographs, poster boards, and rare older pieces bought at auction. It is professionally designed and well laid out, and the signage and displays are easy to follow.
The museum has very little in the way of intimidating security measures. Indeed, as Ee Tiang Hwee emphasized, it is designed to be educational and open. He stated that there are no “closed image shrine boxes” that hide the images of the buddhas and bodhisattvas like “you see in Japan.” “We want our art to be seen, not hidden and preserved.” The sign at the entrance to the museum states in English “Greetings and Welcome to the Buddhist Culture Museum. Get touched by the Buddha’s stories, be enlightened by His Dharma. This is our mission to you.” They want to “tell the story behind the artifacts” in the museum in order for the visitor to get a “deeper understanding of Buddhism.” They use the rhetorical style of quoting loosely from Buddhist canonical texts (although the sources are not given) to have the Buddha “personally narrate” his story. The first person is used on the signs, as if the Buddha was directly speaking to the visitor. The sign also says, “Most artifacts in our museum are acquired using public donations and are opened for public (p.144) adoption. It reflects the spirit of dana, or making offerings—the act of giving, the most fundamental form of teaching and cultivation that Buddhism emphasizes incessantly. … The purpose of setting up this Museum fund is to preserve Buddhist art, promoting Buddhist culture, and inviting people from all walks of life, from around the world, regardless of race or religion, to have a deeper understanding.” Most pieces are Thai, Burmese, or Chinese, as well as some Gandharan, Japanese, Tibetan, Korean, Sri Lankan, Indian, Cambodian, and Lao pieces.
The first section of the museum clearly shows that Shi Fa Zhao promotes ecumenicalism, with a Gandharan statue of the Buddha, Burmese oil lamps, a poster board with a large photograph of buddha images from Laos, a Shan Buddha image, a large carved “footprint” of the Buddha from Thailand, and a photograph of the Shwedagon temple in Yangon, Burma. Each of the first niches and signs goes through the life of the historical Buddha, but the images and photographs are eclectic, taken from different locations, time periods, and styles. For example, in an early section on the Buddha’s asceticism and preaching is a Gandharan image, donated by a high court judge in Singapore, which was hand-painted by the judge’s wife because she thought the gray color of the stone was boring. As the museum display goes on, though, this ecumenicalism declines, and the Tang period is again emphasized. Goh Aik Sai explained that this is because most pieces have been donated by Singaporeans, resulting in an usually large number of later pieces from China or Singaporean replicas of Chinese images. However, the emphasis placed on Chinese notions of Maitreya and Tang- and pre-Tang-style Avalokiteśvara images and teachings would of course demand a concomitant use of Chinese art. Although the ecumenicalism of the temple and museum are emphasized, the background of the Chinese staff, and Shi Fa Zhao’s own training, naturally lend itself to a nearly unavoidable, although subtle, promotion of Chinese Buddhism.
Chinese Buddhism is not one thing, though. Therefore, I asked Ee Tiang Hwee about Shi Fa Zhao’s own training and lineage. This was the first question he could not answer—not because he was hiding anything, he just did not know. Ee Tiang Hwee did not know the school, sect, or lineage of his own teacher or his own temple either. I was shocked. He was embarrassed a little too, and immediately picked up his cell phone to call Shi Fa Zhao. They spoke in Chinese (which I cannot understand) and laughed, and then he hung up and said “Good question; the venerable stated that his teachers were Tiantai and Linji, one from China and one from Singapore.”24 I found this surprising, because even though the Tiantai reached its apex in China during the Tang period, Shi Fa Zhao certainly does not promote the Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapuṇḍarīka Sūtra) at the temple. The Linji also flourished during the (late) Tang period and is one of the five schools of Chan Buddhism (Japanese: Zen). It is known as a small but particularly strict form of Chan that (p.145) grew in Japan under the Rinzai and Obaku schools of Zen, but remained relatively small in China. However, little at the temple would suggest Shi Fa Zhao’s Linji Chan training. His promotion of Maitreya and Avalokiteśvara, as well as his focus on the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra and the Mahāvairocana Sūtra, are not intellectually firmly connected with Tiantai or Linji, and the focus on ecumenicalism, year-long silent retreats, relic collecting, Kṣitigarbha, and the Tang zodiac are not connected to these Chinese schools particularly, or to any one Chinese teaching lineage.
Shi Fa Zhao’s own thoughts on Buddhist teachings (a collection of ten articles originally appearing as a series in the Nagapuspa museum’s bimonthly magazine, Dharma Rain) in his book (in Chinese and English), The Pursuit of True Happiness and Other Life Observations, do not reveal his allegiance to a particular known school of thought but are, in a sense, like Singapore itself, made up of a wide variety of influences—forward thinking, eclectic, consensus-building, but with a certain emphasis on Chinese aesthetics. The only connection to Chan is found in two sentences mentioning the well-known Buddhist text called the Shurangama Sutra (Sanskrit: Śūraṅgama Sūtra; Chinese: Léngyán jīng); however, he does not refer to any specific teaching in this text.
In his book, Shi Fa Zhao is rarely specific. He commends Buddhist art, but decries materialism. He encourages respect for tradition and parents by promoting accumulating “merit” by “making icons, contributing to monastery construction, and so on,” but emphasizes the need to build your own character.25 As he states, “Present blessings accumulated by our forefathers are to be cherished, but we must now cultivate future blessings.”26 He relates several Buddhist stories from the life of the Buddha and eminent monks, but he does not cite sources or directly connect these stories to any particular school of thought. He mentions Master Xuanzang once, in regard to his travel to India to collect texts and promote the need for “action” and effort in religion. He also mentions the Chinese master Fan Zhongyan and the calligrapher Wang Xizhi briefly, to promote honesty, and the Tea Master Lu Yu, to promote “frugality.”27 He just uses the phrase “according to the Dharma” as his authority. He mentions Confucius once in connection to the discouragement of “superstition” and the promotion of moral discipline. He mentions the word “Chan” once, but uses it to mean “meditation.” To describe what “wisdom” is, he quotes Heraclitus instead of any Buddhist master. photographs in the text are taken from the temple, but also from monks and temples in Burma, Tibet, and Thailand, children in China, and nature scenes from the desert, snow-covered lakes, the New Eng land seashore, and forests.
Shi Fa Zhao quotes (loosely and without citation) only a few texts, with no obvious connection to each other: the Maṅgala Sutta (a Pali text particularly popular in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka), the Dhammapada, the “Garland Sutra” (I assume he means the Mahāvaipulya Buddhāvataṃsaka (p.146) Sūtra/Huáyán Jīng), the “Shurangama Sutra,” and Tim Sanders’s book, The Likeability Factor, which, as Shi Fa Zhao states, “explores the positive effects of an attractive personality on one’s life and career.”28 He also quotes a New York City restaurant owner and an unnamed Yale psychologist quoted in the Harvard Business Review (no specific citation provided). He promotes happiness, knowledge of the impermanence of all things, nonattachment, and gratitude in many articles. His is a delightful, accessible, and conversational type of writing suited to sermons for a general audience. It reflects a type of worldly wisdom peppered with pithy maxims from many traditions and time periods and perfectly reflects the intentions of the temple and museum. Shi Fa Zhao does not particularly promote his own background or temple. He makes nearly no mention of the temple and offers no teaching about the tooth relic. He provides the reader no autobiographical clues and does not use the first person. His writing is not intended for scholars or even serious Buddhist practitioners.
Other temple publications do focus solely on the temple, like the two-volume Perspective: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum through the Eyes of the People (Shi Fa Zao, published by the temple in 2008). These two volumes describe sections of the temple and museum as well as contain photographs of the activities there. Many of the photographs come from a competition that Shi Fa Zhao sponsored (along with the Singapore Tourism Board and the Photographic Society of Singapore) for what he called the Temple of the Heart Nagapuspa Photography Competition.
The first competition received forty-three hundred entries. Shi Fa Zhao stated in the introduction to another one of his books—Perspective—that “the teachings of the Buddha manifest in multiple forms, and whether as artefacts, architecture, paintings, the arts, multimedia or any other medium, they serve the purpose of providing enlightenment and cultivating wisdom. Modern Technology has actively influenced the spread of Buddhism in the world. Photography as a medium of expression can also become a channel for promoting the Buddhist faith.”29 In another of his books, From Dawn to Dusk: The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, he describes each room and floor of the temple, as well as the history of its construction and the origins of the art and architecture. Neither volume, though, promotes Shi Fa Zhao’s own teaching, his biography, or a particular school of Buddhism. From Dawn to Dusk remarks only that Shi Fa Zhao was the mind behind the architectural design of the building, the design of the Nepalese-inspired gau image shrines in the main hall, and the vegetarian menu in the restaurant.30
The main floor is clearly the busiest of the entire temple, and my observation was confirmed by Ee Tiang Hwee. He noted that people come to the temple for different reasons, but most local and regular visitors came for the ritual chanting and to offer gifts to their zodiac buddha or bodhisattva or to the main image. Many also bought small amulets associated with the zodiac. Shi Fa Zhao wanted the temple to be more of an inspirational cultural center (p.147) and Buddhist museum focused on the tooth relic, but it had become in many ways a traditional Chinese ritual center since it opened in 2007. Intellectually, though, Shi Fa Zhao was focused on the work of the upper floors. So far, his “temple” has become both a traditional local Chinese ritual space and an ecumenical pan-Buddhist leisure, artistic, and cultural center. This dual role is one of the reasons it has grown so successful, and so quickly.
Shi Fa Zhao has been able to develop a combination of spectacle, leisure, ecumenicalism, and ritual services that attracts local (and repeat) visitors, as well as foreign tourists and pilgrims visiting Singapore perhaps only one or two times in their lives. The lack of focus on any one school of Buddhism, the promotion of one particular style of art (at least on the interior of the temple), the relatively ecumenical and eclectic museum, and the lack of focus on the particular biography and specific teachings of the abbot, combined with the internationally trained staff, all contribute to the temple’s mission to be open and welcoming to foreigners. However, the exterior Tang style, the chanting of texts in Chinese, the ancestor hall, and the promotion of both Avalokiteśvara and Maitreya are familiar to most local and translocal ethnic Chinese visitors, even the southern Chinese population of Singapore.31 This combination of ritual and spectacle keeps the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple busy despite the fact that it has no school to train new monks or nuns, no ordinations at the temple, and no large group of monastic actually residing at the temple. Nor does it offer day care, school, or summer camp for children, which are common functions at many modern Buddhist temples throughout Asia. However, it is a place that both tourists and locals can bring their children for a few hours of distraction and perhaps some casual Buddhist education without entrance fees, membership requirements, or religious coercion. If the parents do have money to spend, the gift store has many items for children, including clothes, books, toys, and jewelry. Furthermore, the web designer has been developing an animated Jātaka (stories about the previous lives of the Buddha) series for children, as well as other online Buddhist ethics programs for children, including games. Ee Tiang Hwee emphasized that these games need to be colorful but simple for children, because “Angry Birds [the online game] is popular, but it is simple, we want to do something like a Buddhist Angry Birds.” He believes that the temple and museum need to stay relevant to new generations and that such developments are a great way to make children and young adults see Buddhism as fun. Similar techniques are found in North American evangelical mega-churches like Harvest Christian Fellowship and Vineyard which have a large web presence, games and videos for children, and the like.32 The aim of the temple and museum is to generally make people aware of Buddhism, but without systematic training. The temple and museum focus on art display and sound projection instead of didactic instruction and problem-solving (ordination, ritual protection, direct prognostication, meditation, and counseling).
Shi Fa Zhao, assisted by Ee Tiang Hwee, Goh Aik Sai, and a large staff have done considerable work building the museum, tea shop, and roof garden in a very short time, and I have no doubt that the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple will grow significantly in the near future. Shi Fa Zhao’s vision for the temple differs from that of most other new Buddhist museums in Asia, as it attempts to be comprehensive (at least until the Tang dynasty) and chronologically linear. Most other collections of Buddhist art in Asia are part of more general museums of either history or fine arts, without a focus on Buddhism as a religion. Such examples include the Asia Civilizations Museum in Singapore, the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Thailand, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the National Museum of India in New Delhi, and dozens of other smaller museums. These museums all have either dedicated galleries of Buddhist art or frequent special exhibitions of Buddhist art, as do the larger examples of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Guimet Museum in Paris, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the Art Institute in Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Cleveland Art Museum, the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sacker Galleries of the Smithsonian, Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale in Rome (Tucci Museum), the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, the Pacific Asia Museum and Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, the Seattle Museum of Art, the Rubin Museum in New York, and the British Museum.33 Usually, however, these galleries are called “Asian,” and not specifically Buddhist, unless there is a special exhibition. No rituals are performed, no candles or incense are burning, nuns and monks are not in residence, no sermons or guided meditations are presented, and no offerings made. For example, I gave a talk and wrote a chapter on Buddhist amulets for the exhibition book for a special exhibition on Thai Art for the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore in February 2013. Most of the art in the exhibition was Buddhist ritual and monastic art. The exhibition before that one had been on Islamic art in Indonesia and Malaysia. One large gallery in the museum was transformed into a display of Thai, mostly Buddhist, art. Shi Fa Zhao’s Nagapuspa Buddhist Culture Museum finds itself somewhere between Sommerville’s experiment in bringing Buddhist ritual, liturgy, and art together in a museum and the Asian Civilizations Museum, Guimet Museum, and others’ attempts to remove Buddhist religious activity from the museum floor.
Shi Fa Zhao is not alone in modern Asia. Many attempts have been made to place museums within Buddhist monasteries. Thailand has dozens of small monastery museums. You do not need to be rich in Thailand to start your own museum; personal religious repertoires are often expressed through small monastery and house museums. Louis Gabaude and Paritta Chalermpow (p.149) Koanantakool have recently written on Thai monastery museums, and Gabaude notes that Thai monasteries have often had small rooms that display gifts that the monastery has received as well as “local crafts, or local archaeological finds, curiosa collected by the abbot, or collections of Buddha images or amulets.”34 Added to these museums are some new museums dedicated to certain famous monks like Than Achan Fan Acaro or Achan Man Phurithatto. My own monastery in Ubon Ratchathani Province in Thailand had a small museum for Luang Phu Sao Kanthasilo, the former abbot, and famed teacher of Achan Man. Paritta shows that these museums also do not contain solely Buddhist objects. They promote local handicrafts such as fisher’s bamboo cages, wooden bowls, and silk skirts, which are not for sale but give villagers a place to protect and be proud of their family’s heritage. Paritta notes that this “tangible heritage” is extremely important in these rural monasteries, which promote local cultural items without reference to national ideals.35 However, just as these museums are not strategic tools of the powerful, I would also caution against seeing them as solely tactics of the rural poor to usurp power and prestige. These monastery museums are often store houses of items that are seen as historically or ritually valuable but that are not being used in daily religious or pedagogical activities. They are often locked, dusty, and unorganized. For example, the museum at Wat Lai Hin in rural Lampang Province, when I visited in 2001, had not been opened for some time and, according to the abbot, remains locked for long periods of time. The museum at Wat Indrawihan dedicated to Somdet To is opened only once a year for ten days and even then is not a popular place in the monastery to go even during the festival. The library and museum at the Samnak Santisuk, the oldest nunnery in Thailand, is not open to the public and is rarely even visited by the nuns in residence there.
Modern Thailand is a land of museums: museums of Medical Oddities (Sirirat Hospital in Thonburi), Prisons (Mahachai Street in Bangkok), History of Asylums and Mental Health Museum in Thonburi), the House Museums in Nan, Pichit, Trang, and other provinces, and many others. Anake Nawigamune has studied a variety of house museums throughout Thailand, especially in his home province of Songkhla in the deep south.36 These include a museum dedicated to cameras and a museum dedicated to clocks. I mention these various small “secular” museums because they are similar to monastery museums in their size and extremely local patronage. Their opening hours are limited, they have few trained staff, and they are designed for the purpose of simple display rather than providing detailed information, a coherent theme, or raison d’être. Often they are the personal creation of local historians and eccentric collectors.37 Sometimes they are assembled for particular occasions, like a visit from a royal family member or for an anniversary of the founding of an organization. A good example is the personal museum (p.150) of the monk Phra Athikansian Thitayano of Wat Ko in Phetchaburi, which displays various items, from Chinese lacquer to old currency from various countries to elephant tusks, to palm-leaf (mostly medical) manuscripts.
Outside Thailand, many other examples of Buddhist museums are open to the public and run largely by the laity. These museums find themselves in the interstitial space between the eclectic personal collections of monks and the desacralized, deritualized, and obsessively organized and secure spaces of national and regional museums.
One of the earlier examples of a Buddhist museum is the Ōkura Shukokan, established by Kihachiro Ōkura as Japan’s first private museum in 1917. The museum was nearly completely destroyed by the Kanto Earthquake of 1923, but rebuilt by the famous Japanese architect of religious structure, Chūta Itō.38 Ōkura was a shameless self-promoter and entrepreneur who established one of Japan’s finest prewar hotels across the parking lot from the museum. He was also a nationalist and nativist who wanted to preserve traditional Japanese culture, but did not support Shinto over Buddhism as the true religion of Japan like many of his contemporary wealthy politicians and businesspeople. Today a colossal statue of Ōkura himself, sitting in traditional robes, stands to the right of the main entrance to the museum. It is taller than the statues of Jizō and buddha next to it. The museum resembles a Buddhist temple preaching hall, and the bulk of the collection is focused on buddha images, scrolls, and ritual items. Many of the more than two thousand pieces in the collection are considered national treasures or important cultural pieces. Rotating special exhibitions feature new Buddhist art; for example, an exhibition of Buddhist-themed quilts made by Hattori Sanae was showing on my last visit there.39
A larger collection of rare Buddhist images and ritual objects is found in the now closed Nei Xue Tang museum in Singapore, the first museum in Singapore to be classified by the government under the Special House Museum program. The museum closed because it lacked funding to install proper climate conditioning machines and pay for the security measures needed to open the collection on a regular basis to the public. The objects (over forty thousand pieces) were collected by Woon Wee Teng. He and his assistant, Bella Wu Bi, were extremely gracious to give me a private tour of the museum, which closed in 2009. Woon Wee Teng also has been very forthcoming and kind in interviews and on advice on the study of Thai art in person or over e-mail since that time. He was born in 1957 to a family famous for running the oldest coffee shop in Singapore—Killiney Kopitiam—specializing in kaya (a type of delicious coconut and egg jam). At nineteen, Woon Wee Teng enlisted in the Singapore Army, and thereafter he went to Northumbria University to read law. He became a barrister in London in 1983, was later called to the Singapore and Australian bar, and ended up practicing law in Singapore in construction, (p.151) commercial, and banking law. He is married to Christine Storey, and they have two sons, Jeremy and Jonathan. At age fifty, he retired from law practice to dedicate his time and passion on collecting art and antiquities (particularly Buddhist and Hindu artworks), as well as promoting art and culture at the Nei Xue Tang Buddhist art museum and other museums, writing articles on Buddhist art, and working on his upcoming book on Yunnan’s Buddhist artworks from the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms. Woon Wee Teng started collecting as a child and student, and over time amassed more than forty thousand pieces to establish the Nei Xue Tang house museum. It is the first ecumenical Buddhist art museum of its kind in Singapore, where the collector’s home is also permitted for public display of exhibits. Through the museum, he helps promote Buddhist art from diverse Buddhist countries (particularly Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, and China).
As a result of a serious illness in 2006, and his desire that a larger and more publicly accessible museum be built, Woon Wee Teng made the painful decision to part with all his art collection in Nei Xue Tang to Mr. Oei Hong Leong, a Singapore tycoon. He continues to serve Nei Xue Tang as an art consultant and helps promote Buddhist and Hindu art through such museums. He is still an avid collector. Besides collecting, his family donates a great deal to preserve the arts and arts education. For example, they initiated the biggest annual art prize in the United Kingdom (The Woon Foundation Painting and Sculpture Art Prize) amounting to 40,000 GBP. He has donated to the Pho Chang Academy of Fine Art to promote traditional Thai Buddhist art, and has given generously to temples to make amulets as a special art form.
Unlike other collectors of Buddhist art and builders of museums, Woon Wee Teng concentrates his efforts on Buddhist ritual and protective objects that traditionally have been ignored by curators. He is one of the only internationally and ecumenically minded promoters of this little-known tradition in Southeast Asia. Among the thousands of important ritual and magical objects that he collected, it is worth mentioning the many precious protective Somdet amulets of Wat Rakang in Bangkok, which are considered some of the rarest and most sought-after in the world. He also has many Luang Phu Tuad amulets and personal religious items such as takruts (rolled-up metal sheets with inscribed yantra) and humpback pidta amulets personally made by renowned Thai Master Tok Raja from Malaysia.
What also makes Woon’s collection unique is his equal focus on collecting magical and protective objects as well as the paintings and large statues usually preferred by collectors and scholars. Further, he collected amulets and ritual implements directly from magically powerful monks in Southeast Asia. Moving from monastery to monastery and ritual to ritual, he amassed not only objects, but also extensive ethnographic information and wonderful stories. He has even witnessed the shooting of amulets to test their efficacy. (p.152) From Khun Ko Jun in Thailand, he received the hair relic and amulets of Photan Klai, and from Maha Bodhi Tahtaung Sayadaw in Burma he received special talun (i.e., philosopher’s stones made from mercury through alchemy, incantation, and meditation). His collection of protective ritual diagrams (Thai: phra yan; Sanskrit: yantra), Thai amulets, and Khmer, Shan, and Burmese statuary (as well as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Bhutanese, Sri Lankan, and other pieces, including a collection of large Luoyan images from the Ming dynasty (China) and gold votive images from Kandy, Sri Lanka) is one of the finest I have ever seen. The list goes on and on. He is the only Buddhist I have ever met who knows equally about the ritual traditions and translocal monastic lineages of Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, China, and Burma (and, increasingly, Bangladesh). His vision and tireless work reveal a network of Buddhist magicians and teachers, unseen by scholars, who focus on their own specific, often country-based, field sites and language groups. He believes in giving back to the teachers who have taught him. He donated to build images and stupas in Southeast Asia and is as much a practicing Buddhist as a self-trained historian, anthropologist, and specialist in art. He has learned from lay and ordained masters across sectarian divisions and national boundaries. The personal connections and friends he has made are as valuable as the amulets he has collected.
The museum currently occupies two old row houses (seven total floors) near Chinatown in Singapore and the hope is either to improve those spaces or build a new facility. One of Woon Wee Teng’s sons is a collector and appraiser of antiquities in Italy. At his museum, unlike in most, he encouraged me (and other visitors, when the museum was open) to look closely and, in many cases, touch individual pieces. He respects each item’s ritual power and material and sacred history. He shares stories about individual amulet’s miraculous or healing power. He tries to maintain a balance between his own religious dedication and an art historian’s proclivity (although he has no formal training) to document, preserve, and display. He also supports the preservation of Burmese, Thai, and other regional art through his support of several monasteries. Woon Wee Teng also lends out some of his rare pieces to the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore. All told, Woon is unlike most curators of Asian collections in formal museums.
The Nei Xue Tang museum is very different aesthetically from two of Asia’s newest museums of Buddhist art—the Reception Office (Japanese: Sanpai Settai Sho) on the grounds of the massive Higashi Hongan-ji monastery, and the Ryukoku Museum. Both are in Kyoto and are situated just a few short blocks away from each other. The Reception Office is a marvel of architectural design, as it is built almost completely underground in a hypermodern concrete and glass bunker. It was designed by Shin Takamatsu, the architect of the Star Peak on Mount Myōken, mentioned in the introduction.40 (p.153) The Higashi Hongan-ji (or Shinshū Honbyō) is a thirteenth-century monastery and is the headquarters for the largest sect of Japanese Buddhism, the Shinshū Ōtani-ha branch of Jōdo Shinshū (Shin Buddhism). It split from the Nishi Hongan-ji, representing the Western branch, in 1602.
The Higashi Hongan-ji and the Nishi Hongan-ji monasteries, situated nearly next door to each other, conduct activities separately. When I first visited the site, I nearly missed the museum despite its massive size. I attended the ceremonies for the 750th anniversary of the passing of Shinran Shōnin (the sect’s founder) in spring 2011 in Kyoto, and over five thousand people visited every day I was there. There were bus tours, guided walking tours in various languages, video installations, mass chanting sessions, religious product and book exhibitions, performances, sermons, and the like. Smaller but similar celebrations were held at their large sister monasteries in Los Angeles, Honolulu, and other sites. This was certainly a public celebration, but it was also sectarian, and most events were focused on ritual activity.
The Reception Office museum is underground, and despite several signs indicating its location, it is hard to find and is unexpected. From the outside, the only indication that it exists is a large glass floor in the center of a garden. That glass floor is actually the skylight of the museum and amphitheater. After entering the very traditional hall, which mirrors the architecture of the main monastery’s gate, founder’s hall, Amida hall, and ritual spaces, visitors descend into a distinctly nontraditional place. A long, gradually descending ramp features galleries along its side. One exhibition I saw there was about a Shin Buddhist woman named Hisako Nakamura, who lost both her arms and legs as a child because of an infection. In the 1930s she was befriended by Helen Keller and went on world tours promoting the rights of the disabled. Her life story and an exhibition of her clothes, photos, and the like were meant to inspire visitors to “turn rubble into gold,” which is a Shin Buddhist metaphor for optimism in the face of tragedy. After descending the long corridor, visitors see the museum open up into a very large (three-story) light-filled gallery, where wooden sculptures are kept next to a five-hundred-seat amphitheater where lectures are held.41
The Ryukoku Museum opened in the winter of 2011. Even though it is a sectarian museum, like the museum at the Higashi Hongan-ji, it is not on the grounds of a monastery. This museum is very modern, architecturally, and nothing about the building (symbols, style, prototypes) would indicate to passers-by that it is a museum dedicated to Buddhist art. It was designed by Manabu Nihei and Tomoyuki Hino of the Nikken Sekkei architectural firm (or Nikken Space Design). The designers conceived a series of stone, wood, and metal elements that all possessed “ripples,” because the project team at Ryukoku University wanted the museum to represent Buddhism flowing all over the world.42 The project was funded by Ryukoku University, a Shin (p.154) Buddhist institution that began as a school for monks from the Nishi Hongan-ji (rival to the Higashi Hongan-ji) in 1639 and became a private university open to lay applicants in 1876. Although the university itself is characterized by Victorian- and Queen Anne–style buildings, their new museum is hypermodern, and although no one confirmed this in my conversations, one wonders if it was built partly in competition with the Higashi Hongan-ji’s museum or the Otani University Museum (which is the academic partner of the Higashi Hongan-ji). The way the art is displayed, though, partly betrays the possible sectarian allegiances and motivations of its funders. However, their intention to make the museum ecumenical and comprehensive is impressive.
Thanks to a tour of the Ryukoku Museum and interviews with the curator, Shunpei Iwai, and the deputy director, Takashi Irisawa, I learned much about the origins of the museum and its vision. This museum of Buddhist history claims to be the first one of its type in the world. Indeed, it is the largest of its kind. Like the Nagapuspa Buddhist Culture Museum in Singapore, it is designed to present Buddhist history as a linear story moving from South Asia to Central Asia and the Silk Road and then to China, Korea, and Japan. Japan is presented as the destination for and culmination of Buddhism. This is similar to the way in which the Nagapuspa museum presented the Tang dynasty as the culmination of Buddhist history, although, as we saw, the story is much more complicated at Shi Fa Zhao’s museum.43 However, the dominance of Shin material is more the result of the material available to the museum’s curators; because of the great expense of building a new museum and
(p.155) filling it with interesting and rare material, the curators had to use the present holdings of the Ryukoku University. So much was spent on the architecture that the initial funding is limited for purchasing or borrowing new pieces.
The display style of the art and the galleries of the Ryukoku Museum is free from ritual, liturgy, and sectarian religious activity; Shin Buddhism, while strongly represented in art, is always the main focus. For example, the first two special exhibitions in the inaugural year for the museum were very different. One was called the Bezeklik Cave Temples Restoration, and displayed art from these caves in a specially designed corridor that makes visitors feel as if they are in a sixth-century cave in Turpan (Xinjang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China), painted with scenes of Uyghur Buddhist art. On the same floor as this “cave” is a video monitor on which visitors can hear and see different ritual practices and chanting styles from non-Japanese and non-Shin Buddhists, such as chanting from Cambodia and Burma. There is even a mannequin dressed as a traditional Thai Buddhist monk, designed by a Thai professor at Ryukoku University.
The second exhibition on the Shin Buddhist floor was called, in English, Buddha and Shinran, and opened in March 2011.44 The exhibition displayed statues and paintings of the historical Buddha next to the founder of Shin Buddhism, Shinran, which is a less-than-subtle way of suggesting that the Buddha himself would have approved of Shinran’s teachings and that Shinran was in a direct line of descent from the Buddha. To be fair, however, the museum did open at the time of the 750th anniversary of Shinran’s death, and several nonsectarian museums in Japan had small exhibitions of Shin Buddhist art at that time, including a very large special exhibition at the Kyoto Municipal Museum that was very successful and had galleries filled with crowds of visitors who had come to Kyoto for the anniversary celebrations. Furthermore, the Ryukoku Museum did not take advantage of these crowds, as it was closed for a month (May 2011) during the celebrations, preparing other exhibitions. Crowds did not appear to mind visiting a museum on the other side of the city in a separate non-monastic place (with a relatively large entrance fee) instead of visiting a free museum on the grounds of the Higashi Hongan-ji. The content of the collection and the research documents certainly are overwhelmingly Shin, since they were collected by Shin Buddhists connected with the Nishi Hongan-ji. The second floor, which focuses on Buddhism in Japan, emphasizes Shin Buddhism over the Shingon, Zen, Ritsu, Tendai, or other historical sects in Japan. Indeed, the very title of one of the main exhibitions on that floor is Shinran Shōnin and Shin Buddhism, which introduces the teachings of Shinran Shōnin, the development of Shin Buddhism, and the history of Hongan-ji.45 Next to this is an exhibit about the history of Ryukoku University. On the third floor are the objects collected by teams of explorers dispatched by Kōzui Ōtani, the twenty-second head of the Nishi (p.156) Hongan-ji, in the early twentieth century during his travels to South Asia and Tibet, as well as the writings of Jippan Nakagawa, another leading Shin Buddhist teacher from the twelfth century.
Even these Shin-focused exhibitions attempt to connect Shin Buddhism to pan-Asian Buddhism and its Indic origins. As we saw in chapter 1, many Japanese artists, scholars, practitioners, and collectors have long had an interest in the Indic origins of Buddhism. The Ryukoku Museum, like the Nagapuspa in Singapore and other smaller private collections in Japan, has a particular interest in the oldest examples of Buddhist art, particularly from Gandhara. This is likely because these pieces were plentiful (and still are) in the art markets of the twentieth century and were collected by wealthy Japanese and European travelers. Other pieces were bought up by Japanese collectors in the 1980s at the height of the Japanese economic boom and during the rise of smuggling of Buddhist art out of the conflict zones of Afghanistan and Pakistan. A similar rise in interest in Shan, Mon, and Burmese art was seen in the early 1990s because of poverty and conflict in that region, and Khmer art in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. However, it is also due in part to the long history that the many Japanese Buddhist thinkers, artists, and collectors share with India and the origins of Buddhism, as demonstrated clearly in the study of Lumbini in chapter 1.46
Despite the sectarian nature of the Ryukoku Museum, the director, Akira Miyaji, like Shi Fa Zhao, emphasizes the public and leisure objectives of his museum. This is a museum meant to inspire and be easily accessible:
The first full-fledged comprehensive museum on Buddhism in Japan. This is the Ryukoku Museum. Covering the vast and deep theme of “Buddhism” from its founding to the spread of Buddhism into Asia to its development in Japan, and the connection to modern day Buddhism. The research and investigation into the concepts and history, as well as the art of Buddhism are all connected to our exhibits. All of these points are conveyed not in a strict, difficult manner, but in fun and enjoyable events and exhibits using sound and visuals where visitors can experience the world of Buddhism. The Ryukoku Museum aims to be a museum open to all citizens that conveys the “fascination” of Buddhism. We are focused on making our events and exhibits easy to understand and interesting. We hope that men and women, young and old, who previously had no experience to come into direct contact with Buddhism, will come to the museum and that this will trigger a greater interest in Buddhism. In addition, we hope that this museum will be a scholarly facility where students studying Buddhism as well as people interested in Buddhism and people (p.157) researching Buddhism can visit and deepen their knowledge. Although this museum is one of the facilities of Ryukoku University, it is open to every body and we hope that many of you will be able to come by and visit us. People who come to visit Kyoto, worshippers who come to Kyoto, even students on school trips visiting temples and shrines can increase the enjoyment of these temples and shrines tenfold by visiting the Ryukoku Museum first. … This is one way to enjoy the museum that we recommend. In addition, although Horikawadori in Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto is already home to many famous locations and historical sites including Nishi Honganji and Dendoin, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, we hope that the addition of this museum will lead to an increased vitalization of the area. A museum that is friendly and approachable, but at the same time one where you will feel depth and richness.47
Further, the visitor learns that the museum’s design team wanted to utilize
its location of being across from Nishi Honganji, a World Cultural Heritage, as a museum open to the public, the museum will contribute to the vitalization of the local community. The museum will provide an east-west path that will connect Horikawa-dori and Abura-no-kouji making access to the Dendoin, a historical architectural building, located on the Abura-no-kouji side easier. In addition, a section of the 1st floor will be open space that will be open to every one. The museum also houses a museum shop, a cafe, and a courtyard filled with natural light.48
Finally, let me briefly mention one fascinating but small Buddhist leisure place that is quite hard to find and can be easily overlooked. It is the Sarasvatī Museum and Daibutsu garden on the grounds of a small Sōtō Zen monastery in Nagoya, Japan, that promotes Tendai history, Pali teachings, Shingon art, and an annual festival to a Hindu goddess. This monastery, known as Tōgan-ji (Peach Rock Monastery), is not a modern experiment. It was founded in 1532 by Oda Nobuyuki near Kyoto and moved to Nagoya in 1714.49 Nobuyuki was the nephew of the famous leader Oda Nobunaga. Kai Genshun led the monastery in Nagoya with Kannon (Kuan Yin) as its principal deity (made by Eshen Sōzu) and served as abbot to other major monasteries like Jigen-ji and Ryūsen-ji.
This impressive lineage is not the reason I am mentioning this place. The present abbot, and only permanent resident, Oda Baisen, has turned this old monastery into a type of hyper-sexualized plea sure garden. He visited Sri (p.158) Lanka and India in 1964, and this trip greatly influenced him. He met with a monk named Samarata and received a bone relic of the Buddha (although it is unclear from what temple) in a formal ceremony.50 Hanging in the main hall of the monastery are photographs of this trip, as well as photographs of a helicopter moving an important stone, a Buddha footprint, and a sōrin (a ringed finial that tops many Japanese pagodas) from the famous Okuno-in mausoleum of Kūkai the founder of Shingon Buddhism (on Mount Kōya near Osaka).
Like Woon in Singapore and Lek in Thailand, the abbot appears to be a master at collecting unique items. It seems that every inch of the monastery houses a collected object, and very few of the objects make sense next to each other. In the main hall are large beehives in glass cases, Sōtō Zen liturgical chanting books, and a framed letter from Indira Gandhi. The ceiling is painted with Shingon designs from Mount Kōya, and the main Buddha image is surrounded by statues of the Eighteen Arahants (usually only sixteen are depicted in Japan and eighteen are associated with Chinese Buddhist schools). Outside, the garden has carvings of the Uṣṇīṣavijaya mantra in Siddham script (another possible Shingon influence), as well as a large Śaivite liṅga (phallic stone object used in many different Hindu rituals) with an image that resembles Kūkai (often known as Kōbōdaishi) on its side. However, the inscription on its side reads “Daisōjō Ryōkei kyūjū hassai” (Master/Highest Ranking Monk of the Order Ryūkei who passed away at 98 years old) followed by “Seimei no kongen” (King of the Bioforce or Life Essence).51 I asked the abbot, who was reluctant to explain the meaning of this to me, and I assume this was dedicated to one of the abbot’s teachers. Several experts in Japanese Buddhist studies were also perplexed by this term.
In the small valley near the back of the temple is a large (but hard to see from the street because of the trees) garish green Gupta-style (North Indian) buddha image with bright gold lips. The statue, known as the Nagoya Daibutsu (large Buddha of Nagoya) was dedicated in 1987 in a ceremony with monks from the Tendai Enryaku-ji monastery under the direction of Hagami Shōchō and is thirty feet tall. The sides are covered with bas-reliefs of Indian monks, deer, and dharma wheels, as one would find at Sarnath in North India. This image clearly does not fit in style or iconography to any Japanese lineage. The main inscription can be translated from the Japanese as “Peace, Impermanence, and non-Self.” However out of place this large statue seems, nothing can prepare the visitor for the surprise waiting in the monastery’s library.
In the dark room are collections of books including a nearly complete Pali canon, books of the Artharva Veda (labeled in English as the “Arthur Veda”), Tendai and Shingon books, and a very large collection of wooden, brass, and silver phalluses. These are not traditional Hindu liṅga, but anatomically correct phalluses like the ones seen throughout Cambodia and (p.159)
Thailand that are used for protective rituals and rituals to increase male virility. These provocative phalluses have caused quite a bit of joking among visitors, as is evident from the many blog comments on Japanese travel websites.52
I am glad that I was not the only person befuddled when visiting this complex garden, monastery, and shrine. Besides this large collection are (p.160) several small statues, graphically featuring women and men in sexual poses. In the room immediately adjacent to this is a backlit window separating the visitor from a life-size statue of Sarasvatī, the goddess of wisdom, music, and art and consort to the god Brahmā. Usually Sarasvatī is depicted dressed in white, playing a veena (traditional Indian stringed instrument), and often with a peacock. Here in the Tōgan-ji, she is lying naked on a bed, seemingly in the middle of an amorous dream. Another clothed statue of Sarasvatī in the library is holding a sword like the Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī. This statue supposedly belonged to Oda Nobuhide, who brought it originally to the temple. In Japanese she is called Benzaiten, and there is a festival at the monastery every May dedicated to her. Apparently, this festival is one of the only activities that takes place at this monastery. There is no school. The abbot does not train anyone. My colleagues, who teach Indian and Buddhist studies at Nagoya University (less than two miles from the monastery), had never been there for a ritual. People stroll around the gardens and are shocked by the room full of penises, but in many ways, this is a monastery in name only and is more like a home, open to the public, of a rather reclusive and eccentric older monk.
Museums are one of the greatest tools of the powerful and the elite. Many people have echoed Foucault’s criticism of the negative way museums shape and control the way we come to know beauty and history.53 Douglas Crimp, Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, Craig Cunlas, Ruth Phillips, and others have seen museums as imperialist tools.54 Svetlana Alpers coined the term “museum effect” to describe the ways museums culturally construct ways of seeing.55 They enforce a “detached viewing” of objects,56 which become distant and untouchable. This criticism of museums has been taken up in Asian studies as well, most notably by Stanley Abe and Maurizio Peleggi.57 The latter sees the establishment of the National Museum, the National Library, the Siam Society, and the Archaeological Society, among other royal and colonial semi-institutions in Siam in the early twentieth century, as tools of elite power and display. Peleggi states that this “antiquarianism [promoted by the elite] signaled a departure from the worldview orientated by the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence, which postulates the inexorable decay of all physical entities.”58
While these institutions of social control certainly can be seen as the subtle and not-so-subtle ways foreign scholars and princes attempted to define history, beauty, tradition, and science for the people, a number of museums in Asia, mostly Buddhist, operate largely independent of state control and national interests and are spaces where individual agency is celebrated and (p.161) ecumenicalism and eccentricity abounds. Looking closely at Shi Fa Zhao’s Nagapuspa Buddhist Culture Museum, which is part of the larger Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum in Singapore, and the other new Buddhist museums in this chapter, I hope it is clear that these Buddhist museums are neither a series of neatly configured display cases, perfectly presenting a linear narrative of Buddhist history, nor propaganda tools of profit-minded religious visionaries. To study them is to study a series of local optima in which Shi Fa Zhao and other museum designers and curators have had to sacrifice the instructive power of religious art to the affective experience of visiting a museum. The multiple affective encounters these museums allow create ecumenical environments that eschew explicit agendas and allow visitors to leisurely experience Buddhist distraction.
(1) http://www.pagrandlodge.org/freemason/0504/tot.html. I thank the archivists at the Grand Lodge of Philadelphia for their assistance in locating information about Sommerville and for showing me some of the objects he donated to the lodge.
(2) Maxwell Sommerville also wrote romantically about his travels. See especially his Siam on the Meinam from the Gulf to Ayuthia together with Three Romances Illustrative of Siamese Life and Customs (London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, 1897).
(3) Curators at the University of Pennsylvania have told me that most of these gems have been recently discovered to be fake. Pers. comm., 2013.
(4) The department was housed in the museum, and Sommerville turned a section of it into a space for his large collection of Asian antiquities (most of which are still there today, although largely in storage).
(5) My former student, Joel Dietz, worked hard documenting and tracking down items in this collection for a research project he took on in my graduate course on Buddhist Art and Material Culture. He and Stephen Lang (the “keeper” of the Asian collection at the museum) worked together to research Sommerville’s Buddhist temple. In an unpublished research paper, Dietz found Culin’s note. See also the newspaper North American, January 30 (year unknown) (University of Pennsylvania Archives [UPA]); see also Ira Jacknis, “The Stewart Culin Papers, the Brooklyn Museum,” 1985 (Brooklyn Museum archive); and Stewart Culin, “Professor of Glyptology” (Brooklyn Museum archive). I thank Joel Dietz for finding these documents. Culin also described various details regarding the setup of the Buddhist temple. Culin calls Sommerville a “charlatan” and states that at the opening of the temple the professor insisted that people take off their shoes before entering. He is also said to have originally desired to locate the temple inside an abandoned church in the center of the city.
(6) The University of Pennsylvania Museum Archives (UPMA) has one copy of the original, as well as one copy of the latter.
(7) Maxwell Sommerville, Monograph of the Buddhist Temple of the Free Museum of Science and Art of the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 1904), 3.
(p.197) (8) Old Penn Weekly Review, February 20, 1904, 151 (UPMA).
(9) North American, May 7, 1904 (UPMA).
(10) North American, January 30 (year unknown) (UPMA).
(11) While I certainly offered my limited advice, I am not an expert in assessing the value of individual Buddhist pieces of art and have no training in museum studies or art appraisal, and I let them know that directly. They merely asked me (and continue to ask me) my opinion on the rarity and style of certain pieces.
(12) I met with a representative of the Singapore Tourism Board in July 2012. They are a large, well-funded, and politically connected organization that, unlike in other Buddhist countries, has a considerable role in promoting the growth of religious organizations as places open to visitors of all faith traditions.
(13) Many have questioned the authenticity of the tooth relic, often stating that it is actually a water buffalo’s tooth. Its authenticity is not my concern here, as I am focused on the temple as a public and leisure space and on Shi Fa Zhao’s role in its design and marketing. For critical comments on the authenticity of the tooth relic, see, for example, Jack Meng-Tat Chia, “Buddhism in Singapore: A State of the Field Review,” Asian Culture 33 (June 2009): 90. See also http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=57,4529,0,0,1,0#.Unnm_5TwK-c,http://news.asiaone.com/News/The%2BStraits%2BTimes/Story/Is%2BBuddha%2Btooth%2Bhere%2Bthe%2Breal%2BMcCoy%253F.html, http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/289746/1/.html, http://www.dhammaweb.net/dhamma_news/view.php?id=331, and http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=57,4484,0,0,1,0.
(14) For further reading on Buddhism in Singapore, see Jack Meng-Tat Chia’s “Teaching Dharma, Grooming Sangha: The Buddhist College of Singapore,” Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 24, no. 1 (April 2009): 122–138; Khun Eng Kuah-Pearce, State, Society and Religious Engineering: Towards a Reformist Buddhism in Singapore, 2nd ed. (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2009); Y. D. Ong, Buddhism in Singapore: A Short Narrative History (Singapore: Skylark Publications, 2005). See also Xianjue 刘先觉 and Lee Coo 李谷, Singapore Xinjiapo Fojiao jianzhu yishu 新加坡佛教建先艺术 [Buddhist Architecture in Singapore] (Singapore: Kepmedia International Pte Ltd., 2007); and Shiling Cheryl Tan’s master’s thesis, Religious Alternation, Spiritual Humanism: Tzu Chi Foundation in Singapore (master’s thesis, National University of Singapore, 2008). A more specialist museum on Chinese Buddhist art in Singapore is the Kong Hiap Memorial Museum, located in Chiam Pok Eee Temple (8 Geylang East Avenue 1). See http://www.sbl.org.sg/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=65:kong-hiap-memorial-museum&catid=37:sbl&Itemid=77. I thank Jack Meng-Tat Chia for his help with this research and for his advice in general. His comments greatly improved this chapter.
(15) Longhua can also be a name for China. I thank Victor Mair for help with this translation. The English name does not emphasize the “localness” of the temple as either Singaporean or Chinese. See information on the temple’s website, www.btrts.org.sg, as well as in Shi Fa Zhao, From Dawn to Dusk, trans. Tan Yen Kee (Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, 2010), 214–223; and Shi Fa Zhao, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum (Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, 2006), 14–15. This was the temple’s first publication showing the stages of construction in detail and making note of the origins of the materials and the artisans who were commissioned. I thank Ee Tiang Hwee for providing me with a copy. From Dawn to Dusk is a coffee-table book that describes the embroidery, sculpture, woodwork, architecture, and different sections of the temple and museum. The attention is clearly placed on the material of the temple, its rarity and craftsmanship. Shi Fa Zhao also founded the Metta Welfare Association in 1992. See http://www.metta.org.sg/main/.
(p.198) (16) I thank Michael Feener for taking me to the temple and museum for the first time after it opened in 2007.
(17) For more information see Shi Fa Zhao’s (in cooperation with David Tay and others) two-volume Perspective: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum through the Eyes of the People: Architecture and Artefacts (vol. 1), and Pulse: Buddha Tooth Relic and Museum: People and Prayer (Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, 2008).
(18) Although much of Singapore’s Chinese population is originally from this region, they largely speak Mandarin now. The Singapore government started a Mandarin education campaign in 1979, and today regionally Chinese language differences are less pronounced. See Wendy Bokhorst-Heng, “Singapore’s Speak Mandarin Campaign: Language Ideological Debates and the Imagining of the Nation,” in Language Ideological Debates, ed. Jan Blommaert (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1999), 235–265; and Saravanan Gopinathan, ed., Language Society and Education in Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 1998). Jack Meng-Tat Chia shared these references with me.
(19) This is also one of the reasons, Ee Tiang Hwee stated, that the female Kuan Yin is not displayed at the temple and that only the Tang-era male Avalokiteśvara is featured. Shi Fa Zhao believes that the female “incarnation” of Avalokiteśvara only appeared after the Tang dynasty. For a more detailed history of this development, see Chün-fang Yü’s Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokiteśvara (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000).
(20) Many of the architectural elements in Nara and Heian Japanese architecture have influence not only from indigenous sources, but also from Baekje architecture of Korea. This is not mentioned in Shi Fa Zhao’s comments on the design, though, and only Tang is emphasized. The exterior of the temple was designed by Shi Fa Zhao in consultation with the Beijing architectural firm Landscape Architecture Corporation of China, in consultation with the Singapore architectural firm Yi Architects. The exterior woodwork was done by Yue Feng Construction Company, which used Balao trees from Borneo. The entire design is based on an amalgamation of features from various Tang-period temples in Nara and Kyoto. For more information, see also http://www.btrts.org.sg/history-of-temple-design.
(21) They were excited that I knew an artist in Thailand who made wax and resin images of monks and asked for my help contacting him. Since that time, new resin images have been installed in the mezzanine section of the museum, including ones of Jing Xin, Yuan Zong, and Shi Fa Zhao himself, which I saw in March 2015. There is also a more prominent display in the “dharma hall” of the “Compassionate South Seas Freedom Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.”
(22) This is an old practice found in many Buddhist cultures. For an interesting textual source in Pali, see the story of Viriyapaṇḍita, in which, because his family does not have any more jewelry to donate in order to create a golden Buddha image, the protagonist, Viriyapaṇḍita, slices off his own skin and donates it for covering the image. Padmanabh Jaini, ed. Paññāsa-Jātaka (in the Burmese Recension), vol. 1 (Jātakas 1–25) (London: Pali Text Society, Text Series No. 172–173, 1981): Viriyapaṇḍita is story no. 25.
(23) A good source for Shi Fa Zhao’s writings and the types of daily health, social, and spiritual advice promoted by the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is the Nagapuspa Magazine (subtitled An Abundance of Contented Lifestyle), published about five times a year in both English and Chinese. Possessing the same name as the museum, the glossy magazine offers stories like “Wellness from Listening,” about the healing benefits of music, the spirituality of tea drinking, and the true meaning of Chinese New Year. Many of these articles are written by Shi Fa Zhao and others are by psychologists, physicians, monks, and social (p.199) commentators in Singapore. The magazine also contains advertisements for art exhibitions, jewelry stores, and other cultural events and commercial venues in Singapore.
(24) Thanks to a little more research and help from Jack Meng-tat Chia, I discovered that Shi Fa Zhao received his ordination from Venerable Miao Hua (http://www.btrts.org.sg/venerable-miao-hua), who was the supervisor of Leong San monastery in Singapore from 1979 to 1992. Subsequently, Shi Fa Zhao received his higher ordination at Cuibiyan (literally Green Cliff and Rock) monastery in Taiwan, http://www.goldenpagoda.org.sg/~goldenpa/goldenpagoda/index.php?page=26.
(25) Shi Fa Zhao, The Pursuit of True Happiness and Other Life Observations (Singapore: International Press Softcom, 2007), 15, 138.
(30) Perspective: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum through the Eyes of the People: Architecture and Artefacts (vol. 1), and Pulse: Buddha Tooth Relic and Museum: People and Prayer (Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, 2008).
(31) The monks that assist Shi Fa Zhao and perform rituals at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum were mostly trained in Taiwan at various institutions including Yuan Kuang Buddhist College, Fo Guang University College of Buddhist Studies, Fu Yan Buddhist Institute, Luminary Buddhist Institute, Dharma Drum Sangha University, Hsuan Chuang University, and Ching Chueh Buddhist Shanga University.
(33) A clear exception to this is the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art on Staten Island in New York City. It claims to be the first example of Himalayan architecture in North America and the first museum in North America dedicated to Tibetan Buddhist art. See http://www.tibetanmuseum.org/. I thank Celeste Gagnon for recommending my visit to the Marchais Museum.
(34) Louis Gabaude, “A New Phenomenon in Thai Monasteries: The Stūpa Museum,” in The Buddhist Monastery: A Cross-Cultural Survey, ed. Pierre Pichard and François Lagirarde (Paris: École Française d’Extrême-Orient, 2003), 169.
(35) Paritta Chalermpow Koanantakool, “Contextualizing Objects in Monastery Museums in Thailand,” in Buddhist Legacies in Mainland Southeast Asia, ed. François Lagirarde and Paritta Chalermpow Koanantakool (Bangkok: Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre/École Française d’Extrême-Orient, 2006), 149–167.
(36) Anake Nawigamune, Nana phiphithaphan (Bangkok: Saeng Daet Phuan Dek, 2549 ); and Anake Nawigamune, Sombat Muang Songkhla (Bangkok: Filasatai, 2550 ).
(37) I thank Christine McDaniel for conversations and advice about this issue.
(38) I thank Toshiya Unebe for guiding me to see work by Chūta Itō in Nagoya (especially in the cemetery of the Thai-Japanese Buddhist Temple [Nittaiji] and for recommending others. See also Richard Jaffe’s study of Itō and other Japanese Buddhist artistic connections between South and Southeast Asia in Richard M. Jaffe, “Buddhist Material Culture, ‘Indianism,’ and the Construction of Pan-Asian Buddhism in Pre-War Japan,” Material Religion 21, no. 3 (2006): 266–292; and Richard M. Jaffe, “Seeking Shakyamuni: Travel and the Reconstruction of Japanese Buddhism,” Journal of Japanese Studies 30, no. 1 (2004): 65–96.
(p.200) (40) Takamatsu also designed a third building on the grounds of a monastery in 1982. However, unlike the museum and reception hall at the Higashi Hongan-ji and the Star Peak assembly and activity center, Takamatsu’s first monastic project actually involved rebuilding the central worship hall of a monastery, not a public building. Located in Gihu (Central Japan), the Saifuku-ji monastery’s main worship hall was dilapidated, and the abbot requested Takamatsu’s assistance in rebuilding it. He wanted a fireproof structure that would accommodate a number of worshippers. Takamatsu’s radical solution involved building a large concrete bunker with a stark interior with little ornamentation besides the Buddha image. See his work at http://www.takamatsu.co.jp/jp/index.html.
(41) I thank several tour guides for assisting me and especially Ray Yamamoto, a Japanese Shin priest from Honolulu, for his excellent descriptions of the monastery. I also thank Shigeki Saito for his very kind help when I visited. His stories, guidance, and recommendations were all very helpful. I thank Miki Morita for introducing us.
(42) http://nspacedesign.co.jp/project_en?item=1492. Although I won’t go into detail, in my interviews I learned that the curators, the directors of the museum, and the architect did not always see eye to eye in the design phase. The architect also had to deal with very strict Kyoto building codes that are further complicated by the fact that the museum is directly across from a UNESCO World Heritage site. I thank Takashi Irisawa for explaining these issues to me. See also http://www.nikken.co.jp/en/projects/cultural/museum-auarium/ryukoku-museum-at-ryukoku-univerisity.html.
(43) Although the collection is relatively weak when it comes to Southeast Asian art, it is impressive, and I am confident that that region will be better represented soon.
(44) http://japanvisitor.blogspot.com/2012/09/ryukoku-museum-kyoto.html, and http://museum.ryukoku.ac.jp/en/message/index.html. This exhibition has now been replaced with a smaller show on the history of a small Shingon temple near Osaka and its private collection (ed. Dezain Ohmukai Tsutomu, Sakamoto Yoshiko, Ichikawa Mariko) called Treasures of Tada-ji Temple in Wakasa (Japanese: Wakasa Tadaji no Meihou) (Kyoto: Ryukoku Daigaku, 2013). A larger catalog of the museum’s collections, while not comprehensive, is a good introduction— Bukkyo no Kita Michi: Silku Road Tannken no Tabi (Kyoto: Ryukoku Daigaku, 2012). The museum is placing images of much of their collection online. The exhibition in 2013 was a retrospective of the painter Ikuo Hiyayama and a display of his personal collection of Silk Road art. Shunpei Iwai, an expert in Silk Road art history, curated this show. The director of the entire museum, Akira Miyaji, is also an expert on this region and specifically the art of Gandharan Buddhism. He recently published Collected Essays on the Art of Gandharā and Bāmiyān (Kyoto: Ryukoku University Press, 2012). Some pieces from the Kōzui Ōtani collection are also on display. Ōtani was a leader of Shin Buddhism and dispatched three expeditions across Asia between 1902 and 1914.
(45) The Higashi Hongan-ji is not mentioned, just the Nishi.
(46) Richard Jaffe, Fabio Rambelli, and many others have been conducting research on the Japanese fascination with and imaginary construction of the Indic origins and history of Buddhism. See Richard M. Jaffe, “Seeking Shakyamuni.” I thank Fabio Rambelli for conversations about this at the University of Heidelberg in the summer of 2012.
(48) Ibid. See also http://museum.ryukoku.ac.jp/en/exhibition/concept.html.
(49) I thank Masami Tahara for helping me translate photograph captions that hang on the wall in the monastery and trace its recent history.
(p.201) (50) Toshiya Unebe assisted me at Tōgan-ji and helped me in interviewing the abbot. Dr. Unebe noted that the abbot was very reluctant to answer direct questions about the origins of the South Asian pieces of art and the relic.
(51) I thank Lori Meeks, Hank Glassman, and Miki Morita especially for their assistance understanding this inscription. For more information on the way certain phallic, boundary, and “safe birth” stones, perhaps connected to the following of Jizō, were used in Japan, see Glassman’s The Face of Jizō: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2012), chapter 4.
(52) I thank Miki Morita for helping me find these sites, which I found, because of their colloquial language, very difficult to translate. For some of the tamer examples, see http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%A1%83%E5%B7%8C%E5%AF%BA, http://b-spot.seesaa.net/article/98095190.html, http://ameblo.jp/okimuk3/entry-11253888906.html, and http://4travel.jp/domestic/area/toukai/aichi/nagoya/imaike/travelogue/10389983/.
(53) See Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things, trans. Anon. (London: Routledge, 1970), and “Different Spaces,” in Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works, vol. 2, ed. J. Faubion (London: Allen Lane, 1998), 175–185.
(54) Douglas Crimp, “On the Museum’s Ruins,” in The Anti-Aesthetic, ed. H. Foster (Port Townsend, WA: Bay Press, 1983), 43–56; Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge (London: Routledge, 1992); Craig Cunlas, “Oriental Antiquities/Far Eastern Art,” in Formations of Colonial Modernity in East Asia, ed. Tani Barlow (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), 413–446; Ruth Phillips, Trading Identities: The Souvenir in Native North American Art from the Northeast (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998), 49–71. More broadly, see the work of Crispin Paine on the rise of museums and how they have changed the way religious art is seen, especially Religious Objects in Museums: Private Lives and Public Duties (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), and Godly Things: Museums, Objects & Religion (London: Leicester University Press, 2000). The journal Material Religion had a special issue dedicated to religion and museums (8.1 [March 2012]).
(55) Svetlana Alpers, “The Museum as a Way of Seeing,” in Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, ed. Steven Lavine (Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 1991), 25–32.
(56) Diana Eck, “Excerpts from Darshan,” in Religion, Art, and Visual Culture, ed. S. Brent Plate (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 167; Richard Davis, “From the Lives of Indian Images,” in Religion, Art, and Visual Culture, ed. S. Brent Plate (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 180.
(57) Stanley Abe, “Inside the Wonder House: Buddhist Art and the West,” in Curators of the Buddha, ed. Donald Lopez Jr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 63–106; Maurizio Peleggi, Thailand: The Worldly Kingdom (London: Reaktion Books, 2007), 154–161.