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Architects of Buddhist LeisureSocially Disengaged Buddhism in Asia's Museums, Monuments, and Amusement Parks$

Justin Thomas McDaniel

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780824865986

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824865986.001.0001

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Conclusions and Comparisons

Conclusions and Comparisons

(p.162) Conclusions and Comparisons
Architects of Buddhist Leisure

Justin Thomas McDaniel

University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract and Keywords

Starting off with the unique story of the Buddha and leisure park designed in rural Louisiana, the conclusion argues that despite many problems with large comparative projects Buddhist Studies, the amusement parks, memorials, museums, and gardens described in the book as a whole share many qualities. They generally lack formal, formidable, ritual, ecclesiastical, or sectarian boundaries. They make little sustained effort to be “authentic.” These sites emphasize display, performance, and juxtaposition and anachronistic mixing (not systematic reconstruction) of various Buddhist cultures, teachings, languages, objects, and symbols. This is important, because it provides us with a completely different image of contemporary Buddhism that emphasizes innovation and ecumenism instead of purity and authenticity. These sites present different Buddhist traditions, images, and aesthetic expressions as united but not uniform, collected but not concise—a gathering not a movement. By eschewing the local and authentic in favor of the timeless, ecumenical, and universal, they become difficult to categorize. They make visual statements for sure, even if they don’t attempt to create single messages or provide coherent teachings.

Keywords:   Buddhism in North America, park, comparative religion, affect, modernity, internet, architecture, leisure, Asia

THE SCENT OF CAMELLIA HUNG IN THE thick jungle air. One at a time, beads of sweat clung to the tip of my nose before dropping onto the camera hanging from my neck. I stared through the tree branches at the centuries-old wooden buddha image. The intensely spicy breakfast I had eaten was agreeing with my stomach no more than my nerves were agreeing with the fact that I had seen several crocodiles on my jungle trek to the shrine. I had trouble understanding the local dialect, had gotten lost several times, and kept wondering if this trip was worth it. I had come a long way. Finally, I was seated in front of a very rare Chinese statue of the Buddha on a stone bench next to a small Japanese bridge. It was a place neither the Buddha nor I thought we would ever end up—Avery Island, Louisiana.

The bayou around the Gulf of Mexico has large patches of thick jungle covered in Spanish moss. On the southern edge of New Iberia Parish, Avery Island is the home of crocodiles, white egrets, and chili peppers. They share the land with Acadians (more commonly known as Cajuns), Lao and Viet namese immigrants, and oil workers. Avery Island is also a private estate and the production center of Tabasco brand Pepper Sauce, the most commonly consumed commercial spicy condiment in the world (available in 120 countries) and the 167-year-old recipe of the McIlhenny family.1 I was there in August, at the height of the hot season, to see one of the earliest Chinese Buddha images brought to America. Perhaps a ninth-century statue, it has been in the McIlhenny family for over seventy-five years. It was the centerpiece of their leisure gardens and bird preserve.

Edward “Ned” Avery McIlhenny was the third McIlhenny to run the Tabasco Company, and his marketing and organizational skills in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s made this once-local hot sauce purveyor into the multinational condiment empire it is today. Perhaps his greatest marketing ploy was linking Tabasco brand Pepper Sauce to the popularity of the Bloody Mary (p.163)

Conclusions and Comparisons

Buddha image at Avery Island, Louisiana

cocktail in the public consciousness,2 making his sauce a house hold name. Tabasco bottles have made it to the top of Mount Everest, onto the dining room table of the British royal family, and into American soldiers’ mess kits. Like other captains of industry, Ned McIlhenny used his newfound wealth to throw lavish parties. He didn’t indulge only in conspicuous consumption, however. He saw that the success of Tabasco was based on two things—Avery Island and the loyalty of his workers.

Avery Island is a relatively unique piece of real estate. Long a sugar plantation, shortly before the Civil War it was discovered that the entire island was actually made out of salt. The tall trees and swamps were sitting on a mountain of salt, perhaps the largest single salt deposit in North America. This is the main reason Union soldiers went out of their way to secure this other wise nonstrategic backwater: they wanted to prevent Confederate soldiers from having access to salt rations. Although the true story of how the Mexican Tabasco peppers came to be cultivated on the island and where the original recipe for the sauce came from is controversial, after the war this nearly unending supply of salt combined with vinegar and the mashed peppers (which grow easily in this climate) allowed the sauce to be cheaply produced.

This perfect climate, combined with a mountain of salt, needed just one more thing—the happy worker to mine the salt, pick the peppers, mash (p.164) the ingredients, and bottle it up. Ned housed and fed most of the workers for free on the island. They shopped at the company store on the island. He organized schooling for their children, games for their off hours, and celebrations for their community.3 He created a giant egret reserve, protected the waters, and created leisure gardens. In the middle of this Eden, thanks to two friends from New York, he placed the old Buddha image in a specially made glass pagoda on a stone altar reminiscent of Chinese philosophers’ stones. In front of the shrine is a decorative pond with a Japanese bridge seemingly taken right out of a Monet—it is idyllic. Ned wanted to surround the island with beauty and keep his workers happy. For him, this Buddha was the perfect focal point.

The six-foot-tall seated Tang-style buddha added to Ned’s mystique. Many of his workers supposedly believed he had magical healing powers, especially “bone healing.” He surrounded the statue with Chinese irises, creeping juniper, Tibetan podocarp, and bamboo. He was given a rare Wasi orange tree by the Japanese Imperial family because, while Ned was exploring in the Arctic, he had saved the lives of three Japanese explorers. At that time, this type of tree supposedly existed in no garden in the world besides the emperor’s private estate. It became popular for workers to picnic in front of the Buddha and even propose marriage there.4

The statue originally came from the now-destroyed Shonfa Temple in northeast Beijing (although this is not confirmed by art historians). It was stolen by a local military officer, who ordered it shipped to the United States sometime in the early 1900s and wanted it sold to a museum so he could profit from it. The person, whose name is lost, was supposedly captured in Beijing and executed. The statue was stuck in a New York ware house and was sold at auction to two friends of Ned’s in 1936, who thought it would make a great present for their eclectic friend.5 McIlhenny was a collector of exotic items and did not like organized religion. He believed in the sacredness of nature and was an enthusiast of Buddhism. He even wrote a poem inspired by the statue that is on a plaque at the shrine’s base: “Long days of travel have brought me from my home, yet I have known no hour of calmer rest. My thoughts are like the swaying bamboo’s crest waved to and fro above the rippling stream, clear and blue as from a glorious dream.”6

According to both Shane Bernard, the McIlhenny’s family historian, and Donna Neuville, one of the managers of the gardens, people often leave small gifts like fruit and candy in front of the shrine. They have also witnessed annual chanting by local Lao Buddhists in front of the image.7 I saw many people leaving coins when I visited. The gift shop for the gardens on Avery Island sells t-shirts with the poem and a photograph of the Buddha, buddha candles, and small buddha statues. Another gift store on the island sells every flavor of pepper sauce imaginable alongside Tabasco golf shirts, chocolates, beer mugs, and spicy ice cream. The Buddha sat comfortably while my children (p.165) and many other families leisurely enjoyed their day strolling, shopping, and dozing off.

Ned McIlhenny was not alone at this time in creating beautiful gardens with large buddha images in the West. Over the past few years I have visited the Asian gardens—which often feature replicas of Buddhist temples and buddha images—in Powerscourt in the Wicklow Mountains (Ireland); at the Duke University Gardens in Durham (North Carolina), the Huntington Gardens and Library in Pasadena (California), and the Japan House (Shofuso) in Fairmount Park (Philadelphia); and the replica of the Byōdō-in Temple (original in Uji, near Kyoto, Japan) in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park in Kahalu‘u, O‘ahu (Hawai‘i), among others. In these leisure gardens full of families picnicking, couples strolling romantically, and joggers, buddhas and Asian decorative plants and statues have become almost expected. This is part of the way Buddhist culture has been seen as synonymous with serenity and nature among Western enthusiasts. This is a story of the typical distortion of Buddhist culture that scholars often write about, though—this is not simple Orientalism. As this book has shown, a similar phenomenon has happened over the last century in Asia. Although a Buddhist roller coaster and water park, a quasi-ecumenical Singaporean museum, or a giant metal elephant might not trigger feelings of serenity, they do link leisure activity with Buddhist material culture. Furthermore, they provide spaces for Buddhists and non-Buddhists to be distracted with Buddhist stuff without monastic, liturgical, or ritual requirements. They actually allow Buddhists to experience Buddhist things divorced from obligations, doctrines, and regulated dress and

Conclusions and Comparisons

Asian Gardens at Powerscourt, Ireland. I thank the Fitzmaurice family (my cousins) for taking me to the gardens.

(p.166) body postures, the way that often happens in Western gardens, museums, and exotic curio shops. Buddhists often are tourists in their own and neighboring countries.

If any reader decides to take the research in this book further, I think the next logical step would be to compare some of the Buddhist leisure spaces in Asia to places like Powerscourt or the Huntington Gardens; or museums like Shi Fa Zhao’s to the Buddhist collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Louvre. Comparing Buddhist misemono or collections of Buddhist objects across the globe would tell us much about the way people learn Buddhism outside of formal monastic education or within the ritual cycle of a Buddhist family.

Comparative Gestures

Although my research here has looked at specific places in Nepal, Singapore, and Thailand, as well as other examples from Vietnam, Japan, Hong Kong, China, India, Laos, and Louisiana, I do not necessarily see this as a comparative study. I am not comparing individual spaces site to site, but identifying trends and motivations across many sites divided into categories. Like many scholars, I am suspicious of large comparative projects. Buddhism, like Islam or Christianity, is such a large and diverse subject that comparative projects have the tendency, despite the efforts of their authors, to overgeneralize. Furthermore, scholars often play to their strengths. An expert on southeast Chinese ritual from the seventeenth to the eighteenth century might attempt to write a large comparative study on Buddhist ritual, but of course will favor southeast Chinese ritual evidence from that time period. A specialist in early Sri Lankan Buddhist texts has a tendency to view the rest of Buddhist studies from a premodern Pali textual perspective. I tend to view Buddhist studies through a Thai and textual perspective because of my language skills and training. Moreover, there is sometimes more use in comparing a Polish Catholic ritual from the fifteenth century with a Thai Buddhist ritual from the same time period than in comparing a Korean ritual and a Nepali ritual from the same time period. Just because two or more places, rituals, concepts, or events happen to be Asian or Buddhist does not make them necessarily more naturally comparable. There is no “Asian essence” or “ideal Buddhism” that exists.

When I first started studying world religions I tended to favor comparing beliefs, doctrines, and concepts. As a student, I compared big things, like two religious traditions’ views on soteriology and the afterlife, or two traditions’ understanding of the nature of the human person and the existence of evil. I was fortunate enough early on to follow the good advice of J. Z. Smith and make not only a taxonomy of likes, but also of differences in these (p.167) concepts.8 However, I have found that the possibility of comparison is limited in this approach. Polish (Roman) Catholic and Rinzai Zen Buddhist understandings of evil or faith are so vastly different that comparisons do not yield much and are rarely undertaken by serious scholars. Now though, I want to stay away from these big comparisons and instead compare the tangible architectural structures and the art and ritual material objects, as well as the practical and stated purposes of sites as expressed by the architects themselves. In this book I was particularly interested in the ways architects from one culture, say, Japan or Singapore, attempt to display or connect to another culture through their designs. This, I hope, was evident in the work of Kenzo Tange and Shi Fa Zhao especially. The way one artist, writer, or architect displays a foreign culture often tells you a lot more about her or his own views on art, religion, or design than it does about the culture they are trying to display. This is usually not seen in explicit attempts to justify their work, but in the series of choices they make.

To accomplish these comparisons, I have tended to focus on the material, visual, ritual, and practical categories of comparison versus the eschato-logical, soteriological, or philosophical. In this I was following the lead of my sources. I found that many of the architects were much less articulate about the “bigger” concepts and Buddhist philosophies that led them to design their sites the way they did than they were about the hundreds of practical choices they had to make about where to place a certain statue or how to construct a staircase or provide access from a particular parking lot or bus stop. Many of the Buddhist architects mentioned above were not necessarily much more knowledgeable or more extensively trained in Buddhist teachings, history, and art than was Ned McIlhenny. They were not productive scholars of Buddhist history, philosophy, art, or literature, and their sites are generally not sites of advanced Buddhist training.

This does not mean that comparing what some may consider the middling or superficial material of the sites is less telling than comparing seemingly profound religious concepts. Each of the architects had a vision for a particular way of teaching Buddhism that didn’t involve rigorous training in art and textual history or critical intellectual methods. If the designers and most of the visitors seem unconcerned or inarticulate about these profound ideas, then perhaps it is important to pay attention to what they are concerned about and what they find entertaining, invigorating, inspiring, and educational.

I do not think large comparative projects need to be preempted by a series of authors’ caveats and apologies about the impossibility of “summarizing” Buddhism, or come in the form of textbooks or loosely connected volumes of collected articles. Can we be comparative, rigorous, and detailed in one study? I tried here, by focusing on specific people, places, and events (p.168) within a specific time period, and compared only these specific examples. I presented them in parallel, with tentative statements pointing toward the development of general principles. This type of parallel play hopefully allowed the reader to start seeing patterns emerge. My hope is that presenting the evidence in as much detail as a short essay allows helps readers see connections, pose questions, and generate their own general principles. In many ways, I am following the method of my sites, which all attempt to present Buddhism in general through a series of parallel examples taken from different schools, locations, and languages, all presented in one public place. By juxtaposing many different examples, we can suggest new comparative possibilities, as well as significant differences.

Therefore, the preceding chapters were a series of what I like to call “comparative gestures.” Instead of dictating what should and should not be comparable, whether by ethnic, sectarian, linguistic, or historical designations, I present these sites and allow readers to make the comparisons themselves. I picked the examples, and so I am gesturing to comparative possibilities, but not stating what aspects of these sites are proper to compare. I hope that this will facilitate the rise of “semblances.” As Ulrich Timme Kragh has noted, comparison in modern Western literary theory involves four components in language: “comparatum, comparandum, semblance, and comparative phrase.”9 These correspond to terms used in Sanskrit literary theory (alaṃkāraśāstra), which was often used by Buddhist thinkers and writers: upamāna, upameya, sādhāraṇadharma, and upamāpratipādaka. For example, Kragh writes “in the comparison ‘The water sparkled like diamonds,’ the ‘diamonds’ are the comparatum (upamāna), i.e. the poetic image or object to which the water is compared. ‘The water’ is the comparandum (upameya), i.e. the subject of the comparison. ‘Sparkled’ is the semblance (sādhāraṇadharma), namely the common quality of the comparatum and the comparandum, whereby the comparison is enabled. ‘Like’ is the comparative phrase (upamāpratipādaka) that effects the comparison.”10

The semblance is the “quintessence of any comparison” because it unites “the image with its subject.”11 Applying this way of thinking about the components of literary comparison to the much broader type of comparison between religious sites, I have found some semblances: not objects to compare, but ways of comparing—comparing verbs, not nouns. My hope is that the semblances that I have not thought with begin to sparkle in the readers’ minds. That way we can start to productively think of ways of studying Buddhism across national, sectarian, and linguistic borders without reducing it to a series of vague overgeneralizations. This is what teachers often do. They present many different examples to students to generate discussion. My students have always led me to see new semblances. Discussion of the differences and similarities are often very engaging and productive, especially when I do (p.169) not insert myself too much into their debates. I wanted to do the same with this book. I did not want to overreach and point out every possible way we can compare a museum in Singapore to a museum in Kyoto, for example. I think some comparative possibilities are obvious, others less so. I presented three general types of public and leisure Buddhist places in modern Asia. I assume semblances and distinctions arose on reading and seeing these examples alongside each other.

So What Do We Make of All of This?

While I want readers to delight in the examples and images I provided of Buddhist leisure sites throughout Asia and see their own semblances, I hope they will permit me to make some explicit comments about what we can learn from these monuments, parks, and museums when we put them side by side—give me the last word, so to speak. As noted in the introduction, these spectacular leisure sites are characterized by their public accessibility, their ecumenism, and the long and complicated processes involved in their construction. Their architects and ensembliers had to compromise and settle at a series of local optima along the way, and therefore, I could not simply present a series of biographies of visionary architects, but had to take a material culture approach that looked at the shared agency of creators, materials, laborers, licensing agencies, funders, critics, and visitors. This is a type of “art nexus” approach in the tradition of Gell.12 To show this nexus (between the material, artist, creation, and sociohistorical context or artistic lineage), I had to balance extreme empiricism and the detailed presentation of many different examples with attempts to identify structures and processes. I struggle with this, but certainly leaned to the empiricist side, and agree with the methods of John Bowen and Roger Petersen. In referring to the struggle between empiricism and identifying patterns in comparative work, they write, “The world’s complexity demands some respect even as we try to understand or isolate processes and mechanisms. … We believe that exemplifying is more effective than prescribing.”13 While I avoided direct comparison, I allowed some overarching suggestions and processes and mechanisms to emerge.

These ecumenical leisure sites are linked in certain ways. First, they generally lack formal, formidable, ritual, ecclesiastical, or sectarian boundaries. They make themselves distinct and apart from other sites in particular ways. They might have opening and closing times, small entrance fees, and alarm systems, but they place virtually no restrictions on religious affiliation, gender, or ethnicity, and actively attempt to offer information in multiple languages. These are not sites for the ordained or for specific members.

Second, they make little sustained effort to be “authentic.” Studies of Buddhist modernity have often emphasized an effort by many (especially (p.170) nineteenth-century) monastic and royal reformers in Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and other places to promote the study of “original” canonical texts and classical languages (Sanskrit and Pali) in order to return to a more authentic practice of Buddhism. The architects who designed these sites, however, often explicitly emphasize that authenticity is not their goal. These sites emphasize display, performance, and juxtaposition and anachronistic mixing (not systematic reconstruction) of various Buddhist cultures, teachings, languages, objects, and symbols. This is important, because it provides us with a completely different image of contemporary Buddhism that emphasizes innovation and ecumenism instead of purity and authenticity. I agree with scholars like Alicia Turner, Erik Braun, Craig Reynolds, Anne Hansen, and others who have pointed out the clear efforts of monastic and royal reformers over the past two hundred years to reform, renew, and return to a simpler, purer Buddhism (which never actually existed). However, the designers of these new Buddhist monuments, parks, and museums have, in large part, not participated in this drive to reform and return to a less-complicated past.14 Lay and monastic architects and visionaries like Kenzo Tange, Shi Fa Zhao, Braphai and Lek Wiriyaphan, Shin Takamatsu, Chan-soo Park, Bunleua Sulilat, Tadao Ando, Luang Pho Kasem Achansupho, Đinh Văn Vui, Aw Boon Haw, and Aw Boon Par, among many others combine(d) the past and the present (and in Lek’s case, the future), the leisure and the ritual, the liturgical and the casual, the secular and the religions, often in haphazard ways. Their sites don’t work to purify Buddhism, to simplify Buddhism, to demystify Buddhism, or to reform Buddhism, but to create a Buddhist ecumenism that they know never existed. Tange, for example, created not a central hall where a uniform Buddhist group could be formed, but instead a series of interconnected plots where the diversity of contemporary Buddhist practice could coexist, but not necessarily be required to mix. Shi Fa Zhao allows statues, texts, and paintings from many different Buddhist traditions to sit comfortably together. This makes these ecumenical sites unlike the ecumenical movements in the history of Christianity that attempted to reform, repair, and reunite many Christian sects that had, they believed, sadly grown apart. It is also strikingly different from larger Islamic and Hindu reform movements. These sites present different Buddhist traditions, images, and aesthetic expressions as united but not uniform, collected but not concise—a gathering, not a movement. This focus on ecumenism and leisure and not on conversion or overly didactic social commentary has also enabled these sites to remain largely free from government sanction, public ridicule, and sectarian conflict. This is where, I argue, Buddhist studies, and religious studies more broadly, can learn from these contemporary, often lay, Buddhist architects—this is ecumenism without an agenda.

(p.171) Third, these ecumenical leisure sites are, in a sense, “non-places.”15 They actively resist attempts to label them. By eschewing the local and authentic in favor of the timeless, ecumenical, and universal, they become difficult to categorize. Like certain chain restaurants, shopping malls, and amusement parks, they sacrifice local flavor to universal appeal. However, to the disappointment of some of their creators, as we saw, the places that attract the largest crowds are usually the ones that appeal to local aesthetic, ritual, and linguistic expectations, as well as broad and diverse ecumenical arrangements. Indeed, the most successful sites combine some opportunity for visitors to perform rituals, offer gifts to images, and participate in liturgies (often through repetitive chanting) alongside visiting museums, riding amusement rides, listening to music, eating meals, and other leisure activities. These rituals often generate extra income for the leisure spaces even if that was not the intent of the design and displays. For most sites, however, profit is clearly not the motivation: many are not necessarily profitable, nor solely built to generate income, and oftentimes they lose money for their founders and managers. These fantastic projects, supported by many different hands, are designed to be spectacles. Many, but certainly not all, of these sites are outside the centers of cities or major capitals. Since transportation to them is not always convenient, their creators and managers need to create fantastic spectacles in order to make them worth the trouble to visit. They are not “on-the-way” places, but destinations in and of themselves. They make visual statements, for sure, even if they don’t attempt to create single messages or provide coherent teachings.

Fourth, the builders of these sites did not seem concerned with promoting a particular type of Buddhism or a particular way of living religiously. But, besides the fact that most are male, are there clear patterns in the way they designed, proceeded, and promoted their respective creations? The short answer is no. Kenzo Tange, Braphai and Lek Wiriyaphan, and Shi Fa Zhao came from different cultural contexts, were trained by different teachers in different artistic and architectural mediums, and had widely different explicit motivations and explanations for their work. The three architects whose personal lives I attempted to explore in detail also had very different personalities and pasts. Kenzo Tange defined himself as flexible, innovative, and democratic, but he was actually quite rigid and careful in his work. Lek and Braphai defined themselves as almost messianic in their efforts to save Thai culture and history, but actually their work (and especially Lek’s work after his wife passed away) speaks to more universal structures and truths, as they saw them. Shi Fa Zhao emphasizes ecumenicalism and openness, but his tightly controlled organization and aesthetic presentation reveals a strong focus, without his intention, on his particular way of being both Chinese and (p.172) Buddhist. However, on a deeper level, they nearly all proudly promoted the idea that their art or architecture was independent of particular sectarian affiliation or adherence to specific Buddhist monastic rules or specific teachings.

Finally, this type of relative artistic freedom could have happened only during the last century (especially after the World War II and the colonial period in Asia). Many bureaucratic barriers (most of which were solved by money) were in place in Singapore, Nepal, Laos, and, to a lesser extent, in Thailand, Korea, and Japan. But since most of the funding for these creations came from private patrons, personal wealth, or collected donations, local monastic sects, ministries of religion and culture, and governments had little control and made minimal effort to stop or strictly regulate these sites. The increased ease of communication and travel, the rise of international corporations and entities like the United Nations, and the ability to advertise on the Internet and “crowd source” for funding have allowed these sites to appeal to a wider audience. Now, even if a person can’t travel easily to Singapore or Japan, they can view photographs of these sites online and even make donations. While people outside local areas might still have financial and other barriers restricting them from physically visiting these sites, they can virtually visit them and chat about them on blogs, Facebook, Flickr, and the like. This allows artists and architects to appeal directly to those beyond their borders and lessens the ability of local governments and religious organizations to place restrictions on them. Although creative artists and architects certainly are not products of “modernity,” using modern technology to reproduce and disseminate photographs, pamphlets, and web pages to reach wider audiences quickly has provided new types of lay and ordained audiences for these creations. Certain architects and artists described in this book have certainly gained more recognition outside their own cultures than within them.

These advances also inhibit scholars, and you might detect a slight lamentation in my writing, because our job—to engage in noncomparative research in modern Buddhist studies—is getting harder and harder. Very few, if any, individual Buddhists in Asia could be described anymore as being influenced only by local understandings and expressions of their religion. Whereas in the pre-television and pre-Internet age, a Buddhist would certainly “know” they were part of some vague translocal Buddhism, but would practice in highly local ways, now most Buddhists “see” other Buddhist ways of expression through television, the Internet, art exhibitions, coffee-table books, or these new types of Buddhist leisure and public spaces. They still might “do” Buddhist things locally, such as ordinations, funerals, healing rituals, and the like, but they see others’ Buddhist things not necessarily as part of a ritual occasion, but as objects for aesthetic, experiential, and educational appreciation. In a similar way, studying individuals like Kenzo Tange cannot be done (p.173) in the framework of studying a Japanese architect. He and most others I discuss in this book, because of the freedom of travel and the ease of communication, have studied, traveled, worked, and developed colleagues far outside their hometowns or countries. Indeed, as we saw, Tange could be called a French architect more than a Japanese one. Shi Fa Zhao was not even ordained in Singapore, and Lek Wiriyaphan spoke Chinese as easily as Thai. None of them are especially representative of a particular Thai, Chinese, Japanese, or other way of being Buddhist. Their ethnic traits and religious affiliations have little determining effect on the way they decided to express themselves artistically and religiously.

Case in point, at the end of my first trip to Sendai, Japan, to see the giant Sendai Daikannon mentioned in the introduction, I went with a distant cousin (through marriage), who lives in Japan, to the Yokohama Museum of Art. I had a few hours before my flight to Bangkok and thought I would see one of Kenzo Tange’s buildings before I left. My cousin kindly drove me. The museum is a study in flow and light and was well worth the side trip. However, I actually became inspired to write this book (which was originally conceived as an article about Kenzo Tange and Japanese Buddhist misemono specifically) when I saw the exhibition of the prints of Kiyoshi Hasegawa (1891–1980) in the space Tange designed. Hasegawa was a French-trained artist from Yokohama who largely worked outside Japan and designed French book jacket covers and painted or drew French landscapes. None of his work incorporated Japanese, Asian, or Buddhist techniques, scenes, or subjects. The museum was displaying his work because it is part of their mandate to promote the work of artists from Yokohama. However, Hasegawa’s birthplace seemed to have little to do with his art.

In the second-to-last room of the exhibit, I saw one dry point sketch by Hasegawa that made me reassess the way I thought about writing about Tange and modern Buddhist architects and artists. The sketch is called Niwa, or “Garden” and was done in France in 1943.16 It is a strikingly peaceful sketch, and it is hard to believe that it was executed in the middle of Nazi-occupied France. In an overgrown and lush garden scene, hidden among the plants and trees on a small pedestal, is a single stone buddha’s head. The head, disconnected from both its body and its country and sitting on a Greek pedestal, made me wonder to what extent we can even label a person like Hasegawa, who was born Buddhist and Japanese, as a “Buddhist” or “Japanese” artist. Can Lek and Braphai Wiriyaphan’s creations be called representative of Thai Buddhism? Is Shi Fa Zhao a Chinese Buddhist? It is difficult to say, after more than half my life studying in or learning from Asia, whether I am an American researcher, an Irish-American father and husband, a scholar of Southeast Asian Buddhist studies, or a Catholic with a half-Jewish wife who teaches Buddhism at a “Quaker” school. Just as temples, museums, parks, and (p.174)

Conclusions and Comparisons

Niwa by Kiyoshi Hasegawa, from the Yokohama Museum of Art, designed by Kenzo Tange

(p.175) schools change over time and are occupied by hundreds of thousands of different people over time, the people that occupy, study, or build them change as well. These in-between people and in-between places make comparison more complicated but, I believe, more illuminating. Because, frankly, many of us are slightly more complex than the traits that define us, and many of us often feel like Hasegawa’s buddha—disembodied heads in overgrown foreign gardens. (p.176)


(1) The private family company now earns over 250 million US dollars per year. See Jeffrey Rothfeder, McIlhenny’s Gold (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 6. I thank Cliff Cosgrove for first informing me about this image.

(2) Ibid., 5.

(3) This company “village” was started in the 1880s by Edmund McIlhenny and his wife Mary Eliza Avery. It came to be a model for other company towns throughout the United States.

(p.202) (4) Shane Bernard was extremely helpful in my research. I was surprised when I learned from him that there have been no protests by local Christian communities about the presence of the Buddha image in the center of the island. He said there has been only one complaint by one Christian worker about the statue. It was not a strong complaint, and the worker did not quit or attempt to damage the image.

(5) Bernard also sent me a photograph of the ware house packing label that was included with the statue when it arrived from New York. It simply states, “The Manhattan Storage and Ware house Company, 52nd and Seventh Streets, New York, NY.” No date or other documentation is available. He has had three different art historians examine the statue. One stated that it could be over nine hundred years old, and two others (anonymous) stated that it was most likely two hundred to three hundred years old. The family used to keep the statue’s glass shrine doors unlocked, but a piece of the statue’s ear was stolen once, and so now it is locked and opened upon request. Bernard sent me many photographs of the statue in the 1940s, and the gardens have changed very little since then. Ned enjoyed having his photograph taken in front of the image.

(6) See Rothfeder, McIlhenny’s Gold, 7, 141–143. Ned McIlhenny was not the first in his family to collect Asian antiquities and plants. John Avery McIlhenny, Ned’s father, collected Japanese netsuke figurines in the late nineteenth century.

(7) This was confirmed to me when I visited the local Lao Buddhist temple (Wat Thammarattaram) about a twenty-minute drive from the island. I interviewed the abbot and several devotees (Opma Kamini, Laem Chantawongsi, Son Payara, Sangwan Sayasing, and Buapan Homluangpaxan) in Lao. The abbot, Bolian Sanatnigon (monk’s name: Phra Suwanno), was excited to tell me about the Lao community’s respect for the Avery Island image. However, since their own temple was finished in 2008, they have their own Lao Buddha images to honor now and do not visit Avery Island as frequently.

(8) His views on comparison have been a subject of inspiration and debate for over thirty years and are discussed in numerous publications. Two places that provide an accessible overview are in Jonathan Z. Smith, “A Matter of Class: Taxonomies of Religion,” in his Relating Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 160–178, and his “In Comparison a Magic Dwells,” in Imagining Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 19–35. Kimberley Patton and Benjamin Ray (eds.) provide an overview of the impact of Smith’s work on comparison and new approaches to comparative religion in A Magic Still Dwells (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

(9) Ulrich Timme Kragh, “Of Similes and Metaphors in Buddhist Philosophical Literature: Poetic Semblance through Mythic Allusion,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 73, no. 3 (2010): 479–502, esp. 481.

(10) Ibid., 481.

(11) Ibid., 482.

(12) See, for example, Alfred Gell, Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998), 1–27; Jeremy Tanner, “Portraits and Agency: A Comparative View,” in Art’s Agency and Art History, ed. Robin Osbourne and Jeremy Tanner (Oxford: Blackwell Press, 2007), 70–94.

(13) John Bowen and Roger Petersen, “Introduction: Critical Comparisons,” in their Critical Comparisons in Politics and Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 3–4.

(14) Alicia Turner, Saving Buddhism: The Impermanence of Religion in Colonial Burma (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014); Anne Hansen, How to Behave: Buddhism and Modernity in Colonial Cambodia, 1860–1930 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007); Erik Braun, The Birth of Insight (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013); Craig Reynolds, The Buddhist Monkhood in (p.203) Nineteenth Century Thailand (PhD diss., Ann Arbor, University Microforms International, 1973).

(15) Sharon Zukin, Landscapes of Power: From Detroit to Disney World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 27–31.

(16) For more information see Koji Yukiyama, Secrets of Creation: The Prints of Kiyoshi Hasegawa (Yokohama: Yokohama Museum of Art, 2006), 86. (p.204)