Buddha's Image

Gautama Vajra Vajracharya gvvajrac at facstaff.wisc.edu
Sat Feb 22 17:27:44 UTC 1997

Dear Prof. Rabe,

The passage that you are looking for is given in diTThijAla section of
DIghanikAya 1. 7. 147-148.  It refers to the invisibility of the Buddha
after his parinirvANa "kAyassa bhedA uddhaM jIvitapariyAdAnA na naM
dakkhanti devamanussA".

The aniconic tradition of Indian art is indeed very fascinating.  I have
been working on this issue for many years.  I believe the words rUpa and
arUpa are very helpful to understand the aniconic phenomena of Indic visual
tradition.  For example, Indian coins, minted before the subcontinent came
to contact with Greco-Roman tradition, do not bear any representation of a
human figure.  Those coins in a sense are arUpa "without a figure".  Later
Indian coins began to include a figure as exemplified by Kaniska's coin
bearing Buddha's image identified as 'boddo'.  This coin is actually a rUpi
"having a figure". Because of this new development Indian coins received the
new name rUpi (modern rupee for Indian currency).  Pali literature is full
of rUpa and arupa classification of supernatural beings and things. With
this new approach, I am tying to solve the old problem.  

When you proposed the discussion on the aniconic controversy, I thought,
many scholars of Sanskrit and Pali literature would respond.  I am still
eagerly anticipating to hear from them.  Apparently, however, Sanskrit
scholars are not much interested in Indian artistic tradition although they
could contribute enormously in this subject.

Gautama Vajracharya
Department of Art History
University of Wisconsin
Madison, WI 53705  

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