Turtles (and elephants) all the way down?

Tenzin Bob Thurman tbt7 at COLUMBIA.EDU
Sat Apr 3 22:00:56 UTC 2010

There's a famous golden turtle in Tibetan astrology and divination. 
Manjushri out of his concern for the Chinese, who are interested in 
time, astronomy, and divination, emanates himself as a golden turtle, 
then slays hisemanates turtle self and his shell comes up with the eight 
trigrams [same as those of the I Ching] for divination, and perhaps 
other geometrical patterns. In the same series of actions, he creates 
his earthly pure land at Wu Tai Shan in Shansi province

John C. Huntington wrote:
> In Buddhist Art, especially early, elephants play a major role in 
> "supporting" structural establishments Buddhist worlds, presumably 
> paradises, although the early literature does not mention that as part 
> of of the Buddhist architectural considerations. Pitalkhora and Karle 
> in the western caves have elephant plinths, and the Maha-stupa at 
> Anuradhapura has a spectacular one all around it. In all cases the 
> elephants face the viewer and support the structure on their backs.
> In later Buddhist art, (ca, 11th century and on) in India, Nepal and 
> Tibet the elephant commonly figures as either throne supports under 
> the seat of a Buddhist figure (often a Buddha) or as part of the side 
> throne-back supports, in which they often support other, often mythic, 
> animals.  From the existence of these I would suggest that elephants 
> were an early (as early as we have sculpture of them) marker of the 
> division between the mundane and the attained worlds.
> As for turtles, offhand, I cannot think of a one in Buddhism. Maybe 
> somebody else knows of some.
> Cheers
> John 

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