Claudio Cicuzza, A Mirror Reflecting the Entire World: The Pali Buddhapādamaṅgala or ‘Auspicious Signs on the Buddha’s Feet’
Critical Edition with English Translation. Bangkok and Lumbini: Materials for the Study of the Tripitaka Vol. 6, Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation and Lumbini Research Institute, 2011. Foreword by Peter Skilling. Pp. lxiii, 224; ills., bib., index.
Shimizu Yohei, Bodhi Tree Worship in Theravada Buddhism
Nagoya: Studia Asiatica 9, Nagoya University Association of Indian and Buddhist Studies, 2010. Pp. vii, 109; ills., bib., index.
Reviewed by Justin Thomas McDaniel.
I am excited to review these two books together because they represent some of the best new work coming out of Southeast Asian Buddhist textual studies and because they afford us the opportunity to reflect on several important developments in the field. After briefly describing the books, I will offer some remarks on these developments, emphasizing especially the importance of publication series coming from Asia, the rise of textual-anthropological approaches and material-culture studies, and a broadening of the study of Indology to take more seriously Pali and Sanskrit texts composed inSoutheast Asia.
Claudio Cicuzza is one of the leading Indologists working in Thailand today. His breadth of language skills in Pali and Sanskrit, as well as his growing knowledge of vernacular Thai work, provides him with the skills not only to translate and analyze important works in classical Indic languages, but also to study how those works circulated and interacted with the intellectual, artistic, and ritual life of Siam/Thailand. His most recent book, A Mirror Reflecting the Entire World, is a meticulously researched and well written edition and translation of the Buddhapādamaṅgala, with an extensive introduction (as well as a foreword by Peter Skilling). The text is an anonymous Pali work most likely originating in Ayutthaya in the sixteenth century. It has circulated in manuscript form in Thailand, and “the Pali of this text has been strongly influenced by Thai syntax and prosody” (page l). As Skilling notes, “it also shares in a broader intertextuality of Southeast Asian Pali literature” (page xi). Cicuzza consulted six manuscripts and a printed edition in Thailand. He provides detailed lists of the various maṅgalas (auspicious signs) in important Pali texts like the Pajjamadhu, Jinālaṅkāraṭīkā, and the Paṭhamasambodhi, among others. He also provides photographs of one of the original manuscripts and a thorough bibliography and index. The English translation and Pali edition are both of very good quality. The detailed bibliographic information on individual manuscripts is presented clearly, and references are made to overlapping content and/or concepts in the Buddhavaṃsa and Apadāna. Cicuzza brings us not merely a straightforward introduction to the text at hand, though. He also offers some interesting thoughts on the significance of footprints in general in the study of religion and culture in non-Asian contexts, thoughts which lead him to suggest that footprints of the Buddha were so important inSoutheast Asia because of the popularity of walking images of the Buddha.
As for the content of the Buddhapādamaṅgala, it is a commentary on the 108 marks (lakkhaṇa) on the bottom of the feet of the Buddha. It refers to itself as a vaṇṇanā, aṭṭhakathā, and vinicchaya—all forms of exegesis, commentary, and analysis. The 108 marks include the cakkavāḷa (mountain range surrounding the world), the sovatthika (sash of gold and diamonds), and suriya (sun), among others. As Cicuzza writes, these elements seem “to yield a kind of map of the whole universe, a mosaic in which the constituents of the world are parts of the body, the mind and the Dhamma of the Buddha” (page xxxvi). This is a good point, one that should have been expanded. There is a whole body of ritual and cosmological texts in Southeast Asia that describe the connections between the microcosm of the human body and the macrocosm of the earth, levels of hell and heaven, animal realms, and the like. Cicuzza gestures towards these connections in a lengthy footnote. There he shows possible similarities between Tibetan tantric concepts and this text, but there are much more tangible connections to texts and practices inThailand. Moreover, I would have liked to see more information about the liturgical and ritual uses of the text in Thai pasts and presents. He hints at these, but does not offer extensive explanations. While I am confident that he is knowledgeable about these uses of the text, these types of speculations do not seem to be his goal. Instead, quite appropriately, he sticks to the text at hand. Since we know so little about Pali literature in the region, new editions of translations of these “local” Pali texts are of paramount importance for future work on the textual and manuscript cultures of Buddhist Southeast Asia.
Shimizu’s work is quite different from Cicuzza’s. While each book offers a detailed study of one of the major indices of Buddhist visual culture – footprints and Bodhi trees, respectively – Shimizudoes not go into deep philological and codicological detail like Cicuzza. Instead, he offers a broader material-cultural study of Bodhi tree ritualization and textual sources in various locales. He places the honoring of the Bodhi tree within the larger context of the religious significance of plants and trees. I found his description of pre-Buddhist worship of the Aśvattha tree particularly interesting. The Aśvattha tree, which is believed to be the pre-Buddhist name of the Bodhi tree, is found on earthenware buried in tombs from the time of the great Indus Valley civilizations and mentioned in the Ṛg Veda, the Atharva Veda, the Mahābharata, the Upaniṣads, and other non-Buddhist Sanskrit texts. Shimizu’s book becomes not just a study of Bodhi trees, but a useful source for the study of the place of plant life in Indic art and texts more broadly.
Shimizu traces the role of trees in the imagery and textual accounts of past Buddhas like Vipassī, Sikhī, and Vessabhū. He includes photographs of stone reliefs in which these various trees and Buddhas were depicted. This is an excellent overview, one with important implications for the study of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. For example, when I was researching nissaya, vohāra, and other types of bi-lingual pedagogical manuscripts in Laos and Thailand several years ago, I noticed that sometimes commentaries and glosses organized their content not by narrative sequence or chronology, but by the categories of different Buddhas, their families, and the trees associated with them. More recently, Pattaratorn Chirapravati has looked closely at the imagery of Maitreya/Metteya (the so-called “future Buddha”) in Southeast Asia and used the study of tree imagery to identify figures in stone reliefs, votive, tablets, and murals. (As I read his book, I found myself wishing that Shimuzu had included some information about Maitreya in his book, as there is so little on the role of Maitreya in Southeast Asian ritual life.) Shimizu provides a clear analysis of the problems encountered in trying to identify the trees of particular Buddhas. For example, he shows that oftentimes in the past, scholars mistakenly assumed that the Pāṭalī and Asoka trees were interchangeable in their association with Vipassī Buddha. His close philological and art-historical analysis shows that, without an understanding of botany and the topography and climate ofSouth Asia, we cannot realize how particular trees are so closely tied to particular Buddhas. Thanks to Shimizu’s work, we now can see that a detailed history of the natural world is essential to understanding Buddhist history.
Shimizu does not limit his study of trees to pre-Buddhist and early Buddhist history in South Asia. Indeed, he provides much evidence from Burma, especially the stone monument to the twenty-eight Buddhas of the past, and from Pali Buddhist texts that circulate commonly in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. He provides an extensive discussion of tree worship in Pali literature, especially stories from the Jātaka and Apadāna collections. He offers an entire chapter dedicated to the Mahābodhivaṃsa (and particularly to Chapter 12). I would have liked to see more reflection on the ways in which these texts have been depicted in mural and relief art in Southeast Asia and even perhaps interviews with contemporary visitors to sites of Bodhi tree worship. This book includes photographs, but not the voices of actual worshippers. Shimizu’s textual study of ways in which Bodhi tree worship changed over time would be perfectly complemented by a solid ethnography of places like Bodhgaya,Anuradhapura, Chiang Mai, orMandalay.
Both Shimizu’s and Cicuzza’s books are important contributions to the study of Buddhism in South and Southeast Asia. Read together, they offer a chance to comment on three significant trends in the field.
First, Cicuzza’s book is the sixth in the series Material Sources for the Study of the Tripiṭaka (MST), published by Thailand’s Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation and Nepal’s Lumbini Research Institute and initiated by Peter Skilling. Over the past decade this series has become one of the most significant sources for new work on the history of Buddhism in Southeast Asia, but it has been largely overlooked because of its limited distribution outside ofAsia. The series, of which three more volumes are now in production, is producing lengthy, handsome, peer-reviewed, and meticulously edited textual and historical studies, manuscript catalogues, editions of Pali texts, and collections of articles. It is making them available at a very low price. The entire series costs less than most single volumes of books on Buddhism produced at European and North American presses. Shimizu’s book is the ninth volume in the Studia Asiatica series fromJapan’s Nagoya University. While labor and material costs do not allow replication of the production quality of the MST, the series is nevertheless able to provide at relatively low cost solid peer-reviewed and in-depth studies in the fields of South and Southeast Asian Buddhism. These two largely English-language series—alongside other English-language books published by Silkworm Books, Kyoto University Press, and River Books—are changing very material conditions for the availability of new books on Buddhist Studies accessible to a wide reading public (of those without Thai, Khmer, Burmese, Lao, or Japanese language skills) outside of Asia. Western libraries should be actively collecting these books; up until now, many have not done so. Indeed, many university presses in Europe andNorth America would unfortunately not have published Cicuzza’s and Shimuzu’s books, because they might have been deemed attractive to only a narrow readership. I hope to have shown in this review how important detailed studies like these two are.
Second, these two new books are good representatives of transitions in Southeast Asian Buddhist Studies over the past decade. Inspired partly by the work of Gregory Schopen in early Buddhist studies and the impact of Paul Mus’s œuvre, there has been a gradual turn towards textual studies which take into account art-historical, archaeological, and material-cultural evidence. Until recently, rarely would editions, translations, and philological studies like Cicuzza’s have included photographs of manuscripts and references to Buddha footprint worship by living Buddhist communities. As for Shimizu, one of the foundations of his argument is tree imagery and evidence from the world of the natural sciences. These previously unused bodies of evidence make these books much more convincing and attractive to readers who are not textual specialists. Besides the material-culture turn, there has been a similar growth in textual-anthropological studies, which look at how texts are received, translated, ritualized, catalogued, edited, illuminated, and changed in a variety of local contexts. This area is one in which both Cicuzza and Shimizu could have done more. I would have liked to see an extra chapter in each book that looked at the history of Buddha footprint and Bodhi tree worship and ritualization, respectively. These chapters could have drawn evidence from travelers’ accounts, early ethnographies, and even present-day observation. However, the fact that both of these studies make overtures towards the importance of these anthropological approaches and trace the way in which different communities treated these indices of the Buddha’s presence demonstrates the changes that are under way in Buddhist textual studies.
Finally, these two works, written by scholars trained in Indology and classical Indic languages, look at texts and art-historical evidence from Southeast Asia. Unlike many previous studies, they do not see Pali texts composed or circulated in Southeast Asiaas simply derivative of South Asian exemplars. Shimizu is currently engaged in a long-term project cataloging Buddhist manuscripts in Bangkok collections, which will undoubtedly allow him to expand future studies. Cicuzza does not see texts in classical Indic languages that were either composed anew in Southeast Asia or were circulated and changed hand-by-hand in Southeast Asiaas corrupt or domesticized texts full of “localisms.” Instead, he studies the manuscripts found as they are. He does not supersede straightforward observation with figural interpretation. He does not dig and dig looking for manuscripts’ idea of pure Theravada Buddhism buried under the weight of “local” culture. He does not depict Thai Buddhism in opposition to something else more authentic, older, and more powerful – the “Theravada,” “Sinhala or Mon Buddhism,” and/or “Early Buddhism.” There are, to be sure, aspects of Indic, early, or Sinhala or Theravada (often seen as synonymous) Buddhism in Thai Buddhism. However, when Thai Buddhist practices are set against them, Thailand is seen as unique, corrupt, local, syncretistic, or cultish in positive or negative ways. Cicuzza treats Pali texts, like the Buddhapādamaṅgala, not as local commentaries distant from the words of the Buddha or derivative of South Asian originals, but as legitimate sources for Buddhist history, teachings, and material culture. It is my hope that these two works represent a new stage in Indology, in which Sanskritists and Pali specialists will invest more of their time and skills in the study of Indic-language texts composed in Southeast Asia.
Justin McDaniel is associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the author, most recently, of The Lovelorn Ghost and the Magic Monk: Practicing Buddhism in Modern Thailand.