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Thus Have I Seen: Visualizing Faith in Early Indian Buddhism
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 241 pp. $74.00
CYNTHEA J. BOGEL
With a Single Glance: Buddhist Icon and Early Mikkyo Vision
Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009. 487 pp.; 53 color ills., 66 b/w. $75.00
When I first pondered a review on visual culture in Buddhism pairing Andy Rotman's Thus Have I Seen and Cynthea Bogel's With a Single Glance, the task seemed a bit like comparing apples and oranges. Rotman is a textual scholar of early Indian Buddhism, while Bogel is an art historian specializing in Japanese Esoteric Buddhism. Thus, not only are these scholars' approaches different, but so are their sources, linguistic training, and areas of specialization with regard to time frame and geographic location. Nevertheless, both apples and oranges are fruit; likewise, these studies overlap in two fundamental ways: they are both about Buddhism and visuality. Therefore, there is scope for some useful comments about the nature of these two monographs as they relate to the emerging awareness among contemporary scholars of visuality in Buddhism.
Rotman's study on visuality and faith as depicted in the Divyavadana, "a vast collection of Buddhist moral biographies written in Sanskrit in the early centuries of the Common Era" (p. 4), serves as a companion to his translation of the same text. (1) Like his translation. Thus Have I Seen is written in a colloquial style, which should appeal to the layperson and scholar alike. In fact, his easy-to-read English is even more commendable here than in his translation, which (due to its lack of technical precision) might not appeal to traditionally trained Buddhist philologists.
Rotman's clever choice of title for his studv is an immediate indicator to any Buddhist textual scholar of the primary theoretical thrust of the monograph. The phrase "thus have I seen," which does not commonly occur in Buddhist sources, is an inrentional corruption of the classic opening phrase of every sutra (discourse) of the Buddha: "Thus have I heard, at one time the Lord was dwelling ... [evam maya srulam ekasmin samaye bhagavan ... viharali sma ...]." Traditionally, it is believed that these words were recited at the first Buddhist council following die final nirvana of the Buddha, by Ananda, faithful monk-servant and cousin of the Buddha, who not only was present at practically all of the Buddha's sermons but also possessed an eidetic memory and could recall verbatim every teaching occasion of the Buddha. Much scholarly ink has been spilled over this opening phrase; however, the general agreement among Buddhologists is that it is simultaneously an authenticating marker of a surra's authority and a sign of the fundamentally oral nature of early Buddhist scriptural transmission and culture. Thus, Rotman rhetorically transposes the traditional "heard" for "seen" in his title to jar his readers and provoke a kind of cognitive dissonance. In this way. Rotman has already primed his informed audience that he is going to challenge the scholarly status quo on the fundamentally oral nature of early Indian Buddhism by demonstrating the importance of visuality in his source text, the Divyavadana. This is confirmed in the first pages of the monograph, where Rotman asserts, "As the title of this book suggests, the Divyavadana is visual literature grounded in a visual epistemology" (p. 4).
Thus Have I Seen is organized into eight chapters divided into three parts. In his introduction, Rotman lays out the broad strokes of his project: "the visual component of the Divyavadana is more than just a visual culture with consensus and homogeneity regarding visual practices and processes; it is also a visual economy ... The 'value' of this visual economy, however, is neither cash nor hard currency. It is faith" (p. 6). "Faith" in the Buddhist context generally refers to two overlapping related terms in Sanskrit: sraddha and prasada. These two types of faith are central to the narratives in the Divyavadana. Sraddha …