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Buddhadharma : Summer 2019
30 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER'S QUARTERLY into a dharmadhatu—and which are equally sacred in nature to a Catholic priest performing mass—are routinely invited by museum education staff. The separation of church and state would prevent the National Endowment for the Arts from supporting such an obviously religious enterprise with taxpayer dollars, so the NEA has continued to fund museum exhibitions featuring Buddhist (and other nonWestern) rituals under the category of “Folk and Traditional Arts,” in which “vital and constantly reinvigorated artistic traditions are shaped by values and standards of excellence that are passed from generation to generation.” Relegating respected dharma lineages and religious rituals to our constructed category of “folk art” or “cultural arti fact,” however, does a certain colonizing violence to the religious tradition itself. Given historical circumstance and the way in which Buddhism was presented to the West in the late nineteenth century—not as a religion per se but rather as a practical philosophy—it is understand able that EuroAmerican audiences have been conditioned to accept powerful Tibetan empowerments as mere ritual theater. But it is perhaps time to think more critically about the standards for what counts as “religion” in our society—and what counts as “art.” It is perhaps also time, conversely, to think critically about the trifecta of religion, art, and politics in the modern museum atrium. From the Tibetan monks’ side, such mandala performances can deliver symbiotic benefits, as the welcome exposure raises awareness and sympathy for the Tibetan cause among elite museumgoers who can then use their privileged voices and corporate power to advocate for tougher human rights policies with China. So it goes both ways: Buddhist “art” and even its religious “performing arts” are testa ments and instruments of past and present power relations. On the surface, Buddhist images are indeed examples of art. They can be appreciated for their form, composition, technical skill,