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Buddhadharma : Summer 2019
PAMELA D. WINFIELD 37 is intimately bound up in them—identical with them and in fact only facilitated by them. There can be no dharma, no transmission, with out them. For American practitioners who are concerned about authenticity and transmission, this lens for understanding Buddhist visual and material culture—Buddhist images as embodiments of the dharma itself—is most relevant and reassuring. The general apprehension about whether Americans received the full transmission from Asia or not, or if some elements have been lost in translation upon enter ing American shores, is assuaged by this visual and material record. It can provide a helpful reminder of the touchstones, the seeds that bear the fruit of dharma realization from generation to generation, from country to country. These material objects and visual cues root us in the tradition and continue to flourish in new soil. As a result, one can look at buddhas as aesthetic objects that appeal to the senses, or one can think about them as representations of the teachings that can nourish our understanding. But serious practitioners can also enter into the very crux of them and recognize the seed or the heart of the transmission in and as these forms. If we engage only on an artistic level but not as a participant, then there’s always a missed opportunity. If, however, we can dive into the depths of the dharma by grasping the significance of the thing itself, then we can appreciate how the transmission has come down to us even now, even here. If we can not only delight our senses and educate our minds, but also experience with our heart and hands what it looks, sounds, and feels like to be a buddha, then the func tional role of Buddhist imagery may be fulfilled. Buddhist visual and material culture is integral to practice–realization. We just have to wake up to it. Given the way Buddhism has been presented to the West, it is understandable that Euro-American audiences have been conditioned to accept powerful Tibetan empowerments as mere ritual theatre.