Saturday, March 17, 2012

Generating Sacred Symbols

Lumbini 2011


What you will find below if you scroll down a bit is a short section from a book manuscript I’ve been working on since I can remember. It doesn’t have a real title yet, or to put it more accurately, it has had a large number of titles so far. It’s about the symbolism of ritual objects such as the Vajra and Bell and commonly-seen devotional practices within the world of Tibetan (and Indian) Buddhism, but entering into other worlds when doing so makes sense to me or helps me make sense of things. If you have any particular or general reactions to it, be so kind as to let me know. I’ve already rewritten it so many times, I can’t even see the end of revision. Perhaps you can help me with that. I did very much enjoy the task of finding suitable illustrations.

The general trend of thinking may be a surprising one (someone even told me that it was dangerous, although I find that a little melodramatic). I hold that the distinction between religion with and religion without images is not of any great account...  

I had two pivotal real-life experiences that could in some part account for the essay that I hope you will find time to read. In 1989 or so I had a brief stop in Paris on the way to Nepal. With the impressions of Catholic piety fresh in my mind (especially women taking holy water and making light offerings), I witnessed similar things going on at Bodhanath and concluded that “Devotion is a single emotion.” One expression of veneration was equal to the other, fulfilling the same human needs. I knew this with immediate certainty.

Some years later I was in the Mediterranean visiting a secluded place that had once been sacred to the Greek god Pan. I can’t really encapsulate it in a few words, and I very much doubt it had anything to do with Pan, but it happened when I saw on the side of a large rock face a small empty niche that may at one time have held a divine representation. This emptiness made a very large impression...  An emptiness that is nevertheless a fullness, bursting with every possibility...  There ready for any kind of projection of sacred forms... Open to any kind of revelation. Well, I guess it could have had something to do with Pan...

In what follows I try to posit a general idea — I hesitate to use the word theory — about the manner in which religious symbols or icons or imagery (use whatever terms you like) grow inside religious cultures. It’s an idea that is itself largely owed to Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, but I think it will make sense to those who are not very familiar with that world.

I should apologize for and explain my use of the word ‘emotion’ in this little essay. I mean by it something broader than emotion per se. I mean something more like Buddhist Abhidharma 'mental states' theory. It covers a large range of human reactions to things, some of them more trends of thinking than those feeling|sentiment types of things English speakers usually mean by this word. There are mental states that are positive and conducive to growth, like generosity and open-mindedness, and there are others that are negative and have bad consequences...  like hatreds and addictions. Well, there are more excuses and apologies that ought to be made, but let’s not spend so much time introducing the introduction that we don’t just get started.

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This exploratory study of the implements used in monastic and anchoritic rituals of Tibetan Buddhism, while broadly speaking ‘cultural-historical,’ lays emphasis on their symbolic interpretation. It is a human-istic approach in the sense that sacred symbols are seen as a part, an especially significant part, of the growth of humanity’s religious cultures. The late modern world’s structuralist and cognitivist approaches to symbolism have proven inadequate, I would say, because of their neglect of the inevitable human emotional factors, let alone the question which sorts of emotions are at play. If we admit that religious devotion engages a complex of emotions, still, how can we describe it, and further how can we put our fingers on precisely how symbolisms of various sorts might engage with this or that emotion or emotional complex? 

According to one wellknown definition, a symbol is “an object or a pattern which, whatever the reason may be, operates upon [people], and causes effect in them, beyond mere recognition of what is literally presented in the given form.”[1] It may be well to add that religious symbolism has its effect on us, as believers, because it seems to place us in contact with blessings and powers linked to our particular religious sacraments, founders, our holy figures and objects (including holy books), our saints and relics. That is why we generally do not confuse religious symbols with the usual types of figures of the literary kinds, no matter how much they might otherwise resemble each other. 

Metaphors, however evocative, do not usually have sacramental powers.[2] In our use of the term, ‘religious symbolism’ is closely equivalent to sacred art, the ‘sacred’ being a quality going above and beyond, but without cancelling, questions of aesthetics.[3] But if religious symbolism is sacred art, we still have to muse over that age-old question, What is art for? What is its (actual, practical, ideal or ideological) relationship with the human world?
Symbolism, of some type and degree, is universal to religion. Even though some iconoclastic religions (or sects and movements within them) have tried to do away with symbolic mediation, they have never really succeeded. Even religions who have achieved limited success in doing away with two- or three-dimensional artistic imagery, the imagery of their scriptures — perhaps even of their calligraphy, the symbolism of the Word itself, or the potencies of the very letters — remained, as for example in post-Hellenistic Judaism,[4] Islam and various types of Protestant Christianity.[5] Still, even in these latter cases the human tendency to engage with forms religiously, particularly in moments of private prayer or meditation, has by no means been eliminated.[6] 

It may well be that religions that have retreated into the minimal forms of visual representation might be the very religions that have most tended to ultimatize a deity with maximally personalized attributes in their minds’ eyes. It seems as if each religious culture has negotiated, to its own satisfaction, the tensions between immanence and transcendence. Should we simply respect their conclusions as appropriate to their specific conditions, as factors meant to maximize their survival capabilities, or some such anyway, after-the-fact explanation?
Why would a religious culture insist on stopping at some more minimalist point in the scale of divine manifestation?  One common response of the minimalist traditions has been that taking the next step would bring greater involvement, would excite the senses and their associated emotions, leading the devotee to sensual and emotional excesses, which would cause immorality and its attendant social ills or disruptions.  At the same time, the transcendent divine would be compromised by being brought too close to the human scale of things. I suggest that the minimalists’ standpoints make sense within their particular spheres of religious culture, but when we stand back and attempt to take a broader view of religious phenomena, a different way of comprehending their attitudes might emerge.  

Consider (and reconsider) the possibility that those religions that accept maximal modes of manifestation might at the same time possess more powerful methods for transforming the devotee’s sensual and emotional tendencies in the direction of transcendence, that they might have ways of using the greater sensory and emotional involvement that more fully incarnated (fleshed out, elaborated) imagery supplies to the human imagination in the service of those trans- or supra-human goals religions recommend.  They may have greater confidence in the kinds of human potential that keep those options open.  

In short, I suggest that religious cultures employing maximal immanence may possess the power-sources to effect maximal transcendence.  True, this would depend not only on the religion, but on the religious person, on their experience, emotional maturity and wisdom.  (We really do need to question and resist the tendency in religious studies classes even nowadays to utter statements implying ‘ethnographic wholism,’ for example, that Buddhists [or Tibetan Buddhists or Catholics or Sikhs or Bonpos, etc.] are like such-and-such and believe such-and-such.  We also need to put to the test any assumptions we might have that they do whatever it is that they do entirely because of what is written in their holy books, assuming they have them.)
The ability of sacred images to contract into syllables, into emblems, into empty thrones and finally even into empty space (as well as ‘expanding’ in reverse order) is perhaps most clearly exemplified in Tibetan Buddhist sādhana practice in which divine forms of Buddhas may be consciously ‘generated’ through these different levels at a single sitting.  The five degrees of manifestation, called ngönjang (mngon-byang) in Tibetan, abhisambodhi in Sanskrit, are: 

Five Degrees of Manifestation
(illustrated by the Letter 'A', Japanese Shingon)

These levels are especially relevant for the class of tantras known as Yoga Tantras, in use by the Japanese Shingon School among others, but remain of significance (or we could even say a necessary background) for the classes of Great Yoga or Highest Yoga Tantras[7] in which Tibetans tend to specialize. One early Tibetan source[8] very explicitly supplies the homologies for the meditative process that are to be found in ordinary human birth: [1] entering the empty womb, [2] the semen and blood of the father and mother, [3] the incarnating consciousness in the form of a letter, [4] the formation of a Vajra in the case of a male and of the Lotus in the case of a female, and [5] the completion of the body over nine or ten months. 

There are clear ‘parallels’ (although I think it preferable to use the weightier traditional word, ‘correspondences’) between ideas about human conception and gestation, the degrees of divine manifestation, and the sādhana practice of visualizing the divine Buddhist ideals the Vajrayânist aspires to not only embrace, but fully embody.

Empty Niche
This Yogatantra list merits contrast with a comparable set of five basic possibilities for sacred representations that has been perceived, by archaeologists and scholars (and not articulated, nota bene, by the religions themselves), in the ancient Middle Eastern religions considered as a whole:

Here the absence of the aural word-and/or-letter possibility most demands discussion. Differences between ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian on the one hand, and Hindu and Buddhist image cults on the other, may be underlined by the relative importance of consecratory mouth-opening in the first instance, and eye-opening in the second.  The first would appear to indicate an oracular or prophetic relationship with deity (and not only the ability to receive food and drink offerings), while the second underlines a visionary relationship, even if the other senses are not neglected, this being entirely a question of emphasis.[11]  This would seem to indicate variable degrees of emphasis on the verbal or visual symbolic levels.  

Still, the importance and perhaps even the primacy of vision in Mesopotamian image cults is the subject of an article by Irene Winter.  Kabbalistic speculations on the divine ‘faces’ (partsufim), meaning the types of divine self-presentation in light of our human limitations, while (nearly) entirely limited to the formal and sonic qualities of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, would certainly be worthy of consideration in this regard.[12] Still, this would lead us to wonder about the apparent absence (or neglect?) of letters/sounds as divine aspects in the archaeological evidence from the ancient Middle East.  That prophetic utterance and scriptural text might both be seen as in some real sense divine or holy has been so commonly accepted as primary in those religions that it might very well go without saying. (And of course sonic phenomena are not often to be seen in archaeological digs.  In the absence of sound recording what artefact would we expect to find?)

Empty Throne
(Byzantine era, San Marco, Venice)
Still, these comparative considerations placed aside, there is something about the internal history of Buddhism itself that might help explain at least some of the ‘five degrees of manifestation.’ As is very well known, the Buddha was not represented in human form for the first centuries of Buddhist history. Although there are some dissenting voices, it is usually believed that the earliest Buddhist art, typically involving a devotional scene around the Bodhi Tree and the seat where the Buddha gained enlightenment, but without any depiction of the Buddha Himself, signifies that there was in those times a restriction on representing the Buddha in human form. Still, when we look into this, it would seem that not a single Buddhist scriptural passage forbids Buddha images. One scholar has well argued, however, that these are ‘pilgrimage’ scenes, that they naturally depict the Buddha’s seat without the Buddha seated in it because that is just how pilgrims would have found it in Bodhgaya in those times. 

Venerating the Empty Seat

The meaning of the Buddha’s seat may have quite concrete roots in Buddhist history. It is said that the Buddha during His life always sat on a seat set apart from the gathering of His followers, but even during the absence of the Buddha, a special seat was still reserved for Him, and it was believed that in times of need, the Buddha could suddenly, or even miraculously, make His appearance on the seat to provide guidance. After the death of the Buddha, His seat remained a powerful symbol of His continuing presence (and the possibility of visionary manifestation). At root, perhaps the symbolism is one of traditional Indian hospitality for guests, in which the guest is offered a seat (with a better and more honorable seat for the more worthy).[13] Regardless of the reasons, the ‘empty throne’ would in early times sometimes show a triple jewel (triratna) above the seat, symbolizing Buddha, Dharma and Sagha.  This does, at least in a general way, resemble the ‘emblem,’ the fourth degree of manifestation, which would precede the full image in visualization practices detailed in later texts.[14]

Making the transition to Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna, the early symbolism of the seat went a few steps further (but with the further steps ‘suggested’ by earlier steps). The seat became a lotus seat, since the lotus is a symbol of purity (of purity that emerges out of and transcends impurity) and of pure, or divine, birth. Similar ideas about the birth (or rebirth) of deities from lotusses were apparently known in ancient Egypt.[15] The Vajrayāna emphasis on homologies between Buddha manifestation (and visualization) and reproductive/ birth processes led them to place a sun and moon on the seat, symbolizing the male and female reproductive substances, just as the seed-syllable that appears in the next stage of manifestation stands for the reincarnating consciousness. This, or something very like this — for there are controversies in this area, as in others — is basic Vajrayāna, which consciously applies methods of spiritual practice that reflect and utilize, in what is regarded as an effective way, the processes of birth and death (as well as intervening stages of growth, coming-of-age rites, etc.) as these processes were understood in Indian Buddhist science and culture.

These considerations on the cross-cultural and intra-cultural equivalency of different levels of symbolic manifestation, always involving various divine compromises in the face of our human sensory capabilities (our ability to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ in particular), inform the following chapters.  Turned back on the investigator, they may well threaten his representations of them, or even his right to make them. We have to wonder how much we should be informing the traditions we study, and how much those traditions should inform us — and, of course, how much our information depends on those who have been more or less zealous in informing the traditions they study from those varied external viewpoints of the human sciences we now know as ‘theory.’ 

As an aside, we may point out that the Greek word theoria, from which ‘theory’ is taken, is rather roughly equivalent to what we mean nowadays by pilgrimage.[16] Of course, it includes as well journeys to festivals, and even journeys undertaken in order to see how other people live, rather like modern tourists. Herodotus was just such a ‘tourist’ when he went to do his fieldwork in North Africa. But generally it referred to a kind of contemplative seeing of sacred objects of various sorts, rather closely resembling the act known as ‘seeing,’ in Sanskrit darśana, in Indian religious culture. It is one of those curious and ironic twists of word history that has transformed theory, the effort to go out and see things for ourselves, into a group of brandnames of intellectual baggage that may often form an obdurate obstacle to seeing things directly in any meaningful way.

To be continued...  Here

[1] Goodenough (1988: 40).  One might also compare the discussions by various authors of the meaning of symbolism in Werner (1991). Recommended for its illustrations, as well as for its attempt at wide coverage of Tibetan symbolism, is Levenson (2000), although it might well be criticized on a number of grounds.  On an entirely different level, although also intended as a very popular presentation, is Thurman (1995). By the way, what may be the oldest synagogue that still exists (completed in 244 CE), preserved in a museum in Damascus, is the Dura-Europas Synagogue that is the main subject of Goodenough’s book. There was no prohibition against the representation of the human figure. And as Elverskog (2010) in a book I've mentioned here before shows quite clearly, there have been times and places in Islamic history when human figures, even of the Prophet, could be painted.

[2]  Some might prefer to use a concept like ‘participatory’ or the like, in place of ‘sacramental,’ as does Ladner (1979).  This would seem to lend a more sociological bent (just as the word ‘sacramental’ might lend itself to an emphasis on history), even if intended in a broader sense — a presumed or experienced interrelationship with the universe of beings and the beyond. I think it is precisely on account of their non-participation — their cynical distanciation, their reduction of the symbol to something both arbitrary and merely subjective — that the modern structuralists, and even more so their followers among the so-called post-moderns, fall from and at the same time fail to comprehend traditional ways of using and understanding symbols. Surely, as Ladner argues, the medieval Christian understanding of symbolism differs from that of the structuralists in fairly essential ways. At the risk of failing, and of course with what might with justice be considered an excessive emphasis on history, I attempt to approach the Tibetan sources in an exploratory way that should not predispose us to view them through modernist or post-modernist or, for that matter, ‘new age’ filters. I believe historical explorations of the better sort result in fresher as well as more refreshing understandings.

[3] One ought to at least consider the possibility, as put forward by Kapstein (2004: 272-3), that the sacred and the artistically sublime are somehow parallel, that encountering sacred objects culminates in a sense of their holiness (or ‘the sacred’) just as viewing museum art or listening to music may culminate in aesthetic rapture. Both outcomes depend on personal immersion in a particular artistic or religious culture. Neither outcome necessarily excludes the other. But at the same time we should not presume that the experience of the sacred is simply aesthetic (making note of Coomaraswamy’s puzzling use of the translation ‘aesthetic shock’ that appears below).

[4] See especially Idel 2001. Jewish theologians, Kabbalists and Hasids, in their varying ways, have often located the presence of the Author of the Torah in the very letters of the physical book. Of course, in general practice, on a popular level, the Torah scroll forms the one and only focus of cult within the synagogue. It is placed in the sacred ‘cabinet’ (aron) at the front and center of the synagogue/temple, just like the empty (yet architecturally framed and emphasized) qiblah of the mosque that indicates the sacred direction of cultic worship toward which prostrations and prayers are oriented.

A Curtained Torah Ark in Safed (Tsfat)
[5] We might want to add Confucianism, in at least some of its historic phases, to this list of non- and anti-iconic religions. It is at the same time true that there were times and places in which Confucianists practiced a regular cult devoted to his person, with consecrated icons forming a part of it.  For more on this, see Murray (2009).

[6] And it is instructive to observe the point at which a particular religion or sect stops, because it is usually apparent what the next logical step in representation would be. For instance, in many Baptist churches, while unadorned Crosses may very well be placed in a raised central location in the church, decorative frills or figures of any kind are avoided. The full-bodied sculptural representation of Jesus dying on the Cross they would see as little less than idolatry. Some Protestant sects, while they do not deny that it is the death of the physical form of Jesus that most potently symbolizes redemptive power, nevertheless shrink back from picturing it three-dimensionally in anything but their minds’ eyes (two-dimensional pastel paintings reproduced within the zippered leather bindings of their Bibles being for most of them neither noteworthy nor problematic).
Fra Angelico, "The Crucificion," 1442

[7] Great Yoga is, in Sanskrit Mahāyoga, while Highest Yoga is often re-Sanskritized as Anuttara Yoga although Yoga Niruttara is probably the correct form, as H. Isaacson (Hamburg) would anyway insist.

[8]  See ’Jig-rten-mgon-po 2001: VI 5.

[9] Ornan (1995) and Ornan (2005) concern a period in Babylonian and Assyrian history (generally corresponding to the period of temple reforms in Jerusalem), in which there was a strong tendency to replace anthropomorphic deities with their emblems (niphu). 

[11] For an accessible source on the five levels of manifestation in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, see Beyer (1973: 109-111).  For the Middle Eastern types of visual representation of deity listed here see van der Toorn (1997: particularly the words of Izak Cornelius on pp. 41-2).  On the history and symbolism of the animals (or cherubim) that elevate old Middle Eastern thrones (or, indeed, ‘chariots’) of the gods, see L’Orange (1953), who finds strong evidence of their ‘astral’ character.  These animals support the throne when conceived as such, but pull it when it is considered to be a chariot.  Animals likewise uphold the seats of divine figures in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism (in specific cases, like that of Mārîcî, we do find chariots pulled by animals, in this case seven pigs, symbolically echoing the seven horses that pull the chariot of the sun), where the technical term for them is, in Sanskrit, vāhana, a word covering the meanings of both ‘mount’ and ‘conveyance.’  Indian and Tibetan Buddhism also know of animal-headed deities, and even of deities that have both animal and human heads.  

Sûrya at the Golden Temple of Patan -
Notice the seven horses
However, in all cases, the animal bearing the throne is considered to be part of the throne rather than part of the deity.  On the representation of the divine throne, in which the angelic cherubim figures are the upholders of the throne, once found in the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem Temple, see Haran (1985: 220 ff., 246-259).  The gold and ivory throne of Solomon was flanked by lions (I Kings 10:18-20), and its later iconography, too, is of interest, since the Virgin Mary and various earthly kings like Henry VI could also be placed on it in artworks (Ragusa 1977; Weiss 1995; Shalev-Eyni 2006), and because, as in Tibetan icons, the throne absorbed elements from the architecture surrounding it.  The boundaries between throne, niche and palace are sometimes somewhat blurred.  See Winter (1992), the article by Angelika Berlejung in van der Toorn (1997), Bentor (1996), and the contributions contained in Dick (1999) as well as Walls (2005).  There are some interesting comparative comments on eye and mouth opening in Thompson (1991: 8-10).

[12] Thanks are due to Menachem Kallus, who kindly shared with me some of his writing on this subject in his (then) forthcoming dissertation. Rather similar to this Kabbalistic idea, but quite different in its rationales, the famed rationalist Moses Maimonides (1136-1204) interprets certain ‘irrational’ demands of the deity, especially animal sacrifices, as resulting from ‘divine condescendence’ (in Greek, synkatabasis; in Arabic, talaṭṭuf), an accommodation to human, and decidedly not divine, needs (Stroumsa 2001: 16).  When we see that just such rationales may be used for worship focussed on images, while bearing in mind that Israel’s Jerusalem temple cult was largely premised and focussed on the presence of an anthropomorphic image even in the absence of any depiction (Haran 1985), then the ‘Mosaic distinction’ (Assmann 1996), that dividing line between true religion and paganism that underlies so much else in the history of European and American thinking, while not easily erased, loses some of it’s ‘naturalness’ and solidity, and translation and dialog become possible.

[13] This discussion is essentially a paraphrase of Kariyawasam (1966: 130), to which the reader is referred for greater elaboration.

[14] Although there is a great deal of literature on this particular subject (and still much more on the question of the origins of the Buddha image), most of it is summarized or cited in Tanaka (1999), Huntington (1990), and van Kooij (1995).

[15] There are a number of studies on Lotus symbolism, and only a few of them will be mentioned here.  On the early Indian symbolism of the Lotus, see especially Coomaraswamy (1971, pt. 2: 56-60).  On Egyptian ideas about deities born from lotusses, see Moret (1917).  On both Egyptian and Indian deities on lotusses, see Morenz & Schubert (1954).

[16] For arguments and justification for what follows, with further documentation and references, see Rutherford (2000).  Of course darśana (as well as Tibetan lta-ba) also often means ‘view’ in a more philosophical sense, and there are still other problems lurking here.  I must leave some wrinkles to be ironed out some other time.

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Referenced publications —

Assmann, Jan 1996 — The Mosaic Distinction: Israel, Egypt, and the Invention of Paganism, Representations, no. 56, Special Issue: The New Erudition (Autumn 1996), pp. 48-67.
Bentor, Yael 1996 — Consecration of Images and Stūpas in Indo-Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, E.J. Brill (Leiden 1996).
Beyer, Stephan 1973 — The Cult of Tārā: Magic and Ritual in Tibet, University of California Press (Berkeley 1973).
Coomaraswamy, Ananda K. 1971 — Yakṣas, Part I and Part II, Munshiram Manoharlal (New Delhi 1971).
Dick, Michael B. 1999 — ed., Born in Heaven, Made on Earth: The Making of the Cult Image in the Ancient Near East, Eisenbrauns (Winona Lake 1999).
Elverskog, Johan 2010 Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelpha 2010).
Goodenough, Erwin R. 1988 — Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press (Princeton 1988).
Haran, Menachem 1985 — Temples and Temple-Service in Ancient Israel: An Inquiry into Biblical Cult Phenomena and the Historical Setting of the Priestly School, Eisenbrauns (Winona Lake 1985). I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Huntington, Susan L. 1990 — Early Buddhist Art and the Theory of Aniconism, Art Journal, vol. 49 (1990), pp. 401-407.  You can read it, without the illustrations, here.
Idel, Moshe 2001 — Torah: Between Presence and Representation of the Divine in Jewish Mysticism, contained in: Jan Assmann & Albert I. Baumgarten, eds., Representation in Religion: Studies in Honor of Moshe Barasch, Brill (Leiden 2001), pp. 197-235.
’Jig-rten-mgon-po 2001 — The Collected Works (Bka’-’bum) of Khams Gsum Chos-kyi Rgyal-po Thub-dbang Ratna-śrî (Skyob-pa ’Jig-rten-gsum-mgon); [Tibetan title page:] Khams Gsum Chos-kyi Rgyal-po Thub-dbang Ratna-shrî’i Phyi-yi Bka’-’bum Nor-bu’i Bang-mdzod, H.H. Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang (Konchog Tenzin Kunzang Thinley Lhundup), Drikung Kagyu Institute (Dehradun 2001), in 12 volumes.
Kapstein, Matthew 2004 — Rethinking Religious Experience: Seeing the Light in the History of Religions, contained in: Matthew Kapstein, ed., The Presence of Light: Divine Radiance and Religious Experience, University of Chicago Press (Chicago 2004), pp. 265-299.
Kariyawasam A.G.S. 1966 — Āsana, contained in: G.P. Malalasekera, ed., Encyclopaedia of Buddhism, Government of Ceylon (Colombo 1966), volume 2, fascicle 1, pp. 127-132.
Kooij, K.R. van 1995 — Remarks on Festivals & Altars in Early Buddhist Art, contained in: K.R. van Kooij, et al., eds., Function & Meaning in Buddhist Art, Egbert Forsten (Groningen 1995), pp.  33-44.
Ladner, Gerhart B. 1979 — Medieval and Modern Understanding of Symbolism: A Comparison, Speculum, vol. 54 (1979), no. 2 (April), pp. 223-256.
L’Orange, H.P. 1953 — The Iconography of Cosmic Kingship in the Ancient World, H. Aschehoug & Co. (Oslo 1953).
Morenz, Siegfried & Johannes Schubert 1954 — Der Gott auf der Blume: Eine ägyptische Kosmogonie und ihre weltweite Bildwirkung, Artibus Asiae Supplementum series no. 12, Artibus Asiae Publishers (Ascona 1954).
Moret, M.A. 1917 — Le lotus et la naissance des dieux en Égypte, Journal Asiatique, 11th series, vol. 9 (1917), pp. 499-513.
Murray, Julia K. 2009 — “Idols” in the Temple: Icons and the Cult of Confucius, Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 68, no. 2 (May 2009), pp. 371-411.
Ornan, Tallay 1995 — The Transition from Figured to Non-Figured Representations in First Millennium Mesopotamian Glyptic, contained in:  Joan G. Westenholz, ed., Seals and Sealing in the Ancient Near East, Bible Lands Museum (Jerusalem 1995), pp. 39-56.
Ornan, Tallay 2005 — The Triumph of the Symbol, Pictorial Representation of Deities in Mesopotamia and the Biblical Image Ban, Academic Press, (Fribourg 2005).
Ragusa, Isa 1977 — Terror Demonum and Terror Inimicorum: The Two Lions of the Throne of Solomon and the Open Door of Paradise, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, vol. 40, no. 2 (1977), pp. 93-114.
Rutherford, Ian 2000 — Theoria and Darśan: Pilgrimage and Vision in Greece and India, Classical Quarterly, New Series vol. 50, no. 1 (2000), pp. 133-146.
Shalev-Eyni, Sarit 2006 — Solomon, His Demons and Jongleurs: The Meeting of Islamic, Judaic and Christian Culture, Al-Masāq, vol. 18, no. 2 (September 2006), pp. 145-160.
Stroumsa, Guy G. 2001 — John Spencer and the Roots of Idolatry, History of Religions, vol. 41, (2001), no. 1 (August), pp. 1-23.
Tanaka, Kanoko 1999 — “The Empty Throne” in Early Buddhist Art and Its Sacred Memory Left Behind after the Emergence of the Buddha Image, contained in: W. Reinink & J. Stumpel, eds., Memory & Oblivion: Proceedings of the XXIXth International Congress of the History of Art Held in Amsterdam, 1-7 September 1996, Kluwer Academic Publishers (Dordrecht 1999), pp. 619-624. There is also a book on the subject by the same author.
Thompson, Laurence G. 1991 — Consecration Magic in Chinese Religion, Journal of Chinese Religions, vol. 19 (1991), pp. 1-12.
Thurman, Robert A.F. 1995 — Inside Tibetan Buddhism: Rituals and Symbols Revealed, edited by Barbara Roether, Collins Publishers (San Francisco 1995).
Toorn, Karel van der 1997 — ed., The Image and the Book: Iconic Cults, Aniconism, and the Rise of Book Religion in Israel and the Ancient Near East, Peeters (Leuven 1997).
Walls, Neal H. 2005 — ed., Cult Image and Divine Representation in the Ancient Near East, American Schools of Oriental Research (Boston 2005).  The book is not very long, not difficultly technical, & fascinating in its content.
Weiss, Daniel H. 1995 — Architectural Symbolism and the Decoration of the St.-Chapelle, The Art Bulletin, vol. 77, no. 2 (June 1995), pp. 308-320.
Werner, Karel 1991 — ed., Symbols in Art and Religion:  The Indian and the Comparative Perspectives, Motilal Banarsidass (Delhi 1991).
Winter, Irene J. 1992 — Idols of the King: Royal Images as Recipients of Ritual Action in Ancient Mesopotamia, Journal of Ritual Studies, vol. 6, no. 1 (Winter 1992), pp. 13-42.

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Visual materials

Our frontispiece offering of jasmine and gold-leaf comes from the general area of the Ashokan pillar at Lumbini, Nepal, photographed in 2011.  

If you would like to find more about the empty throne in art, try searching the internet for the Greek word hetoimasia and see what you come up with.  

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Qiblah of the Prophet’s Mosque, Madinah
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