Land of Beautiful Vision

Land of Beautiful Vision: Making a Buddhist Sacred Place in New Zealand

Copyright Date: 2007
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  • Book Info
    Land of Beautiful Vision
    Book Description:

    Land of Beautiful Vision is the first book-length ethnography to address the role of material culture in contemporary adaptations of Buddhism and the first to focus on convert Buddhists in New Zealand. Sally McAra takes as her subject a fascinating instance of an ongoing creative process whereby a global religion is made locally meaningful through the construction of a Buddhist sacred place. She uses an in-depth case study of a small religious structure, a stupa, in rural New Zealand to explore larger issues related to the contemporary surge in interest in Buddhism and religious globalization. Her research extends beyond the level of public discourse on Buddhism to investigate narratives of members of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) about their relationship with the land, analyzing these and the FWBO’s transformative project through a thematic focus on key symbolic landmarks at their site, Sudarshanaloka. In considering cross-cultural interactions resulting in syncretism or indigenization of alien religions, many anthropological studies concentrate on the unequal power relations between colonizing and colonized peoples. McAra extrapolates from this literature to look at a situation where the underlying power relations are quite different. She focuses on individuals in an organization whose members seek to appropriate knowledge from an "Eastern" tradition to remake their own society—one shaped by its unresolved colonizing past.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6328-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    George J. Tanabe Jr.
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. A Note on Spelling and Transliteration
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In August 1993, a group of convert¹ Buddhists purchased a steep section of land in the enclosed, forested Tararu Valley, around 120 kilometers (75 miles) from New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. The purchase was the culmination of a decade-long search for a suitable place to build facilities for solitary and group meditation retreats. One summer weekend in 1997, I made my first visit to the property, arriving on the Friday evening before two days of rituals for their newly built stūpa. The glimpses I caught of the stūpa spire as I traveled on the winding dirt road up the valley...

  7. 1 A New Tradition
    (pp. 13-36)

    From the time the Buddha gathered a sangha (community of disciples), Buddhist institutions have emerged in various forms and spread through many parts of Asia and beyond. With the hypermobility of the jet age, there has been an ever greater proliferation of Buddhist sects and centers. Throughout the twentieth century, such teachers as Ajahn Chah, Shunryu Suzuki, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the fourteenth Dalai Lama (to note some of the more famous examples) have gathered followings that have become large enough to require formal organizational structures. These international Buddhist networks have varying degrees of centralization and autonomy, but they tend...

  8. 2 Unplugging from the Grid
    (pp. 37-64)

    Approaching the Coromandel Peninsula from the west, the green and jagged mountain range makes a dramatic backdrop to Thames (population approx. 7,500), the gateway town for the peninsula, after the flat farmland of the Hauraki Plains (fig. 2.1). Alongside the road at the town’s northern end stand visible remains of Thames’ historical role in gold mining, with old equipment and the entrances to mineshafts on display. Traveling northwards up the coast, the Firth of Thames is on the left. On the right, beyond one row of houses, are the same hills, clothed in regenerating native forest, commonly referred to as...

  9. 3 A Spiritual Home
    (pp. 65-79)

    Some FWBO members are attracted to the idea of sacred place and, related to this, indigenous notions of connectedness with the land. This is evinced in their British-based arts magazineUrthona,which has at least twice featured the theme, first in “Spirit of Place” (issue 16) and later in “Visions of the sacred earth and mythic landscapes” (issue 20). The latter issue included an article by a well-known New Zealand ecologist describing the “placental connection” that Māori claim to have with the land (Park 2004; see the explanation ofwhenuabelow). As Satyananda suggests, Māori notions of spiritual connection to...

  10. 4 Unsettling Place
    (pp. 80-100)

    Despite New Zealand’s “clean green” reputation internationally, around the country the land and its ecosystems have suffered severe damage from human activities, and this has had a marked impact at Sudarshanaloka. The stories that I explore in this chapter demonstrate a growing awareness of this impact and the intention not only to create a place conducive to healing people spiritually, but also to heal the land itself. The increasing awareness of this larger purpose takes place as a result of two key incidents that draw on issues of how people in the FWBO in New Zealand have incorporated the desire...

  11. 5 The Stūpa Is Dhardo
    (pp. 101-130)

    Although a popular notion of Buddhism paints the religion as seeking to transcend the “material” world, in another sense of the word, material culture is the necessary medium through which people interrelate with the ideologies they hold. For the expression of beliefs, the physical world is the “only medium available to us, our physical surroundings organized by internal narrative” (Pearce 1997, 2), so we communicate abstract religious concepts through the mediation of the material world. Buddhist sacred sites, including stūpas, can provide a place for people to interact with what might otherwise be abstract, intangible ideals. Indeed, many Westerners initially...

  12. 6 Interanimation
    (pp. 131-151)

    Until the stūpa was built, thepūririgrove was treated as the spiritual heart of the land and a focal point for rituals. On a damp weekend in June 1997, five months after the dedication of the stūpa, a small group of FWBO/NZ members led by the Friends of Tararu performed a ritual that involved relocating the Buddha statue from the base of thepūriritree to the inside of the stūpa. The aim was to shift the focus away from the grove, “consolidate the spiritual focus” at Sudarshanaloka (Tararu Transformer1997c, 1), and address the mishaps and hindrances that...

  13. 7 “Re-visioning” Place
    (pp. 152-160)

    I was staying at Sudarshanaloka for research in February 2000 when Taranatha, a visiting Dutch couple, and Satyananda decided to drive up to the stūpa after dinner to watch the sunset. I walked up the hill with Satyananda’s dog and joined them standing on the scrubby piece of land where the retreat center was later to be built. The evening air was clear and still, with morepork calls sounding from time to time. Taranatha and Satyananda were chatting amicably as we watched the changing colors in the sky over the Firth of Thames. They reflected on the six years since...

  14. Appendix 1. FWBO Figures
    (pp. 161-162)
  15. Appendix 2. The Five Precepts
    (pp. 163-164)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 165-176)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 177-184)
  18. Sources Cited
    (pp. 185-200)
  19. Index
    (pp. 201-208)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 209-210)