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With a Single Glance Buddhist Icon and Early Mikkyo Vision by Cynthea J. Bogel

With a Single Glance Buddhist Icon and Early Mikkyo Vision


With a Single Glance Buddhist Icon and Early Mikkyo Vision by Cynthea J. Bogel

With a Single Glance considers the visual culture of the Japanese esoteric Buddhist tradition, Mikkyo, at the time of its introduction to Japan early in the ninth century. Huge painted mandalas of assembled colorful divinities, hand-held gilt-bronze vajra, and statues on temple altars were more than ritual aids. Cynthea Bogel demonstrates that the visual and visionary impact of Mikkyo material culture was transformatory, not only to the adherent, but at a broad cultural level. Her finely crafted study illuminates the sea change marked by Mikkyo visuality in Japanese art history and suggests continuities with eighth-century Nara Buddhist forms of representation and praxis. The monks Kukai (774-835) and Saicho (767-822) each studied briefly in China. Kukai's Shingon teachings, and to a lesser extent the Tendai Lotus Esotericism formulated by Saicho, introduced to Japan new ritual practices, icons and worship spaces, and literally hundreds of new divinities. Bogel examines the visual components of Mikkyo through a huge range of sources on art and imagery, philosophy and critical theory, religious studies, cognitive science, cultural analysis, and ritual theory. She presents a framework for understanding the sectarian construction of Japanese Esoteric Buddhist art and doctrine and, for the first time, explores the cultural sources and representational practices that define Mikkyo visual culture. Even while Mikkyo enveloped many existing representational and ritual strategies, Bogel demonstrates that it required and fostered a new visionary and artistic means and a logic of similarity among imagery, ritual, and practitioner implicit in Mikkyo doctrine. Mikkyo altered the sensory apprehension of the Buddhist realm. Kukai wrote, With a single glance [at the representations of the mandala divinities] one becomes a Buddha. The book ranges broadly across imagery, place, and time, allowing Buddhist icons and spaces to look back and return the viewer's glance, encouraging a historically specific understanding of the visual characteristics and visual efficacy of Mikkyo.


Bogel's informed and stimulating discussion of ninth-century Japanese esoteric Buddhist imagery treats contextualized objects as visual culture... the author offers sophisticated insights. Summing up: Recommended. * Choice * ...not only is this book the most comprehensive study on this subject, but it also contains new perspectives and is bound to inspire further research in this field. * Japanese Journal of Religious Studies * There is simply no other book like With a Single Glance in (or out) of print. . . . This . . . rich volume . . . will be useful to researchers, graduate students, collectors, and museum professionals . . . -- Heather Blair * Museum Anthropology Review * This book is brimming with information and thoughtful discussions. The author certainly succeeds in drawing out attention back to the importance of images in Mikkyo and bringing the question of the mode of existence of an icon to the fore. -- Richard Bowring * Monumenta Nipponica * The book is readable; it is learned; it is a beautiful object. By all means it belongs on the shelves of scholars and students of premodern Japanese religion and visual culture. -- Hank Glassman * CAA Reviews * All readers . . . will be rewarded with a greater understanding of the complexity of the topic and the inherently close relationship between Mikkyo ritual and its visual culture. . . . this book is well worth reading. -- Patricia J. Graham * Journal of Japanese Studies 38:2 2012 * The most up-to-date and comprehensive study on visual culture of 9th-century Esoteric Buddhist art, innovative for its broad theoretical foundation. * Oxford Bibliographies - Kukai *

About the Author

Cynthea Bogel is associate professor of Japanese art and architecture at the University of Washington.

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Book Info

Publication date

19th January 2010


Cynthea J. Bogel

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University of Washington Press


496 pages


Oriental art



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