10. Ratna: A Buddhist World of Precious Things
Soulless Matter, Seats of Energy - Metals, Gems and Minerals in South Asian Traditions - Fabrizio Ferrari
Mattia Salvini [+]
Mahidol University, Thailand
Buddhist literature and culture is permeated with gems, jewels, and precious metals; they function as figure of speech, offering, ornament, magical implement, ideal landscape or narrative element. A Buddhist is ‘one who takes refuge in the Three Jewels’. A successful Buddhist practitioner may accumulate merit to reach Indra’s divine realm inlaid with four precious gems; he or she might reach ‘the meditative absorption which is like a diamond’ to become awakened. If on the other hand the one focuses on Amitābha’s name, this will bring about rebirth in a pleasant realm where the landscape is made of four and seven precious substances. Those of greater capacity may attempt Buddhahood in one lifetime, in which case they will have to rely on the swifter ‘Diamond Vehicle’. From the name of textual collections like the ‘Heap of Jewels’ to the contemporary Thai Buddhist practice of covering statues with layers of gold-leaf, hardly any aspect of Buddhist religious life is untouched by imagined or actual gems and precious metals. I shall here discuss some eminent examples of this feature of Buddhism; without any hope of being comprehensive, I intend to show the importance of a certain part of the mineral world for the larger universe of Buddhist religious culture.