The Diamond Ordination Platform of Tongdosa: Buddhist Spaces and Imagery in 18th-century Korea
University of Kansas
History of Art
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The Diamond Ordination Platform at Tongdosa is a stone structure reportedly constructed in the early seventh century by the eminent Silla monk Jajang 慈藏 (fl. 636-645). It was intended to enshrine the true-body relics of Śākyamuni Buddha that Jajang had allegedly procured from Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva on Mt. Wutai in China. The history of the Diamond Ordination Platform and the rarity of the true-body relics enshrined there are the core reasons why Tongdosa was granted the prestigious status of “the Buddha Jewel Monastery” in Korea. Of particular interest is the manner in which the title and visual form of the Diamond Ordination Platform have come to be perceived in Korean Buddhism today. Indeed, not only do the name and form of the Diamond Ordination Platform combine to evoke an awareness of the true-body relics being housed within it, but its architectural form is also perceived as validating the authenticity of these relics. The question of how this phenomenon developed has not been raised thus far by modern scholars. Scholarly neglect of this critical component in the history of the Diamond Ordination Platform can be attributed to the widely accepted assumption that the prestigious status and absolute authority of the Diamond Ordination Platform today are natural outcomes of its original founding by Jajang in the seventh century. This dissertation reconsiders historical accounts of the cultic ascendancy of the true-body relics brought to Silla by the monk Jajang as well as the construction of the Diamond Ordination Platform at Tongdosa. It argues that, in the face of challenges to the authenticity of their relics and in competition with other monasteries, the late-Joseon Tongdosa monks successfully conferred absolute authority to their Diamond Ordination Platform while maintaining active interaction with the platform to visualize its supposed, invisible power. This dissertation asserts that the popular perception that the title and architectural form of the Diamond Ordination Platform function together to validate the enshrined objects as true-body relics and also lends sacred authority to them was a logical result of a shift in emphasis. That shift, which acknowledged that such sanctity was granted not merely by the presence of the true-body relics themselves but was also conferred by the Diamond Ordination Platform’s status as a specially demarcated place through the ritual spaces and images consecrated in various ceremonies over the centuries.
- Art History Dissertations and Theses 
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