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Land of Beautiful Vision

Sally McAra

Publication Year: 2007

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii

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Series Editor’s Preface

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pp. ix

In telling and analyzing the story of a Buddhist retreat center in New Zealand, Sally McAra delves into major issues of contemporary transculturality. Affiliated with the British-based Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, the Anglo-European founders brought a distinctive and sensitive approach to exploring their relationship as settlers to local spiritual forces...

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pp. xi-xii

First and foremost I wish to express my gratitude to Christine Dureau and Karen Nero, who supervised the MA thesis from which this book originated and patiently helped me to give shape to my research findings. Christine, especially, has read and commented on endless reworkings of the book manuscript. I would also...

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A Note on Spelling and Transliteration

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pp. xiii-xiv

The fact that many terms come from across cultural and linguistic boundaries and thus can be transliterated, pronounced, and understood in different ways is pertinent to the larger theme of transcultural interpretation in this book. FWBO publications adopt a range of approaches with regard to Buddhist terms from languages such...

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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,...

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1 A New Tradition

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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,...

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2 Unplugging from the Grid

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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...

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3 A Spiritual Home

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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 magazine Urthona, 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...

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4 Unsettling Place

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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...

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5 The Stūpa Is Dhardo

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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...

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6 Interanimation

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pp. 131-151

Until the stūpa was built, the pūriri grove 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 the pūriri tree to the inside of the stūpa. The...

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7 ‘‘Re-visioning’’ Place

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pp. 152-159

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...

Appendix 1. FWBO Figures

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pp. 161

Appendix 2. The Five Precepts

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pp. 163


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pp. 165-175


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pp. 177-183

Sources Cited

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pp. 185-199


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pp. 201-208

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863289
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824829964

Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Western Buddhist Order. Friends.
  • Buddhist converts -- New Zealand -- Thames.
  • Buddhism -- New Zealand -- Thames.
  • Sudarshanaloka Retreat Centre.
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