- About the Cover
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Cover: Unidentified narrative recounting a previous life of the Buddha Gotama—Ma U Village, Upper Burma—shrine now called Shwemuhtaw, likely decorated in 1762.
Image courtesy of Lilian Handlin.
Cover design: Sophia Varcados, Northern Illinois University
The subject of the current Journal cover is an unknown story purporting to narrate a previous life of the Buddha Gotama, when he was a thief, according to one sliver of the inscription located below the image. The narrative is part of a broader programmatic decor comprising what by the middle of the eighteenth century were standard components of the visual information provided by the shrine’s donors. The information surrounded the statue of the Buddha that served as the shrine’s focal ritual point. Most of these components derive from—to us—identifiable canonical, commentarial, and post commentarial texts, but some reflect hitherto undiscovered compilations that circulated at the time and whose prestige was sufficiently elevated to place their content on par with the Pali Daw. The unknown story was also “sourced”—to what the inscription simply labels as “Theravada Zat.” Since this is the first hitherto found, and dated, reference to the contentious term “Theravada”— one of this issue’s articles speculates on its possible meanings at an early date—as distinguished from the heavy-duty tasks the term fulfilled when it became the accepted label for a major religion, now known to us as Theravada Buddhism, a paired tag that would have been unfamiliar to the eighteenth-century donors of the Shwemuhtaw.