The Buddhist Dharma for Sale: Who Owns the Past? The Internet and Objects of Worship
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AbstractIs it possible to claim ownership of the Buddhist dharma; the teachings of the Buddha? Does a group’s relationship to its cultural productions constitute a form of ownership? Can a religious image be copyrighted? This article will focus on the emergence and transformation of the Moji-Mandala or Gohonzon (御本尊), created by the Japanese monk Nichiren (1222-1282). Nichiren’s followers were persecuted, and some were executed when the scroll was found in their possession. Nichiren’s hanging mandala was previously available only to individuals seriously practicing Nichiren’s Buddhism. Currently, Nichiren’s mandala is reproduced electronically over the internet by websites claiming to represent various Buddhist lay organizations. The digital revolution has increased the ability of individuals to appropriate and profit from the cultural knowledge of religious groups that are largely unprotected by existing intellectual property law.