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Buddhist Visual Worlds I: The Eyes and Ways of Seeing


Correspondence address: Chris Hatchell, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Coe College, 1220 First Avenue NE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52402, USA. E-mail:


Buddhist literature contains a number of interrelated discussions of seeing, beginning with the “four sights” that inspired Siddhartha's renunciation, and including a variety of epistemological traditions that investigate the act of seeing, along with meditative practices of looking and visualization, ritual uses of visual arts, and literary metaphorical references to light. As a basis for understanding Buddhist visual worlds, this article provides a basic typology of Buddhist “eyes,” and presents some major Buddhist discussions about (1) the function of the ordinary eyes, (2) ethical dimensions of the eyes, (3) the attainment of supernatural eyes, and (4) types of eyes that are involved in Buddhist soteriology.