Whatever happened to “Glocal”?

An amalgam of the words “global” and “local,” it was the corporate buzzword of the late Nineties.

We’re not trying to make “Glocal” happen, but would still like to bring to your attention a great example of how societies can import foreign ideas but make them uniquely their own.1

There was a time, several thousand years ago, when Buddhism was a foreign idea, exported from the Indian subcontinent throughout Asia.

Following the event of the Buddha’s enlightenment, he walked everywhere to spread his message.

In fact, walking was such a key part of the story of Buddhism that in its early years, the Buddha was often represented through the symbol of the footprint. Yet, on the Indian subcontinent, early statues of the Buddha only show him standing, never walking.

According to the art historian Robert L. Brown who has investigated this peculiarity of Indian iconography, walking was a fraught activity back then. Dreadful sanitation, bandits, wild animals were but few of the pitfalls one might encounter. It was hard to maintain a kingly mien after a stroll. Artists, tasked with conveying the loftiness of their patrons-in-chief, would thus typically show Kings riding on animals or vehicles. To get down and walk was an act of deference.2

 

By walking everywhere, the Buddha was explicitly turning his back on the kingly life. The challenge for the Indian artist was how to convey the idea of this king among men when he had rejected all symbols of kingship. One way was to never show him walking.

 

Admirably, the Thais boldly broke with this Indian iconographic tradition in favor of a more democratic, Thai one: the Walking Buddha of Thailand.

Image source: Trustees of the British Museum.