Buddhist Art and Architecture
By Frank Simons
After the Buddha’s death, he was represented by shrines containing his relics or those related to the events in his life, the most basic being the stupa, a solid reliquary mound. Lay people worshiped at these shrines as a way of gaining merit or good karma and saw the shrine in an emotionally significant way. Monks and nuns used the shrines as the focus of meditation to follow the Buddha’s example.
Buddhism: Part 8, Buddhist Art and Architecture
Thu, Feb 4, 5:30pm
Callejón Blanco 4
Free, donations accepted
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The earliest sculptural representations were “aniconic,” representing the Buddha by his symbols, by places associated with his life, or simply by his absence, evidence of a tradition prohibiting representation of his physical form. It was only hundreds of years after his death that craftsmen began creating images of the Buddha’s form.
The Mathura style shows a large, fleshy body, typical of an indigenous Indian way of expressing the human body. The Ghandara style shows the influence of Greek craftsmen. This Hellenistic style is particularly evident in the drapery of the robes and the muscular anatomy. One example of this style shows an emaciated Buddha during the austere period before he took the Middle Path. These two styles came together to create the Gupta style (fourth to sixth centuries). Buddha images in the Gupta style are more fluid and graceful. The body is more slender; the drapery depicted as a series of fine folds; the expression on his face more delicate and refined. Examples include the standing Buddha from Jamalpur, Mathura, (mid-fifth century), and the seated Buddha from Sarnath, ca. 475. This period produced the monumental Buddha images at Bamiyan in Afghanistan.
How do the sculptural representations of the Buddha supplement or enhance your understanding of what a Buddha is and what the Buddha has meant to members of the Buddhist community? It is common to represent the Buddha in the posture of teaching. If you are standing in front of an image of a teaching Buddha, how does it teach you? What message does it convey?
The course of 24 lectures is presented by Professor Malcolm David Eckel, professor of Religion and Director of the Core Curriculum at Boston University, who holds graduate degrees from Oxford and Harvard. An expert on Buddhism, comparative religion, and Asian faiths, Eckel has written insightful books on Buddhist philosophy, including Buddhism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places. There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video. Free. Donations gratefully accepted.