Buddhist Aesthetics

"All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him..... All forms are unreal, he who knows and sees this becomes passive in pain; this is the way that leads to purity."

2500 years have witnessed the profound philosophical teachings of the venerated Enlightened One, the Buddha, whose original aim was to teach liberation, release from the world. For him, truth is twofold – life is inherently full of suffering and everything is impermanent. Joys are transient and all lives end in decay and death, leading to a perpetual cycle of rebirth. The primal cause of this bondage is desire that rests on a false perception of an enduring essence, a Self or Soul, which is nothing but a bundle of physical and mental constructs kept going by desire. To eliminate desire and attain salvation, purification of minds through meditation is essential to lead to the foundation of a community or monastic order, the Sangha. The Buddha, also called Siddhartha Gautama or the Shakya Muni, his teachings or the Dharma, and the Sangha, formed to preserve the scriptures and aid in renunciation, constitutes the Triratnas or three jewels of this world religion.

From early Theravada, the “Doctrine of the Elders” based on the Pali canon, to Mahayana, the great vehicle and vast movement embracing almost all schools and sects of later origin, to tantric Vajrayana or the thunderbolt/diamond vehicle, better known for its wrathful deities and erotic imagery, the range of philosophical and monastic doctrines testifies to the sheer breadth of this worldview and of its followers who spread across every corner of the globe today. Moreover, thinkers such as Nagarjuna, Ashwaghosha, and Buddhaghosha have contributed immensely to Indian intellectual traditions.

Siddhartha Gautama, a righteous and world ruler or Chakravartin, morphs into the dharmachakravartin or spiritual sovereign as Buddha, introducing another dimension to the theory of kingship. His historical life story until the moment of his final parinirvana, the associated avadanas or miracles, the jatakas or stories of his previous births, didactic aids to inculcating paramitas or perfections in the laity and the believers, are depicted in countless relief panels, sculptures, murals, and manuscript illustrations across India and beyond. Shown in aniconic form to begin with, the early Buddha figures exemplify the lineage of the Yaksha type found in the Mathura region. As Buddhism spreads he is not only made manifest with increasing realism and drama, but an ever burgeoning pantheon of past and future Buddhas – Bodhisattvas, Jinas, Vidyarajas, Dharmapalas, Lokapalas, feminine deities, as well as other divine beings and deified historical figures – which weave an intricate iconographic tapestry.

The monasteries, with their own trajectory from a simple vihara to mahaviharas such as Nalanda and Vikramashila, transformed into large educational establishments with international students, as described in Chinese traveller accounts. The concomitant architectural stupa, temples and shrines, monk cells, refectory, library, both rock cut and structural, create a typology unique to the Buddhist realm as well as symbolise a gradual complexity of form and meaning.

The stupa, originally megalithic funeral mounds, used by several ascetic cults, gained primacy in Buddhism as a monument commemorating the death of a Buddha or other Enlightened persons and often contains relics. Subject to regional variation, the hemispheric dome came to signify the cosmos as well as the body of the Buddha, with the parasolic finials suggesting sovereignity over several cosmological regions.

This inherent connection between man and cosmos is best understood through the extremely complex concept of the mandala, diagrams ranging from those that represent the outer universe, the human body, those visualized in the practice of deity yoga, to the ultimate Tantric Kalachakra system.

The Buddhist Aesthetics public seminar series aims to address some aspects of this supremely civilised ethos of wisdom and compassion, benevolence and self control, where man finds his salvation through individual moral responsibility and honesty but only after overcoming craving, hatred, and delusion. At least three week-long seminars conducted each academic year by eminent and internationally recognised scholars foreground the immense visual richness of this world religion and attendant philosophy – from early beginnings in India, Sri Lanka, Burma, and China to their spread to Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia and now, the Western hemisphere.

Great Buddhist Stupas from the Indian Subcontinent 

Stupas are the quintessential Buddhist monuments: they are not simple relic repositories and places of devotion, but receptacle of cultural memories and hubs of Buddhist identities. The lecture series will explore in details stupa sites and related artistic remains spanning from the Gangetic Valley to the Deccan, from ancient Gandhara to Sri Lanka to better understand the richness and diversity of early Buddhism, its art and communities across South Asia.

Day 1: The Stupa and the Buddha: Monuments from the Gangetic Valley
Day 2: Bharhut and Sanchi: The Blossoming of Early Buddhist Communities
Day 3: Taxila’s Dharamarajika and the great stupas of the Swat Valley, Pakistan: Buddhist Art and Patronage in the Northwest
Day 4: Amaravati and Kanaganahalli: Buddhism in Western Deccan
Day 5: The Stupas of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka

Timing: 6:30 - 8:30 PM

Duration: December 9 - 13, 2019

 

Duration

09-13 Dec, 2019