SPREAD OF BUDDHISM AND BUDDHIST ART IN ASIA FROM COUNTRY TO COUNTRY

BEGINNING OF BUDDHISM AND BUDDHIST ART IN INDIA


Prayer Wheel from Sanchi, 2nd-1st century BC

According to the Asia Society Museum: “The Buddha spent most of his life teaching in the eastern Ganges region of India. This area later became dotted with pilgrimage sites associated with his life and home, and some developed into monasteries and universities. These centers attracted devotees from the far corners of Asia; they came to India for religious instruction and pilgrimage and returned home with memories and images of Indian Buddhism. Two of the empires that ruled this region had a particularly strong influence on Buddhist imagery both in India and abroad: the Gupta empire (ca. 4th – 6th century) and the Pala empire (ca. 8th – 12th century). [Source:Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org |~| ]

“The Gupta empire unified a large portion of northern India, from coast to coast, and the political stability that ensued encouraged a cultural florescence. The Gupta style, which idealized the body according to literary metaphors (lips like lotus petals, a nose like a parrot's beak, a chin like a mango stone, etc.), was transmitted abroad by images. The figure's graceful and relaxed posture, downward-looking eyes, and diaphanous robes that reveal the body underneath can be seen on images spread widely throughout Asia. The Gupta stylistic idiom was particularly strong in Southeast Asian regions that had been influenced by Indian statecraft, language, and religion, for example Thailand. |~|

“During the Pala period, pilgrims, monks, and students from all over Asia flocked to the prominent religious centers in eastern India, which had greatly expanded since the Gupta period. The brick temples from this time were decorated with steles, carved, for example, with a form of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, which were set into wall niches as part of a program of decoration. The graceful posture, clothing, and jewelry of this richly carved image can be seen on other sculptures in this essay from regions such as the Himalayas and Shrivijaya that had extensive religious and mercantile exchanges with the Pala empire. |~|

“The Pala-ruled areas of northeastern India were the last stronghold of Buddhism in India. In southern India, the popularity of Buddhism had waned by the fifth century C.E., when Hinduism became the dominant religion; the few Buddhist communities and monasteries that survived until the twelfth or thirteenth centuries, was due, in part, to their location near port cities on the maritime trade routes. Their continuous contact with Southeast Asian nations is evident from inscriptions; like Buddhist monuments and institutions in eastern India, those in the south benefited from money sent by distant foreign monarchs eager to prove their piousness and improve their karma. The Asia Society Museum has an impressive eleventh-century southern Indian bronze standing Buddha, whose flame-shaped symbol of the Buddha's expanded knowledge (ushnisha) atop the head is a distinctive southern Indian feature that spread from India to Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), and Thailand. This type of ushnisha is said to represent the true knowledge that hovers like a flame above the Buddha's head.” |~|

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index ;

Buddhist Art: Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index ; Buddhist Symbols viewonbuddhism.org/general_symbols_buddhism ; Wikipedia article on Buddhist Art Wikipedia ; Guimet Museum in Paris guimet.fr ; Buddhist Artwork buddhanet.net/budart/index ; Asian Art at the British Museum britishmuseum.org ; Buddhism and Buddhist Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org ; Buddhist Art Huntington Archives Buddhist Art dsal.uchicago.edu/huntington ; Buddhist Art Resources academicinfo.net/buddhismart ; Buddhist Art, Smithsonian freersackler.si.edu

Spread of Buddhism and Buddhist Art from India to China


Yungang Caves, China

According to the Asia Society Museum: “The transmission of Buddhism from India to China paralleled an active trade between the two cultures. Most overland trade moved along a skein of routes that ran from, depending on the period, either Xi'an or Luoyang in central China, then along either the northern or southern route around the infamous Taklamakan desert, to routes that headed south from Kashgar and some of the central Asian oasis cities to India via Pakistan, Kashmir, and Nepal. Although there is more literary evidence describing passage along the overland routes than the maritime ones, Chinese archeologists have discovered in Guangzhou (Canton) the site of a boatyard that was in operation during the Qin and Han dynasties (3rd – 1st century B.C.) where seagoing vessels were built. [Source: Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org |~| ]

“Buddhism reached China by the first century C.E., and afterward a constant influx of Buddhist missionaries, manuscripts, and images traveled from India to China via the overland and maritime trade routes. The religion was often initially absorbed into existing religious practices before believers became converted to its new moral code, but it was eventually adopted in all levels of Chinese society. |~|

“A pair of seated bodhisattvas in what is often called a "pensive pose" has an iconographical prototype in earlier sculptures from the Indian regions of Gandhara and Mathura. Many examples of steles with this subject were produced in China during the mid-sixth century. Although it is thought that the bodhisattvas sit in a paradise, the exact meaning of the image is not fully understood by scholars. Another Chinese object from the late sixth century is a carved limestone tympanum almost six feet in width, which most likely came from a pagoda doorway. It also depicts a paradise scene, a theme that was popular during the sixth century, when China was politically and economically unstable. Paradises, known as Pure Lands, were rest stops on the long road to enlightenment. They offered a salvationist release from the chaos of life. Pure Lands were heavenly worlds where the worshiper could practice Buddhism for enough lifetimes to gain sufficient merit to reach enlightenment in some later earthly incarnation. |~|

“The Tang dynasty (618 – 906 C.E.) ruled an extensive empire that stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea. Trade was protected and increased enormously, and as a result, the Chinese capital of Xi'an, at the eastern end of the Silk Road, fostered a wealthy, cosmopolitan population and became a center for literature, music, and the visual arts. Buddhist art produced during the Tang dynasty is often referred to as an international style because of its amalgamation of Chinese, central Asian, and Indian prototypes and the transference of this style to Korea and Japan. The Tang head of a bodhisattva radiates a serene quality, due to its downcast eyes, meditative expression, as well as a sophisticated demeanor that characterizes the international flavor of the Tang dynasty. The elaborate coiffure and the plaque in front of it establishes this elegantly carved head as a bodhisattva's, but its exact identification cannot be deciphered from the symbol painted on the plaque.” |~|

Buddhism and Buddhist Art in Korea and Mongolia


Goryeao Buddhist painting from Korea

According to the Asia Society Museum: “Mahayana Buddhism was introduced to the Korean peninsula from China in the fourth century C.E. As in many countries that adopted Buddhism, the religion was first practiced and supported by elites, the royal courts and the aristocracy, but gradually it was adopted by all levels of society. By the late sixth century, Korean monks were traveling along the trade routes to China and even to India to receive training. They returned home bearing texts and images that played a decisive role in the formation of Korean culture and art. [Source: Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org |~| ]

Buddhism flourished until the Choson dynasty (1392 – 1910), when Neo-Confucianism became the state ideology. Buddhism, however, remained a spiritual force in Korean society, and private devotional objects and works for monasteries and temples continued to be made throughout the centuries. Large-scale banner paintings, for example, were popular during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when Buddhism was more widespread, in part because of the loosening of government prohibitions against it. The size and iconography of this painting suggest that it came from a worship hall of the highest level of sanctity, that is, one that enshrined an image of Shakyamuni Buddha. |~|

“Buddhism was first adopted in Mongolia in the mid-thirteenth century by Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, and by other elites. Kublai, who was the first emperor of the short-lived Yuan dynasty in China (1279 – 1368), patronized and supported the chief figure of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Phagspa (1235 – 1280). However, it wasn't until the religion went through a revival from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century that most of the Mongol population converted to Tibetan Buddhism. This renaissance was begun by Altan Khan, who invited the noted teacher of the Geluk sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Sonam Gyatso (1543 – 1588), to Mongolia. Sonam Gyatso taught and converted Altan Khan to this school of Tibet's Vajrayana Buddhism. In thanks, the Khan bestowed upon his Tibetan teacher the title of Dalai ("Ocean") Lama. A White Tara is a fine example of Mongolian metalwork from this latter phase of Mongolian Buddhism. This sculpture was, like most of Buddhist art produced in Mongolia during the sixteenth to eighteenth century, strongly influenced by Tibetan art of the same period.”

Buddhism and Buddhist Art in Japan

According to the Asia Society Museum: “A major, long-established East Asian route of trade and influence ran from northern China down the Korean peninsula and across the Korea Strait to Japan. Traveling along this route, Mahayana Buddhism was introduced into Japan from Korea in the sixth century (traditionally, in either 538 or 552), as part of a diplomatic mission that included gifts such as an image of Shakyamuni Buddha and several volumes of Buddhist texts. As in Korea, the religion had a lasting effect on the native culture; today, Buddhism is the dominant religion in Japan. As Buddhism prospered there, related arts also flourished. By the seventh century, when the religion was firmly established, Japan had dozens of temple complexes, various orders of priests and nuns, and a body of skilled artisans to craft the icons and other accoutrements of faith needed.[Source: Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org |~| ]


Great Nara Buddha

“During the eighth century (Nara period, 710 – 94), Japan was part of an international trading network that linked it with such distant countries as India and Iran, although the strongest cultural and artistic influences still came from China and Korea. Japan's cosmopolitan nature at this time is illustrated by the eye-opening ceremony in 752 of a large bronze image of Roshana (Mahavairocana), the supreme Buddha. The statue was housed in the main hall of Todai-ji in Nara. The hall was built for the statue and is still the world's largest wooden structure, the Buddha's eyes were painted in by an Indian monk, an event that was witnessed by roughly ten thousand priests and numerous foreign visitors. |~|

“Vajrayana (Esoteric) Buddhism, and its attendant pantheon of deities, was introduced to Japan in the Early Heian Period (794 – 894) by a number of Japanese priests. They studied the religion in China and returned home to found influential monasteries, two of which became the centers of the two main Japanese Buddhist sects, Tendai and Shingon. Images of wrathful deities, such as Fudo Myo-o ("Immovable Wisdom King"), were introduced at this time as part of the Vajrayana Buddhist pantheon. Fudo Myo-o's dark skin, fierce expression, fangs, and bulging eyes indicate his power to vanquish all demons. |~|

“In the Late Heian Period (894 – 1185) and in the following centuries, Pure Land Buddhism became very popular. The salvationist Pure Land Buddhism taught that faith in Amida, the Buddha of the Western Paradise, and the diligent recitation of his name enabled the soul to be reborn in a heavenly Pure Land rather than in a Buddhist hell or other undesirable rebirth. Intense devotion to Amida produced voluminous requests for Buddhist statuary and painting in addition to the many temples dedicated to him. Another salvationist deity popular at this time was Jizo, who had been introduced to Japan centuries earlier as a bodhisattva in the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon. Jizo is a deity of compassion and benvolence whose powers expanded as time passed. By the time of the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333), Jizo had the guise of an itinerant monk who gave succor to children, mothers, and travelers. It was during the Kamakura period that Buddhism became the faith of all people of all classes. This was due, in part, to the many priests who became itinerant evangelists and brought Pure Land Buddhism to the masses. |~|

“Even with its formidable physical barriers, the Himalayan region was never completely isolated from the rest of the world. Through high passes and steep, narrow pathways many cultural migrations have taken place, and trade routes, established in prehistory, have coursed with Tibetan products such as musk, wool, yak tails, and salt sold south to India, and gold, spices, perfumes, and precious textiles sent northward. Later, foundational Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism traveled along these same roads, and monasteries built near them offered food and shelter in addition to spiritual succor to those passing through, who, in turn, kept the monasteries' coffers full. Pilgrims, monks, and missionaries usually traveled with merchant caravans for safety, although at some points they could take shorter, more dangerous routes that were too difficult for heavily loaded animals. Buddhist travelers often carried portable shrines with them and either brought from home or purchased en route paintings, bronzes, manuscripts, or votive plaques. These devotional goods of pious merchants, pilgrims, and monks played a part in the wide dispersion of Buddhist art styles and iconography, as did the mobility of artists, who also traveled along the trade routes to patrons in distant monasteries or cities.” |~|

Buddhism and Buddhist Art in Nepal


from Nepal

According to the Asia Society Museum: “Despite its relative inaccessibility, Nepal was long a renowned center of trade. It is known that by the fifth or sixth century B.C., Indian traders were regularly making their way to the Kathmandu Valley, which lies across one of the main pathways linking India with Tibet and the ancient east-west trade routes. The southern terminus of this route connects with two of the great Indian trade arteries, the Uttarapatha, which linked India with the Near East, and the Dakshinapatha, which flowed southward. Nepal became a gateway from China and the central Asian cities to the great monastic centers of India. Buddhist monks and teachers traveling the overland route between India and China would usually pass through Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. When it was secure, which was not often, the route through Tibet and the Kathmandu Valley was a preferred north-south highway for merchants and pilgrims alike because it was shorter than the safer land and sea routes that linked the cities and monasteries of northeastern India, the Buddhist homeland, with Chinese urban centers. [Source: Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org |~| ]

“The geographic position of Nepal's Kathmandu Valley was likely a crucial factor in its economic and, ultimately, its cultural development. In winter, snow closed the mountain passes leading north to Tibet, and in summer, malaria deterred caravans from using the jungle paths of southern Nepal. Traders therefore found it expedient to cross one or the other as they could, and then pause in Kathmandu to await the onset of a more conducive season before continuing their journey. In this way, Kathmandu became a vital cultural transfer point. Like the Silk Road cities of western China, Nepalese rulers bolstered their economies by exacting a tax on transactions conducted within their territory; this provided them with abundant wealth for the pursuit of religious and civic works. The Kathmandu Valley became a rich artisanal center patronized by both locals and foreigners, especially those from Tibet, where Nepalese artistic style was particularly popular. |~|

“Although it is impossible to give precise dates, it can be assumed that Buddhism was introduced to Nepal at a very early date, at least within a couple of centuries of the Buddha's death, circa 483 B.C. It is known that all three types of Buddhism were practiced in the country, although it was Vajrayana Buddhism, which was easily assimilated and open to Hindu influences (Hinduism is today practiced by more Nepalis than Buddhism), that continues to prosper into the present day. The main practitioners of Vajrayana Buddhism in Nepal are the Newars, a predominantly Buddhist ethnic group that is also responsible for producing the majority of Nepal's art. |~|

“Two images of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion were produced in the Kathmandu Valley by its famed Newari metal-workers. Cultural influences brought in on the trade routes explain why these sculptures follow the same basic iconographic principles and artistic norms that prevailed in India and reflect the impact of India's styles of the Gupta period (ca. 4th – 6th century) and Pala period (ca. 8th – 12th century). However, the standing bodhisattvas' plump faces and hawk noses are distinctly Nepali, as is the beautiful reddish color of the metal visible where the gilding has rubbed off, which comes from the high copper content of Nepali bronze.” |~|

Buddhism and Buddhist Art in Tibet


Tibetan tantric art

According to the Asia Society Museum: “Although Buddhism had been introduced to Tibet by the seventh century, the greatest influx of teachers, texts, and images began in the tenth century. This wave came from India's northeastern regions, then ruled by the Pala dynasty, where Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism were practiced; it was these two types of Buddhism that were adopted in Tibet. The strong links between Pala-period India and Tibet are demonstrated by an important illustrated Buddhist manuscript that has inscriptions in Sanskrit and Tibetan, which trace the manuscript's history from its creation at the famous Nalanda monastery in eastern India, circa 1073, through its use by a number of famous Tibetans over the next 300 years. It was through illustrated manuscripts such as this that both Buddhism and Buddhist art were transmitted from India to Tibet. This stream of Indian influence lasted through the late twelfth and the thirteenth centuries, when Buddhism was annihilated in India, primarily due to Muslim invasions, and many Buddhist monks fled to neighboring countries such as Nepal and Tibet. [Source: Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org |~| ]

“By the fourteenth century, Tibetan artists had synthesized a unique style from Indian, Nepalese, Chinese, and indigenous sources; however, eleventh- and twelfth-century Tibetan artists often tried to replicate Indian prototypes exactly, which sometimes makes it difficult, even for experts, to distinguish between Pala Indian and early Tibetan art. However, Tibet also turned west to Kashmir, a prestigious center of Buddhist learning that produced a number of important scholars and translators over the centuries. It was to Kashmir, for example, that a seventh-century Tibetan king sent envoys in search of a script that would serve the Tibetan language. In 988, a king of western Tibet, Yeshe O, gave royal support for the creation of local workshops to produce images for temples, workshops that likely employed artists from Kashmir. By the tenth and eleventh centuries, Western Tibetan and Kashmiri interactions were so pronounced that until recently a Western Tibetan image of a bodhisattva was thought to have been made in Kashmir.” |~|

Buddhism and Buddhist Art in Kashmir

According to the Asia Society Museum: “The Kashmir Valley, 6,000 feet above sea level in the foothills of the Himalayas in present-day northernmost India, was an important Buddhist center by the second century C.E. Buddhist art and architecture flourished during the reigns of the eighth-century king Lalitaditya and his successors. The warm, yellowish color of an image of a crowned Shakyamuni Buddha is typical of Kashmiri bronzes and their particular alloy of zinc and copper. Also characteristic of Kashmiri metal sculptures are this Buddha's arched eyebrows, the fact that the knees of his crossed legs jut out slightly past the edge of his lotus seat, and the inlaid silver eyes and copper lips, which influenced Tibetan sculpture. [Source: Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org |~| ]

“The fact that Indian Hindu and Buddhist civilization came to most of Southeast Asia via the maritime, and, to a lesser extent, overland trade routes rather than through colonization or conquest may explain why each part of the region retained its distinctiveness even while borrowing from Indian Buddhism and its art. Every country or kingdom looked to India for different reasons, was receptive to different factors, and then modified and interpreted imported elements to suit its own tastes, a process that is evident in the wide variety of artistic styles present in Southeast Asian Buddhist art. Buddhism and its iconography were brought not only by Indian and later by Sri Lankan missionaries but also by monks who went to study in India's famed monasteries and pilgrims who journeyed to the places associated with Shakyamuni Buddha's life. When these travelers returned to Southeast Asia, they brought both memories and such tangible souvenirs as portable shrines, sculptures, votive tablets, and manuscripts. |~|

Buddhism and Buddhist Art in Burma


from Shwezigon Temple, Pagan

According to the Asia Society Museum: “Local tradition claims that Buddhism was introduced into Burma (Myanmar) during the third century B.C. by the Indian king Ashoka's missionaries, although archeological excavations to date reveal Buddhist presence only from about the second to third century C.E. Although a number of different types of Buddhism were practiced in Burma, Theravada Buddhism was established as the dominant religion in 1056 by King Anawrahta (reigned 1044 – 1077), who unified the country. However, the several streams of Buddhist traditions that reached Burma from India and Sri Lanka left indelible traces upon its material culture, as is evidenced by Burmese images of Shakyamuni Buddha. [Source: Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org |~| ]

“The Theravada Buddhism of Sri Lanka greatly influenced the practice of Burmese Buddhism and to a lesser extent its art. The image of the Buddha in an Asia Society sculpture can be associated with Theravada Buddhism by the depiction of two of Shakyamuni's most important disciples shown kneeling before him. Much Burmese attention was also focused on Bodh Gaya in northeastern India, the site of the Buddha's enlightenment. In fact, circa 1098 King Kyanzittha paid for the renovation of the famed Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya. An eleventh to twelfth-century Burmese Buddha can be linked to Mahayana Buddhism and the influence of art from Buddhist centers in northeastern India by the presence of the two slender bodhisattvas flanking Shakyamuni as well as by the iconography, which was developed during the Pala dynasty of northeastern India (ca. 8th – 12th century).” |~|

Buddhism and Buddhist Art in the Shrivijayan Empire

“Buddhism flourished in many areas of Southeast Asia, and the maritime empire of Shrivijaya played a crucial role in the cross-pollination of Buddhist culture in Asia. This wealthy kingdom, which was the dominant force in the region between the seventh and eleventh centuries, controlled large parts of southern Thailand, Malaysia, and the present-day Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java. Until 1025, it also controlled the Strait of Malacca, the strategic sea passage between the Bay of Bengal and the Gulf of Thailand. [Source: Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org |~| ]

“Shrivijaya was therefore a key intermediary between India and China and Buddhist scholars from both countries often spent years studying Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism in Shrivijaya's famed monasteries. For example, in 671, the Chinese pilgrim Yijing reported that an international community of roughly 1,000 monks were studying in the Shrivijayan capital. An image of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, belongs to the Shrivijayan tradition of sculpture but bears a strong resemblance to Indian Pala-period sculpture as evidenced by his swaying body and lotus-throne with a pearl-edged top rim, features seen on Pala-period works.” |~|

Buddhism and Buddhist Art in Thailand


15th century crowned Buddha from Sukhothai

“Although Thai tradition, like the Burmese, claims that Buddhism was introduced to the region by Ashoka's missionaries in the third century B.C., recent archeological evidence suggests that Buddhist missionaries established themselves much later, in the second century C.E. Thai objects in the Asia Society collection come from the country's three broad geographical and cultural zones: the central region, the northeastern and eastern region, and the peninsula in the south, which was produced in Thailand under the aegis of the Shrivijayan empire. From roughly the sixth to the ninth century, Thailand's central regions were ruled by the Mon peoples. This area is often referred to as Dvaravati, although Dvaravati's borders and whether it was a kingdom or group of kingdoms are unknown. [Source: Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org |~| ]

Theravada Buddhism was the Mon peoples' principal religion, although Mahayana Buddhism was also practiced by the seventh century, and with it came the depiction of bodhisattvas. While buddha figures produced by the Mon maintain the idealized formulas and underlying symbolism developed in India, ethnic traits characteristic of the Mon are always manifest, particularly in the facial features Buddhist art from the peninsular region is represented by the Mahayana Buddhist sculpture of the Bodhisattva Manjushri discussed in the previous paragraph. Buddhist art from northeastern Thailand, an area crisscrossed by ancient land routes, shows stylistic influences from Dvaravati, pre-Angkor Cambodia, as well as the Cham kingdom that was located on the eastern shore of present-day Vietnam. Cambodian influence was at its strongest in eastern Thailand as this region was often under the rule of Cambodia in the pre-Angkor period, and later, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, by Cambodian Khmer kings. An image of the Bodhisattva Maitreya shows the early influence of Khmer art on that of the Mon, particularly in the image's square-jawed face and inlaid eyes.” |~|

Buddhism and and Buddhist Art in Cambodia

According to the Asia Society Museum: “The earliest historical records regarding Cambodia refer to a kingdom called Funan, which held dominion, from roughly the first or second century to the mid-seventh century, over the southern portion of present-day Cambodia and Vietnam, and also over parts of southern Thailand and possibly farther. Funan's wealth came from commerce, as is evidenced by the archeological finds of Indian gold jewelry, stones carved with Brahmi (an Indian script) characters, Roman coins and gold medallions, mirrors from the Chinese Han dynasty (ca. 206 B.C. – 220 C.E.), and goods from Iran and the Mediterranean, such as fragments of glassware. [Source: Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org |~| ]


Cambodian Buddha from Bayon

“Buddhism was practiced in Cambodia by the sixth century at the latest, although Hinduism remained the country's dominant religion until roughly the twelfth century. The earliest known Buddha images, which date from the sixth century, are linked to the Buddhist centers of southeastern India by such stylistic features as a low cranial bump (ushnisha) covered with large, flat, spiral curls. However, after the seventh century, there are no clear indications of Indian influence on Cambodian art, in contrast to the Buddhist art produced in the other regions of Southeast Asia, which was often influenced by various streams of Indian art. Unlike the region's most common representations of buddhas, which are unadorned, buddhas produced under the Khmer empire, which ruled Cambodia from the ninth to thirteenth centuy, were often crowned and bejeweled. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Khmer kings attempted to stress their close relationship to, if not their complete identification with, the Buddha. Thus, the crowns and jewelry adorning these images are similar to those worn by the earthly kings.” |~|

Buddhism and Buddhist Art Sri Lanka

According to the Asia Society Museum: “Sri Lanka, only forty-five miles from the southern tip of India, has had a thriving Buddhist culture for more than 2,000 years. According to tradition, the religion was introduced in the mid-third century B.C. by missionaries sent by Ashoka (reigned ca. 272 – 231 B.C.), India's first great Buddhist king. The missionaries were led by Mahinda, who was possibly the son or brother of Ashoka. Sri Lanka's king, Devanampiyatissa, converted to Buddhism and the country's earliest monastic complex, the Mahavihara at Anuradhapura, was founded circa 236 B.C.. Around this time, a cutting from the bodhi tree under which Shakyamuni Buddha achieved enlightenment was brought from India to Sri Lanka by a nun named Sanghamitta and planted at the Mahavihara; the tree (or its descendent) still flourishes and is the most popular pilgrimage objective in Sri Lanka. Worship of the bodhi tree subsequently became an important part of Sri Lankan worship, and a bodhi tree shrine was established in every monastery. Each consists of seated images of the Buddha placed around the tree facing the four cardinal directions. Unlike Indian representations of the Buddha seated under the bodhi tree, in Sri Lankan images, the Buddha holds his hands in the gesture of meditation (dhyana mudra) instead of in the earth-touching gesture (bhumisparsha mudra) that Shakyamuni used to call the earth to witness his right to achieve enlightenment. [Source: Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org |~| ]

“Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka's capital from circa 500 B.C. to 993 C.E., became the center of the country's Buddhist culture and home to the three main monastic complexes: the Mahavihara, the Abhayagiri, and the Jetavana. Virtually all other Sri Lankan monasteries owed ecclesiastical allegiance to one of these three institutions, whose relative importance in any given period was determined by patronage from members of the ruling dynasty. Both Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism were practiced in Sri Lanka. |~|


18th century Standing Buddha from Sri Lanka

“Like southern India, the island was long a port-of-call for those who traveled along the international shipping lanes that crisscrossed the Bay of Bengal. The complex interrelationship between Sri Lankan and Southeast Asian sculpture produced by the transmission of Buddhist thought and imagery along the trade routes is illustrated by the provenance of a small standing Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. This delicate sculpture, reportedly found in southern Thailand, has been assigned a Sri Lankan origin, although some scholars have proposed Thailand, Vietnam, or Cambodia as its place of creation. The stylistic links that have caused so many scholars to disagree over the provenance of this piece suggest the important, yet under-researched, role Sri Lanka played in the diffusion of Buddhist art styles in Southeast Asia. The practice of Mahayana Buddhism in Sri Lanka is also evidenced by a four-armed image of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future. |~|

“Although Mahayana Buddhism was quite popular in Sri Lanka, especially from 300 C.E. to 993 C.E., it was the conservative Theravada Buddhist tradition that made the country so influential in Buddhist Southeast Asia. Theravada ("School of the Elders") can be thought of as a type that, as Buddhism grew and expanded, continually inclined toward the conservative. Sri Lankan monks rejected change and sought to preserve the so-called original doctrine of the Buddha. As a result, Sri Lankan Theravada was completely codified by the fifth century C.E. Theravada Buddhism offered an alternative to the Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism practiced in northern India and the Himalayas, and some Southeast Asian kings, particularly those in Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand, saw it as more "pure" than other types of Buddhism. Sri Lankan Buddhism ultimately became highly influential in those two countries, affecting not only religious practice but statecraft and artistic expression.” |~|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University; Asia for Educators, Columbia University; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2016


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