Buddhist Art and Architecture

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Buddhist Art and Architecture

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  • Buddhist Art and Architecture

    The Borobodur Temple complex is one of the greatest monuments in the world. It is of uncertain age, but thought to have been built between the end of the seventh and beginning of the eighth century A.D. For about a century and a half it was the spiritual centre of Buddhism in Java, then it was lost until its rediscovery in the eighteenth century.

    The structure, composed of 55,000 square meters of lava-rock is erected on a hill in the form of a stepped-pyramid of six rectangular storeys, three circular terraces and a central stupa forming the summit. The whole structure is in the form of a lotus, the sacred flower of Buddha.

  • Buddhist Art and Architecture

    For each direction there are ninety-two Dhyani Buddha statues and 1,460 relief scenes. The lowest level has 160 reliefs depicting cause and effect; the middle level contains various stories of the Buddha's life from the Jataka Tales; the highest level has no reliefs or decorations whatsoever but has a balcony, square in shape with round walls: a circle without beginning or end. Here is the place of the ninety-two Vajrasattvas or Dhyani Buddhas tucked into small stupas. Each of these statues has a mudra (hand gesture) indicating one of the five directions: east, with the mudra of calling the earth to witness; south, with the hand position of blessing; west, with the gesture of meditation; north, the mudra of fearlessness; and the centre with the gesture of teaching.

  • Buddhist Art and Architecture

    Besides being the highest symbol of Buddhism, the Borobodur stupa is also a replica of the universe. It symbolises the micro-cosmos, which is divided into three levels, in which man's world of desire is influenced by negative impulses; the middle level, the world in which man has control of his negative impulses and uses his positive impulses; the highest level, in which the world of man is no longer bounded by physical and worldly ancient desire.

    It is devotional practice to circumambulate around the galleries and terraces always turning to the left and keeping the edifice to the right while either chanting or meditating. In total, Borobodur represents the ten levels of a Bodhisattva's life which he or she must develop to become a Buddha or an awakened one.

  • Buddhist MandalasThere are various forms of mandalas with distinct concepts and different purposes. The individual representations range from the so-called Cosmic Mandalas, which transmit the ancient knowledge of the development of the universe and the world-systems which represents a high point among Mandalas dedicated to meditation; to the Mandalas of the Medicine Buddha which demonstrates how the Buddha-power radiates in all directions, portraying the healing power of the Buddha. The symbolism of meditation Mandalas has a rich tradition. The outer form of these so-called holy circles is a geometrical diagram, a Yantra, and each detail of its construction has symbolic meaning. The essence or purpose of the Mandala is concerned with the process of invocation, the calling in and realization of the spiritual force within the contemplator himself. All these different picture-tools have essentially the same inner meaning and purpose, but there are mandalas to suit all levels of consciousness: for the spiritually highly developed, for average people and for people not yet developed.

  • Buddhist MandalasThe Cosmic Mandala is encompassed by a flaming circle. At the Centre is a three-footed spiral symbolizing a first movement, surrounded by rotating wind which condenses into so-called basic elements, representing the states of aggregation: Wind or Air stands for the gaseous state; Fire is usually depicted as a red triangle and stands for transformation; Water for liquid, represented by a half-circle or circle; Earth for solid matter, symbolized by a yellow square or cube. The emerging forms of the elements are painted in the blue ring surrounding the Centre, in the lower sphere intimating the world-continents to be. The blue Ether represents the all pervading condition, the source of all elements filling the space of the Mandala. On it circles are drawn; looking like ellipses in their dynamic intersection, they portray the orbits of celestial bodies, painted in all the colours of the rainbow plus black and white and indicating the directions. These twelve astrological circles of the upper sphere demonstrate the movements of sun, moon and stars in the seasons.

  • Buddhist Mandalas

    Tibetan monks constructing a festival mandala with sand and the dust of precious stones. After the festival the mandala will be destroyed, thus expressing the insubstantiality of visible forms.

  • Buddhist Thangka PaintingsA thangka is a complicated, composite three-dimensional object consisting of: a picture panel which is painted or embroidered, a textile mounting; and one or more of the following: a silk cover, leather corners, wooden dowels at the top and bottom and metal or wooden decorative knobs on the bottom dowel. Thangkas are intended to serve as a record of, and guide for contemplative experience. For example, you might be instructed by your teacher to imagine yourself as a specific figure in a specific setting. You could use a thangka as a reference for the details of posture, attitude, colour, clothing. etc., of a figure located in a field, or in a palace, possibly surrounded by many other figures of meditation teachers, your family, etc.. In this way, thangkas are intended to convey iconographic information in a pictorial manner. A text of the same meditation would supply similar details in written descriptive form.

  • Buddhist Thangka PaintingsOnly rarely do thangkas express the personal vision or creativity of the painter, and for that reason thangka painters have generally remained anonymous as have the tailors who made their mountings. This anonymity can be found in many other cultures. There are, however, exceptions to this anonymity. Rarely, eminent teachers will create a thangka to express their own insight and experience. This type of thangka comes from a traditionally trained meditation master and artist who creates a new arrangement of forms to convey his insight so that his students may benefit from it. Other exceptions exist where master painters have signed their work somewhere in the composition.