Recent Publications [updated, 10 February 2018]

A list of recently released books, films, and recordings related to Buddhist art. Descriptions are either our reviews, or are from publishers’ websites. – Buddhist art news


Hyecho’s Journey, Donald S. Lopez, Jr.

208 pages | 27 color plates, 1 halftone | 7 x 10 | © 2017

In the year 721, a young Buddhist monk named Hyecho set out from the kingdom of Silla, on the Korean peninsula, on what would become one of the most extraordinary journeys in history. Sailing first to China, Hyecho continued to what is today Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, before taking the Silk Road and heading back east, where he ended his days on the sacred mountain of Wutaishan in China.
With Hyecho’s Journey, eminent scholar of Buddhism Donald S. Lopez Jr. re-creates Hyecho’s trek. Using the surviving fragments of Hyecho’s travel memoir, along with numerous other textual and visual sources, Lopez imagines the thriving Buddhist world the monk explored. Along the way, Lopez introduces key elements of Buddhism, including its basic doctrines, monastic institutions, works of art, and the many stories that have inspired Buddhist pilgrimage. Through the eyes of one remarkable Korean monk, we discover a vibrant tradition flourishing across a vast stretch of Asia. Hyecho’s Journey is simultaneously a rediscovery of a forgotten pilgrim, an accessible primer on Buddhist history and doctrine, and a gripping, beautifully illustrated account of travel in a world long lost.

Ritualized Writing: Buddhist Practice and Scriptural Cultures in Ancient Japan
by Bryan D. Lowe

Ritualized Writing takes readers into the fascinating world of Japanese Buddhist manuscript cultures. Using archival sources that have received scant attention in English, primarily documents from an eighth-century Japanese scriptorium and colophons from sutra manuscripts, Bryan D. Lowe uncovers the ways in which the transcription of Buddhist scripture was a highly ritualized endeavor. He takes a ground-level approach by emphasizing the activities and beliefs of a wide range of individuals, including scribes, provincial patrons, and royals, to reassess the meaning of scripture and reevaluate scholarly narratives of Japanese Buddhist history.

Copying scripture is a central Buddhist practice and one that thrived in East Asia. Despite this, there are no other books dedicated to the topic. This work demonstrates that patrons and scribes treated sutras differently from other modes of writing. Scribes purified their bodies prior to transcription. Patrons held dedicatory ceremonies on days of abstinence, when prayers were pronounced and sutras were recited. Transcribing sutras helped scribes and patrons alike realize this- and other-worldly ambitions and cultivate themselves in accord with Buddhist norms. Sutra copying thus functioned as a form of ritualized writing, a strategic practice that set apart scripture as uniquely efficacious and venerable.

Lowe employs this notion of ritualized writing to challenge historical narratives about ancient Japan (late seventh through early ninth centuries), a period when sutra copying flourished. He contends that Buddhist practice fulfilled a variety of social, political, and spiritual roles beyond ideological justification. Moreover, he demonstrates the inadequacy of state-folk dichotomies for understanding the social groups, institutions, and individual beliefs and practices of ancient Japanese Buddhism, highlighting instead common organizations across social class and using models that reveal shared concerns among believers from diverse social backgrounds.

Ritualized Writing makes broader contributions to the study of ritual and scripture by introducing the notion of scriptural cultures, an analytic tool that denotes a series of dynamic relationships and practices involving texts that have been strategically set apart or ritualized. Scripture, Lowe concludes, is at once a category created by humans and a body of texts that transforms individuals and social organizations who come into contact with it.

11 b&w illustrations


temple walls | japan
Ryuten Paul Rosenblum
48 pages
14.5 x 23.5 cm
Hard cover / Accordion binding

Zen Buddhist practice is sometimes called “wall-gazing” meditation, a reference both to Bodhidharma — the sect’s purported founder’s — and his nine years meditating while facing a monastery (or, cave) wall, but also to Zen’s eschewing of meditation aids like paintings and statutes. The walls of ancient Zen temples and monasteries have been the companions and unyielding support for the practice of countless practitioners. This presence, and their non-objective forms (and perhaps these are the same thing), are captured in Paul Rosenblum‘s photographs of temple walls in Japan.

A wall is also symbol of renunciation: the Buddhist meditator has turned away from the world, quite literally.

The images are small squares of wall, thus converting the age and detail of stone, glaze, cracks, woodgrain, weathering into images that call to mind camera-less Polaroids, blurred landscapes, and gesture paintings. However, such imaginations are not Rosenblum’s purpose in creating these images. Rather, “practice is about seeing the mind in all things, even the most commonplace/everyday/simple/mundane. The temples and monasteries that I visited are widely know, even revered by some. For me, my ‘interaction’ with simple, taken for granted things like walls was infused a feeling of honor and respect for the practice that has taken place in them for centuries. I feel each is the body of a Buddha; our practice is what makes it vividly alive in this moment.” (This and other quotations from a personal email from the photographer.)

Rosenblum is a linage holder in the Zen tradition of Dongshan and Dōgen and spends part of each year serving as Vice Abbot of Genrinji, a Zen Temple in the Germany.


These photographs present a radically different view of well-known sites: from the usual architectural, viewer-to-object-oriented, or tourist-friendly Zen gardens, to a quite intimate one that asks for more from the viewer than one-to-one identification of things. It is easier to focus on things planned to be focused on, it is harder to focus on what is more ever-present, sitting firmly in the background (like the mind). The images are”intended as a way to support seeing without thinking predominating.”

One’s attention falls into habit, thus seeing more traditional image of a Buddhist temple tends merely to provoke the mind to recollect the idea of a temple through image-association. These images, radically deconstructed ones of Buddhist temples, urge the eye and mind to work a little harder.

That said, the images have a beauty that one finds absent any heavy mental-lifting. This is to say that they have formal qualities akin to some 20th century western art (whether or not this visual/intellectual impact is akin in some way to Buddhist ways of seeing is an open question).

The book itself is a lovely object, an accordion bound, limited edition by Datz Press of Seoul, Korea. The cover stock, inside cover material, paper, and ink all show attention to a somewhat unrefined aesthetic. (The choice to render titles in all lower case does strike me as a touch precious; a minor point in a design that intelligently and sensitively supports the artist’s intention.)

I particularly appreciate this book as it presents new ways of putting images and seeing toward Buddhist practice. Books like this one reveal that there are more ways of using images toward practice than the well-known use of mandalas and thangkas.

~ Jonathan Ciliberto


Archaeology and Buddhism in South Asia
By Himanshu Prabha Ray

© 2018 – Routledge India

140 pages | 12 B/W Illus.

Hardback: 9781138304895
pub: 2017-08-29

eBook (VitalSource) : 9780203728543
pub: 2017-08-31


This book traces the archaeological trajectory of the expansion of Buddhism and its regional variations in South Asia. Focusing on the multireligious context of the subcontinent in the first millennium BCE, the volume breaks from conventional studies that pose Buddhism as a counter to the Vedic tradition to understanding the religion more integrally in terms of dhamma (teachings of the Buddha), dāna (practice of cultivating generosity)and the engagement with the written word. The work underlines that relic and image worship were important features in the spread of Buddhism in the region and were instrumental in bringing the monastics and the laity together. Further, the author examines the significance of the histories of monastic complexes (viharas, stupas, caityas) and also religious travel and pilgrimage that provided connections across the subcontinent and the seas.

An interdisciplinary study, this book will be of great interest to students and scholars in South Asian studies, religion, especially Buddhist studies, history and archaeology.

About the Author

Himanshu Prabha Ray is affiliated to Ludwig Maximillian University, Munich, Germany, and is recipient of the Anneliese Maier research award of the Humboldt Foundation. She is former Chairperson of the National Monuments Authority, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, and former Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. She is Member of the Governing Board, The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. Her recent books include The Archaeology of Sacred Spaces: The Temple in Western India, 2nd Century BCE–8th Century CE (with Susan Verma Mishra, 2017); The Return of the Buddha: Ancient Symbols for a New Nation (2014); and The Archaeology of Seafaring in Ancient South Asia (2003). Among her earlier works are The Winds of Change: Buddhism and the Maritime Links of Early South Asia (1994) and Monastery and Guild: Commerce under the Satavahanas

From the Land of the Snowlion
Distributed for Hirmer Publishers

360 pages | 450 color plates | 8 1/4 x 12 1/2 | © 2016

Tibet is home to a rich artistic heritage, including some of the world’s most treasured works of material and textile art. Particularly well represented within the Tibetan tradition are carpets; metalwork, including poles, singing bowls, and tingsha prayer chimes, and furniture, especially intricately painted trunks and cabinets. This book is an attractively presented, authoritative overview.

Drawing on a private collection, In the Land of the Snowlion brings together breathtakingly beautiful examples of traditional Tibetan material and textile art from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. Many of the objects pictured play a central role in Tibetan culture, but their uses have remained relatively little known. Hand-woven or hand-knotted sheep’s wool rugs, for example, were often crafted for seating or riding, while highly ornamented poles were sometimes designed to support paintings. This lavish, large-format book fills this gap in the knowledge about Tibetan art and culture, with 450 full-color illustrations, as well as essays by the collectors, Michael and Justyna Buddeberg, and contributions from a distinguished group of international specialists in Tibetan art: Koos de Jong, Christiane Kalantari, Petra Maurer, Ulrike Montigel, H. H. Neumann, Lisa Niedermayr, Bruno Richtsfeld, Rupert Smith, Friedrich Spuhler, Elena Tsareva, Hans Weihreter, and Thoma Wild.

Some of the most beautiful and historically significant works of Tibetan art are in the Buddeberg Collection, and In the Land of the Snowlion makes them available to the public for the first time.

41HB8vuNeZL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Buddhist Art of Living in Nepal Ethical Practice and Religious Reform
By Lauren Leve
2016 – Routledge
268 pages
Hardback: 9780415617345
pub: 2016-07-28

Theravada Buddhism has experienced a powerful and far-reaching revival in modern Nepal, especially among the Newar Buddhist laity, many of whom are reorganizing their lives according to its precepts, practices and ideals. This book documents these far-reaching social and personal transformations and links them to political, economic and cultural shifts associated with late modernity, and especially neoliberal globalization.

Nepal has changed radically over the last century, particularly since the introduction of liberal democracy and an open-market economy in 1990. The rise of lay vipassana meditation has also dramatically impacted the Buddhist landscape. Drawing on recently revived understandings of ethics as embodied practices of self-formation, the author argues that the Theravada turn is best understood as an ethical movement that offers practitioners ways of engaging, and models for living in, a rapidly changing world. The book takes readers into the Buddhist reform from the perspectives of its diverse practitioners, detailing devotees’ ritual and meditative practices, their often conflicted relations to Vajrayana Buddhism and Newar civil society, their struggles over identity in a formerly Hindu nation-state, and the political, cultural, institutional and moral reorientations that becoming a “pure Buddhist”—as Theravada devotees understand themselves—entails.

Based on more than 20 years of anthropological fieldwork, this book is an important contribution to scholarly debates over modern Buddhism, ethical practices, and the anthropology of religion. It is of interest to students and scholars of Asian Religion, Anthropology, Buddhism and Philosophy.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction: Seeing Things As They Are

Chapter 2: ‘A Garden of Every Kind of People:’ Newar Buddhists in Hindu Nepal

Chapter 3: The Revival of “Pure Buddhism”

Chapter 4: What Makes A Theravada Buddhist?

Chapter 5: Becoming “Pure Buddhist” (1): Practices of Personhood

Chapter 6: Becoming “Pure Buddhist” (2): Vipassana Meditation and the Theravada Care of the Self

Chapter 7: The Best Dharma for Today: Post-Protestant Buddhism in Neoliberal Nepal

Conclusion: The Buddhist Art of Living, in Nepal and Elsewhere


Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road</em>
Edited by Neville Agnew, Marcia Reed,
and Tevvy Ball; 2016

The Mogao grottoes in northwestern China, located near the town of Dunhuang on the fabled Silk Road, constitute one of the world’s most significant sites of Buddhist art. Preserved in some five hundred caves carved into rock cliffs at the edge of the Gobi Desert are one thousand years of exquisite wall paintings and sculpture. Founded by Buddhist monks in the late fourth century, Mogao grew into an artistic and spiritual center whose renown extended from the Chinese capital to the far western kingdoms of the Silk Road. Among its treasures are 45,000 square meters of murals, more than 2,000 statues, and some 50,000 medieval silk paintings and illustrated manuscripts.

This catalogue accompanies an exhibition of the same name, which will run May 7–September 4, 2016, at the Getty Center. Organized by the Getty Conservation Institute, Getty Research Institute, Dunhuang Academy, and Dunhuang Foundation, the exhibition celebrates a decades-long collaboration between the GCI and the Dunhuang Academy to conserve this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It presents, for the first time in North America, a collection of objects from the so-called Library Cave, including illustrated sutras, prayer books, and other exquisite treasures, as well as three full-scale, handpainted replica caves. This volume includes essays by leading scholars, an illustrated portfolio on the replica caves, and comprehensive entries on all objects in the exhibition.

1405167009A Cultural History of Japanese Buddhism

William E. Deal, Brian Ruppert
ISBN: 978-1-4051-6700-0
314 pages
June 2015, Wiley-Blackwell

Review by Jonathan Ciliberto

Intended for “upper-level undergraduate and graduate students as well as scholars,” A Cultural History of Japanese Buddhism fills a gap by presenting largely recent work of Japanese and Western scholars on Japanese Buddhism. The authors consider prior books on Buddhist cultural history as largely from Indian and Tibetan viewpoints. The particular presumptions, intellectual models, or even prejudices of such positions (e.g., to view Japanese Buddhism as a distant reflection, or a corruption, of a continental original) are seen as obstacles to an accurate history of Buddhism’s influence and interaction with Japan.

The great value of the book is to direct readers to approaches and theories perhaps overlooked by more general histories of Buddhism. Each chapter includes its own bibliography and notes, making the book useful for study of narrow sections of Japan’s history.

Published in 2015, many summaries of and citations to recent scholarship are incorporated. Although a relatively short volume (~200 pages, absent notes and biolographies), it includes a great deal of purely historical information surrounded by “cultural history,” covering Japan from protohistory to the present. The book includes a character glossary.

Some themes that run through the book are: that Buddhism in Japan was not a monolithic “ism,” and that individual sects were not exclusive of one another but rather interacted in practice and doctrine; the complex interaction of indigenous religion with Buddhism; Buddhist lineages in Japan as the agents of cultural influence (e.g., “lineages had already begun to pursue the possibility of an ultimate deity”).

Many chapters include subsections on women and gender in Japanese Buddhism, including a fascinating section on the link between literary salons “established in women’s circles” and often held within monasteries and creating an environment for “the evolving and intimate connection between monastic Buddhists and their lay supporters” (102-4). More generally, these sections illustrate the important influence of women on Japanese Buddhism throughout its history. The book also devotes substantial attention to religion in Japan in the modern period, a much-needed resource.

One instance of a simplification of Japanese history that the authors seek to correct is the view that Shinto and Buddhism remained largely separate strands. While the doctrine of honji-suijaku is relatively well-known, the book reveals in greater depth the complex interplay between the two religions by reference to the writings of recent (and less-recent) scholars.

Another attempt to reveal subtlety beyond a stock scholarly view concerns (in the Heian period) the “limitations of the ‘rhetoric of decadence’ [that] some scholars attribute to ‘old’ Buddhism”. The authors offer Minamoto no Tamenori’s (d. 1101) Sanbo’e as an attempt “to incorporate other parts of the populace” beyond the aristocracy. This undercuts the claim that “practitioners of the ‘old’ Buddhism were completely unconcerned with those outside their walls” as a cause of the emergence of “religious heroes” (like Kukai and Nichiren) (88-90). (That said, the ongoing theme of Japanese Buddhists, unsatisfied with the quality of teaching in Japan, who sought original texts and more authoritative teachers in China, does support the basis of a kind of “decadent” Buddhism.)

It is important to have a sense of what “cultural history” is, or what it intends to do, before considering the authors’ approach to a history of Japanese Buddhism. Given that cultural history includes an extremely wide set of approaches, determining the present authors’ use of it as a method is largely about picking out strands from the mass of possibilities. (One author refers to “the notorious difficulty of organizing the disorderly profusion of intradisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, and varying national-intellectual meanings and understandings of the “culture concept” into anything resembling consensual form” [Geoffrey Eley, “What Is Cultural History?”, New German Critique, No. 65, Cultural History/Cultural Studies, Spring – Summer, 1995, pp. 19-36].)

While the authors don’t set out their approach, generally in the present volume they tend to consider Buddhism in Japan less in terms of its religious or spiritual character or content and more as a generator of social and political forms.  Or, rather, it is unspoken that religion was the driving force in developing myriad cultural effects in Japan, but the book doesn’t dwell much on religion itself, as it does on these effects. While explanation of religious ideas is largely absent, a few instances exists (for instance, the brief description of the bodies of the Buddhism is perhaps the first I’ve read that I immediately understood).

It is unclear whether this approach is based on the position described by the scholar of medieval Japanese Buddhism Bernard Faure when he refers to an “absolute standpoint” as a “contradiction in terms” (Faure, Visions of Power (2000), 9). (Faure is frequently cited in A Cultural History of Japanese Buddhism.) That is: there are no “religious” standpoints motivating individuals, in terms of absolute or ideal concepts, or at least that taking direction from such standpoints is delusional.

Faure’s view (following from Le Goff) is that “literary and artistic works of art (and, in the case of religion, ritual practice) do no represent any eternal, unitary reality, but rather are the products of the imagination of those who produce them” (Faure, 10, emphasis added). A similar view of religion advocates a “History of Religions approach – trying to figure out how and why certain forms of religiosity took shape the way they did instead of assuming that it was religious experience that made religion” (Alan Cole, Fathering Your Father  (2009), xi).

Thus, Faure and historians who follow his approach write religious history absent of religion as an internal activity, aimed at self-improvement, transcendental, or altruistic. Or perhaps this approach simply considers individual “religious” experiences too personal, too psychologically opaque, to form the basis of historical inquiry, and thus discards consideration of such experiences as “religious” in nature, and instead consider them in mainly terms of materiality and politics.

The authors of A Cultural History of Japanese Buddhism follow more directly the historian Kuroda Toshio’s sociopolitical functionalist approach. While occasionally offering descriptions of Buddhist practice and doctrine, the book largely focuses on: state-control over and connection with Buddhism in Japan (“Buddhism was firmly controlled by the state” during the early period (66)); art as narrative or purely visual, rather than a function of practice (99); Buddhist practice as a means of gaining influence or power at court, and the claim that “undoubtably” the introduction of esoteric lineages was related to the royal court’s interest in such power(106); that the court drove ritual (“Pivotal organizational and philosophical changes begin to arise in the royal court with the consolidation of the annual court ceremonies” (88, 106)).

Throughout, the authors take pains to connect influential Buddhists with the court: “The Daigoji halls, like those in other major monasteries, primarily housed scions of Fujiwara and Minamoto heritage” (107); “The Shingon lineages, from a very early point, […] had a special connection with the royal line” (108); “the intimate association between Tendai’s Enryakuji (Hiei) and the leading Fujiwaras” (108). Every monk who was a member of a royal family is identified in such a manner.

The author’s de-emphasis on “religious” explanations for religious history in Japan is intended to counterbalance writers who rely too much on such explanations. Citing the notable effect of D.T. Suzuki’s presentation of Zen Buddhism to the West (absurdist, gnomic, iconoclastic), and pointing out that “few Japanese Zen adherents, except those in the modern period and particularly those with access to the writings of Suzuki translated into Japanese”  would recognize it, the author’s more social-science approach finds some justification. (146-7).

Performance theory is connected with the authors’ approach. A Cultural History of Japanese Buddhism doesn’t lay any groundwork for the reader as to what the doctrine or technique of applying performance theory are. It is a notoriously amorphous field of inquiry. One description of the approach states that “the performative nature of societies around the world, how events and rituals as well as daily life [are] all governed by a code of performance,” and one sees how this aligns with Deal and Ruppert’s approach in the present volume: religious acts are not generated by authenticity, but rather are ritualized and “for show.” Performance theory is difficult to understand as contributing much to an analysis of history, since all human action is outward, and thus all actions are, in a literal sense, “performed.” The negative application of the theory is applied in the present volume: performance theory supports the strategy of  avoiding examination the motivations, hearts, or minds of individual in Japanese Buddhist history.

This is a strategy for writing history, and indicates the above-mentioned scholarly caution, perhaps, but also it tends to paint individuals as acting according to a plan (or with hindsight), rather than by caprice, calling, sincerity, compassion, or irrationality. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, in terms of cultural history, whether or not an effect was caused by religion or some other motivation, but only that the effect did occur.

With regard to Buddhist art, the authors acknowledge – particularly as to poetry – that the “undoubted” motivation for including Buddhist themes was a recognition of the contrast between non-attachment and the “intoxication of those who made use of or found beauty in the linguistic arts” (102). Oddly – although in keeping with the author’s “non-religious” approach to religious art – the idea that such an aesthetic intoxication is meant exactly to advance individuals’ practice (e.g., through visualization) is never mentioned, with respect to poetry or any other art form.

Puja and Piety: Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist Art from the Indian Subcontinent
Pratapaditya Pal (Editor), Stephen P. Huyler (Contributor), John E. Cort (Contributor), Christian Luczanits (Contributor), Debashish Banerji (Contributor)
Available worldwide
Hardcover, 256 pages
ISBN: 9780520288478
April 2016
$65.00, £48.95

Puja and Piety celebrates the complexity of South Asian representation and iconography by examining the relationship between aesthetic expression and the devotional practice, or puja, in the three native religions of the Indian subcontinent. This stunning and authoritative catalogue presents some 150 objects created over the past two millennia for temples, home worship, festivals, and roadside shrines. From monumental painted temple hangings and painted meditation diagrams to portable pictures for pilgrims, from stone sculptures to processional bronzes and wooden chariots, from ancient terracottas to various devotional objects for domestic shrines, this volume provides much-needed context and insight into classical and popular art of India. Featuring an introduction by the eminent art historian and curator Pratapaditya Pal; accessible essays on each religious tradition by Stephen P. Huyler, John E. Cort, and Christian Luczanits; and useful guides to iconography and terms by Debashish Banerji, this richly illustrated catalogue will provide a lasting resource for readers interested in South Asian art and spirituality.

Published in association with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Exhibition organized by Susan S. Tai, Elizabeth Atkins Curator of Asian Art

Exhibition dates: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, April 17–July 31, 2016

Preserving the Dharma:Hōzan Tankai and Japanese Buddhist Art of the Early Modern Era
John M. Rosenfield
Paperback | 2016 | $72.00 | £53.95 | ISBN: 9780691163970
160 pp. | 7 x 10 | 4 maps.


In this beautifully illustrated book, eminent art historian John Rosenfield explores the life and art of the Japanese Buddhist monk Hozan Tankai (1629–1716). Through a close examination of sculptures, paintings, ritual implements, and primary documents, the book demonstrates how the Shingon prelate’s artistic activities were central to his important place in the world of late-seventeenth-century Japanese Buddhism. At the same time, the book shows the richness of early modern Japanese Buddhist art, which has often been neglected and undervalued.

Tankai was firmly committed to the spiritual disciplines of mountain Buddhism—seclusion, severe asceticism, meditation, and ritual. But in the 1680s, after being appointed head of a small, run-down temple on the slopes of Mount Ikoma, near Nara, he revealed that he was also a gifted artist and administrator. He embarked on an ambitious campaign of constructing temple halls and commissioning icons, and the Ikoma temple, soon renamed Hōzanji, became a vibrant center of popular Buddhism, as it remains today. He was a remarkably productive artist, and by the end of his life more than 150 works were associated with him.

A major reconsideration of a key artistic and religious figure, Preserving the Dharma brings much-needed attention to an overlooked period of Japanese Buddhist art.

John M. Rosenfield (1924–2013) was the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor Emeritus of East Asian Art at Harvard University and curator emeritus of Asian art at the Harvard University Art Museums. His recent publications include Portraits of Chogen: The Transformation of Buddhist Art in Early Medieval Japan and extensive entries in Unrivalled Splendor: The Kimiko and John Powers Collection of Japanese Art.

Table of Contents:

Foreword and Acknowledgments 9
Author’s Acknowledgments 13
Notes to the Reader 15
Historical Dates and Places 17
Maps 19
Introduction 23
CHAPTER 1 Birth and Training 39
CHAPTER 2 Sacred Mount Ikoma 55
CHAPTER 3 Head Priest 79
CHAPTER 4 Sculpture 93
CHAPTER 5 Pictures 109
CHAPTER 6 Eminence 127
APPENDIX A Hōzanji Archive 143
APPENDIX B Shingon Priests 147
Notes 153
Bibliography 161
Glossary 171
Index 191
Image Credits 199

O.B. Seven Weeks.
Osmund Bopearachchi
Seven Weeks after the Buddha’s Enlightenment. Contradictions in Text, Confusions in Art
Manohar Publishers
New Delhi, 2016, 75 pages.

Review by Jon Ciliberto
Kamakura Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan
Ive Covaci (Editor)
Asia Society/Yale U Pr, Feb 9 2016, HC, 192 pp, 65 color illus, 8.75 x 11.75 in

General awareness of the ceremonies and rituals that attend the creation of Buddhist art has grown in recent years. This attention to more purely religious (rather than aesthetic or material) aspects of Buddhist art gives laypersons and those who have approached such works from the Western “fine art” perspective intimate and meaningful detail of how the scared infuses the material in Buddhist art. The Asia Society’s current exhibition through May 8, Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan, focuses both on ritual acts connected with image creation, and the intense realism of Kamakura art – the latter also a method of enhancing practitioner’s spiritual interaction with images.


This realism is in somewhat contrast to immediately preceding periods. Ive Covaci, the editor of the fine and approachable catalogue accompanying the exhibition, directly links this realism to the “living” aspects of Buddhist art, thus connecting realism with the practices that brought such objects to life. Buddhist art was considered alive, both in terms of the ability of such objects to interact with living beings, but also in that Buddhist art embodies actual, currently living (or, present) Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other entities.

Buddhist art, particularly images of the Buddha, encounters a paradox. As examined in detail in Robert DeCaroli’s Image Problems (2015), since the Buddha upon enlightenment was wholly absent from this world, images of the Buddha are a seeming contradiction of that absence. Given this obstacle, the idea of “living” images of the Buddha is doubly confusing. More generally, since Buddhist philosophy questions the nature of what is real, what does it mean for an image to be ‘realistic’?

Living images of bodhisattvas don’t raise these questions, since a bodhisattva’s nature is to be active and engaged in the world, working for the salvation of all sentient beings.

More broadly, of course, all Buddhist art is designed to urge all who encounter it to pursue the dharma. It might be argued that more realistic imagery will more strikingly achieve that aim. The “naturalistic proportions and […] sense of movement, life-like facial expressions with eyes of inlaid crystal that reflect light, and realistic drapery” all confront the viewer, enhancing the effect of facing a living being. The catalogue notes in many places that inlaid crystal eyes and forms that are naturalistic and sculpted so as to appear mid-motion would strike views as alive when seen in dim temple interiors, lit by flickering candlelight

An introductory chapter by the volume’s editor, Ive Covaci, places the era in historical context. It has frequently been noted that the explosive growth of image-making and technique during the Kamakura period (1185-1333) was due to opportunity. “During the wars and disturbances attending the Minamoto rise to power, many magnificent temples and other structures were burned to the ground. Restoring these buildings not only stimulated a renaissance in architecture and sculpture, but also provided an excellent opportunity for artists to pioneer styles that reflected the sensibilities of the new age.” A Pictorial Encyclopedia of Oriental Arts (Japan, Vol 2), 29. Covaci points out that the realism of the Kamakura looks back to the realism of the Nara period (710-794) because the craftsmen enlisted to recreate destroyed images were based in Nara and worked to remake images from that era. More speculatively, Covaci claims that the preference for the realistic style reflected the “more approachable, humanlike forms” sought by the religious life of the Kamakura.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 5.08.25 PM

Technical innovations, too, allowed artists to make more realistic images, most notably the use of multiple blocks of wood to create a single sculpture. The making of  inset-crystal eyes are also a technique developed during the Kamakura period.

Of course, the realism of the images is at times undercut by the fact that the beings represented are “superhuman.” So, while even esoteric beings with multiple sets of arms appear immediate and approachable, certain conventions of Buddhist-image making remain: somewhat unnaturally round and smooth faces, sharply-etched eyebrows, snail-curls, urnas, and prominent ushnishas, and so forth. Realism, then, is more effectively conveyed by the sense of stopped-motion many of the statues convey.

Except for statues of monks, the realism is the realism not of human figures but of cosmic ones. What is made real by these highly “life-like” images is the reality of such beings, present in the world of the viewer. Thus there is a double-double-take: the viewer is arrested by the lifelike presence of an inanimate object, and then again by the realization that cosmic beings exist in the present reality.

Less philosophically, the realism of such images works in concert with ritual. During the Kamakura period, the highly syncretic Buddhism that flourished in Japan included many esoteric schools whose practice utilized images and objects to bring the practitioner into the intimate presence of Buddhas and other cosmic beings. Images of great realism served better to create this immediacy.


The catalogue also brings forward the fact that individual artist began including their own names on their works — typically painted inside the hollow statue. Whether this is due to pride or, more likely, to the continuation of a much older practice of those commissioning artwork seeking to receive merit by virtue of image creation is unknown.

In addition to Covaci’s introduction, the catalogue includes three short essays by Samuel Morse (“A Short History of the Kei School”), Hank Glassman (on Japanese Gods in Buddhist Art) and Nedachi Kensuke (on replicas of miraculous Buddhist statues). Each is intended to provide the general reader insight into aspects that run through the works in the catalogue. Morse describes the influence of a school of artisans founded by Kokei (active 1152-1196), which includes Kaikei, Koshun, and Unkei. While great artists, it is undeniable that they impact on Japanese art was due in large part to the political events of their times: the turnover of power, to the Minamoto clan in 1185, benefited the Kokei school, since the latter was specially favored by the Minamoto. This interplay, between the material/political (e.g., technical innovations in image-making, war’s destruction of images leading to their recreation, the support of a new ruling class) and the artistic is an undercurrent in the catalogue, although never confronted directly.

Glassman’s poetic article on the eclecticism of Kamakura religious life effectively conveys the manner in which indigenous Shinto deities were incorporated into the Buddhist pantheon. The doctrine of honji suijaku “held that buddhas and bodhisattvas manifested as Japanese gods to facilitate connection.” This extremely important concept in the Buddhification of Japan is only briefly noted in this essay, as is the presence of relics as enlivening agents in Buddhist art.

Nedachi Kensuke’s essay provides an important conceptual consideration of “living images” by describing the creation of replicas of a certain class of image: those believed to have the ability to perform miracles. This fascinating essay explores new terrain and encourages further reading.

The bulk of the catalogue is, of course, the 42 entries. Image text is provided by Covaci and D. Max Moerman. (The latter’s stand out as particularly refined, intelligent, and insightful.) Perhaps in keeping with the original setting for many of the images, the photographs are dark, but certainly not to a disadvantage. Additional views (including internal views of statues) are provided in some cases.

The objects are compelling and readers will find absorption into their beauty and spiritual qualities immediately. The majority of statues are made \of wood, also enhancing their approachability. While many were gilded or lightly painted, largely such additions are now absent or much-dulled.


The catalogue’s back material consists of: a map of Japan during the Kamakura; a timeline that correlates art history with other events during the period; a very helpful glossary (with characters); a selected bibliography; and an index.


ROUONCOn Cold MountainA Buddhist Reading of the Hanshan Poems

PUBLISHED: October 2015
SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies / China; Literary Studies
University of Washington Press

In this first serious study of Hanshan (“Cold Mountain”), Paul Rouzer discusses some seventy poems of the iconic Chinese poet who lived sometime during the Tang dynasty (618-907). Hanshan’s poems gained a large readership in English-speaking countries following the publication of Jack Kerouac’s novel The Dharma Bums (1958) and Gary Snyder’s translations (which began to appear that same year), and they have been translated into English more than any other body of Chinese verse.

Rouzer investigates how Buddhism defined the way that believers may have read Hanshan in premodern times. He proposes a Buddhist poetics as a counter-model to the Confucian assumptions of Chinese literary thought and examines how texts by Kerouac, Snyder, and Jane Hirshfield respond to the East Asian Buddhist tradition.
PAUL ROUZER is professor of Asian languages and literatures at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese and Articulated Ladies: Gender and the Male Community in Early Chinese Texts.
“Brings the techniques of advanced literary interpretation to this corpus in a book that gives a broad readership close acquaintance with the details of language, style, and background.”
-Haun Saussy, author of The Problem of a Chinese Aesthetic
“A well-documented analysis and distinctive interpretation of the Buddhist implications of the ever intriguing poetry attributed to a figure known as Hanshan.”
-Steven Heine, author of Zen Skin, Zen Marrow: Will the Real Zen Buddhism Please Stand Up?

“A refreshing look at a text that has been known as a sort of ‘Buddhist Poetry’ in East Asia for centuries but has only recently been seen anew via its unexpectedly large readership in the now-cosmopolitan Chan/Zen world. Rouzer reexamines what is Buddhist, and what is poetic, about the Cold Mountain poems with intriguing insights and close reading.”
-Gary Snyder, author of Danger on Peaks: Poems

Catalogue of Tibetan Mandalas and Other Images
Anne Burchardi

340 pp., Illustrated
Hardback – 2016, Recently Published
ISBN 978 87 7694 172 7, £125

This visually stunning catalogue presents c. 300 iconographical materials and texts from the Tibetan collections of the Royal Library and the National Museum of Denmark. Most of the entries describe such iconographical materials as mandalas, elemental divination paintings, ritual “tsakli” cards and prayer flags. Unique handwritten meditation manuals, a Mongolian Book of the Dead, illuminated manuscripts as well as philosophical and medical works are also featured. These remarkable materials, which represent rare and unique forms of communication between man and nature in written and iconographical forms, play a central role in the performance of Buddhist and shamanistic rituals. In line with other volumes in the COMDC series, this catalogue is intended as a reference tool for scholars. It also supplements the Catalogue of Tibetan Manuscripts and Xylographs, COMDC 6.1 & 6.2. The catalogue includes over 250 colour illustrations.

513lAtne1BLThe Golden Valley: The Untold Story of the Other Cultural Center of Tibet 
by David C Huber, Dave Glantz

The recent discovery of a rich cultural treasure trove of ancient Tibetan monastic art and furniture shines a light on an overlooked cluster of monasteries located in an eastern region of Tibet known as The Golden Valley. Tracing the tumultuous history of the valley from the 7th century to the present day, a history sometimes triumphant but often atrociously tragic, provides the backdrop for the many influences on the evolution of its art, whether from enlightened Buddhist teachers or murderous invading armies. Richly photographed, the book not only features the art itself – from exquisite centuries-old wall hangings to ingeniously designed furniture, all produced by dedicated monks – but also explains in unprecedented detail the symbolism and philosophy incorporated into these pieces, their stunning decorations serving a dual purpose as teaching devices. Finally, the book introduces the reader to daily life at the monasteries. It delves into the everyday routines of the monks and nearby villagers, and the continued practice, even under today’s repressive conditions, of such ancient and profound rituals as the chanting of special mantras, sutras and pujas. These and other rites are explained in great detail, right down to the deep significance of the simple act of spinning a prayer wheel. Taken together, the art showcased in this book is meant to guide the reader into the culture, mind and faith of the artists and their communities, and tell their previously untold story.

9781606064450_grandeCave Temples of Mogao at Dunhuang: Art and History on the Silk Road
Roderick Whitfield, Susan Whitfield, and Neville Agnew

160 pages
8 x 10 inches
155 color & 25 b/w 
1 map
ISBN 978-1-60606-445-0

The Mogao grottoes in China, situated near the town of Dunhuang on the fabled Silk Road, constitute one of the world’s most significant sites of Buddhist art. The hundreds of caves carved into rock cliffs at the edge of the Gobi desert preserve one thousand years of exquisite art. Founded by Buddhist monks as an isolated monastery in the late fourth century, Mogao evolved into an artistic and spiritual mecca whose renown extended from the Chinese capital to the Western Kingdoms of the Silk Road. Among its treasures are miles of stunning wall paintings, more than two thousand statues, magnificent works on silk and paper, and thousands of ancient manuscripts, such as sutras, poems, and prayer sheets.

In this new expanded edition, Cave Temples of Mogao at Dunhuang, first published in 2000, combines lavish color photographs of the caves and their art with the fascinating history of the Silk Road to create a vivid portrait of this remarkable site. Chapters narrate the development of Dunhuang and the Mogao cave temples, the iconography of the wall paintings, and the extraordinary story of the rare manuscripts—including the oldest printed book in existence, a ninth-century copy of the Diamond Sutra. The book also discusses the collaboration between the Getty Conservation Institute and Chinese authorities in conservation projects at Mogao, and the ways in which the site can be visited today.

Roderick Whitfield is Percival David Professor emeritus in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Susan Whitfield is head of the International Dunhuang Project, British Library. Neville Agnew is a principal project specialist at the Getty Conservation Institute.
Getty Publications
Imprint: Getty Conservation Institute
Series: Conservation and Cultural Heritage


9780824839338The Fluid Pantheon: Gods of Medieval Japan, Volume 1
Bernard Faure
University of Hawai‘i Press

Written by one of the leading scholars of Japanese religion, The Fluid Pantheon is the first installment of a multivolume project that promises to be a milestone in our understanding of the mythico-ritual system of esoteric Buddhism—specifically the nature and roles of deities in the religious world of medieval Japan and beyond. Bernard Faure introduces readers to medieval Japanese religiosity and shows the centrality of the gods in religious discourse and ritual; in doing so he moves away from the usual textual, historical, and sociological approaches that constitute the “method” of current religious studies. The approach considers the gods (including buddhas and demons) as meaningful and powerful interlocutors and not merely as cyphers for social groups or projections of the human mind. Throughout he engages insights drawn from structuralism, post-structuralism, and Actor-network theory to retrieve the “implicit pantheon” (as opposed to the “explicit orthodox pantheon”) of esoteric Japanese Buddhism (Mikkyō).

Through a number of case studies, Faure describes and analyzes the impressive mythological and ritual efflorescence that marked the medieval period, not only in the religious domain, but also in the political, artistic, and literary spheres. He displays vast knowledge of his subject and presents his research—much of it in largely unstudied material—with theoretical sophistication. His arguments and analyses assume the centrality of the iconographic record, and so he has brought together in this volume a rich and rare collection of more than 180 color and black-and-white images. This emphasis on iconography and the ways in which it complements, supplements, or deconstructs textual orthodoxy is critical to a fuller comprehension of a set of medieval Japanese beliefs and practices. It also offers a corrective to the traditional division of the field into religious studies, which typically ignores the images, and art history, which oftentimes overlooks their ritual and religious meaning.

The Fluid Pantheon and its companion volumes should persuade readers that the gods constituted a central part of medieval Japanese religion and that the latter cannot be reduced to a simplistic confrontation, parallelism, or complementarity between some monolithic teachings known as “Buddhism” and “Shinto.” Once these reductionist labels and categories are discarded, a new and fascinating religious landscape begins to unfold.

105 color and 87 black & white illustrations

9780824839314Protectors and Predators: Gods of Medieval Japan, Volume 2
Bernard Faure
University of Hawai‘i Press

Written by one of the leading scholars of Japanese religion, Protectors and Predators is the second installment of a multivolume project that promises to be a milestone in our understanding of the mythico-ritual system of esoteric Buddhism—specifically the nature and roles of deities in the religious world of medieval Japan and beyond. Bernard Faure introduces readers to medieval Japanese religiosity and shows the centrality of the gods in religious discourse and ritual. Throughout he engages theoretical insights drawn from structuralism, post-structuralism, and Actor-Network Theory to retrieve the “implicit pantheon” (as opposed to the “explicit orthodox pantheon”) of esoteric Japanese Buddhism (Mikkyō). His work is particularly significant given its focus on the deities’ multiple and shifting representations, overlappings, and modes of actions rather than on individual characters and functions.

In Protectors and Predators Faure argues that the “wild” gods of Japan were at the center of the medieval religious landscape and came together in complex webs of association not divisible into the categories of “Buddhist,” “indigenous,” or “Shinto.” Furthermore, among the most important medieval gods, certain ones had roots in Hinduism, others in Daoism and Yin-Yang thought. He displays vast knowledge of his subject and presents his research—much of it in largely unstudied material—with theoretical sophistication. His arguments and analyses assume the centrality of the iconographic record as a complement to the textual record, and so he has brought together a rich and rare collection of more than 170 color and black-and-white images. This emphasis on iconography and the ways in which it complements, supplements, or deconstructs textual orthodoxy is critical to a fuller comprehension of a set of medieval Japanese beliefs and practices and offers a corrective to the traditional division of the field into religious studies, which typically ignores the images, and art history, which oftentimes overlooks their ritual and religious meaning.

Protectors and Predators and its companion volumes should persuade readers that the gods constituted a central part of medieval Japanese religion and that the latter cannot be reduced to a simplistic confrontation, parallelism, or complementarity between some monolithic teachings known as “Buddhism” and “Shinto.” Once these reductionist labels and categories are discarded, a new and fascinating religious landscape begins to unfold.

84 color and 88 black & white illustrations

Śākyamuni’s return journey to Lumbinī (lumbinīyātrā) : a study of a popular theme in Newar Buddhist Art and Literature
GGudrun Bühnemann; Lumbini International Research Institute.
Rupandehi, Nepal : Lumbini International Research Institute, 2015.

9780253013064_medArt and Devotion at a Buddhist Temple in the Indian Himalaya
Melissa R. Kerin
Publication date: 7/1/2015
ISBN: 978-0-253-01309-5

Edward C. Dimock, Jr., Prize for the Indian Humanities, American Institute of Indian Studies

Sixteenth-century wall paintings in a Buddhist temple in the Tibetan cultural zone of northwest India are the focus of this innovative and richly illustrated study. Initially shaped by one set of religious beliefs, the paintings have since been reinterpreted and retraced by a later Buddhist community, subsumed within its religious framework and communal memory. Melissa Kerin traces the devotional, political, and artistic histories that have influenced the paintings’ production and reception over the centuries of their use. Her interdisciplinary approach combines art historical methods with inscriptional translation, ethnographic documentation, and theoretical inquiry to understand religious images in context.

List of Illustrations
Technical Notes

1. Nako’s Socio-Political History and Artistic Heritage
2. Forgetting to Remember: Gyapagpa Temple’s Shifting Identity
3. Mapping Drigung Activity in Nako and the Western Himalaya
4. Gyapagpa’s Painting Style and its Antecendents
5. Origin and Meaning of a Renascent Painting Tradition


9781441189257Silver Screen Buddha: Buddhism in Asian and Western Film
Sharon A. Suh
ISBN: 9781441189257
Bloomsbury Academic
Illustrations: 15 bw illus
Dimensions: 6 1/8″ x 9 1/4″

How do contemporary films depict Buddhists and Buddhism? What aspects of the Buddhist tradition are these films keeping from our view? By repeatedly romanticizing the meditating monk, what kinds of Buddhisms and Buddhists are missing in these films and why?

Silver Screen Buddha is the first book to explore the intersecting representations of Buddhism, race, and gender in contemporary films. Sharon A. Suh examines the cinematic encounter with Buddhism that has flourished in Asia and in the West in the past century – from images of Shangri-La in Frank Capra’s 1937 Lost Horizon to Kim Ki-Duk’s 2003 international box office success Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring.

The book helps readers see that representations of Buddhism in Asia and in the West are fraught with political, gendered, and racist undertones. Silver Screen Buddha draws significant attention to ordinary lay Buddhism, a form of the tradition given little play in popular film. By uncovering the differences between a fictionalized, commodified, and exoticized Buddhism, Silver Screen Buddha brings to light expressions of the tradition that highlight laity and women, on the one hand, and Asian and Asian Americans, on the other. Suh engages in a re-visioning of Buddhism that expands the popular understanding of the tradition, moving from the dominance of meditating monks to the everyday world of raced, gendered, and embodied lay Buddhists.

Table Of Contents
1. Introduction: Buddhism and Film
2. Longing for Otherness through Buddhism
3. Zen Appetites: Consuming Religion and Otherness through Film
4. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: Women as Snares of Samsara
5. Coming Down from the Mountaintop: Engaged Buddhism in the World
6. The Ordinary as Extraordinary
7. Film as Sutra
8. Toward a Re-Visioning of the Role of Lay Women in Buddhism
9. Conclusion: Re-creating the Buddhist World Anew-But in Whose Image?

89949Transfer of Buddhism Across Central Asian Networks (7th to 13th Centuries)
Edited by Carmen Meinert (Ruhr University Bochum, Center for Religious Studies (CERES)).

The interdisciplinary volume Transfer of Buddhism across Central Asian Networks (7th to 13th Centuries), edited by Carmen Meinert, offers a new transregional and transcultural vision for religious transfer processes in Central Asian history. It looks at the region as an integrated (religious) whole rather than from the perspective of fragmented sub-disciplines and analyses the spread of Buddhism as a driving force in a societal and cultural change of pan-Asian importance. One particular dimension of this ‘Buddhist globalisation’ was the rise of local forms of Buddhism. This volume explores Buddhist localisations through manuscripts and material culture in the multiethnic oases of the Tarim basin, the Transhimalyan region of Zangskar, Ladakh and Kashmir and the Western Tibetan Kingdom of Purang-Guge.

ISBN13: 9789004307414
E-ISBN: 9789004307438
Publication Date: October 2015
Copyright Year: 2016
Format: Hardback
Publication Type: Book
Pages, Illustr.: xviii, 333 pp., index
Imprint: BRILL
Language: English
Main Series: Dynamics in the History of Religions
ISSN: 1878-8106
Volume: 08

Carmen Meinert, Dr. phil. (2001), Bonn University, is Professor of Central Asian Religions at Bochum University. She has published on Buddhism in Central Asia, on Tibetan-Chinese relations, and monographs including Buddha in the Yurt — Buddhist Art from Mongolia (Hirmer, 2011).

Contributors are: Kazuo Kano, Deborah Klimburg-Salter, Rob Linrothe, Linda Lojda, Carmen Meinert, Henrik H. Sørensen, Monica Strinu, Gertraud Taenzer, Sam van Schaik, Jens Wilkens.

All interested in an interdisciplinary approach towards understanding religious transfer processes across a Central Asian Buddhist network, best known as the Silk Road(s).

Table of contents


General Abbreviations
Bibliographical Abbreviations
Notes on contributors

– Introduction: Dynamics of Buddhist Transfer in Central Asia

– Changing political and Religious Contexts in Central Asia on a Micoro-Historical Level

Chapter 1: Changing Relations between Administration, Clergy and Lay People in Eastern Central Asia: A Case Study According to the Dunhuang Manuscripts Referring to the Transition from Tibetan to Local Rule in Dunhuang, 8th–11th Centuries

– Textual Transfer

Chapter 2: Tibetan Buddhism in Central Asia: Geopolitics and Group Dynamics

Chapter 3: The Transmission of Sanskrit Manuscripts from India to Tibet: The Case of a Manuscript Collection in the Possession of Atiśa Dīpaṃkaraśrījñāna (980–1054)

– Visual Transfer

Chapter 4: The Tibetan Himalayan Style: Considering the Central Asian Connection

Chapter 5: Origins of the Kashmiri Style in the Western Himalayas: Sculpture of the 7th–11th Centuries

– Transfer Agents

Chapter 6: Buddhism in the West Uyghur Kingdom and Beyond

Chapter 7: Esoteric Buddhism at the Crossroads: Religious Dynamics at Dunhuang, 9th–10th Centuries

– Bibliography
– Index

monks rural thailandReview by Jeffrey Martin

Cracker, Lee. The Monks Of Rural Thailand. San Francisco: Blurb, 2014.

While American photographer Lee Cracker’s images have appeared in mass circulation publications, he has taken lately to self-publishing a number of Thai-based projects, including books on the 2014 coup and a collection of Bangkok street images.  If these are in any way similar to this volume on Buddhist monastics, they would benefit greatly from an editor familiar with the topic, and more fundamentally with visual narration.

The electronic version of The Monks of Rural Thailand is a 71-page pdf containing several lovely images of Thai bhikkhus engaged in typical monastic behavior. The images are accompanied by a brief description of Thai monasticism and a handful of Buddha quotes on the nature of suffering and liberation.  

cracker 04

One of the impressive images featured in The Monks of Rural Thailand.

But the story, such as there is, feels incomplete and lacking direction.  Most of the images appear to have been taken at public events.  There are few private moments, such as monks in their quarters, or monks studying, or monks meditating.  But even if there were, it might be difficult for viewers unfamiliar with their world to understand what they are seeing.  Perhaps Cracker prefers a visual presentation that doesn’t require text, but I suppose the average viewer coming to this book would like to know what is pictured.  As someone who has studied Buddhism formally, as well as practiced among Asian Buddhists, I have some familiarity with Buddhist monastics, but even so a few of the images in this collection left me wondering exactly what was happening.  Cracker doesn’t even tell us in what part of Thailand these photos were taken.  In addition, sequencing is opaque.  There appear to be a set number of activities – praying, walking alms rounds, receiving donations, and taking part in ordination ceremonies – but the images are not suitably grouped and some seem to have no particular value in telling a story.

Cracker is obviously an able photographer, as a look at his website will clearly demonstrate.  A revised and expanded version of his Thai monastic project would be a welcome addition to his body of published work.

cracker 03

Who is this person, why is he being carried, by whom? Why does the lintel need to be touched?

cracker 02

Beautiful processing but to what effect? What is happening here?

cracker 01

What is the purpose of this photo? What story does it tell? How does the quote enliven the image?

A profile of Lee Cracker from the Bangkok Post:

Lee Cracker’s website:!/index

Buy the electronic version of The Monks of Rural Thailand:

9780199948215_450An Archaeological History of Indian Buddhism
Lars Fogelin
OUP USA Oxford Handbooks in Archaeology
264 pages | 30 line and 30 halftones | 235x156mm
978-0-19-994821-5 | Hardback | 25 June 2015

An Archaeological History of Indian Buddhism is a comprehensive survey of Indian Buddhism from its origins in the 6th century BCE, through its ascendance in the 1st millennium CE, and its eventual decline in mainland South Asia by the mid-2nd millennium CE. Weaving together studies of archaeological remains, architecture, iconography, inscriptions, and Buddhist historical sources, this book uncovers the quotidian concerns and practices of Buddhist monks and nuns (the sangha), and their lay adherents—concerns and practices often obscured in studies of Buddhism premised largely, if not exclusively, on Buddhist texts. At the heart of Indian Buddhism lies a persistent social contradiction between the desire for individual asceticism versus the need to maintain a coherent community of Buddhists. Before the early 1st millennium CE, the sangha relied heavily on the patronage of kings, guilds, and ordinary Buddhists to support themselves. During this period, the sangha emphasized the communal elements of Buddhism as they sought to establish themselves as the leaders of a coherent religious order. By the mid-1st millennium CE, Buddhist monasteries had become powerful political and economic institutions with extensive landholdings and wealth. This new economic self-sufficiency allowed the sangha to limit their day-to-day interaction with the laity and begin to more fully satisfy their ascetic desires for the first time. This withdrawal from regular interaction with the laity led to the collapse of Buddhism in India in the early-to-mid 2nd millennium CE. In contrast to the ever-changing religious practices of the Buddhist sangha, the Buddhist laity were more conservative—maintaining their religious practices for almost two millennia, even as they nominally shifted their allegiances to rival religious orders. This book also serves as an exemplar for the archaeological study of long-term religious change through the perspectives of practice theory, materiality, and semiotics.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – Introduction
Chapter 2 – The Material of Religion
Chapter 3 – From the Buddha to Ashoka: c. 600 – 200 BCE
Chapter 4 – The Sangha and the Laity: c. 200 BCE – 200 CE
Chapter 5 – The Beginnings of Mahayana Buddhism, Buddha Images, and Monastic Isolation: c. 100 – 600 CE
Chapter 6 – Lay Buddhism and Religious Syncretism in the First Millennium CE
Chapter 7 – The Consolidation and Collapse of Monastic Buddhism: c. 600 – 1400 CE

Lars Fogelin is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona. He is the author of Religion, Archaeology, and the Material World as well as Archaeology of Early Buddhism.

A Sense of the Whole Jacket1A Sense of the Whole: Reading Gary Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers Without End
Edited by Mark Gonnerman
352pp. | June 2015 | US$28.00 | ISBN 9781619024564 (Hardcover)
Berkeley: Counterpoint Press

Buddhist poet Gary Snyder once introduced a reading with reference to whitewater rapids, saying most of his writing is like a Class III run where you will do just fine on your own, but that Mountains and Rivers Without End (1996) is more like Class V: if you’re going to make it to take-out, you might need a guide. As a collection of commentaries and background readings, this companion volume to Snyder’s remarkable creative accomplishment enhances each reader’s ability to find their way into and through this adventurous and engaging work of art.

In 1997, Mark Gonnerman organized a yearlong research workshop on Mountains and Rivers Without End at the Stanford Humanities Center. Members of what came to be known among faculty, students, and diverse community members as the Mountains & Rivers Workshop met regularly to read and discuss Snyder’s epic poem. Here the poem served as a commons that turned the multiversity into a university once again.

The Workshop invited writers, teachers and scholars from North America and Japan to speak on various aspects of Snyder’s great accomplishment. This book captures the excitement of these gatherings and invites readers to enter the poem through essays and talks by David Abram, Wendell Berry, Carl Bielefeldt, Tim Dean, Jim Dodge, Mark Gonnerman, Robert Hass, Stephanie Kaza, Julia Martin, Michael McClure, Nanao Sakaki, and Katsunori Yamazato. It includes an interview with Gary Snyder, appendices, and other resources for further study.

From the Introduction
Mountains and Rivers Without End evades simple classificatory schemes. Is it an “American epic poem” (M&R dust jacket)? A multimedia poem cycle? A contribution to American mythology? A collection of poems depicting major ecosystem types? Is it a spiritual autobiography—a pilgrim’s progress—aimed at effecting some kind of religious conversion? Is this “a sort of sūtra—an extended poetic, philosophic, and mythic narrative of the female Buddha Tārā” (M&R 158)? Or is this book a score for the kind of live performance the poet has envisioned and experimented with since 1957? Is the work a thought experiment—a creative, critical Buddhist commentary—on the place of art in human religious life? Though I will concentrate on the last of these possibilities here, the attentive reader will discover that Snyder’s creative effort entails all of the above and more.

Mark Gonnerman was educated at St. Olaf College, Harvard Divinity School, and Stanford University, where he was a Lieberman Fellow. He is currently a professor and Director of the William James Center for Consciousness Studies at Sofia University in Palo Alto. He and Meri Mitsuyoshi share householder life in San Jose, California. Visit

Book Review: Illuminating the Life of the Buddha: An Illustrated Chanting Book from Eighteenth-century Siam (2013)

illumbuddhaAppleton, Naomi, Sarah Shaw, and Toshiya Unebe. Illuminating the Life of the Buddha: An Illustrated Chanting Book from Eighteenth-century Siam. Oxford, England: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2013. Print. 142 pp.

This brief book describes and illustrates (in 86 photographs) an 18-century samut khoi, an illuminated Thai manuscript now in the collection of the Bodleian Library, Oxford University.

The manuscript’s format is traditional to Buddhist texts in many countries: a stack of long sheets of paper bound between planks of leather, wood, lacquer, or other hard material as covers.  This particular manuscript was made of several sheets of paper joined into one long piece, folded fan-like, into a stack 660mm long by 95mm wide. Each fold in the fan contains two flanking illustrations, with text in the center, but the content of the paintings and the text are only loosely related.   The text is an assortment of canonical material, from Vinaya to Abhidhamma to Qualities of the Buddha.  The illustrations depict the last 10 Jātaka stories, the early life of the Bodhisatta, and the Life of the Buddha.  It is possible this text was created in Thailand specifically for Sri Lankan monks and thus contains what were considered essential texts to help restore what was then a lapsed monastic tradition.


Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 9.17.53 PM

Buddhist Art of Myanmar
Sylvia Fraser-Lu, Donald M. Stadtner, U Tun Aung Chain, Jacques Leider, Patrick Pranke, Robert Brown, Heidi Tan, Adriana Proser

Asia Society
Publication date: 03 Mar 2015
ISBN: 9780300209457
Dimensions: 272 pages: 267 x 229 x 23mm
Illustrations: 150 color illus.

The practice of Buddhism in Myanmar (Burma) has resulted in the production of dazzling objects since the 5th century. This landmark publication presents the first overview of these magnificent works of art from major museums in Myanmar and collections in the United States, including sculptures, paintings, textiles, and religious implements created for temples and monasteries, or for personal devotion. Many of these pieces have never before been seen outside of Myanmar. Accompanied by brilliant color photography, essays by Sylvia Fraser-Lu, Donald M. Stadtner, and scholars from around the world synthesize the history of Myanmar from the ancient through colonial periods and discuss the critical links between religion, geography, governance, historiography, and artistic production. The authors examine the multiplicity of styles and techniques throughout the country, the ways Buddhist narratives have been conveyed through works of art, and the context in which the diverse objects were used. Certain to be the essential resource on the subject, Buddhist Art of Myanmar illuminates two millennia of rarely seen masterpieces.

Image Problems
The Origin and Development of the Buddha’s Image in Early South Asia

PUBLISHED: March 2015
BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 280 pp., 44 b and w illus., 1 map, 1 chart, 7 x 10 in.

From Publisher’s website:

This deft and lively study by Robert DeCaroli explores the questions of how and why the earliest verifiable images of the historical Buddha were created. In so doing, DeCaroli steps away from old questions of where and when to present the history of Buddhism’s relationship with figural art as an ongoing set of negotiations within the Buddhist community and in society at large. By comparing innovations in Brahmanical, Jain, and royal artistic practice, DeCaroli examines why no image of the Buddha was made until approximately five hundred years after his death and what changed in the centuries surrounding the start of the Common Era to suddenly make those images desirable and acceptable.

The textual and archaeological sources reveal that figural likenesses held special importance in South Asia and were seen as having a significant amount of agency and power. Anxiety over image use extended well beyond the Buddhists, helping to explain why images of Vedic gods, Jain teachers, and political elites also are absent from the material record of the centuries BCE. DeCaroli shows how the emergence of powerful dynasties and rulers, who benefited from novel modes of visual authority, was at the root of the changes in attitude toward figural images. However, as DeCaroli demonstrates, a strain of unease with figural art persisted, even after a tradition of images of the Buddha had become established.

ROBERT DECAROLI is associate professor of art history at George Mason University.
“A fascinating account of the complex and, at times, contradictory ideas around the utility and appropriateness of figural representations in early Buddhist communities. DeCaroli’s study marshals an enormous amount of textual, inscriptional, numismatic, and visual evidence to examine how Buddhist communities were not only participating in broader social and cultural transformations but also seeking to differentiate uniquely Buddhist approaches to the relationship, or lack thereof, between subject and image.”
-Catherine Becker, author of Shifting Stones, Shaping the Past: Sculpture from the Buddhist Stupas of Andhra Pradesh

Layout 1The Fate of Rural Hell
Distributed for Seagull Books

99 pages | 24 color plates | 5 1/2 x 7 3/4 | © 2012

In 1975, when political scientist Benedict Anderson reached Wat Phai Rong Wua, a massive temple complex in rural Thailand conceived by Buddhist monk Luang Phor Khom, he felt he had wandered into a demented Disneyland. One of the world’s most bizarre tourist attractions, Wat Phai Rong Wua was designed as a cautionary museum of sorts; its gruesome statues depict violent and torturous scenes that showcase what hell may be like. Over the next few decades, Anderson, who is best known for his work, Imagined Communities, found himself transfixed by this unusual amalgamation of objects, returning several times to see attractions like the largest metal-cast Buddha figure in the world and the Palace of a Hundred Spires. The concrete statuaries and perverse art in Luang Phor’s personal museum of hell included, “side by side, an upright human skeleton in a glass cabinet and a life-size replica of Michelangelo’s gigantic nude David, wearing fashionable red underpants from the top of which poked part of a swollen, un-Florentine penis,” alongside dozens of statues of evildoers being ferociously punished in their afterlife.

In The Fate of Rural Hell, Anderson unravels the intrigue of this strange setting, endeavoring to discover what compels so many Thai visitors to travel to this popular spectacle and what order, if any, inspired its creation. At the same time, he notes in Wat Phai Rong Wua the unexpected effects of the gradual advance of capitalism into the far reaches of rural Asia.

Both a one-of-a-kind travelogue and a penetrating look at the community that sustains it, The Fate of Rural Hell is sure to intrigue and inspire conversation as much as Wat Phai Rong Wua itself.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 12.32.53 PMBuddhist Art in Asia
A. S. Bhalla

Price: £19.99
Pages: 173

Buddhism, which originated in India in the sixth century BC, faded into near oblivion by the thirteenth century. However, it spread to other countries in Asia, and along with it, Buddhist art. Like many other religions, Buddhism found expression in the art and architecture of the various cultures it touched. Tracing the Indian influence on Buddhist art in Asia is a central theme of this book. Dr A.S. Bhalla investigates how representations of Buddha, Buddhism and Buddhist art evolved between regions and between epochs. From India to Thailand and Burma and eventually to China the religion grew in influence only to die and thrive again in different forms. With it grew different forms of Buddhist art (architecture, sculpture and painting) from Afghanistan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka in South Asia to Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand in Southeast Asia, and China, Japan and South Korea in East Asia. How could the monks, normally mendicants surviving on alms, afford to build impressive monasteries and cave temples? Did royal patronage promote Buddhist art? Why did the Tantric branch emerge? How did Buddhism survive Islam and co-exist with Hinduism? How and why was human form of Buddha depicted even though Buddhism did not believe in idol worship? Bhalla investigates these and other questions in the shadows of the architecture, the murals, and sculptures of Buddha. The book contains rich illustrations of temples, monasteries and stupas as well as paintings and sculptures from a number of holy Buddhist sites including Ajanta, Amaravati, Bharhut, Bodhgaya, Ellora, Karle, Sanchi and Sarnath in India, Sirigiya in Sri Lanka, Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Banteay Srei in Cambodia, Ayutthaya and Bangkok in Thailand, Dali in China and Kamakura and Nikko Toshugo in Japan.



63048_covBuddhism and American Cinema
John Whalen-Bridge, Gary Storhoff
273 pages
Release Date: September 2014
ISBN13: 978-1-4384-5349-1

Discusses both depictions of Buddhism in film and Buddhist takes on a variety of films.

In 1989, the same year the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, a decade-long boom of films dedicated to Buddhist people, history, and culture began. Offering the first scholarly treatment of Buddhism and cinema, the editors advise that there are two kinds of Buddhist film: those that are about Buddhists and those that are not. Focusing on contemporary American offerings, the contributors extend a two-pronged approach, discussing how Buddhism has been captured by directors and presenting Buddhist-oriented critiques of the worlds represented in films that would seem to have no connection with Buddhism. Films discussed range from those set in Tibet, such as Kundun and Lost Horizon, to those set well outside of any Buddhist milieu, such as Groundhog Day and The Matrix. The contributors explain the Buddhist theoretical concepts that emerge in these works, including karma, the bardo, and reincarnation, and consider them in relation to interpretive strategies that include feminism, postcolonialism, and contemplative psychological approaches.

“In a fascinating contribution, David Harper and Richard Anderson look at how contemplative traditions in films such as The Matrix employ violence to legitimize liberation. The luminosity of film becomes a natural allegory of Buddhism, with projected fictional images attempting to connect viewers to a real world.” — CHOICE

John Whalen-Bridge is Associate Professor of English at the National University of Singapore. Gary Storhoff (1947–2011) was Associate Professor of English at the University of Connecticut, Stamford and the author of Understanding Charles Johnson. Together they coedited The Emergence of Buddhist American Literature, American Buddhism as a Way of Life and Writing as Enlightenment: Buddhist American Literature into the Twenty-first Century, all also published by SUNY Press.

Table of Contents

Danny Rubin


A Tribute to Gary Storhoff
Charles Johnson

Introduction: Some (Hollywood) Versions of Enlightenment
John Whalen-Bridge

Part I. Representation and Intention

1. Buddhism and Authenticity in Oliver Stone’s Heaven and Earth
Hanh Ngoc Nguyen and R. C. Lutz

2. Buddhism, Children, and the Childlike in American Buddhist Films
Eve Mullen

3. Consuming Tibet: Imperial Romance and the Wretched of the Holy Plateau
Jiayan Mi and Jason C. Toncic

4. Politics into Aesthetics: Cultural Tranlsation in Kundan, Seven Years in Tibet, and The Cup
Felicia Chan

Part II. Allegories of Shadow and Light

5. Momentarily Lost: Finding the Moment in Lost in Translation
Jennifer L. McMahon and B. Steve Csaki

6. Dying to Be Free: The Emergence of “American Militant Buddhism” in Popular Culture
Richard C. Anderson and David A. Harper

7. Buddhism, Our Desperation, and American Cinema
Karsten J. Struhl

8. Christian Allegory, Buddhism, and Bardo in Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko
Devin Harner

9. “Beautiful Necessities”: American Beauty and the Idea of Freedom
David L. Smith

Afterword: On Being Luminous
Gary Gach

About the Contributors

9783858817495Zen Master Sengai
1750 – 1837

ISBN: 9783858817495
Published September 2014
University of Chicago Press
96 pages | 42 color plates | 9 1/2 x 12 | © 2014

Japanese monk Sengai Gibon (1750–1837) was of the Rinzai School, one of the three main schools of Zen Buddhism in Japan. Known for his controversial teachings and writings, Sengai tried to make the difficult lessons of the Renzai sect accessible to the public. He was also an artist, creating ink paintings that have kept their modern, humorous character even though they were created two hundred years ago. Sengai’s work represents Zen Buddhist wisdom, with motifs completed by calligraphic inscriptions—his most famous work, often called “The Universe,” shows only a circle, square, and triangle. But despite Sengai’s almost graphic novel–like style, which would appeal to people today, the paintings’ extreme sensitivity to light exposure makes them difficult to display and prevents them from being known to the wider public.

Offering a rare glimpse into the work of this fascinating artist, Zen Master Sengai (1750–1837) presents in full color forty-two of the best works from the collection of Sengai’s art in Tokyo’s Idemitsu Museum of Art. As Sengai’s aphorisms are key to understanding the motifs and wisdom they illustrate, the calligraphic inscriptions are translated into English. Essays by eminent scholars Katharina Epprecht, Taizô Kuroda, Michel Mohr, and Hirokazu Yatsunami look at selected works, telling the story of Sengai’s career transformation from Buddhist monk to painter and contextualizing his work from historical and religious perspectives.

The Buddhist Architecture of Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam
by Vikram Lall
ISBN 978-0-7892-1194-1

The Golden Lands (1st edition, Sep 2014) is the first book in a groundbreaking new series exploring famous temples and sites from the Buddhist world from an architectural point of view.

Published by JF Publishing in partnership with Abbeville Press New York
ISBN: 978-0-7892-1194-1 (N America, Europe) and 978-967-0138-03-9 (International / Direct)
Published September 2014
Hardcover, 280 pages
More than 300 full-color illustrations
RRP $95.00


From Yale Press website:

Lost Kingdoms
Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia

John Guy

Numerous Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms flourished in Southeast Asia from the 5th to the 9th century, yet until recently few concrete details were known about them. Lost Kingdoms reveals newly discovered architectural and sculptural relics from this region, which provide key insights into the formerly mysterious kingdoms. The first publication to use sculpture as a lens to explore this period of Southeast Asian history, Lost Kingdoms offers a significant contribution and a fresh approach to the study of cultures in Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, and other countries.

Comprehensive texts written by prominent scholars introduce more than 160 objects, many of which have never before traveled outside their home countries. Gorgeous photography shot on location highlights each artwork, and maps and a glossary of place names elucidate their geographical context. A watershed study of Southeast Asia’s artistic and cultural legacy, Lost Kingdoms is an essential resource on a fascinating and enduring subject.

John Guy is Florence and Herbert Irving Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, Department of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

With contributions by Hiram Woodward, Robert Brown, Pattaratorn Chirapravati, Peter Skilling, Geoff Wade, Arlo Griffith, Pierre-Yves Manguin, Le Lien Thi, Pierre Baptiste, Berenice Bellini, Thierry Zephir, Stephen Murphy, Federico Caro, Donna Strahan, and John Guy

336 pages, 360 illustrations (304 in full color). 8 3/4” x 12 1/4”. Hardcover, clothbound.

Exhibition Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century, April 14–July 27, 2014


Yale University Press

ISASAZSazigyo, Burmese Manuscript Binding Tapes: Woven Miniatures of Buddhist Art
HARDCOVER (9786162150739)
PUBLISHED: June 2014
BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 304 pp., 920 color illus, 9 x 11 in.

[from publisher’s website]

Sazigyo are fine, tablet-woven Burmese tapes used to bind the palm-leaf manuscripts of an earlier era. Tiny images and extended texts were deftly woven into the long, colorful bindings. These Buddhist “textile texts” were commissioned by donors to make merit in the hope of attaining a better rebirth and ultimately nirvana.

This beautiful book elucidates the religious and social context of sazigyo and describes in detail the weaves, texts, designs, and images. It contains stunning, full-scale reproductions and enlargements of many hundreds of sazigyo segments found in collections throughout the world and presents translated excerpts from 150 sazigyo texts.

The book is a celebration of a craft now vanishing and a tribute to the skill and flair of Burmese women weavers. It will appeal to weavers and textile designers and to all admirers of exquisite craftsmanship.

RALPH ISAACS is coauthor of Visions from the Golden Land: Burma and the Art of Lacquer.

HOFBODBodies in Balance The Art of Tibetan Medicine
HARDCOVER (9780295993591)
PUBLISHED: March 2014
University of Washington Press
PUBLISHED WITH: Rubin Museum of Art

Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine is the first comprehensive, interdisciplinary exploration of the triangular relationship between the Tibetan art and science of healing (Sowa Rigpa), Buddhism, and the visual arts. This book is dedicated to the history, theory, and practice of Tibetan medicine, a unique and complex system of understanding body and mind, treating illness, and fostering health and well-being. Rooted in classical Indian medicine, Sowa Rigpa has been influenced by Chinese, Greco-Arab, and indigenous medical knowledge and practices and further developed within the context of Buddhism in Tibet. It adapted to new geographic, socio-cultural, and medical environments on the Tibetan Plateau, the Himalayas, and Mongolia and survives today as a living medical tradition whose principles are at the heart of many complementary therapies now widely used in the West. Generously illustrated with more than 200 images, Bodies in Balance includes essays on contemporary practice, pharmacology, astrology, history, foundational treatises, and the Medicine Buddha. The volume brings to life the theory and practice of this constantly evolving, ancient healing art, which is becoming increasingly sought after world-wide.

Theresia Hofer, an anthropologist, is the curator of the Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine exhibition and author of The Inheritance of Change: Transmission and Practice of Tibetan Medicine in Ngamring. Contributors include Pasang Yontan Arya, Sienna R. Craig, Gyurme Dorje, Yang Ga, Frances Garrett, Barbara Gerke, Janet Gyatso, Theresia Hofer, Knud Larsen, Katharina Sabernig, Martin Saxer, Geoffrey Samuel, Inger Vasstveit, and Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim.

Kim-ReflectionsJACKETfront.pdfReflections of a Zen Buddhist Nun: Essays by Zen Master Kim Iryop
Written by Kim Iryŏp Translated by Jin Y. Park
2014 | 328 pages
Cloth ISBN 978-0-8248-3878-2, $49.00
University of Hawaii Press

The life and work of Kim Iryŏp (1896–1971) bear witness to Korea’s encounter with modernity. A prolific writer, Iryŏp reflected on identity and existential loneliness in her poems, short stories, and autobiographical essays. As a pioneering feminist intellectual, she dedicated herself to gender issues and understanding the changing role of women in Korean society. As an influential Buddhist nun, she examined religious teachings and strove to interpret modern human existence through a religious world view. Originally published in Korea when Iryŏp was in her sixties, Reflections of a Zen Buddhist Nun (Ŏnŭ sudoin ŭi hoesang) makes available for the first time in English a rich, intimate, and unfailingly candid source of material with which to understand modern Korea, Korean women, and Korean Buddhism. Throughout her writing, Iryŏp poses such questions as: How does one come to terms with one’s identity? What is the meaning of revolt and what are its limitations? How do we understand the different dimensions of love in the context of Buddhist teachings? What is Buddhist awakening? How do we attain it? How do we understand God and the relationship between good and evil? What is the meaning of religious practice in our time? We see through her thought and life experiences the co-existence of seemingly conflicting ideas and ideals—Christianity and Buddhism, sexual liberalism and religious celibacy, among others. This volume challenges readers with her creative interpretations of Buddhist doctrine and her reflections on the meaning of Buddhist practice. In the process she offers insight into a time when the ideas and contributions of women to twentieth-century Korean society and intellectual life were just beginning to emerge from the shadows, where they had been obscured in the name of modernization and nation-building.

downloadThe All-Knowing Buddha: A Secret Guide
by Karl Debreczeny, Elena Pakhoutova, Christian Luczanits, Jan Van Alphen
Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Rubin Museum of Art (January 1, 2014)
ISBN-10: 908586643X
ISBN-13: 978-9085866435
11.4 x 8.4 x 0.9 inches

This book is the culmination of a long story that began with the acquisition of fifty-four paintings from an elderly priest, who had served in a Belgian mission in Inner Mongolia in the 1920s, by the Ethnographic Museum of Antwerp in 1977. The All-Knowing Buddha: A Secret Guide focuses on this extremely rare group of richly-detailed album leaves which illustrate the visualization practice of Sarvavid Vairocana, the All-Knowing Buddha. This beautifully illustrated step-by-step visual guide provides a unique glimpse into Tibetan Buddhist meditation and ritual, normally instruction restricted to oral transmission by a teacher to his initiated disciple. These practices are usually not meant to be depicted and this is one of the only albums known to exist in which the meditative visualization process is spelled out visually. While the ritual narrative of these unusual paintings is Tibetan Buddhist in content they are expressed in a vivid Chinese aesthetic, a unique product of cultural translation through its Mongolian patrons. The album exemplifies rich patterns of cross-cultural exchange that characterized the Qing Empire. Three essays by Rubin Museum curators explore different aspects of Vairocana and contextualize the album, illustrated with approximately twenty-five images, followed by the leaves themselves which are featured in fifty-four full-page plates with accompanying commentary on their ritual and artistic content.

golden-visions-of-densatil-12Review by Jonathan Ciliberto

Golden Visions of Densatil: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery
Dr. Olaf Czaja and Dr. Adriana Proser
Asia Society, Feb 2014

Archaeology doesn’t excavate only in deserts, overgrown jungles, and remote and forgotten places. Golden Visions of Densatil, exhibited at the Asia Society from  February 19 through May 18, presents the admirable and thorough fruits of a kind of archaeology that operates in museums and private collections, rather than in the field. Its accompanying catalog superbly reconstructs the religiously-motivated artistic content of Densatil monastery, a Tibetan Buddhist site that existed from the 13th century until the 20th.

The objects of the archeologist are typically located beneath the earth, and in the far past, its challenge of reconstructing a lost world complicated by damage wrought by natural elements and the long, obscuring space of time. Time alters objects almost beyond recognition, but so too do the concerted acts of individuals. Art historians who attempt to bring back into clear view a lost culture are confronted with effects of intentional obscuration by human beings, rather than the slow, steady, but impersonal efforts of time.

Golden Visions of Densatil reconstructs the art of Densatil, a monastery forcibly plundered during the Cultural Revolution. While far from anomalous, China’s wide-scale obliteration of religions in the middle twentieth century stands as a recent instance of the terribly effective application of human intention to compress what it would take the raw elements hundreds, if not thousands, of years to accomplish.


Mahakala. Central Tibet from the 14th century. Gilt copper alloy with inlays of semiprecious stones and pigment. (Rubin Museum of Art)

The exhibition’s catalog brings together the monastery’s history, the efforts by scholars to reconstruct its works of art by reference to similar pieces, and catalog entries for the exhibition’s works. While only the basic evidence of the former monastery remains on site, photographs from a 1948 Italian expedition provide a template for reconstructing the interior design and artwork of the monastery.

Densatil monastery was built in the late 12th century, beginning as a structure to commemorate Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110-1170), a Buddhist monk who ventured to the remote Western Tibet in order to find isolation to meditate. Initially he lived in caves, and then in the traditional thatched hut of yogis. The hut became a symbol of the Phagmo Drupa school. Despite his efforts to seek solitude, Dorje Gyalpo’s former students found him.

After his death in 1170, they enclosed his humble hut in the main hall of the eventual Densatil monastery. Field notes by Giuseppe Tucci from the 1948 expeditions describe a hut in the main hall, showing the continuity of tradition in the monastery, and the link between wandering ascetics and the monastic order.

Densatil 3 WEBThe introductory essay by Olaf Czaja cogently presents the monastery’s history, and the construction of the tashi gomang stupas that are the central artistic remains represented in the exhibition. These eight foot tall structures are multi-tiered, and teem with Buddhist figures: from graceful, dancing apsaras, to stern guardians of the law, to meditating Buddhas. Although the individual sculptures that made up the tashi gomang at Densatil are lost, the exhibition brings together a string set of representative images, from other tashi gomang.

An important section connects  tashi gomang with practice, pointing out the structural aspects of the stupas that mirror mandalas. “When an adherent of Buddhist faith saw a tashi gomang stupa, he therefore had a sculptural delineation for the path towards enlightenment right before him.” Since these stupas were built to commemorate Dorje Gyalpo, the practice of an individual and monks’ connection to his lineage were linked to the path described in mandala form.

Grainy black-and-white photographs from the 1948 provide not only a reference for the monastery’s tashi gomang, but also but the intimacy and a sense of closeness to these structures that monks must have experienced. Shot in scant light inside the monastery’s main hall, these images’ low angle evoke a feeling of magnificent, powerful images held for centuries in a mountain monastery, closely enshrined in a sacred place. This sense of immediacy with the stupa’s gilt copper sculptures is ably complemented by scholarly exegesis on each individual sculpture’s purpose in the whole. The lovely photos of the exhibition’s catalog entries present, as it were, shining realizations of each figure beyond mere pictorial representation.

The casebound volume is generously-sized, and printed on heavy paper, with minimal show through. Its design is direct, and features numerous figures, maps and diagrams illustrating the monastery’s physical plan, and the complex structure and iconography of Densatil’s tashi gomang stupas. A timeline places the monastery in context and marks important events in its history, and a helpful glossary of terms provides a welcome aid to readers unfamiliar with Buddhist terminology, figures, and schools. A 32 page preview is available online, as is an extremely rich website.

Sharon Fitzgerald
Publication Date: May 9, 2014

[Kindle Edition; description from Amazon listing]
Long before Georgia O’Keeffe started painting flowers or the great landscapes of the Southwest, she explored total abstraction and monochrome palate beginning in 1912. She delved deep into the world of Zen Buddhist inspired art making to get to the very essence of thing, not an imitation, but the TRUTH…the Zen way of seeing the world…

There is a plethora of influences that have determined the character of American art, and often, they are propelled by various external cultural influences. The question for this study has been twofold. First, whether within the large fabric of American art’s interrelated influences there has been a transmission of Zen Buddhist philosophy from the Japanese culture? Second and more specifically, did the introduction of Zen Buddhist art making, introduced by Alon Bemont, Ernest Fenollosa, and Arthur Westley Dow, influence the works of Georgia O’Keeffe?

Let me first state for the record, this book does not attempt to be a biography on Georgia O’Keeffe. For a comprehensive list of excellent biographies on O’Keeffe, simply refer to my List of Sources and Bibliography at the end. This book is an attempt to define a particular turning point in O’Keeffe’s journey as an artist and the players and publications who contributed. Long before she started painting flowers or the great landscapes of the Southwest, she explored total abstraction and monochrome palate beginning in 1912. She opened her mind to new ideas and a new way of “seeing” the world around her. It is this particular turning point, a time in her life that is little known, that is what this book is about. It is my opinion that in the early twentieth-century Zen Buddhism successfully permeated the American culture and also influenced the works of Georgia O’Keeffe in her formative years beginning in 1912. The influences on the works of Georgia O’Keeffe came from the Zen Buddhist publications and the mentorship of Arthur Westley Dow (NYC), his mentor Ernest Fenollosa (Tokyo & Boston), and Dow’s assistant Alon Bemont (Virginia). I also believe as arts educators, they are the unsung heroes, and their contributions to the synthesis of Eastern and Western culture and its impact on American modern art.

There are several Zen Buddhist inspired components from Composition, written by Arthur Wesley Dow that inspired O’Keeffe’s works. The Japanese Zen Buddhist inspired concepts covered in this study is the black and white emphasis of No-tan found in Japanese Zen art. This Zen concept is most readily found in her charcoal drawings series entitled Specials (c 1914-15), her Blue Series (1916), and a floral composition (1927).

I believe that through the instruction of Alon Bemont in Virginia and her later formal instruction with Arthur Westley Dow at Columbia Teachers College in New York, Georgia O’Keeffe returned to painting after a four year hiatus with a new passion and a new way of “seeing” the world. This study aims at defining these attributes and exploring their impact on the art of Georgia O’Keeffe.

9784805312049__19421.1365698055.1280.1280 In this beautiful and extraordinary book, Shozo Sato, an internationally recognized master of traditional Zen arts, teaches the Japanese art of calligraphy through the power and wisdom of Zen poetry. Single-line Zen Buddhist koan aphorisms or zengo are one of the most common subjects for the traditional Japanese brush calligraphy known as shodo. Regarded as one of the key disciplines in fostering the focused, meditative state of mind so essential to Zen, shodo is practiced regularly by all students of Zen Buddhism in Japan. After providing a brief history of Japanese calligraphy and its close relationship with the teachings of Zen Buddhism, Sato explicates the basic supplies and fundamental brushstroke skills that youll need. He goes on to present thirty zengo, each with:

  • An example by a skilled Zen monk or master calligrapher
  • An explanation of the individual characters and the Zen koan as a whole
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to paint the phrase in a number of styles (Kaisho, Gyosho, Sosho)

A stunning volume on the intersection of Japanese aesthetics and Zen Buddhist thought, Shodo guides beginning and advanced students alike to a deeper understanding of this unique brush painting art form. Author Bio Shozo Sato was awarded the Order of Sacred Treasure from the Emperor of Japan for his contributions in teaching Japanese traditions. His areas of expertise include ikebana (flower arranging), chanoyu (tea ceremony), and Japanese theater, as well as sumi-e (ink painting). He is the author of numerous books including Tea Ceremony, Ikebana, and The Art of Sumi-e. He was the founding director of Japan House at the University of Illinois, where he is Professor Emeritus and continues to teach Japanese arts. He devides his time between Fort Bragg, California and Champaign, IL.


9780824835835The Hermit’s Hut: Architecture and Asceticism in India
Ashraf, Kazi K.
University of Hawaii Press
240pp. November 2013
Cloth – Price: $50.00ISBN: 978-0-8248-3583-5

The Hermit’s Hut offers an original insight into the profound relationship between architecture and asceticism. Although architecture continually responds to ascetic compulsions, as in its frequent encounter with the question of excess and less, it is typically considered separate from asceticism. In contrast, this innovative book explores the rich and mutual ways in which asceticism and architecture are played out in each other’s practices. The question of asceticism is also considered—as neither a religious discourse nor a specific cultural tradition but as a perennial issue in the practice of culture.

The work convincingly traces the influences from early Indian asceticism to Zen Buddhism to the Japanese teahouse—the latter opening the door to modern minimalism. As the book’s title suggests, the protagonist of the narrative is the nondescript hermit’s hut. Relying primarily on Buddhist materials, the author provides a complex narrative that stems from this simple structure, showing how the significance of the hut resonates widely and how the question of dwelling is central to ascetic imagination. In exploring the conjunctions of architecture and asceticism, he breaks new ground by presenting ascetic practice as fundamentally an architectural project, namely the fabrication of a “last” hut. Through the conception of the last hut, he looks at the ascetic challenge of arriving at the edge of civilization and its echoes in the architectural quest for minimalism. The most vivid example comes from a well-known Buddhist text where the Buddha describes the ultimate ascetic moment, or nirvana, in cataclysmic terms using architectural metaphors: “The roof-rafters will be shattered,” the Buddha declares, and the architect will “no longer build the house again.” As the book compellingly shows, the physiological and spiritual transformation of the body is deeply intertwined with the art of building.

The Hermit’s Hut weaves together the fields of architecture, anthropology, religion, and philosophy to offer multidisciplinary and historical insights. Written in an engaging and accessible manner, it will appeal to readers with diverse interests and in a variety of disciplines—whether one is interested in the history of ascetic architecture in India, the concept of “home” in ancient India, or the theme of the body as building.

105 illus.


Framing the Sacred – Cambodian Buddhist Painting
by Trent Walker
A catalog accompanying the Exhibition: Institute of East Asian Studies at UC Berkeley, 20 November 2013 – 20 March 2014 Buddhist paintings in Cambodia serve in rituals, for teaching, and as a means of making space sacred. The exhibit presents works on cloth and glass from the collection of Joel Montague that embody both the religious stories and doctrines of Cambodian Buddhism and the traditions of Cambodian culture. The very detailed catalog of the exhibit compiled by Trent Walker, includes images of the paintings, translations of painting inscriptions and accompanying Khmer liturgical material, and a short introductory essay, is freely available online.

9781441117526John Cage and Buddhist Ecopoetics,
by Peter Jaeger

[from publisher’s website] John Cage was among the first wave of post-war American artists and intellectuals to be influenced by Zen Buddhism and it was an influence that led him to become profoundly engaged with our current ecological crisis. In John Cage and Buddhist Ecopoetics, Peter Jaeger asks: what did Buddhism mean to Cage? And how did his understanding of Buddhist philosophy impact on his representation of nature? Following Cage’s own creative innovations in the poem-essay form and his use of the ancient Chinese text, the I Ching to shape his music and writing, this book outlines a new critical language that reconfigures writing and silence. Interrogating Cage’s ‘green-Zen’ in the light of contemporary psychoanalysis and cultural critique as well as his own later turn towards anarchist politics, John Cage and Buddhist Ecopoetics provides readers with a critically performative site for the Zen-inspired “nothing” which resides at the heart of Cage’s poetics, and which so clearly intersects with his ecological writing.

Table Of Contents
Series Editors Introduction \ Preface: The Buddhist Quilting Point \ Cage – Scalapino – Davies \ Reading New Buddhist Poetry \ Further Reading \ Index

“Peter Jaeger offers an enlightening guide to Zen and related Western sources and resonances in John Cage’s aesthetics. John Cage and Buddhist Ecopoetics is a lo-fi commentary on how some tenets of Buddhist thought, especially as filtered through D. T. Suzuki and Alan Watts, were pragmatically adapted and amalgamated in radical mid-20th-centry North American poetry and art.” – Charles Bernstein, University of Pennsylvania, USA “What makes Peter Jaeger’s book on Cage’s Zen interests unique is its turn from Buddhist ideas to the formal innovations that Cage took to be integral to an adequate ecopoetics. Jaeger takes seriously Cage’s belief that one must study nature in her manner of operation; consequently, his book does not talk about Cagean Zen; rather, it performs it, providing us with a theatrical mise-en-scene of its processes. Adopting Cage’s own procedural methods, based on I Ching chance operations, Jaeger presents his “topics” in a highly novel way, allowing for interruptions, silences, and incremental repetitions. In the course of Jaeger’s own “Lectures on Nothing,” we learn a great deal about Cage’s relationship to other poets and artists as well as about his particular critique, not unrelated to Lacan’s psychoanalytic one, of Western social and political organization. Himself a poet, Jaeger has produced a learned study that is also great fun to read—a delightful poetic text in its own right.” – Marjorie Perloff, Stanford, USA

Published: 11-28-2013
Format: Paperback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 144
ISBN: 9781441117526
Imprint: Bloomsbury Academic Series: New Directions in Religion and Literature Dimensions: 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″
List price: $29.95


Central Asian Religious Paintings in the National Museum of Korea
The National Museum of Korea

(Director Kim Youngna) announces a new publication: Central Asian Religious Paintings in the National Museum of Korea. This is the first volume of a series of catalogues that presents the Central Asian collection of the NMK. Originating from Central Asia and currently in the NMK’s possession, the artifacts presented in the catalogue were among those collected from a Japanese expedition in the early 20th century led by a priest named Ōtani Kozui (1876−1948).

Beginning in 1914, the collected artifacts were dispersed among various institutions in China and Japan. In 1916, Kuhara Fusanosuke (1869−1965) assumed responsibility for the remaining artifacts along with Villa Nirakuso in Kobe, and donated them to the Japanese Governor-General’s Office Museum in Korea. During Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, these items were put on display in Sujeongjeon Hall of Gyeongbokgung Palace. After Korea’s liberation from colonial rule, the artifacts were obtained by the NMK. During the Korean War, they were taken to Busan along with other national treasures and later were relocated to the newly built museum (now the National Folk Museum) within Gyeongbokgung Palace. In 1986, when the NMK opened in the refurbished building that was formerly the Japanese Governor-General’s Office, part of the collection was displayed in the Central Asian Art Gallery. The overall research of the collection was delayed for various reasons—including the war, difficulties related to the condition of the artifacts and the on-site surveys in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China to determine their sources prior to the country’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations with China.

Following the normalization of Korea−China relations, curators at the NMK began to conduct on-site research. At the same time, more efforts were given to conservation science. In 2005, the NMK was relocated to Yongsan in Seoul and a new permanent gallery for Central Asian artifacts was open to the public. Some of the artifacts were published in the catalogue titled Arts of Central Asia at the time of the collection’s relocation in 1986. Then in 2003, a selection of artifacts was introduced in the special exhibition catalogue, Arts of Central Asia: Collections in the National Museum of Korea. However, the whole collection has never been published. Thus, starting this year, the NMK plans to publish a series of catalogues with the aim of introducing the collection in its entirety according to themes. This is part of a larger project of research on the collections obtained during the Japanese colonial period. The new publication contains photos of 77 murals and paintings on silk, cotton and paper. Most of them represent Buddhist themes, although one of the painting fragments is thought to be associated with Manichaeism. These artifacts originated in the northwestern part of China, at sites in Turpan, Kucha, Miran and Dunhuang.

The primary purpose of the catalogue is to provide both specialists and general readers with a guide to the NMK’s Central Asian paintings. In this sense, the catalogue includes listings of the important topics of discussion and literature related to each painting, in addition to new research. It also contains the result of scientific research on 39 artifacts using microscopy, infrared reflectography, radiography, and radiocarbon dating. Pigment analysis was also conducted using X-ray fluorescence spectrometers. The publication of this new catalogue is highly significant in that it contains the results of comprehensive research encompassing history, art history and conservation science. Moreover, the publication is expected to develop stimulating discussions and future research on these important artifacts.

The 265-page catalogue is available at the NMK Museum Shop.

Price: 40,000 won. Publisher: BA Design.

1382530510_BAFCover355pxArt of Merit: Studies in Buddhist Art and its Conservation
David Park, Kuenga Wangmo, Sharon Cather (eds)
UK Price: £75.00
US Price: $175.00
ISBN: 9781904982920
Hardback Dimensions: 297 x 210 Pages: 416
Illustrations: 196 Colour

The Buddhist Art Forum—a major international gathering that explored the interrelation between the nature, creation, function, and conservation of Buddhist art from its earliest manifestations to the present—was held at the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2012, sponsored by the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation and attended by artists, scholars, historians, conservators, officials and monks. The aims of the Ho Foundation to promote the understanding of Buddhism and of The Courtauld to air the complex challenges of preserving Buddhist art are well served in the papers presented at the conference and contained in this volume which cover the form, function, conservation and display of Buddhist Art.

100313_specex_glamReview by Jonathan Ciliberto

Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom
by Soyoung Lee and Denise Patry Leidy; With contributions by Juhyung Rhi, Insook Lee, Ham Soon-seop, Yoon Sang-deok, Yoon Onshik, and Her Hyeong Uk

Nov 26, 2013
240 p., 8 x 10
205 color + 16 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300197020

This major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum until February 23, 2014, presents objects primarily from the 4th to 8th centuries, when the small Silla kingdom flourished on the Korean peninsula. Broadly, it fits into a larger trend in Asian art history of recognizing the place of Korea in the transmission and development of visual culture.

The Silla kingdom was remarkably long-lived, from 57 B.C. until 935 A.D., and was known as “The Golden Kingdom”. Its association with gold and silver was recognized as far off as Europe: the Nuzhat al-mushtāq fi’khtirāq al-āfāq (“the book of pleasant journeys into faraway lands”), a description of the world created by the Arab geographer, Muhammad al-Idrisi, in 1154 for King Roger II of Sicily, notes that in Silla: “even the dog’s leash and the monkey’s collar are made of gold”. Much of the Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom has gold’s luster, in  bowls, jewelry, crowns, ornaments, belts and sculpture fashioned from the precious metal.

silla1The majority of the exhibition is not directly concerned with Buddhist art. During the time period considered, Buddhism was a relative newcomer, and both local and Central Asian influences are more prominently represented. However, Buddhism’s influence was eventually thorough.

Silla officially sanctioned Buddhism in 527, “completely transform[ing] Silla society and culture, spurring both changes in burial customs and the creation of new artistic traditions.” A single, long essay in the catalog is devoted to Buddhist art, with mention of the transforming action of Buddhism upon  Silla and its culture appearing in the other essays. Placed in historical context, however, this transformation is striking, and the sites and objects presented are powerful statements of the changes Buddhism  wrought on Korea. From a kingdom whose culture reflected local qualities and Central Asian influences, Silla became another East Asian power under strong Buddhist influence, from the myriad temples and monasteries founded during the period considered, to the influence of Buddhist thought on its political life.

As with other cultures into which Buddhism was introduced, Korea had a range of existing ideas about spirituality. Since most of the archaeological evidence comes from tombs, objects related to death and the afterlife dominate the exhibition. The extensive use of gold by early kings, and their emphasis on attributes associated with war (e.g., horsemanship), is gradually replaced by the use of gold to create Buddhist art, and the redefinition of kingliness “as secular-religious leaders [who sponsored] Buddhist activities, such as the construction of temples.”

This transition, however, is evident in the catalog’s objects as well as by reference to the cultural setting that preceded the period considered. Many of the objects in the catalog derive from mound tombs. The 5th and 6th century Silla tombs’ structure “can be traced ultimately to steppes traditions,” and this connection between the Korean kingdom and Central Asia is evident too in Silla aesthetics. The mound tombs of Scythians, Huns, and other nomadic peoples, contain crowns and headdresses sufficiently similar to those found in Silla tombs to posit a direct connection between the two regions. This is not surprising: the Korean peninsula stands at the end of a very long road, stretching from Europe and the Roman Empire, across the Silk Roads and Asia to terminate at the Pacific Ocean. Sea trade also brought distant objects to Korea, and excavations of Silla tombs have revealed  glass vessels from Syria and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the often fractious relations between Korean and her Eastern neighbor, Japan, are contrasted with evidence of substantial trade between Silla and Japan in late 5th and early 6th centuries.

The international network of trade and communication that helped create the rich culture of Silla is one of the catalog and exhibition’s main themes. One instance of this trade is the rhyton, the horn shaped drinking vessel which has its source in the Mediterranean of the second millennium BC, and transmitted via the Silk Road to Korea by the 7th century AD. Several examples in various materials are included in the catalog. Also found in 4th and 5th tombs are numerous examples of Roman glass. One such bowl, translucent glass decorated with glass beads, is linked to an 8th century wall painting from the silk Road site Dunhuang, in which a bodhisattva is depicted holding a similarly designed object.

One marvelous story describes how, in the 6th century, a foreign boat (said to have sailed to many countries, over hundreds of years) arrived, bearing a large amount of bronze and gold, as well as a letter describing how King Asoka, of India, had attempted to cast a large Buddha, but failed. The letter indicated Askoa’s wish to accomplish this “in a land of favorable conditions.” This casting apparently refers to the central image at Hwangnyongsa Temple, built in the middle of the 6th century and “one of the largest Buddhist temples in contemporary East Asia.” The story lends prestige to Silla’s early Buddhist kings by references to Asoka (who reigned in the 3rd century B.C. and is a figure closely associated with the origins of Buddhist art) and to an international recognition of the high level of skill possessed by Korean metal workers.

silla3The intertwining of Central Asian and Buddhist elements is present in Buddhist tombs, around which relief panels carved with the twelve zodiac figures were placed. The most famous, and spectacular, example of this is the well-known cave-temple of Seokguram.

The catalog includes sculptures that represent several key styles, and iconographic elements, from Buddhist art of the period. The wonderful, small gilt bronze Buddhas with attendant bodhisattvas from the 6th century derive from Northern Qi styles, and were transmitted from Korea to Japan. These figures feature open, smiling faces; large, flaming mandorlas, and heavy drapery. A second significant  sculptural form considered is the seated figure of Maitreya, in the so-called ‘pensive pose’ (also referred to as ‘royal ease’): with right foot pendant on left knee, and right hand touching the cheek. Two examples of this thin-limbed, fluid sculptural form are included. This pensive pose is tied directly to Northern Qi aesthetics, as well as to its politics, in the volume’s useful essay on Buddhist art, by Denise Patry Leidy, curator in the Department of Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

silla4This is a marvelous, and much-needed, exhibition illustrating the place of Silla as a repository and pivot-point for traditions of visual culture. The Buddhist art included is of the highest quality, representing the wide range of influences and techniques present in Silla from the 4th through the 8th centuries.

15808Buddhist Paintings of Tun-Huang In the National Museum, New Delhi
Lokesh Chandra & Nirmala Sharma
ISBN: 9788192091235
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Territory: USA & Canada
Size: 9.5 in x 12.25 in
Pages: 280
Illustrations: 153 color
hardcover, non-returnable
RRP $80.00

This book focuses on one of the three major archives of the Tun Huang paintings, which can only be seen at the National Museum of India, New Delhi A valuable resource for Buddhist Scholars The Tun-huang caves are the epitome of Buddhist art over the centuries. Situated at the foot of the Mountain of Singing Sands, they are believed to be the brush of the Buddha, where, according to legend, an itinerant monk Yüeh-ts’un watched the irridescent peaks in the sheen of blue satin, settled down to excavate the first cave in AD 344, and painted its walls with colors brought by birds. Buddhist Paintings of Tun-Huang in the National Museum, New Delhi reproduces and describes for the first time the paintings from Tun-huang in this museum, one of the three major archives of the Tun-huang paintings.This book fulfills a long-felt need and will cover a major lacuna of research. The scrolls from Tun-huang are the jewels of these caverns that once drew humans to their depths.

Contents: Preface; Tun-Huang over the centuries; Tun-Huang: Galaxy of Divine Images; Tun-Huang Paintings in the National Museum; Literature Cited; Chronological Footholds; Chinese Dynasties; Concordance of CH. Stein National Museum and Book. Lokesh Chandra is an internationally renowned scholar of Tibetan, Mongolian and Sino-Japanese Buddhism. A prolific writer, he has to his credit 600 academic works. He has been Vice- President of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and Chairman of the Indian Council for Historical Research. Presently he serves as Director at the International Academy of Indian Culture, New Delhi. Nirmala Sharma is an Art Historian and Professor of Buddhist studies at the International Academy of Indian Culture, New Delhi. She has also been a senior fellow of the American Institute of Indian Studies. She is a member of The Association of British Scholars and the Programme Advisory committee at the IGNCA and has travelled extensively to Greece, Spain,France, Italy, Indonesia, China and Central Asia (Silk Route), and Taiwan to attend seminars and conduct field studies.

princeton dictionary Over a decade in the making, The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Cloth $65.00, ISBN: 9780691157863; eBook: ISBN: 9781400848058) is the most authoritative and wide-ranging reference of its kind ever produced in English. The Buddhist scholars Robert E. Buswell Jr. and Donald S. Lopez Jr. have created a milestone dictionary that explains the key terms, doctrines, practices, texts, authors, deities, and schools of Buddhism across six major canonical languages and traditions: Sanskrit, Pāli, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

This important new reference also includes selected terms from Burmese, Khmer, Lao, Mongolian, Newari, Sinhalese, Thai, and Vietnamese. More than 5,000 alphabetical entries—totaling 1.2 million words—take an encyclopedic approach, with short essays that explore the extended meaning and significance in greater depth than a conventional dictionary.

The book also includes a chronicle of Asian historical periods (empires, dynasties, and kingdoms) and a timeline of Buddhism from the sixth century BCE to the 20th century.  Eight maps show both the Buddhist cosmological realms as well as many regions of Asia, marking the major cities, important monasteries, sacred places, and pilgrimage routes spanning geographical sites in India, China, Japan, Korea, and Tibet.

The List of Lists—an appendix of some of the most important numerical lists used in Buddhism, from the one vehicle to the one hundred dharmas of the Yogācāra School—includes such items as the three jewels, four noble truths, six destinies of rebirth, ten realms of reality, and thirty-two marks of a great man. Extensive cross-references guide readers to related entries throughout the dictionary and across all of the canonical languages, traditions, and schools. There are also a series of appendixes to cross-references in the six canonical languages we cover, plus a Tibetan phonetic appendix.

THE PRINCETON DICTIONARY OF BUDDHISM is an indispensable source for a new generation of students, scholars, practicing Buddhists, and anyone with a serious interest in Buddhism’s long history and vast geographic and intellectual scope. Sample pages available for viewing at Amazon.

Big(1088)Art and Icon : Essays on Early Indian Art
Devangana Desai.
– New Delhi : Aryan Books International, 2013. – xxvi, 310 S. : Ill. ISBN 978-81-7305-438-9

The author’s love for ancient Indian art and several years of intensive research are reflected in the essays included in this book. The essays cover a wide spectrum, from the sensuous to the sublime, from an analysis of narrative Ramayana sculptures, to a discussion of the relevance of Tantrism to erotic temple sculpture, to a study of ancient terracottas in a socio-cultural context. Art and Icon brings together for the first time 16 selected essays from the 90 that Dr. Devangana Desai has written over a period of 35 years, many of which are not easily accessible. These have been edited and updated with new material.

The essays are divided into six sections: i) Approaches to Art, ii) Terracotta Art, iii) Iconography, iv) Iconology and Meaning in Art, v) Art and Eroticism, and vi) Narrative Art. Icons and images, sacred objects of veneration, are generally guided by elaborate rules and conventions detailing their size, sitting or standing postures and hand gestures. Artists have more flexibility when depicting non-iconic subjects. However, the line between art and icon is rather thin as is evident in some magnificent images published in this book.

The author reveals the interrelationships and interactions between various fields of art – sculpture, dance and narration of stories – as can be noticed particularly in the articles on the dancing Ganesa, the auspicious motifs of Salabhanjika (woman-and-tree) and surasundari (celestial nymph), and the figures in the narrative sculptural panels. The article “The Temple as an Ordered Whole – The Iconic Scheme at Khajuraho” is a significant contribution to an iconological study of temple art. This well-illustrated book will be valuable to scholars as well as students of Indian art and will also appeal to general readers.

9780199935789_450Buddhist Poetry and Colonialism: Alagiyavanna and the Portuguese in Sri Lanka by Stephen C. Berkwitz

Many researchers have explored the impact of British and French Orientalism in the reinterpretations of Buddhism in South and Southeast Asia during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Less noticed, however, and infrequently discussed is the impact of Portuguese colonialists and missionaries upon Buddhist communities in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries across Asia. Stephen C. Berkwitz addresses this theme by examining five poetic works by Alagiyavanna Mukaveti (b.1552), a renowned Sinhala poet who participated directly in the convergence of local and trans-local cultures in early modern Sri Lanka. Berkwitz follows the written works of the poet from his position in the court of a Sinhala king, through the cultural upheavals of warfare and the expansion of colonial rule, and finally to his eventual conversion to Catholicism and employment under the Portuguese Crown. In so doing, Berkwitz explores the transformations in religion and literature rendered by what was arguably the earliest sustained encounter between Asian Buddhists and European colonialists in world history. Alagiyavanna’s poetic works give expression to both a discourse of nostalgia for the local religious and cultural order in the late sixteenth century, and a discourse of cultural assimilation with the new colonial order during its ascendancy in the early seventeenth century. Employing an interdisciplinary approach that combines Buddhist Studies, History, Literary Criticism, and Postcolonial Studies, this book yields important insights into how the colonial experience contributed to the transformation of Buddhist culture in early modernity.

9780199945559 Icons and Iconoclasm in Japanese Buddhism Kukai and Dogen on the Art of Enlightenment

Pamela D. Winfield
Pages 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
ISBN: 9780199753581

Does imagery help or hinder the enlightenment experience? Does awakening involve the imagination or not? Can art ever fully represent the realization of buddahood? In this study, Pamela D. Winfield offers a fascinating comparison of two pre-modern Japanese Buddhist masters and their views on the role of imagery in the enlightenment experience. Kukai (774-835) believed that real and imagined forms were indispensable to his new esoteric Mikky? method for “becoming a Buddha in this very body” (sokushin jobutsu), yet he also deconstructed the significance of such imagery in his poetic and doctrinal works. Conversely, Dogen (1200-1253) believed that “just sitting” in Zen meditation without any visual props or mental elaborations could lead one to realize that ”this very mind is Buddha” (sokushin zebutsu), but he also privileged select Zen icons as worthy of veneration. In considering the nuanced views of both Kukai and Dogen anew, Winfield updates previous comparisons of their oeuvres and engages their texts and images together for the first time. In so doing, she liberates them from past sectarian scholarship that has pigeon-holed them into iconographic/ritual vs. philological/philosophical categories. She also restores the historical symbiosis between religious thought and artistic expression that was lost in the nineteenth-century disciplinary distinction between religious studies and art history. Finally, Winfield breaks new methodological ground by proposing space and time as organizing principles for analyzing both meditative experience and visual/material culture. As a result, this study presents a wider and deeper vision of how Japanese Buddhists themselves understood the role of imagery before, during, and after awakening.

cda_displayimageOn the Formation of the Upper Monastic Area of Seon Buddhist Temples from Korea´s Late Silla to the Goryeo Era
Series: Sungkyunkwan University Outstanding Research, Vol. 2
Seung-yeon, Lee
2013, X, 117 p. 62 illus., 36 illus. in color. ISBN 978-3-319-00052-7

Explores the characteristics of Seon temple architecture from Korea’s late Silla to the early Goryeo eras through the evolution of the upper monastic area One of the rare sources of information on Korean Buddhist architecture and temples This book is a small endeavor to reinterpret the volumes of data gathered from field research based on excavated temple ruins and existing historical documents and, in the process, introduce Korean Seon temples to a global audience When Seon (Zen) Buddhism was first introduced to Korea around Korea’s late Silla and early Goryeo eras, the function of the “beopdang” (Dharma hall) was transfused to the lecture hall found in ancient Buddhist temples, establishing a pivotal area within the temple compound called the “upper monastic area.” By exploring the structural formation and dissolution of the upper monastic area, the author shows how Korea established its own distinctive Seon temples, unlike those of China and Japan, in the course of assimilating a newly-introduced foreign culture as its own. To accomplish this, the author analyzed the inscriptions on stone monuments which recorded the lives of eminent monks and also numerous excavated temple ruins. These analyses give us a new perspective on the evolution of the upper monastic area, which had the beopdang as its center, at a time when early Seon temples were being established under very adverse and unstable circumstances. The exploration of the spatial organization and layout of Korean Seon temple architecture has illuminated the continuity between Korean Buddhist temples of both the ancient and medieval eras.

416H1YPUdwL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Buddhist Theory of Semiotics: Signs, Ontology, and Salvation in Japanese Esoteric Buddhism (Bloomsbury Advances in Semiotics) Fabio Rambelli Publication Date: May 16, 2013 | ISBN-10: 1441161961 | ISBN-13: 978-1441161963

One of the first attempts ever to present in a systematic way a non-western semiotic system. This book looks at Japanese esoteric Buddhism and is based around original texts, informed by explicit and rigorous semiotic categories. It is a unique introduction to important aspects of the thought and rituals of the Japanese Shingon tradition. Semiotic concerns are deeply ingrained in the Buddhist intellectual and religious discourse, beginning with the idea that the world is not what it appears to be, which calls for a more accurate understanding of the self and reality. This in turn results in sustained discussions on the status of language and representations, and on the possibility and methods to know reality beyond delusion; such peculiar knowledge is explicitly defined as enlightenment. Thus, for Buddhism, semiotics is directly relevant to salvation; this is a key point that is often ignored even by Buddhologists. This book discusses in depth the main elements of Buddhist semiotics as based primarily on original Japanese pre-modern sources. It is a crucial publication in the fields of semiotics and religious studies.

41NSmhMmdUL._SY346_A Concise History of Buddhist Art in Siam by Reginald Le May PUBLISHED: August 2013 FORMAT: Paperback ISBN: 9781107619463 LENGTH: 274 pages

Originally published in 1938, this book provides a history of the variety of forms of Buddhist art that grew up in Thailand from the 1st century AD to the end of the 16th century. Le May draws on his experience as part of the British Consular Service in Thailand to focus primarily on sculpture, how the trade routes in South and South-East Asia brought Thailand into contact with a variety of artistic styles and how the different areas of the country adapted these styles for their own use. This book will be of value to anyone with an interest in the history of Thai art specifically or of Eastern art more generally.

9780824836313A Heritage of Ruins: The Ancient Sites of Southeast Asia and Their Conservation
Chapman, William
University of Hawai’i Press
ISBN: 978-0-8248-3631-3
113 illus., 26 in color

The ancient ruins of Southeast Asia have long sparked curiosity and romance in the world’s imagination. They appear in accounts of nineteenth-century French explorers, as props for Indiana Jones’ adventures, and more recently as the scene of Lady Lara Croft’s fantastical battle with the forces of evil. They have been featured in National Geographic magazine and serve as backdrops for popular television travel and reality shows. Now William Chapman’s expansive new study explores the varied roles these monumental remains have played in the histories of Southeast Asia’s modern nations. Based on more than fifteen years of travel, research, and visits to hundreds of ancient sites, A Heritage of Ruins shows the close connection between “ruins conservation” and both colonialism and nation building. It also demonstrates the profound impact of European-derived ideas of historic and aesthetic significance on ancient ruins and how these continue to color the management and presentation of sites in Southeast Asia today.

Angkor, Pagan (Bagan), Borobudur, and Ayutthaya lie at the center of this cultural and architectural tour, but less visited sites, including Laos’s stunning Vat Phu, the small temple platforms of Malaysia’s Lembah Bujang Valley, the candi of the Dieng Plateau in Java, and the ruins of Mingun in Burma and Wiang Kum Kam near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, are also discussed. All share a relative isolation from modern urban centers of population, sitting in park-like settings, serving as objects of tourism and as lynchpins for local and even national economies. Chapman argues that these sites also remain important to surrounding residents, both as a means of income and as continuing sources of spiritual meaning. He examines the complexities of heritage efforts in the context of present-day expectations by focusing on the roles of both outside and indigenous experts in conservation and management and on attempts by local populations to reclaim their patrimony and play a larger role in protection and interpretation.

Tracing the history of interventions aimed at halting time’s decay, Chapman provides a chronicle of conservation efforts over a century and a half, highlighting the significant part foreign expertise has played in the region and the ways that national programs have, in recent years, begun to break from earlier models. The book ends with suggestions for how Southeast Asian managers and officials might best protect their incomparable heritage of art and architecture and how this legacy might be preserved for future generations.

ThawanDuchanee_250 Thawan Duchanee Modern Buddhist Artist By Russell Marcus ISBN 978-616-215-056-2 2013. Paperback 14×21 cm, 168 pp. 300g.

Thai national artist Thawan Duchanee has spent his life creating art that deeply reflects Buddhist philosophy. He is internationally renowned, and his art is masterful both for its intricacy and for its subtle portrayal of Buddhism. Thawan expresses Buddhist wisdom with incredible versatility. His artworks depict the dangers of doubt, lust, fear, and lack of concentration, expose humankind’s pursuit of pleasure and escape from pain, and illustrate virtues exemplified in the previous lives of the Buddha. Using over one hundred images, the book succinctly examines these themes, often hidden deep within the art itself, and guides the reader through some of Thawan’s most interesting works. This is the first book to combine a focus on these works with an exploration of Thawan’s outstanding architectural and decorative achievements in Chiang Rai and Germany. Often told in his own words, this book offers insights into Thawan’s creative genius, explores his philosophy on the arts, examines his famous signature, and recounts his life story. It is fascinating reading for all those interested in Thai art and Buddhism.

pomegranate_2267_102953095Buddhist Paintings 2014 Calendar Calendar – Wall Calendar by San Francisco Asian Art Museum

Monuments and Temples of Orthodox Buddhism in India and Sri Lanka Paperback
by W. Vivian De Thabrew
Paperback: 116 pages
Publisher: AuthorHouseUK (July 10, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1481795511
ISBN-13: 978-1481795517
Product Dimensions: 11 x 8.5 x 0.3 inches

This is a mainly pictorial work, featuring recent colour photographs taken in the main by the author of the many different styles and features of Buddhist images, stupas or dagobas and temples found in the two oldest Buddhist countries in Asia. Accompanying the photographs is a brief text describing the magnificent architectural heritage of Buddhism, and also explaining the origin and development of the images and stupas. Very little has been published specifically on these subjects in a single volume and presented in an attractive manner for the serious student or the interested general reader. Older works on Buddhist iconography and temples tend to have mainly black and white photographs of sites which have now changed considerably, with development by UNESCO and governments. These photographs are current and in resplendent colour. They endeavour to exhibit the physical expression of one of the world’s major religions, which now has many adherents in the West as well as in the East. These Buddhist sites now attract many thousands of visitors, both pilgrims and tourists, all year round. This book would provide a beautiful memento of visits to some of these places, as well as providing more information for those who wish to pursue the subject more deeply.

Book Review by: Jeffrey Martin for Buddhist Art News


Beyond the Robe relates the story of the Science for Monks program, launched more than a decade ago to bring science education to the Buddhist monks and nuns of the Tibetan diaspora. The program was first conceived by the Dalai Lama and made possible with the funding and management resources of American philanthropist Bobby Sager. As described by the participants, the program was launched with the recruitment of a cadre of translators and the creation of a lexis of relevant and translatable concepts. Scientists were brought to India for periods as short as a summer to teach basic science principles to the equivalent of Tibetan college students. The program is ongoing and has resulted in an exhibit for science museums of a series of traditional thangka paintings contrasting Buddhist and contemporary scientific methods of understanding the senses, as well as the spread of science education to other sectors of the Tibetan exile community.



054615Buddhist Storytelling in Thailand and Laos: The Vessantara Jataka Scroll at the Asian Civilisations Museum
by Lefferts, Leedom; Sandra Cate
ISBN: 9789810724788.
Pages 163 Hard Cover, Fully illustrated in colour

Further information and ordering: Select Books #: 054615 (701)
Price: US$21.59 (SGD28.04*) + shipping & 10% handling

This richly illustrated, full-colour volume offers an innovative study of the long, painted scrolls of Northeast Thailand and Laos that depict the Prince Vessantara Buddhist birth story. A 31-metre scroll in the Asian Civilisations Museum provides the focus for this popular narrative, with comparative illustrations from other scrolls giving contrastive details. The authors analyse these scrolls in the context of the Bun Phra Wet – the Thai-Lao and Lao ceremony in which they are used – and consider the complex interplay of text, art, ritual, and belief which occur in these performances.

Contents: Foreword, Lee Chor Lin Introductory note, Steven Collins Introduction Sopha Pangchat’s scroll at the Asian Civilisations Museum Scrolls, festivals, performances Artists tell the story The writing on the scroll – Thai-Lao transcription, Thai and English translations Notes on the artist and the scroll in Singapore Glossary Bibliography Index


Layout 1The Fate of Rural Hell
Distributed for Seagull Books

99 pages | 24 color plates | 5 1/2 x 7 3/4 | © 2012

In 1975, when political scientist Benedict Anderson reached Wat Phai Rong Wua, a massive temple complex in rural Thailand conceived by Buddhist monk Luang Phor Khom, he felt he had wandered into a demented Disneyland. One of the world’s most bizarre tourist attractions, Wat Phai Rong Wua was designed as a cautionary museum of sorts; its gruesome statues depict violent and torturous scenes that showcase what hell may be like. Over the next few decades, Anderson, who is best known for his work, Imagined Communities, found himself transfixed by this unusual amalgamation of objects, returning several times to see attractions like the largest metal-cast Buddha figure in the world and the Palace of a Hundred Spires. The concrete statuaries and perverse art in Luang Phor’s personal museum of hell included, “side by side, an upright human skeleton in a glass cabinet and a life-size replica of Michelangelo’s gigantic nude David, wearing fashionable red underpants from the top of which poked part of a swollen, un-Florentine penis,” alongside dozens of statues of evildoers being ferociously punished in their afterlife.

In The Fate of Rural Hell, Anderson unravels the intrigue of this strange setting, endeavoring to discover what compels so many Thai visitors to travel to this popular spectacle and what order, if any, inspired its creation. At the same time, he notes in Wat Phai Rong Wua the unexpected effects of the gradual advance of capitalism into the far reaches of rural Asia.

Both a one-of-a-kind travelogue and a penetrating look at the community that sustains it, The Fate of Rural Hell is sure to intrigue and inspire conversation as much as Wat Phai Rong Wua itself.


The Buddhas of Bamiyan
Llewelyn Morgan
HARDCOVER $19.95 • £14.95 • €18.00 ISBN 9780674057883
Publication: June 2012 256 pages 28 halftones, 3 maps

For 1,400 years, two colossal figures of the Buddha overlooked the fertile Bamiyan Valley on the Silk Road in Afghanistan. Witness to a melting pot of passing monks, merchants, and armies, the Buddhas embodied the intersection of East and West, and their destruction by the Taliban in 2001 provoked international outrage. Llewelyn Morgan excavates the layers of meaning these vanished wonders hold for a fractured Afghanistan.

Carved in the sixth and seventh centuries, the Buddhas represented a confluence of religious and artistic traditions from India, China, Central Asia, and Iran, and even an echo of Greek influence brought by Alexander the Great’s armies. By the time Genghis Khan destroyed the town of Bamiyan six centuries later, Islam had replaced Buddhism as the local religion, and the Buddhas were celebrated as wonders of the Islamic world. Not until the nineteenth century did these figures come to the attention of Westerners. That is also the historical moment when the ground was laid for many of Afghanistan’s current problems, including the rise of the Taliban and the oppression of the Hazara people of Bamiyan. In a strange twist, the Hazaras—descendants of the conquering Mongol hordes who stormed Bamiyan in the thirteenth century—had come to venerate the Buddhas that once dominated their valley as symbols of their very different religious identity. Incorporating the voices of the holy men, adventurers, and hostages throughout history who set eyes on the Bamiyan Buddhas, Morgan tells the history of this region of paradox and heartache.

Book Review by Jonathan Ciliberto

Faces of CompassionFaces of Compassion:
Classic Bodhisattva Archetypes and Their Modern Expression — An Introduction to Mahayana Buddhism

Taigen Dan Leighton
Foreword by Joan Halifax

Published by Wisdom Publications, 2012

352 pages, 6 x 9 inches
ISBN 9781614290148

Books on Buddhist iconography and art typically take a Field Guide approach, providing descriptions of the key visual features for identifying, in paintings and sculpture, Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and significant figures from Buddhist history and literature. Behind these details — the what of Buddhist art — is the why: “why do these images exist?”

Religious art’s purpose is, obviously, religious. Faces of Compassion, by Zen teacher Taigen Dan Leighton approaches iconography from this direction, and moves from the often distanced, scientific approach to images commonly found in volumes on Buddhist art to engaging directly the religious efficacy of observing and using images. Images in Buddhist art are a means, not an end. His approach is fresh, and of great usefulness to modern readers: by seeking for archetypes in real, familiar, modern day individuals, he provides those seeking models for a compassionate live ready and understandable guides.

Muhammad Ali, Mahatma Gandhi,  Bob Dylan, Albert Schweitzer, Branch Rickey Henry Thoreau,  Gertrude Stein, Mother Teresa, and Roberto Clemente are amongst the diverse group of figures the author uses to illustrate fundamental characteristics of bodhistattvas: Shakyamuni, Jizo, Avalokiteshvara, and others.

By providing lived lives, rather than a catalogue of virtuous, if often mythically or supernaturally removed, qualities, the book says to the reader: here are people like you, not perfect, living in your world, who evidenced qualities exhorted by the great figures of Buddhism. “By featuring some of the people in our own world who are spiritual benefactors, I wish to encourage recognition that […] we need not see the bodhisattva ideal as irrelevant, idealistic, or beyond our reach” (p.21). It is a remarkable approach, and although not specifically “about” Buddhist art, does quite effectively explain the latter’s function.

The majority of the book divides into seven chapters, one for each of seven key bodhisattvas. These each begin with a  description of a bodhisattva, including information drawn from history and scripture. Readers completely unfamiliar with, say, Samantabhadra learn his attributes, his key episodes and descriptions from Buddhist literature, and his iconography (illustrated with photographs of Buddhist art). This is followed by the modern “exemplars” of that bodhisattava-as-archetype. For Samantabhadra, the author lists Aung San Suu Kyi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., William Blake, Mahatma Ghandi, Rachel Carson, Pete Seeger, Jackie Robinson, Thomas Edison, and others, and through brief examinations of these figures lives and works, illustrates particular aspects of the bodhisattva in action.

The book also includes three very useful chapters on The Bodhisattva Ideal, Mahayana History, and the Ten Transcendent Practices. The scholarship in this introductory section (and throughout) is quiet but commanding: neither stuffily authoritarian or excessively simplified.

Taigen Dan Leighton has conceived a superb idea, a psychological examination of the bodhisattva ideal through modern figures, and executed this idea it with skill and compassion. Faces of Compassion is not just a book which describes the what of Buddhist art, but also offers readers another method of how to follow the bodhisattva way. Thus, the author shows himself in this kind, intelligent, and wise book to be an exemplar of the bodhisattvas he re-presents to modern readers.

9780198079361Dalit Art and Visual Imagery
Edited by Gary Michael Tartakov
02 December 2012 c. 480 Pages | 171 illus. 9.7 x 7.1 inches ISBN: 9780198079361

This volume creates a seamless narrative of Dalit identity through use of visuals and accompanying explanatory texts. Spanning the historical and contemporary period, the volume investigates the representation of Dalit identities in Buddhist imagery, Hindu temples and traditional caste system, popular art and painting, and state-sponsored architecture and sculpture. Raising the face of contemporary untouchability into view, it explores the uses of visual imagery by, for and against Dalits in Indian society. Where are the images of Dalit oppression in the Hindu temple or Dalit triumph in the Navayana Buddhist viharas? How have Dalits used images of B.R. Ambedkar to bring their reality before the nation? How are Dalits attempting to use visual imagery to describe the world around them, work out their own identities and to shape their destinies? The collection offers a variety of approaches to the study of visual imagery and issues of Dalit experience. This book will be of considerable interest to scholars and students of Dalit studies, sociology, modern Indian history, and religion (particularly Buddhism) and others concerned with caste politics.

Christian Science Monitor

By Anna Clark / September 4, 2012

There is hardly a schoolchild who is not familiar with haiku, the Japanese art of the tiny poem, constructed out of three lines of 5-7-5 syllables and traditionally evoking images from nature. But while an understanding of haiku is often left at that, its legacy in art and literature is decidedly more complex. In The Art of Haiku, Stephen Addiss illuminates how haiku evolved in the hands of its masters, stretching from the eighth century to the 12th. He purposefully juxtaposes the well-known poetic form with its less famed artistic counterparts: paintings, called haiga, and calligraphy. Fully formed haiku was meant to be experienced both visually and textually. This uncommon book gives us the chance to do just that. Addiss is the right man to author “The Art of Haiku.” He is not only a leading haiku scholar, but also a practicing artist who has exhibited ink paintings and calligraphy around the world. He translates from Japanese, and has a lengthy list of publications. Fittingly, as haiku has its roots in song, Addiss traveled the world as part of the folk music duo Addiss & Crofut. He studied music at Harvard University and, with composer John Cage, at the New School in New York. He didn’t begin his graduate work on East Asia until he was in his late thirties. Fascinating as Addiss himself is, he keeps out of the spotlight in The Art of Haiku. The book is a steady narration on the emergence of haiku, beginning with the courtly tradition of tanka (five-line poems – or songs – of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables) and evolving into new forms, including haiga, haikai (comic verse), and renga, where two or more poets go back and forth to create a chain of linked tanka, shaped by a range of curious rules. “Chinese-derived words were frowned upon, but seasonal references should be included in roughly half the segments […],” Addiss informs us. Some words could only appear once in a thousand verses, including the words for demon, tiger, dragon, and woman. The book is rich with poems – 997 haiku, nearly all translated by Addiss and integrated easily with the text alongside transliterated Japanese originals. Particularly fascinating is the discussion of haiku translation. Idiosyncrasies in the originals, such as pause marks called kijeri (literally, cutting words) leave room for translators to make judgment calls on how to evoke rhythm or amplification. Addiss encourages readers to sound out the Japanese originals – and provides the tools to do so – to hear the music, and he does so with a grace that does not undercut the worth of the gorgeous English versions. He arms readers with a wealth of context on how, for example, the Japanese word for “color” and “passion” is the same. Like the art of haiku itself, Addiss invites readers into the poems, amplifying them with their own experiences and, in a way, collaborating with the poet to complete the poem. There is even an appendix on translation, which sets forth yet more choices in moving haiku between Japanese and English. Addiss presents a haiku by Chiyo in Japanese and lists each word with its literal meaning before indicating that, “Now it is up to you: Will you try to make this a 5-7-5 poem in English? Will you change the line order? Will you use any plurals? What words and rhythms in English do you think can convey this scene best?” What might seem gimmicky is actually an endearing manifestation of how Addiss writes this book as a meeting-of-equals between author, readers, artists, and poets. And what company to keep! There is Lady Murasaki, author of “The Tale of Genji” (probably the world’s first novel), whose title character trades whispered tanka with his wife. There is Saigyō Hōshi, who leaves his luxurious life in the imperial guard to become a Buddhist monk and write searing poems of transience. There is Yosa Buson, the master especially skilled in haiga (he knew it, too). His paintings reproduced here are drawn so simply and sweetly, they look like the figures of comics: emotion is evoked in just a few lines (which is, of course, the same formula for haiku). Kobayashi Issa funneled a tragic life into tiny potent verses. And of course there is Bashō, the wandering poet who, as Addiss puts it, is to haiku what Shakespeare is to theater and Michelangelo is to sculpture. There are times when the clear language of “The Art of Haiku” turns bland, more like the rote recitation of a lecturer than a writer delving into poetic treasures. Addiss’ thorough explanations subdue his enthusiasm: when he does break the even tone to describe a poem as “charming” or “powerful,” it is hard to feel any heat behind it. There are needless textual repetitions that add to the classroom feel – the interesting bit about “color” and “passion” being the same word in Japanese is mentioned three times in eight pages. At its worst, one wonders at the dissonance between the textbook language and the heart-opening art it means to conjure. At its best, however, Addiss’ strategy of keeping his own voice muffled (he uses the pronoun “we” rather than “I”) creates room for the ambitious scope of “The Art of the Haiku,” allowing several centuries worth of poets and artists to hold court without distraction. And, indeed, there they shine. Anna Clark is a freelance writer in Detroit. [link]

Buddhas of The Celestial Gallery + Romio Shrestha + 1601090609 + Hardcover Price: $75.00 Romio Shrestha’s latest large-format art book gathers striking Tibetan-style mandala paintings featuring the Buddha. Each book is hand-bound and two-feet tall, with artwork from master painter Romio Shrestha and his team of artisan monks, who render postmodern interpretations of an age-old Tibetan artistic tradition. Made from malachite, lapis, and marigolds, and painted at times with three hairs of a cat’s tail, these paintings are produced in hauntingly powerful detail. Romio Shrestha is a master of the artistic traditions of Nepal and Tibet. He directs a school of artist-craftsmen in the Katmandu Valley of Tibet. His work can be found in the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, American Museum of Natural History, and Tibet House in New York City. Ian A. Baker studied art history, literature, and comparative religion at Oxford and Columbia universities and medical anthropology at University College London. He has written extensively on the art and culture of Tibet and the Himalayas. Recognized by the National Geographic Society as one of seven “Explorers for the Millennium,” his additional published works include The Heart of the World: A Journey to the Last Secret Place; The Dalai Lama’s Secret Temple: Tantric Wall Paintings from Tibet; and the original edition of Celestial Gallery. He lived in Kathmandu, Nepal, for more than twenty-five years and has studied with some of the greatest luminaries of Tibetan Buddhism, including H. H. the Dalai Lama.

(October 28, 2012, Ann Arbor, Mich.) The Legacy Press has released the debut book by artist Aimee Lee about Korean papermaking called Hanji Unfurled: One Journey into Korean Papermaking (ISBN 9780979797446, hard cover, 208 pp, 10 x 7 inches, full color, 300+ illustrations, $35.00). In the first English-language book about hanji, or Korean handmade paper, Lee recounts stories of meeting papermakers, scholars, and artists from Korean cities, villages, Buddhist temples, and island outposts. Interwoven with personal anecdotes from her yearlong Fulbright Fellowship, Lee describes the process of making and using hanji from harvesting trees to carefully weaving the finished paper into a sculptural vessel. To highlight the importance of hanji and address its endangered status, Lee built the first Korean papermaking studio in North America in 2010 at the Morgan Conservatory in Cleveland, Ohio. She travels across the U.S. to teach and lecture about hanji and related crafts and maintains free digital archives online. Lee’s workshops routinely draw students from around the U.S. and abroad, and her informational videos have received over 600,000 hits. “This book is a valuable resource, a must-read not only for papermakers but for anyone interested in perpetuating honored traditions into an environmentally responsible future.” — Melissa Jay Craig, paper sculptor/book artist. “Aimee is an accomplished writer, and through Hanji Unfurled, she has communicated her valuable perspectives as artist, papermaker, and bilingual ambassador for Korean paper arts.” —Cathleen A. Baker, proprietor of The Legacy Press (est. 1997), which promotes the printing, paper, and bookbinding arts. Author Profile Aimee Lee, a visual artist and papermaker, was born in New York City and researched Korean paper arts on a Fulbright Fellowship (2008-2009). She holds a BA from Oberlin College and MFA from Columbia College Chicago. Her artwork is exhibited internationally and resides in collections that include the Cleveland Institute of Art Gund Library, Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection, Museum of Modern Art Library, and Yale University Library. She travels widely to teach and lecture at colleges, museums, and arts centers while writing about her research and providing hanji resources at For more information about Hanji Unfurled or to schedule an interview, please contact Aimee Lee at or visit

THE CONCEPT OF DANZŌ: ‘Sandalwood Images’ in Japanese Buddhist Sculpture of the 8th to 14th Centuries Christian Boehm ISBN-13 9781872843186, 264pp, hard cover, 287mm x 210mm, 165 colour and black and white illustrations Saffron Asian Art & Society Series This lavishly illustrated volume is the first study in a Western language to examine Buddhist sculptures known as danzō (sandalwood images) and dangan (portable sandalwood shrines) in Japan from the 8th to 14th centuries, including Chinese examples from the 6th to 13th centuries, which were imported into Japan and played a major role in the establishment of an indigenous danzō tradition. The author defines danzō as religious icons in terms of their material, form (iconography and style) and religious functions. This includes a careful examination of major issues in the study of danzō such as the transmission of danzō from India via China to Japan, the choice of substitute materials for sandalwood, carving technique, and danjiki (colour of sandalwood). Most importantly, this study proposes a new definition of the form of danzō based on the distinction between the type-style and period-style. Furthermore, it demonstrates how the aesthetic-religious concept of shōgon (sublime adornment), which is important to Buddhist art in general, is expressed in danzō, making them into objects of shōgon par excellence. A wealth of textual evidence is presented to suggest that the two most common religious functions of danzō were as icons in ceremonies and for personal devotion for high-ranking monks, aristocrats, and members of the imperial family, which reflects the special sanctity and efficacy ascribed to these images. This book aims at a more inclusive understanding of danzō as religious icons with distinctive material, formal and functional characteristics that define them as a unique group of sacred images within Japanese Buddhist sculpture. About the Author Christian Boehm received his BA, MA and PhD in Art and Archaeology from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He is an independent art historian and dealer specialising in East Asian Buddhist sculpture as well as Chinese and Korean ceramics. Contents Acknowledgements 11; Introduction 13-16; Figures 17-79 Chapter One Materials of Danzō 81-106 | 1. Sandalwood and Danzō Carving in India and China 81 2. The Transmission of Danzō to Japan 85 3. Substitute Materials 89 4. Danjiki 97 Chapter Two Form and Functions of Danzō 107-130 | 1. The Meaning of the Term Shōgon 107 2. The Expression of Shōgon in Danzō 111 3. The Function of Danzō in Ceremonies and as Icons for Personal Devotion 116 4. The Function of Danzō as Honzon in Temple Halls and as Tainai Butsu 125 Chapter Three Dangan (Portable Sandalwood Shrines): Miniature Representations of Buddhist Worlds 131-170 | 1. Stūpa-shaped Dangan 138 2. Box-shaped Dangan 148 3. Temple Hall-shaped Dangan 162 4. Incense Container-shaped Boxes 164 Chapter Four Representations of Nyorai 171-186 | 1. Yakushi Nyorai 173 2. Miroku Nyorai 179 3. Shaka Nyorai 181 4. Dainichi Nyorai 182 Chapter Five Representations of Kannon 187-222 | 1. Jūichimen Kannon 190 2. Senju Kannon 207 3. Nyoirin Kannon 210 4. Shō Kannon 212 5. Fukūkensaku Kannon 217 Chapter Six Representations of Bosatsu and Tutelary Deities 223-240 | 1. Miroku Bosatsu 225 2. Monju Bosatsu 227 3. Jizō Bosatsu 229 4. Bonten and Taishakuten 231 5. Aizen Myōō 233 6. Bishamonten 236 Conclusion 241-242; Bibliography 243-252; Glossary Index 253-264

Women in Buddhist Art Price: Rs 2,950.00 ISBN: 978-81-7320-126-6 Author: Vinay Kuamr Rao Size: 29 cm Page: 272 Illus., B/W Year of Publication: 2012 Binding: cloth binding The Author Vinay Kumar Rao (1971) received his school education from Kendriya Vidyalaya. He has obtained his Graduate and Post Graduate degrees from Allahabad University with specialization in Archaeology and done Bachelor of Education from VBS Purvanchal University, Jaunpur and Master in Education from Kurukshetra University. He has completed his Doctoral Research from VBS Purvanchal University, Jaunpur in year 2003-04. He received Junior Research Fellowship from Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi and visited Xi’an, Peoples Republic of China under Wooden fish Academic Exchange Programme. He has received practical training to study coins and inscriptions in situ from Indian Institute of Research in Numismatics, Anjaneri, Nasik and Directorate of Epigraphy, Archaeological Survey of India, Mysore. He has presented number of papers on topics related to Buddhist Sculptural art in International conferences in India and abroad. He is associated with Field School of Archaeology, Ministry of Culture, Union of Myanmar as guest faculty since 2010. He has published three books including Buddhist Sculptural Art of Lower Krishna Valley and Buddhist Art of Pagan. He has good number of publications in field of Archaeology especially in Buddhist Art of India and Myanmar. Vinay Kumar Rao is currently teaching in department of History, Assam University as an Assistant Professor since 2004. The Book The over-arching period of the 2nd century BC to 3rd century AD witnessed the development of Buddhism in India. The period is well known for the growth and development of Buddhist art and architecture and one is able to get a glimpse of contemporary society going through these art forms. Women are an integral part of a society and the position and role of women is a pre-requisite to define the humbleness and harmony of any society. No society can be regarded as civilized and cultured in true sense without acknowledging the status and dignity of women. The archaeological and literary sources have manifested women in various roles since ancient times and are very magnificently projected in early Buddhist sculptural art. The presence of women in Buddhist sculptural do not only implies the cultural manifestations but also highlights the socio-economic role of women in that particular space and time. There are a plethora of inscriptions and sculptural representations that appear in early Buddhist period, which indicate active involvement of women in socio-religious affairs. This changed attitude of society towards women after the advent of Buddhism is very clearly reflected in early Buddhist sculptural art. By going through the detailed depictions of various religious and secular narratives we can observe women in early Buddhist sculptural art in various dimensions. This is also very well affirmed by inscriptions carved on various parts of Buddhist monuments. The book with the help of literary and epigraphically sources intends to present the contemporary diversified and multifarious role of women in early Buddhist sculptural art. In order to authenticate the study, the author has collected source material from various museums and extensively travelled to various Buddhist countries.

The Seven Tengu Scrolls: Evil and the Rhetoric of Legitimacy in Medieval Japanese Buddhism by Haruko Wakabayashi Cloth – 224pp. April 2012 This is a study of visual and textual images of the mythical creature tengu from the late Heian (897–1185) to the late Kamakura (1185–1333) periods. Popularly depicted as half-bird, half-human creatures with beaks or long noses, wings, and human bodies, tengu today are commonly seen as guardian spirits associated with the mountain ascetics known as yamabushi. In the medieval period, however, the character of tengu most often had a darker, more malevolent aspect. Haruko Wakabashi focuses in this study particularly on tengu as manifestations of the Buddhist concept of Māra (or ma), the personification of evil in the form of the passions and desires that are obstacles to enlightenment. Her larger aim is to investigate the use of evil in the rhetoric of Buddhist institutions of medieval Japan. Through a close examination of tengu that appear in various forms and contexts, Wakabayashi considers the functions of a discourse on evil as defined by the Buddhist clergy to justify their position and marginalize others. Early chapters discuss Buddhist appropriations of tengu during the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries in relation to the concept of ma. Multiple interpretations of ma developed in response to changes in society and challenges to the Buddhist community, which recruited tengu in its efforts to legitimize its institutions. The highlight of the work discusses in detail the thirteenth-century narrative scroll Tengu zōshi (also known as the Shichi Tengu-e, or the Seven Tengu Scrolls), in which monks from prominent temples in Nara and Kyoto and leaders of “new” Buddhist sects (Pure Land and Zen) are depicted as tengu. Through a close analysis of the Tengu zōshi’s pictures and text, the author reveals one aspect of the critique against Kamakura Buddhism and how tengu images were used to express this in the late thirteenth century. She concludes with a reexamination of the meaning of tengu and a discussion of how ma was essentially socially constructed not only to explain the problems that plague this world, but also to justify the existence of an institution that depended on the presence of evil for its survival. Drawing on a wide range of primary sources, Wakabayashi provides a thoughtful and innovative analysis of history and religion through art. The Seven Tengu Scrolls will therefore appeal to those with an interest in Japanese art, history, and religion, as well as in interdisciplinary approaches to socio-cultural history. 36 illus., 4 in color

Bangkok Post Published: 21/09/2012

Old Zangdok Palri Lhakhang and Paro Taktsang in the clouds.

Zangdok Palri: The Lotus Light Palace of Guru Rinpoche is book that can never be duplicated. Not only because the photographic journey took her, in three years, to over 11 temples all around the mountain kingdom of Bhutan, many of which can be reached only after hours of arduous trekking. Or that the murals she photographed were mostly hidden from public eye, in the inner sanctum of the dzongs, and only partially lit, or that the angles were almost impossible. Or even that the text on Guru Rinpoche was written by eminent yet reclusive scholars who took a year to research and digest rare and sacred texts sourced from various monasteries before writing into religious Bhutanese text and then translated into English. But also because this project was inspired and supported by Her Majesty Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck _ Royal Grandmother to the present king of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck _ who even allowed her own private collection of thangka to be included in the book. As such, it is the most ambitious and comprehensive book on the mythical heavenly abode of Guru Rinpoche as depicted in mural paintings and thangkas in Bhutan. When Supawan revived her childhood passion for photography after winding up her restaurant business in 2005, she had no idea who Guru Rinpoche was. On her first photography trip to Tibet with a group of international photographers, she visited the first temple built by the revered guru, but wasn’t even aware of the significance of it then. Only much later did she learn how the Himalayan region regard Guru Rinpoche as a Second Buddha, an Indian sage from a Brahmin family who attained enlightenment and transmitted Vajrayana Buddhism, as opposed to Thailand’s Theravada or East Asia’s Mahayana Buddhism, to Bhutan, Tibet and the surrounding mountain region in the 8th century. His heavenly abode is known as Zangdok Palri (the Copper-coloured Mountain). It was precisely a temple known as Zangdok Palri of Kurjey in Bumthang that was the start of this ambitious undertaking. The exquisite Zangdok Palri of Kurjey in Bumthang was built by the Royal Grandmother in dedication to her own parents, and Supawan was so inspired by its beauty that she published a book on it illustrated by her own photographic images. The book piqued her interest in the concept of Zangdok Palri that she decided to publish another book on the topic. She contacted Tulku Thondup, a visiting scholar at Harvard University who had written the translation of a prayer book given to her by the Royal Grandmother, and asked if he could pen a text on the subject for her book. “He said he was getting old and he was very busy, but he might send along 10 pages of text for me,” said Supawan. “A couple of months passed by, and he reverted to me… with about 60 pages of text. “I decided I would have to match it with suitable pictures.” A list of temples that had murals on Zangdok Palri was acquired from the National Archives, and Supawan proceeded to checklist the lot, visiting as many as she could to take photos of the murals with the blessings of the Royal Grandmother and the abbots of each temple. “Sometimes the listed temples didn’t have the said murals, and sometimes we also discovered other temples that were not listed but had the murals,” she laughed. Each mural had its own particular obstacle which Supawan had to overcome. Sometimes a difficult trek meant carrying as little equipment as possible, and friends and family had to take turns holding the lights like human tripods. “The temple caretaker and monks also turned themselves into our camera crew when we needed them,” she added. Often the murals would be hidden behind curtains, or on obscure walls in semi-darkness. There were murals obstructed by images of Buddhas and deities. “I prayed a lot,” remarked Supawan. Somehow her prayers were heard, and she found a way to overcome each problem. She has also learned a lot in terms of photography techniques. She had no idea how to photograph a mural at first, and called on Chotiwat Punnopatham who she knew from a previous workshop. He taught her how to break down the murals into panels, take the pictures one panel at a time, and merge them using a computer programme. Being the perfectionist that she is, however, the result was still not to her liking, so she recruited the help of Chotiwat on the project. He took up the challenge without even knowing what he was in for. By the end of the project, he was pleading, “No more trekking, please.” But his technical know-how has proved to be invaluable, particularly in the colour separation process to get perfect clarity. Not particularly an outdoor adventurer by nature, Supawan herself also balked at the thought of trekking hours for a photo at first, but by the end of the project a three-hour trek was nothing to her. Physical challenges aside, it was the spiritual journey that she felt profoundly during the course of the project. “I used to be very stressed out before. But it seemed the higher I climbed, the calmer I became. It has become a spiritual pilgrimage for me; not just a photographic assignment. “I never thought I would be working on a book like this in the first place,” laughed Supawan. “It’s not my field. I’m a cook, for heaven’s sake!” While in Bangkok for the book launch and photo exhibition recently, presided over by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn at Siam Paragon, HRH Ashi Pema Lhadon Wangchuck, younger sister of the previous king of Bhutan, and daughter of Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother, and her daughter, Ashi Kesang Choden Tashi Wangchuck, editor of this book, granted an interview to the Bangkok Post. “There are a lot of prayers in Bhutan on Guru Rinpoche’s spiritual palace but nothing in English to help with your visualisation,” noted Ashi Kesang Choden Tashi Wangchuck, who played an integral role in the translation and editing of all the text. “In terms of that, this is a very valuable book, because it showcases Guru Rinpoche’s time in Bhutan as well as many holy places there. Many of the places are so pristine, and not many people have been there. “The Royal Grandmother didn’t imagine the book would turn out to be this beautiful and this detailed,” she added. “It’s a very important project for her life because she does a lot of charitable work, and she plays a great part in preserving the spiritual heritage.” HRH Ashi Pema Lhadon remarked softly, “The Royal Grandmother feels so touched by the whole team who worked on the book. It is like an offering to Guru Rinpoche.” [link]

Signs from the Unseen Realm: Buddhist Miracle Tales from Early Medieval China by Robert Ford Campany Cloth – Price: $65.00 328pp. March 2012 In early medieval China hundreds of Buddhist miracle texts were circulated, inaugurating a trend that would continue for centuries. Each tale recounted extraordinary events involving Chinese persons and places—events seen as verifying claims made in Buddhist scriptures, demonstrating the reality of karmic retribution, or confirming the efficacy of Buddhist devotional practices. Robert Ford Campany, one of North America’s preeminent scholars of Chinese religion, presents in this volume the first complete, annotated translation, with in-depth commentary, of the largest extant collection of miracle tales from the early medieval period, Wang Yan’s Records of Signs from the Unseen Realm, compiled around 490 C.E. In addition to the translation, Campany provides a substantial study of the text and its author in their historical and religious settings. He shows how these lively tales helped integrate Buddhism into Chinese society at the same time that they served as platforms for religious contestation and persuasion. Campany offers a nuanced, clear methodological discussion of how such narratives, being products of social memory, may be read as valuable evidence for the history of religion and culture. Readers interested in Buddhism; historians of Chinese religions, culture, society, and literature; scholars of comparative religion: All will find Signs from the Unseen Realm a stimulating and rich contribution to scholarship.

The Splendid Vision: Reading a Buddhist Sutra Richard S. Cohen Paper, 176 pages, ISBN: 978-0-231-15669-1 $22.50 / £15.50 April, 2012 Cloth, 176 pages, ISBN: 978-0-231-15668-4 $69.50 / £48.00 Featuring the first-ever English translation of the “Splendid Vision Sutra,” a sixth-century Indian Mahayana Buddhist scripture known for its rich ritual magic and worship of bodhisattva-goddesses, this volume explicates the text’s cultural significance as a source of extraordinary value, cosmic truth, and existential meaning. The ancient author of the “Splendid Vision Sutra” promises every imaginable reward to those who heed its words and rites, whether one’s desire is to become king, enjoy heavenly pleasures for thousands of millennia, or attain the spiritual summit of advanced bodhisattvahood. Richard S. Cohen carefully analyzes this religious rhetoric, developing a heuristic model of “scripture” that extends beyond Buddhist literature. In his framework, a text becomes sacred scripture when a community accepts it as a receptacle of extraordinary value, an authoritative source of cosmic truth, and a guide for meaningful action. While clarifying these points, Cohen untangles the discursive skein through which the “Splendid Vision Sutra” expresses its authority, inspires readers to accept that authority, and promises superior power and accomplishments to those who implement its teachings. Exploring ways of living and reading a text, Cohen draws on Marcel Duchamp’s theory of found art, Jerzy Grotowski’s idealization of the holy actor, and other formulations, identifying contingencies, uncertainties, and incompleteness in the lived present and its determination of our reception of the past. More than a mere introduction to an important work, The Splendid Vision opens a window into religious experience and practice in contemporary environments as well as in the world of the sutra. About the Author Richard S. Cohen is associate professor of South Asian religious literatures and director of the Program for the Study of Religion at the University of California, San Diego. He earned his Ph.D. in Buddhist studies from the University of Michigan and is the author of Beyond Enlightenment: Buddhism, Religion, Modernity.

Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts by Haruo Shirane March, 2012 Cloth, 336 pages, 27 color illus.; 6 black-and-white ISBN: 978-0-231-15280-8 $29.50 / £20.50 Elegant representations of nature and the four seasons populate a wide range of Japanese genres and media—from poetry and screen painting to tea ceremonies, flower arrangements, and annual observances. In Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons, Haruo Shirane shows how, when, and why this practice developed and explicates the richly encoded social, religious, and political meanings of this imagery. Refuting the belief that this tradition reflects Japan’s agrarian origins and supposedly mild climate, Shirane traces the establishment of seasonal topics to the poetry composed by the urban nobility in the eighth century. After becoming highly codified and influencing visual arts in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the seasonal topics and their cultural associations evolved and spread to other genres, eventually settling in the popular culture of the early modern period. Contrasted with the elegant images of nature derived from court poetry was the agrarian view of nature based on rural life. The two landscapes began to intersect in the medieval period, creating a complex, layered web of competing associations. Shirane discusses a wide array of representations of nature and the four seasons in many genres, originating in both the urban and rural perspective: textual (poetry, chronicles, tales), cultivated (gardens, flower arrangement), material (kimonos, screens), performative (noh, festivals), and gastronomic (tea ceremony, food rituals). He reveals how this kind of “secondary nature,” which flourished in Japan’s urban architecture and gardens, fostered and idealized a sense of harmony with the natural world just at the moment it was disappearing. Illuminating the deeper meaning behind Japanese aesthetics and artifacts, Shirane clarifies the use of natural images and seasonal topics and the changes in their cultural associations and function across history, genre, and community over more than a millennium. In this fascinating book, the four seasons are revealed to be as much a cultural construction as a reflection of the physical world. About the Author Haruo Shirane is Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture at Columbia University. He is the author and editor of numerous books on Japanese literature, including, most recently, The Demon at Agi Bridge and Other Japanese Tales; Envisioning The Tale of Genji: Media, Gender, and Cultural Production; Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600; Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600–1900; Classical Japanese: A Grammar; and Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Bashō.

Nothing and Everything The Influence of Buddhism on the American Avant Garde 1942 – 1962 By Ellen Pearlman EVOLVER EDITIONS With over 350 million Buddhists worldwide, Buddhism in America is no longer a marginal religion—it is currently the fourth largest belief system in the country. Nothing and Everything – The Influence of Buddhism on the American Avant Garde: 1942–1962 is the first book to thoroughly investigate the impact of Buddhism on post-war American culture, particularly on performing, visual, sonic, inter-media and literary arts in the country’s cultural hub of New York City. In America in the late 1950s and early 60s, the world—and life itself—became a legitimate artist’s tool, aligning with Zen Buddhism’s emphasis on “enlightenment at any moment” and living in the now. Simultaneously and independently, parallel movements were occurring in Japan, as artists there, too, strove to break down artistic boundaries. Nothing and Everything brings these heady times into focus. Author Ellen Pearlman meticulously traces the spread of Buddhist ideas in the art and cultural worlds through the classes of legendary scholar D. T. Suzuki as well as those of his most famous student, composer and teacher John Cage, from whose teachings on experimental composition sprouted the art movement Fluxus and the “happenings” of the 1960s, among others. Pearlman details the interaction of these American artists with the Japanese Hi Red Center and the multi-installation group Gutai. Back in New York, abstract-expressionist artists founded The Club, which held lectures on Zen and featured Japan’s first abstract painter, Saburo Hasegawa. And in the literary world, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg were using Buddhism in their search for new forms and visions of their own. These multiple journeys led to startling breakthroughs in artistic and literary style—and influenced an entire generation. Filled with rare photographs and groundbreaking primary source material, Nothing and Everything is the definitive history of this pivotal time for the American arts.

Book Name: The Life of the Buddha: Buddhist and Saiva Iconography and Visual Narratives in Artists Sketchbooks Gudrun Buhnemann with Transliterations and Translations from the Newari by Kashinath Tamot Price: US$ 50.00 ABOUT THE BOOK: This book describes, analyses and reproduces line drawings from two manuscripts and a related section from a third manuscript. These are: 1) Manuscript M.82.169.2, preserved in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (circa late nineteenth century) 2) Manuscript 82.242.1-24, preserved in the Newark Museum (from the later part of the twentieth century) and 3) A section from manuscript 440 in the private collection of Ian Alsop, Santa Fe, New Mexico (early twentieth century). The line drawings depict Hindu/Saiva and Buddhist deities and themes, but the Buddhist material is predominant, as one would expect in artists sketchbooks from Patan. The sketchbooks are important for several reasons. They provide drawings of a large number of deities, including some groups rarely depicted elsewhere. Among them are the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, the Eight Siddhas, the Nine Serpents and-corresponding to the months of the year-twelve forms of Narayana and Lokesvara, and (associated with the ekadasi days of the months) twelve forms of Mahadeva. Many of the deities and legends are relevant to contemporary Newar Buddhism. The two narratives are of special interest. They deal with the life story of Sakyamuni Buddha and the legend of Sarvajnamitra (pada). The illustrated life story of the Buddha follows the Newar tradition, which incorporates the episodes of the sufferings of Yasodhara after Sarvarthasiddhas departure and of the Buddhas (return) journey to Lumbini (lumbiniyatra). The book also contains a longer section on Sristikarta Lokesvara, a form of Avalokitesvara who emanates Brahmanical divinities from his body. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gudrun Buhnemann is Professor in the Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia at The University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. Her recent publications include The Iconography of Hindu Tantric Deities (2 volumes, Groningen, 2000-01), Mandalas and Yantras in the Hindu Traditions (Leiden, 2003; New Delhi, 2007), Eighty-four Asanas in Yoga. [link]

Colorful Realm Japanese Bird-and-Flower Paintings by Ito Jakuchu Yukio Lippit With Ota Aya, Oka Yasuhiro, and Hayakawa Yasuhiro Photography by Shirono Seiji 224 pages | 301 color plates | 9-5/8 x 11 | © 2012 Cloth $50.00 ISBN: 9780226484600 Published April 2012 A much-anticipated harbinger of spring, the cherry blossom is also exemplary of the Japanese artistic aesthetic—a delight in simple, natural beauty and an attentiveness to the changing seasons. This spring will mark the centennial of Japan’s gift of three thousand cherry trees to Washington, DC, and this sumptuously illustrated catalogue is the companion to a celebratory exhibition at the National Gallery of Art featuring the work of Ito Jakuchu. Jakuchu (1716–1800), a wealthy wholesaler and talented painter, is, in Japan, the most recognized artist of the premodern era. His thirty-scroll set of bird-and-flower paintings titled Colorful Realm of Living Beings is a renowned cultural treasure, one of the most beautiful and skilled examples of how the natural world is depicted and symbolized in Japanese art. Presenting gorgeous flora and fauna in meticulous detail, the scrolls are reunited here with Jakuchu’s triptych of the Buddha Sakyamuni from the Zen monastery Shokokuji in Kyoto. This stunning volume reproduces these masterpieces of Edo-period art and complements them with extensive background material on their significance. Recent conservation of the scrolls has revealed new information about the materials and techniques used by Jakuchu, and those findings are discussed in the volume, offering a multifaceted understanding of the artist’s virtuosity and innovation as a painter. As the first English-language examination and overseas display of Jakuchu’s Colorful Realm in its entirety, the book and exhibition will offer new audiences a chance to encounter this landmark work— generously lent by the Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo.

Buddha in the Yurt Buddhist Art from Mongolia Edited by Carmen Meinert Distributed for Hirmer Publishers With Photographs by Achim Bunz 840 pages | 550 color plates | 9 1/2 x 11 2/5 Cloth $179.00 ISBN: 9783777443515 Published March 2012 For sale in Canada, Mexico, and the USA Since the introduction of Buddhism to Mongolia in the seventeenth century, art has emerged as an important component of Buddhist culture. Drawing on a large privately owned collection of Mongolian and Tibetan art, this volume reproduces a carefully chosen selection of paintings, scrolls, statues, shrines, amulets, tablets, and ritual implements dating as far back as the eleventh century. From Zanabazar’s bronze cast Buddhas to the numerous gorgeous images of Indian siddhas, Tibetan masters, protective deities, and boddhisatvas, the objects reflect the broad scope of artistic influences in Buddhist art ranging from Tibet to the Qing Dynasty in China. Accompanying each illustration and adding depth to the volume are descriptions that situate the work within Buddhist iconography and the rich symbolism of the Tantric Buddhist tradition. At the end of the volumes are comprehensive English and Russian glossaries (and respectively German and Mongolian glossaries with 450 entries each; for all entries the respective translations in four languages are provided (Mongolian, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese). All of the artworks appear here for the first time in print, making this an essential addition to the literature on East Asian religion, culture, and art. * Contents Contents Combined Russian/English Edition Introduction Tibetica Mongolica 1. Buddhas 2. Arhats, Teachers, and Siddhas 3. Bodhisattvas 4. General Vajrayāna Deities and Maṇḍalas 5. Yidams 6. Protective Deities 7. Ritual Items and Miscellaneous Notes Inscriptions Glossary

Buddha’s Brush, Buddha’s Paste Rebirth of a Taima-Mandala Restoration and Origin Hai-Yen Hua-Ströfer HICA Edition Bilingual: German/English 220 pages, 33.5 x 25 cm 363 colour illustrations Hardcover, cloth-bound, with slip case ISBN 978-3-00-030338-8 Hai-Yen Hua-Ströfer: “As a restorer, I was delighted to make the acquaintance of a rather special rarity: a Japanese Taima-Mandala from the 14th century arrived in my workshop. Just as a cocoon slowly unravels when the silken thread is pulled, the picture’s design, its painting techniques and its historical/spiritual background yielded up their secrets to me as the work proceeded. “I recorded the experiential wonders of my voyage of discovery in numerous pictures, which I would now like to share with you. Like a treasure chest, this bilingual book can be used to dip into the mandala repeatedly as a cornucopia of artistically applied craftsmanship and aesthetic delights. “It is divided into three sections: first of all, the reader is invited to follow the restoration work, from the initial planning through to final framing. The European and Far Eastern working methods are shown in many illustrations, presenting both the tools and the materials employed. “The second section explores the mandala’s creation and its teachings, as Buddhism spread along the Silk Road, from its origins in India, to its full flowering in Tang Dynasty China, and onward to Japan. “In the third section the treasure hunt proceeds to the spiritual sources of this Taima-Mandala, examining how it translates the Contemplation Sūtra into visual images. “The sūtra is presented to us as a vivid historical drama. On the first of the three stages, the inspirational story of an Indian royal family unfolds, adumbrating the path to self-cultivation. “On the other two stages, the aim is to purify the consciousness and attain true wisdom. “Finally, in the centre of the mandala, the aspirant reaches the Pure Land of Buddha Amitābha. “This huge painted mandala was restored using modern concepts of technology, intimate knowledge of the materials involved, and due respect for its thematic integrity. In addition, in etymological faithfulness to the Latin word “restaurare”, and in serene mindfulness of Buddha’s teachings, the picture’s exhilarating vitality was renewed and in a very literal sense restored. Alleviation of suffering and renewal of the world are the core and quintessence of Buddha Amitābha´s Contemplation Sūtra. “I hope that reading and browsing in this book will give you hours of pleasure.”

The Face of Jizo: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism Author: Glassman, Hank University of Hawai‘i Press 304pp. January 2012 Cloth – Price: $52.00ISBN: 978-0-8248-3443-2 Paper – Price: $25.00ISBN: 978-0-8248-3581-1 Stone images of the Buddhist deity Jizo—bedecked in a red cloth bib and presiding over offerings of flowers, coins, candles, and incense—are a familiar sight throughout Japan. Known in China as a savior from hell’s torment, Jizo in Japan came to be utterly transformed through fusion with the local tradition of kami worship and ancient fertility cults. In particular, the Jizo cult became associated with gods of borders or transitions: the stone gods known as dosojin. Although the study of Jizo is often relegated to the folkloric, The Face of Jizo: Image and Cult in Medieval Japanese Buddhism, a highly original and readable book by Hank Glassman, demonstrates that the bodhisattva’s cult was promoted and embraced at the most elite levels of society.

“By wrapping the Japanese images of the bodhisattva Jizō in their intriguing individual and collective stories, The Face of Jizō emphasizes the movement of this deity, who not only protects travellers but also treks between hell and paradise in his quest to save sentient beings. Professor Glassman has created a major contribution to studies of cult images that extends well beyond art historical analyses to delve into other fascinating areas of inquiry. The author’s thorough research, lively writing style, and deft exposition of exciting tales guide readers on a magnificent journey through the history, literature, performance, and visual culture related to Jizō in Japan from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century. From lavishly colored paintings and sculptures to simple stones, beloved images of Jizō are brought to life in the pages of this book.” —Sherry Fowler, University of Kansas

Hakuho Sculpture Donald F. McCallum paperback not available $50.00s hardcover (9780295991306) Add to Cart Published: January 2012 Subject Listing: Art History, Asian Studies Bibliographic information: 160 pp., 50 illus., notes, index, 7 x 10 in. Published with: Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas Series: Franklin D. Murphy Lecture Series Hakuho Sculpture is the first book in any language devoted entirely to Japanese sculpture of the Hakuho period (c. 650 – 710 CE ). It focuses on the stylistic development and aesthetic qualities of Buddhist imagery through a careful study of gilt-bronze Buddhist icons from one of the most creative periods of Japanese Buddhist art. This close analysis of practically all extant Hakuho images reveals much about the creative activities of the ancient sculptors. The Hakuho period is frequently considered alongside the preceding Asuka period (c. 590 – 650), suggesting some type of organic development from one period to the next. This understanding is somewhat distorted, given the significant differences in sculptural styles between the two periods. Donald McCallum explains the differences as resulting from divergent sources in China and Korea and unique attitudes toward the making of images. Donald F. McCallum is professor of Japanese art history at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of Zenkoji and Its Icon: A Study of Medieval Japanese Religious Art and The Four Great Temples: Buddhist Archaeology, Architecture, and Icons of Seventh-Century Japan.


Book Review by Jonathan Ciliberto, 26 December 2011

The Listening Book Discovering Your Own Music
By W. A. Mathieu
published by Shambhala
Paperback List Price: $17.95

Aspects of oneself innate or ever-present are often overlooked when considering self-improvement. For instance, while people regularly train themselves to speak better French or acquire a better golf game, it is less obvious that one would seek to improve one’s mind or being.

And what about listening?

Like seeing or smelling, one imagines listening to be fixed, not needing (or capable of) improvement, at least without physical or mechanical means. Buddhist meditation, of course, similarly begins with the premise that something seemingly fixed can take improvement.

The Listening Book is a collection of anecdotes and exercises intended to improve listening, and thereby to find one’s own music. Originally published in 1991, it was re-issued this year, its text completely re-set, with new cover art. Although not explicitly about Buddhism, it partakes of many Buddhist approaches, including mindfulness, compassion, and ego-reduction. On the one hand, the author’s premise is simple: everyone has ears, and so everyone can hear music. On the other, it is subtle, investigating psychological aspects of listening, the metaphysics of music-making, and the primacy of attention to full experience as a listener and musician. [more]

BRISECSecrets of the Sacred Empowering Buddhist Images in Clear, in Code, and in Cache HELMUT BRINKER PUBLISHED: June 2011 BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 224 pp., 116 illus., notes, glossary, bibliog., index, 7 x 10 in. Secrets of the Sacred illuminates the role of icons and relics in Buddhist writing and practice, with particular attention to the transformation of inanimate material images into potent icons animated by the divine. The earliest canonical scriptures indicate that images of the Buddha were created before the concept of transcendental identity was developed. Later writings reveal a connectedness between image and deity, and eventually art transformed into a means of creating a receptive environment for communication with the divine power and attaining wisdom. Icons became the perceivable bodies of the divine. Esoteric practices within Buddhism trace back at least as far as the first century CE but did not develop into a religio-philosophic movement until after the fifth century. They relied on “mysteries” handed down from teacher to pupil. Sacred texts provided clear descriptions of the qualities and appearance of the Esoteric pantheon, but were so elaborate that they challenged the imagination and skill of Buddhist artists. Brinker traces the original meaning and function of individual icons and relics across the various schools of Buddhism. He discusses their origin, style, meaning, and individual histories. Beautiful illustrations complement the histories of these important icons and relics.

Medicine Master Buddha: The Iconic Worship of Yakushi in Heian
Yui Suzuki
ISSN: 2210-2868
ISBN13: 9789004196018 2011
Hardback Pages, Illustrations: 192 pp., 60 full-color illus.
Imprint: BRILL
Language: English

This profusely illustrated volume illuminates the primacy of icons in disseminating the worship of the Medicine Master Buddha (J: Yakushi Nyorai) in Japan. Suzuki’s meticulous study explicates how the devotional cult of Yakushi, one of the earliest Buddhist cults imported to Japan from the continent, interacted and blended with local beliefs, religious dispositions, and ritual practices over the centuries, developing its own distinctive imprint on Japanese soil. Worship of the Medicine Master Buddha became most influential during the Heian period (794–1185), when Yakushi’s popularity spread to different levels of society and locales outside the capital. The large number of Heian-period Yakushi statues found all across Japan demonstrates that Yakushi worship was an integral component of Heian religious practice. Medicine Master Buddha focuses on the ninth-century Tendai master Saichō (767–822) and his personal reverence for a standing Yakushi icon. The author proposes that, after Saichō’s death, the Tendai school played a critical role in popularizing the cult of this particular icon as a way of memorializing its founding master and strengthening its position as a major school of Japanese Buddhism. This publication offers a fresh perspective on sculptural representations of the Medicine Master Buddha (including the famous Jingoji Yakushi), and in so doing, reconsiders Yakushi worship as foundational to Heian religious and artistic culture.

ARCHITECTURE OF THE NEWARS: A HISTORY OF BUILDING TYPOLOGIES AND DETAILS IN NEPAL (3 VOLUMES) Niels Gutschow Architecture of the Newars by Niels Gutschow presents the entire history of architecture in the Valley of Kathmandu and its neighbours over a period of 1,500 years – right up to the present. It is a rare tribute to an urban culture which has preserved fascinating lifestyles to this very day. Gutschow first travelled to Nepal in 1962, returning in 1970 after reading architecture, and has constantly worked since then on the connections between ritual and the city. Since 1980 he has worked with measured drawings to identify the various building typologies, which are documented in three volumes with 862 photos and 939 drawings. The first volume presents the complexity of the sacred landscape of the Valley and the urban context as well as the early periods, Buddhist votive structures (caityas), architectural fragments and temples from the early periods (5th-14th century). The second volume presents the Malla period (1350-1769) with a host of drawings documenting caityas, maths, tiered temples,shrines and monasteries. The third volume presents the modern period with temples and palaces of the Shaha kings and the Ranas; a variety of new caitya types; domestic architecture of the early 20th century; modern architecture and urban planning. The final chapter presents selected architectural details populated by airborne spirits in a transcultural perspective. Gutschow was born in 1941 in Hamburg, and currently lives in Abtsteinach, Germany and Bhaktapur, Nepal. He is an honorary professor at the University of Heidelberg, South Asia Institute.

MONGOLIAN BUDDHIST ART: MASTERPIECES FROM THE MUSEUMS OF MONGOLIA Volume I, Part 1 & 2: Thangkas, Embroideries, and Appliqués Edited by Zara Fleming and J. Lkhagvademchig Shastri Mongolian Buddhist Art: Masterpieces from the Museums of Mongolia presents for the first time 441 masterpieces of Mongolian Buddhist art from five major Mongolian museums: the Bogd Kahn Palace Museum, the Choijin Lama Temple Museum, the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts, the Erdene Zuu Museum and the Danzanravjaa Museum. Selected by the Centre for Cultural Heritage in conjunction with the curators of the participating museums, these pieces were chosen for their religious and historical importance, their aesthetic and technical quality, their uniquely Mongolian characteristics and their rarity. Volume 1: Thangkas, Appliqués and Embroideries is divided into eight chapters — encompassing within these three media the visual realms of the Buddhas and his disciples, mahasiddhas, Indian, Tibetan, and Mongolian scholars, previous reincarnations, yidams, dakinis, protectors and sacred architecture. Although constrained by the rules of Buddhist iconography and strongly influenced by Tibetan art, the Mongolians have succeeded in creating many works that are uniquely Mongolian, a highly expressive and vibrant tradition that can be seen in this volume. Dating from the late 17th to the 20th century, these examples provide rich materials for the present and future studies of Buddhist art and its heritage in Mongolia

Mirror of the Buddha: Early Portraits from Tibet David P. Jackson
, with contributions from Donald Rubin, Jan van Alphen, and Christian Luczanits Traditional Tibetan art is largely the fruit of Buddhism; it is meant to convey spiritual truths.  In their art, Tibetans aimed at faithfully transmitting and preserving Buddhism as a spiritual discipline as they had learned it from their Indian Buddhist teachers, either directly or through a transmission that included early Tibetan teachers. Each thangka painting was a small contribution to the larger cause of keeping Buddhism alive and radiant. In this third volume on Tibetan Painting David Jackson, with Christian Luczanits, investigates painted portraits of such early Tibetan teachers. Images of these eminent personages embodied Buddhist ideals in often idealized human form. In creating these depictions, Tibetan painters of the twelfth through fourteenth century intensely imitated the artistic conventions developed in Pala- and Sena-ruled eastern India (Bengal). This style, called Sharri, spread from India to many parts of Asia, but its classic Indian forms, delicate colors, and intricate decorative details were emulated most faithfully by the Tibetans. Price: $75 (Hardcover), $60 (Paperback) Member Price: $67.50 (Hardcover), $54 (Paperback) Publisher: Rubin Museum of Art, New York Distributor: University of Washington Press, Settle and London Published: October 2011 Pages: 240
ISBN-13: 978-09845190-2-6 (hc), 13: 978-0-9845190-3-3 (pb) Buddhist Art and Mandalas of Tibet Verfasst von pw am Mo, 08/01/2011 – 18:47. Mori Masahide (森雅秀): Chibetto no Bukkyō bijutsu to mandara (チベットの仏教美術とマンダラ) / Mori Masahide cho. – Nagoya (名古屋) : Nagoya Daigaku Shuppankai = The University of Nagoya Press (名古屋大学出版会), 2011. – viii, 315, [68] S. : Ill. Übersetzung des Titels: Buddhist Art and Mandalas of Tibet ISBN 978-4-8158-0670-5 YEN 12600 DDC: 704.948943923

Sri Lankan Buddhist Art – Southern Tradition ISBN-10: 9556713360 ISBN-13: 9789556713367 Author: Gamini Jayasinghe. Publisher: Sarasavi Publishers Quick Overview This is the final Trilogy of volumes on Sri Lankan Buddhist Paintings. The Grandeur of Sri Lankan Buddhist Art on the classical school. Post Classical revival is the second volume on Kandyan school and present one Southern Tradition is the last volume on this Trilogy. Details These volumes will also comprise a lasting and highly noteworthy archive and record of Sri Lamka’s monumental Buddhist Art heritage. Many of these masterpieces are threatened with with decay; and some in the book are now hardly recognizable. These volumes will be invaluable to collectors and libraries for research, reference and general reading.

Wonders of Lo: The Artistic Heritage of Mustang Erberto Lo Bue Hardcover: 160 pages Publisher: Marg Foundation (April 16, 2011) Language: English ISBN-10: 9380581025 ISBN-13: 978-9380581026

Buddhist Practice and Visual Culture The Visual Rhetoric of Borobudur By Julie Gifford Published March 14th 2011 by Routledge – 228 pages Series: Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism Hardback: 978-0-415-78098-8: $138.00 Providing an overall interpretation of the Buddhist monument Borobudur in Indonesia, this book looks at Mahayana Buddhist religious ideas and practices that could have informed Borobudur, including both the narrative reliefs and the Buddha images. The author explores a version of the classical Mahayana that foregrounds the importance of the visual in relation to Buddhist philosophy, meditation, devotion, and ritual. The book goes on to show that the architects of Borobudur designed a visual world in which the Buddha appeared in a variety of forms and could be interpreted in three ways: by realizing the true nature of his teaching, through visionary experience, and by encountering his numinous presence in images. Furthermore, the book analyses a particularly comprehensive and programmatic expression of Mahayana Buddhist visual culture so as to enrich the theoretical discussion of the monument. It argues that the relief panels of Borobudur do not passively illustrate, but rather creatively “picture” selected passages from texts. Presenting new material, the book contributes immensely to a new and better understanding of the significance of the Borobudur for the field of Buddhist and Religious Studies.

A Concise History Of Buddhist Art In Siam Reginald Le May (Author) Buddha – Dharma -Buddhism opens new browser window Hardcover: 278 pages Publisher: Literary Licensing, LLC (July 9, 2011) Language: English ISBN-10: 1258061112 ISBN-13: 978-1258061111 Product Dimensions: 11 x 8.5 x 0.7 inches

9780199895557 Travels in the Netherworld: Buddhist Popular Narratives of Death and the Afterlife in Tibet Bryan J. Cuevas Paperback 01 November 2011 216 Pages 6.14 x 9.21 inches ISBN: 9780199895557 In Travels in the Netherworld, Bryan J. Cuevas examines a fascinating but little-known genre of Tibetan narrative literature about the délok, ordinary men and women who claim to have died, traveled through hell, and then returned from the afterlife. These narratives enjoy audiences ranging from the most sophisticated monastic scholars to pious townsfolk, villagers, and nomads. Their accounts emphasize the universal Buddhist principles of impermanence and worldly suffering, the fluctuations of karma, and the feasibility of obtaining a favorable rebirth through virtue and merit. Providing a clear, detailed analysis of four vivid return-from-death tales, including the stories of a Tibetan housewife, a lama, a young noble woman, and a Buddhist monk, Cuevas argues that these narratives express ideas about death and the afterlife that held wide currency among all classes of faithful Buddhists in Tibet. Relying on a diversity of traditional Tibetan sources, Buddhist canonical scriptures, scholastic textbooks, ritual and meditation manuals, and medical treatises, in addition to the délok works themselves, Cuevas surveys a broad range of popular Tibetan Buddhist ideas about death and dying. He explores beliefs about the vulnerability of the soul and its journey beyond death, karmic retribution and the terrors of hell, the nature of demons and demonic possession, ghosts, and reanimated corpses. Cuevas argues that these extraordinary accounts exhibit flexibility between social and religious categories that are conventionally polarized and concludes that, contrary to the accepted wisdom, such rigid divisions as elite and folk, monastic and lay religion are not sufficiently representative of traditional Tibetan Buddhism on the ground. This study offers innovative perspectives on popular religion in Tibet and fills a gap in an important field of Tibetan literature.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography Donald S. Lopez, Jr. Cloth | 2011 | $19.95 / £13.95 192 pp. | 4 1/2 x 7 1/2 e-Book | 2011 | $19.95 | ISBN: 978-1-4008-3804-2 Introduction [PDF] The Tibetan Book of the Dead is the most famous Buddhist text in the West, having sold more than a million copies since it was first published in English in 1927. Carl Jung wrote a commentary on it, Timothy Leary redesigned it as a guidebook for an acid trip, and the Beatles quoted Leary’s version in their song “Tomorrow Never Knows.” More recently, the book has been adopted by the hospice movement, enshrined by Penguin Classics, and made into an audiobook read by Richard Gere. Yet, as acclaimed writer and scholar of Buddhism Donald Lopez writes, “The Tibetan Book of the Dead is not really Tibetan, it is not really a book, and it is not really about death.” In this compelling introduction and short history, Lopez tells the strange story of how a relatively obscure and malleable collection of Buddhist texts of uncertain origin came to be so revered–and so misunderstood–in the West. The central character in this story is Walter Evans-Wentz (1878-1965), an eccentric scholar and spiritual seeker from Trenton, New Jersey, who, despite not knowing the Tibetan language and never visiting the country, crafted and named The Tibetan Book of the Dead. In fact, Lopez argues, Evans-Wentz’s book is much more American than Tibetan, owing a greater debt to Theosophy and Madame Blavatsky than to the lamas of the Land of Snows. Indeed, Lopez suggests that the book’s perennial appeal stems not only from its origins in magical and mysterious Tibet, but also from the way Evans-Wentz translated the text into the language of a very American spirituality. Donald S. Lopez, Jr., is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan. His many books include The Story of Buddhism (HarperOne) and Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West. He has also edited a number of books by the Dalai Lama. Review: “A scholarly and informative short read, very useful as a reminder that religious books are not necessarily fixed entities.”–James F. DeRoche, Library Journal Endorsements: “On the history of Buddhism and its transmission to the West, Donald Lopez is the unsurpassable master. The story he tells here about a book that is ‘not really Tibetan’ and ‘not really about death’ glistens with delicious ironies and arresting historical parallels. Who else but Lopez would begin a history of The Tibetan Book of the Dead with the story of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith–and then, like a mystery writer, reveal the connections at the end? This is a sly and wildly entertaining book.”–Kenneth L. Woodward, contributing editor, Newsweek “The Tibetan Book of the Dead has a wonderful story, and in this fascinating and charming little book, Donald Lopez reveals himself to be a wonderful storyteller.”–Jack Miles, author of God: A Biography “This book offers a fascinating and fresh discussion of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and its life as a text in the United States. Donald Lopez argues that persistent threads in American religious life–the tradition of the ‘found’ text as a repository for ancient wisdom, and a philosophical interest in life after death–help explain the overwhelming success of the book and its endurance as a cultural artifact.”–Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Buddhist Manuscript Cultures Knowledge, Ritual, and Art Edited by Stephen C. Berkwitz, Juliane Schober, Claudia Brown Published January 19th 2011 by Routledge – 212 pages Series: Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism Paperback: 978-0-415-59613-8: $39.95 Hardback: 978-0-415-77616-5: $170.00 Buddhist Manuscript Cultures explores how religious and cultural practices in premodern Asia were shaped by literary and artistic traditions as well as by Buddhist material culture. This study of Buddhist texts focuses on the significance of their material forms rather than their doctrinal contents, and examines how and why they were made. Collectively, the book offers cross-cultural and comparative insights into the transmission of Buddhist knowledge and the use of texts and images as ritual objects in the artistic and aesthetic traditions of Buddhist cultures. Drawing on case studies from India, Gandhara, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Mongolia, China and Nepal, the chapters included investigate the range of interests and values associated with producing and using written texts, and the roles manuscripts and images play in the transmission of Buddhist texts and in fostering devotion among Buddhist communities. Contributions are by reputed scholars in Buddhist Studies and represent diverse disciplinary approaches from religious studies, art history, anthropology, and history. This book will be of interest to scholars and students working in these fields.

Reviewed by Jonathan Ciliberto for Buddhist Art News

Portraits of Chōgen
The Transformation of Buddhist Art in Early Medieval Japan
John M. Rosenfield

ISSN: 2210-2868
ISBN13: 9789004168640
296 pp.; incl. 197 illustrations, mostly in color

Created around 1206, the wooden statue of Chōgen on this book’s cover arrests the viewer with its realism. The rough remains of color enhance the character of agedness portrayed in the old monk, face deeply-lined and body thinned by years. Standing out from typically idealized portraits of religious figures, the image reaches out to the modern viewer.

The titular portraits considered by the author are several: actual portraits of Chōgen, the re-vitalized realistic style of portraiture that developed in Japan from the 12th century, as well as sculptures of deities and the buildings to house them.  This survey of images describes in depth Chōgen and the world in which he operated: a tumultuous era  of war, famine, and natural disaster in Japanese history.

Some books cause the reader to linger over them, putting off for as long as possible their completion. Most often this desire to stretch out a book is due to a strong narrative: an unfolding of events and growth of characters which the reader wishes, like a holiday, not to end. Portraits of Chōgen, although containing historical and biographical threads, is not treasured for its narrative, but rather for its effortless depth of detail into a long past time and place.

The first volume in Brill’s “Japanese Visual Culture” series, the books is profusely illustrated and well-designed. Rosenberg is a distinguished scholar, and this volume is less about a strong argument, and more a detailed analysis of texts which describes the culture in which religious art was made. Chōgen (1121-1206), a monk, was asked to head up a massive restoration project: to rebuild and recreate the many temples and artworks destroyed in warfare in Nara, Japan in the late 12th century. Todaiji, the vast temple complex and the center of Japanese Buddhism “was largely reduced to ashes.” The main object of worship, the gigantic bronze Daibutsu lost its head and arms. Records show that over the following 25 years Chōgen worked to create more than 100 statues and 100 buildings. The repair of the Daibutsu, judged impossible by craftsmen initially, was the great achievement of this project.

Chōgen’s recruitment is, according the author, “ironic” (34), since it pulled a monk into some deep secular waters. Chōgen was responsible for large building projects, fund-raising, and had regular dealings with government officials. On the other hand, through his life Chōgen was “inclined to the active, physical forms of devotion” (30). At the time, sects within and without Buddhism were not widely separated, and individuals could pick and choose freely. Chōgen took a particular interest in the native Shugendō, a syncretic religion/discipline in which practitioners often performed arduous mountain hikes as a means of cultivating spiritual growth. So, despite being a monk, Chōgen was not one to flee the physical world.

The author admits that re-creating Chōgen for modern Western readers is difficult. In addition to the many radical differences between his world and ours, the absence of the most significant content for ready consideration, namely, the constant presence in Chōgen’s life of a religious world and system of meaning, creates a large gap. In a sense, this absence follows from Buddhism, which aims to leave no remains, to eradicate all karmic aspects. So, while marvelous buildings and artwork lingers from Chōgen’s days, it is up to the reader to duplicate the internal state that monks strove to cultivate.

A chapter on “East Asian Portraiture” surveys the history of individual, rather than divine, portrait-making, finding origin points in Japanese portraits of nobility, Chinese sages, and of the Indian secular Buddhist figure Vimalakīrti. A detailed consideration of portraiture in Japanese Buddhist art rounds out the chapter.

The creation of Buddhist sculptures, in wood and bronze, required a high level of technical expertise. Chōgen’s employed the leading image-makers of Kyoto and Nara. Many of the seminal works by the great artists and workshops of the day came to be as a result of his commissions.

Rosenberg offers only a passing nod to the criticisms of some modern scholars, which “might dismiss Chōgen cognitive universe as idolatry and mumbo-jumbo” (13). For, this was a universe never doubted by its inhabitants, and thus the images created by them, if considered in the culture of creation, depend upon this world for meaning. That they are beautiful objects in an an aesthetic sense is secondary, and does take that position in Portraits of Chōgen.

Apart from scattered editorial misses (“texts were poured over”, 41), the book is a perfect example of the scholarship of close history. Included is a full translation of Chōgen’s biography, as well as myriad references to the main sources of contemporary writers. The book’s photography and other graphic materials are clear, helpful, and well-chosen. Finally, the overall design is simple, elegant, and balanced.

Book Review by Jonathan Ciliberto, 26 December 2011 The Listening Book Discovering Your Own Music By W. A. Mathieu published by Shambhala Paperback List Price: $17.95 978-1-59030-831-8 Aspects of oneself innate or ever-present are often overlooked when considering self-improvement. For instance, while people regularly train themselves to speak better French or acquire a better golf game, it is less obvious that one would seek to improve one’s mind or being. And what about listening? Like seeing or smelling, one imagines listening to be fixed, not needing (or capable of) improvement, at least without physical or mechanical means. Buddhist meditation, of course, similarly begins with the premise that something seemingly fixed can take improvement. The Listening Book is a collection of anecdotes and exercises intended to improve listening, and thereby to find one’s own music. Originally published in 1991, it was re-issued this year, its text completely re-set, with new cover art. Although not explicitly about Buddhism, it partakes of many Buddhist approaches, including mindfulness, compassion, and ego-reduction. On the one hand, the author’s premise is simple: everyone has ears, and so everyone can hear music. On the other, it is subtle, investigating psychological aspects of listening, the metaphysics of music-making, and the primacy of attention to full experience as a listener and musician.[more]

from The Journal of Religion and Film
Vol. 15, No. 1, April 2011

Review by Jon Ciliberto

[1] Religious aspects are present in both the mysterious and the commonplace in Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s 2010 Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, winner of the 2010 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Amid a spare plot, the film’s characters occupy a boundary area between the natural and the supernatural, a region which reflects the main setting of the film: the mountainous jungles of Isan Province (the director’s birthplace and frequent setting for his films). Buddhism and native folk religion are interwoven in this part of Thailand, a result both of the deep connection between the landscape and people, and of the efforts of the people to integrate local gods and spirits, typically as protectors and guides in worldly matters. Buddhism, which offers a means of achieving liberation from the world of changes, found a way to accommodate pre-existing spiritual traditions by putting local gods and spirits in charge of the material world. This integration was especially pronounced in India, Southeast Asia, and Tibet.

[2] Uncle Boonmee, who owns a farm, suffers from acute kidney failure. His relatives visit him, making the trip from urban and developed to rural Thailand. In a historical-cultural sense, this journey is a transition from the natural to the supernatural (or from the institutional to the personal). The religious culture of Isan incorporates elements from across the Mekong River – in Laos, Khmer culture dominated the region until the 13th century. As it sought to integrate all of Thailand in a single nation-state in the 19th century, the central authority in Bangkok adopted “countless measures […] that discouraged, suppressed, or belittled indigenous languages, cultural forms, and other forms of local identity, particularly in Isan” (Buddhist Murals of Northeast Thailand, Brereton and Somroay, p. 1).

[3] Boonmee’s sister, Jen, and his nephew, Tong, attend him during his final days and a migrant worker from Laos, Jaai, treats Boonmee’s kidney, draining it externally. Night descends with the utter darkness of rural Southeast Asia and the ever present, blanketing susurrus of jungle night-noise encloses the household. The jungle, the mysterious world, surrounds and enters as the spiritual world does everyday life. Assembled for dinner, the family is soon joined by a spirit, who fades into the scene seated at the table with them: it is Boonmee’s older sister Huay. Moments later, footsteps are heard on the stairs, and a large monkey-like creature with glowing red eyes appears: he is Boonmee’s deceased son, Boonsong. Both join the group, and after initial shock, they settle into reminiscing. The two supernatural characters mix into the action seamlessly. “It is well-known that the Buddhist and Jaina sutras contain many accounts of encounters with gods and spirits of various kinds […] These figures appear in the narrative on the same level and in much the same terms as the other, human characters…” (The Origins of Yoga and Tantra, Geoffrey Samuel, p 140-1). Seated at the table with a spirit and a ghost monkey who matter-of-factly describe their existences, Tong exclaims, “I feel like the strange one here.”

[4] Despite the film’s title, Uncle Boonmee doesn’t describe any of his past lives. The viewer can guess whether or not he is present in an episode from a previous century in Thailand, in which a princess with a disfigured face encounters a magical spirit-catfish at a waterfall, a scene whose antique color recalls early cinema. (Uncle Boonmee was shot entirely on film which is considered a ‘rarity these days’ – the texture of the film is due in part to this medium – and the director, in interviews, has pointed to his inspiration from early Thai movies.) The traditional religions of South and Southeast Asia populate the natural world with spirits and powers, and these came to be broadly named ‘yaksas’ in early Buddhism. The nagas of India are a well-known example, and their power is situated in streams, rivers, and waterfalls. The princess wishes to be beautiful, and wading into the pool she begins to strip off her heavy, metal jewellery, dropping it into the water as an offering. Her subsequent encounter with the catfish is prefigured by Boonsong’s explanation for his transformation into a ghost-monkey: he’d mated with such a forest creature upon encountering it years previously in the jungle. Sexual congress between humans and supernatural beings forms an area of pre-Buddhist religious activity in the region, and was incorporated iconographically. The symbolic transformation of water in a more modern form occurs near the film’s conclusion, when Tong (a Buddhist monk) sneaks out of his monastery following Boonmee’s funeral, joins his niece and aunt in their hotel room, takes a shower and changes into secular clothes. As he and his aunt depart for a bite to eat, their bodies remain seated on the hotel bed, watching television and transparent versions of their bodies go out to dinner. There is a puzzled moment as Tong stares at his body, seated on the bed, transfixed by the television. At such moments as these, one questions which life is the “real” life and which is the previous life, and are they laid atop one another rather than proceeding consecutively?

[5] A specifically symbolic representation of reincarnation occurs as Boonmee and his relatives make a journey through the forest, to a cave. Inside, lit by flashlight, bright minerals sparkle on the walls, like a field of stars on a black sky. The myriad lights are remarked on my Boonmee, as if his soul is transmigrating, wandering amongst possible rebirths. As with the film’s approach, this scene is not set apart as supernatural, or rather, the material and the spiritual are interwoven, overlaid, two aspects of the same thing. Peace and wonder attend the characters in this setting, a view through the cave’s entrance to the moon floating above amid tall trees.

[6] While past lives are not explicitly recounted, much of the film’s dialogue concerns memory, and memory reveals a past life. The philosopher Henri Bergson describes memory as spirit, the aspect of it of which we have ready, consistent evidence (Matter and Memory). Speculation attends wonder in viewing this film, and they are also connected activities in religion or spirituality. Familial relationships are paralleled by the idea of past lives, since one’s long deceased ancestors are, genetically, one’s own past life, while more immediately a child represents a parent’s future life. Uncle Boonmee artistically utilizes memory, family, and the space between civilization and jungle, past and present, and presence and absence in a simple narrative of the end of a life.

The author would like to acknowledge the generousity of the Nashville Film Festival for the opportunity to view this film.

Book Review by Jonathan Ciliberto, 24 June 2011

Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan
By Katherine R. Tsiang
with contributions by Richard A. Born, Jinhua Chen, Albert E. Dien, Lec Maj, Nancy Steinhardt, Daisy Yiyou Wang, J. Keith Wilson, and Wu Hung
$45; Paper, 192 pages, 160 color plates, 3 charts, 3 tables, 1 map, 9 x 12″
ISBN: 9780935573503

I had the pleasure of seeing this exhibition recently at the Sackler Museum in Washington, D.C. Last year, when I received the catalog at the show’s opening in Chicago, I eagerly read through it. Essays on the history of the site, the context for Buddhist art in China during the Northern Qi, the role of Imperial sponsorship in Buddhist cave sites (an innovation, imported from India and Central Asia and likely related to meditation techniques prevalent at the time), and the 20th century denuding of the Xiangtangshan caves for the sake of the international art market, together construct a detailed context for the exhibition’s contents.

I consider this the finest catalog for an exhibition of Buddhist art to appear in many years. The volume and the program it supports are perfectly matched: both strive and succeed at placing the viewer in front of the works, and build a full context, not only for this Buddhist art as it existed at its creation, but also as it has come to live in the present.

Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan is a ground-breaking exhibition which combines scholarship, collaboration between institutions, and art historical, archaeological and technological approaches. Visitors not only view sculptures from the Northern Qi (550-77 AD), but also — by means of high-tech three-dimensional digital scanning and a large three-screen “digital cave” — walk into an environment which simulates the caves themselves.

Ancient Buddhist sites are filled with headless statues and empty, pictureless walls. Peter Hopkirk in Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, a history of the early archeo-treasure seekers (Stein, Le Coq, Pelliot, Warner), quotes Chinese guides’ vitriol at the many blank spaces in ancient cave sites, looted, removed, and dispersed to institutions and private collections around the world.

As with Bezelik and Dunhuang, this crime (or, preservation, depending upon your viewpoint), is distinct from the destructive, iconoclastic kind that also left headless or destroyed statues across the Buddhist world, and more recently led to the demolition of the colossal Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

The heads of the figures from Xiangtangshan (“Mountain of Echoing Halls”) became separated from their bodies not as a result of religious idealism, but for the sake of profit. “[T]he history of Xiangtangshan in the last century is one of destruction in the wake of recognition by foreign collectors of Chinese Buddhist sculpture in stone as collectible art” (23). Many of these pieces ended up in prominent Western and Japanese collections.

The scholarly detective work that is the foundation of this exhibition located and sorted a great many of these objects. 3-D scans of them and of the caves from which they were taken have allowed scholars to match up fragments and created a digital reconstruction of the original site. The project was headed by the University of Chicago’s Center for the Art of East Asia.

The exhibition catalog, which is a comfortably large size, has 33 items: standing and seated sculptures, heads, hands, squatting “monster” figures, steles, and pillar columns carvings. These are photographed against jet black, perhaps in order to simulate the dark conditions of the caves. The tone and texture of the stone is brought out especially well. Secondary and detail views are amply provided. In some cases, the lighting seems a bit over-shadowy — for instance with tall, standing images and presumably, intended to replicate the view that one would have looking up, with the head and upper portions more shadowed than the lower.

A fascinating aspect of the catalog is the history of the removals of these sculptures by art dealers in the early decades of the previous centuries. The authors do not explore theoretical considerations associated with this, in which the spiritual is converted to the material, or in terms of colonialism and power.

At some point, one finds a space beyond the historical episode which brought these objects out of caves and in front of one’s eyes, and one also past the transformation of these objects from religious to material. It is not as if, even as they stand in the Sackler museum, that they are in wholly removed from the Caves of Xiangtangshan, nor that they now fully lack purpose as Buddhist practice or teaching. What is added, then, is that the contemporary viewer has, additionally, the experiential frames built by the movement of the statues from their original contexts, and is able to see them as art, in the modern sense of the word: as physical objects of beauty, created through great skill. This is the contribution, as it were, of their brutal removal and of the long, diligent labors of art historians, conservators et al.

Art history treads this line: either cultivating an understanding of objects from long-gone cultures, or by elevating them out of their original context, losing something crucial in them. This exhibition and catalog extend this line to a broad zone of interaction with art, history, and religion, and the fortunate reader comes to see how a strong religious culture, combined with motivated kingship, created these fantastic objects.

Finally, I wish to praise the excellent graphic design of the exhibition catalog. Typography, color choices, page design, and details are all elegant. The volume includes a map and several large charts, and overall proves that design can have both a strong individual personality and a quietness that gives space for worthwhile subject matter.

Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Through July 31

A digital archive of the project, cave sites, and dispersed sculptures is available online at

Book review
by Jonathan Ciliberto for Buddhist Art News

Shots in the Dark: Japan, Zen and the West
by Shoji Yamada
University of Chicago Press, 2009. viii + 304 pages, 8 halftones, 6 line drawings, kanji (Japanese characters) for names and terms, bibliography, index.

Reading Zen in the Rocks: the Japanese Dry Landscape Garden
by Francois Bertier, translation and philosophical essay by Graham Parkes
University of Chicago Press, 2000; 179 pages | 37 halftones | 5-1/2 x 8-1/2

• • • • •

Like many Americans, my first substantial encounter with Buddhism was through D.T. Suzuki. As a high school student in the early 1980’s I read his Introduction to Zen Buddhism and found it approachable: the forward by C.G. Jung provides intellectual authority and familiarity, and its style of writing is well-suited to Western readers, particularly the philosophically-inclined.

At the time, I had very little context for Buddhism in Japan. I read and accepted that Zen was deeply embedded in Japanese culture, and later, reading Suzuki’s book on that subject, this belief solidified. I accepted that quintessentially Japanese cultural elements like the tea ceremony and rock gardens were informed, and largely formed, by Zen Buddhism.

However, some aspects of a thorough linking of Zen and Japanese culture struck me as odd even then — what about Shinto? With a bit more reading, I also wondered, what about all the other Buddhist sects in Japan? So, it was not with complete surprise that I began to discern the highly partisan flavor of Suzuki’s ideas, particularly on reading Sharf (1993).

In a sense, Suzuki was read by the West with Japanese culture as a marketing tool, exotic and charming cultural calling cards like the tea ceremony to help “sell” Zen to the Western, and quite successfully.

A return response from Japan is described in Shots in the Dark: Japan, Zen and the West. Shoji Yamada offers two instances of Japan choosing a complimentary reflection of itself offered by the West, each of which describes Japanese culture as an instance of Zen Buddhism. Yamada uses the metaphor of a fun-house mirror which displays one’s good qualities (e.g., a distorted mirror which makes one appear thin), and describes the historical process of the Japanese choosing the mirror of themselves offered by the West which reflects admirable qualities: namely the austere philosophical aspects of Zen as promulgated by D.T. Suzuki.

Two cultural instances are presented in this book: Japanese archery and the famous rock garden at Ryōanji. For each, interpretations built in the West are seen to recycle back to Japan in the 20th century, placing upon these two a “Zen” quality which the author contends was either wholly or largely absent prior to Western consideration.

Zen and the Art of Archery
Early amongst the great many books titled “Zen and the art of _______” was Eugen Herrigel’s fantastically popular Zen and the Art of Archery (1948). Herrigal (1884–1955) was a lecturer at Tōhoku University from 1924 to 1929, who prior to his arrival in Japan, pursued an interest in mysticism and Zen in his home country Germany. There, he met visiting Japanese and translated into German Ōhazama Shūhei’s Zen: Der lebendige Buddhismus in Japan.

In Japan, Herrigel trained in Japanese archery (kyūdō) under Awa Kenzō, a somewhat eccentric teacher of the practice. Neither Awa nor Herrigel ever studied Zen or Buddhism formally, under a teacher, in a monastic setting. Nor did D.T. Suzuki. “Robert Sharf […] indentifies a trait common to most of the people who have been involved with spreading Zen in the West: they lack the training and qualifications required of legitimate teachers and existed on the periphery of Zen religious groups in Japan.” (Shots in the Dark, 87)

Herrigel had read D.T. Suzuki’s books, writing, “Suzuki has succeeded in showing that Japanse culture and Zen are intimately connected” (Herrigel, “Die Ritterliche Kunst des Bogenschiessens” [The chivalrous art of archery, 1936], 197-98, quoted in Yamada). According to Yamada, “Herrigel, influenced by D.T. Suzuki and driven by his own preoccupation with mysticism, tried as hard as he could to detect Zen elements within Japanese culture.” (67)

(For more on this mindset, c.f.,  Monks, Rulers, and Literati: The Political Ascendancy of Chan Buddhism, by Albert Welter: “Zen apologists in the twentieth century … sold the world on the story of Zen as a transcendental spiritualism untainted by political and institutional involvements.”)

Herrigel’s 1936 lecture on archery was translated into Japanese (Nihon no Kyūjutsu), published in 1941, and met with strong local interest. The Japanese loved Herrigel’s portrait of archery.

Yamada, a researcher in informatics at the International Research Center for Japan Studies, is also a kyūdō enthusiast. The former is evident in the author’s detailed, fact-checking approach.

The latter has a double-effect. Yamada’s personal feeling for archery compels him to point out aspects of Herrigel’s book which seem to him disconsonant with his own experience of it, one which derives from the traditional (institutional) kyūdō of Japan. At the same time, since Herrigel’s experience was also a personal one, and even though Awa operates on the fringes of traditional kyūdō, he does represent Asian traditions which meld the physical and the spiritual, e.g., yoga, martial arts, etc. Yamada makes no attempt to investigate seriously this aspects, instead insisting that the form of kyūdō he endorses is the kyūdō. Thus, by proceeding from a similar position, Yamada provides a basis for the very approach he tries to criticize. This dual, self-contradictory motion is significant for the author’s approach in general, in which he attempts to apply scientific, ‘factual’ data to what are personal, non-quantifiable experiences.

This observation also points to an aspect of culture-building that Yamada does not consider: namely that it is determined by particular preferences possessed by individuals. I will return to this point in the second part of this review.

Cultural change occurs through both creative development according to inherent qualities, and by means of the integration of or reaction to new qualities from external or foreign sources. Herrigel’s encounter with Japan and Zen falls within a broader, modern encounter between the German rationalist and romantic, and Asian philosophical cultures, a meeting which gave material and direction to each. Rather than seeing a kind of illegitimacy in this interchange, the author might consider the conversation between Herrigel, Awa, and the Japanese as a generative one, typical of cultural construction.

Instead, Yamada begins by noting an incongruence between the early 20th century idea of Japanese archery and the presentation of it in Zen and the Art of Archery, which is the basis of his criticism of Herrigel’s book and of its subsequent effect on the Japanese self-image.

The crux of Yamada’s argument rests on exchanges between Herrigal and Awa. Herrigal relates a mystical description Awa offers for the proper way to shoot an arrow, in which it isn’t the archer who directs it, but rather that “It” shoots. When Herrigel finally achieves what Awa deems a good shot, he cries out, “Just then, ‘It’ shot!” (37).

Yamada contends that this “It” comes not from a deeply philosophical consideration of archery — the egoless state of the ideal archer, or wu wei, the actionless action of Chinese philosophy — but rather from a simple failure in language. Awa spoke no English, and Herrigel admitted to “very limited Japanese.” Yamada’s point is somewhat supported by a later interview with the interpreter present during these exchanges, who concedes to have, at times, failed to understand Awa’s gnomic comments.

The second exchange is the “The Shot in the Dark” incident, when Awa, in a darkened hall, struck the bull’s-eye, then sent a second arrow, splitting the shaft of the first. To Herrigel, this display evidenced a mystical power, beyond the merely physical.

Yamada is less impressed by this, since he himself, as a student of archery, has seen such arrow-splitting displays. And, while he admits that these occurred in a well-lit hall, not in the dark, he further clarifies this, since it seems only the far end of the target hall — one that Awa had used regularly — was in darkness. Further, he finds it unlikely that a Japanese archer would express happiness or pride (as Herrigel contends Awa did) by splitting the shaft of an arrow — favorite arrows are treasured by archers.

Yamada concludes: “of the two mystical episodes that lie at the heart of Herrigel’s Zen and the Art of Archery, I would say this: they constitute empty signs or symbols that emerged in the voids created by the misunderstanding resulting from the fault translation of “‘It’ shoots” and by the coincidental occurrence in the “Target in the Dark” episode.” (71)

Through diligent research, Yamada uncovers some inconsistencies which, he feels, support a more specious approach to Herrigel. For instance, the latter’s claim to have studied kyūdō for six years is inaccurate, more than double, in fact, the time Herrigel spent studying the art. Yamada aims to describe a general practice of disinformation when he presents material uncovered in the archives of the University of Heidelberg. The most forceful conclusion from this material is Herrigel’s attempts to downplay his involvement with the Nazi Party, a fact of his life completely hidden by later translators and publishers of his works.

Yamada’s penetrating research into Herrigel’s past certainly describes an individual capable of mis-reading or intentionally distorting his experience of kyūdō.

The author gathers a great deal of evidence to show that kyūdō, prior to Herrigel’s book, had no admixture of Zen, or any other sort of spirituality. However, he does admit that Awa presented a non-standard figure in the kyūdō world who proclaimed a religious undercurrent to the sport. In this sense, while Herrigel’s portayal of kyūdō is not completely accurate, his portrayal of Awa’s kyūdō is. What Yamada shines light on, and brilliantly, is how the subsequent opinion of the general Japanese public regarding kyūdō changed.

One instance of this: the efforts to enter kyūdō archers into the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, competing against archers using Western techniques and equipment. It was felt by the Japanese archers that kyūdō would certainly defeat Western-style archery. When, however, this turned out not to be the case, the spiritual interpretation of kyūdō gained greater traction, perhaps as a kind of compensation.

Zen and the Art of Archery, upon translation into Japanese, was a bestseller, and it is this whole-hearted embrace that is for Yamada the choosing of a complimentary mirror. That Japanese would en masse uncritically accept a version of kyūdō far removed from native, traditional understanding of it, indicates how malleable — and constructed through the interplay of native and foreign influences — Japanese culture in fact is.

The rock garden at Ryōanji is internationally famous, widely viewed as the very epitome of Zen. This latter fact strikes Yamada as odd, given that prior to the 1950s, Ryōanji was poorly tended, scarcely regarded, and not particularly related to Zen Buddhism.

The author was trained as an engineer, and this is reflected in his approach: gather facts, check them against one another, and look for inconsistencies. Yamada admits that he is not a scholar of Buddhism, aesthetics, or rock gardens, by way of apologizing for his approach. These lacks also occasion some significant oversights. For instance, he exhaustively searches pre-war references to the garden (and provides a table which runs for fourteen pages examining middle school history textbooks’ references to the garden) seeking citings of Ryōanji and its description as “Zen”. Finding few of either, he concludes that the garden was neither considered remarkable, nor “Zen” until after the publication of Herrigel’s book. But, he doesn’t mention something quite obvious: the garden is on the premises of a Zen temple and monastery. This alone provides a certain qualification, one would think.

Further, the author neglects to look deeply into the pre-history of dry landscape gardens generally, and completely fails to mention Shinto as an influence. As against the Zen-centric portrait of Japanese culture given by D.T. Suzuki, a more balanced geneology describes “Shinto as the root, Confucianism as the branches and leaves, and Buddhism as the flowers and fruit of the tree of Japanese civilization” (Dumoulin and Heisig, 45). And yet, Shinto doesn’t appear anywhere in Shots in the Dark, and while Literati culture receives some small reference, it is solely to indicate the mistaken “Zen” attribution of the garden.

Edo-era interpretations of the garden describe it as “Tiger cubs crossing the river”. This refers both to the appearance of the rocks in sand, and to a story from Chinese literati (文人, J: bunjin) culture. Yamada is struck by the difference between this reading of the rocks and the modern one: as expressing “the Higher Self” and that “every inch of this garden teaches us the essence of Zen” (quoted from signage at garden, 106-7).

What really interests Yamada, then, is the popular, public perception of Ryōanji, which does increase and take a Zen turn only after the war. In the above-mentioned table of school textbooks, the majority of pre-war textbooks fail even to mention Ryōanji. Why was this most beautiful and spiritual of gardens unrecognized prior to around 1950? Yamada’s answer is: it was never really viewed as beautiful or Zen by Japanese, rather it was the complimentary view of the garden as an paragon of Zen ideas transmitted from the West that created this perception.

Yamada is noting different interpretations of art as evidence that the contemporary reading of Ryōanji is founded not on principles, but opinion. That interpretations of art vary is, of course, no surprise. At times, the author seems to play both sides against the middle. On the one hand, his method attempts to place logic upon what are subjective, culturally bound judgments. Is it so unlikely that person with Chinese literati views will see Chinese values in something, while a person with Zen views will see Zen values in it?

On the other hand, given the abstraction of the Ryōanji rock garden, and the mystery of its construction, what is odd is that one would expect (or demand) a clear, factual interpretation.

The garden at Ryōanji appeared in Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring (1949), a cultural usage which Yamada points to as another reason for its post-war rise in prominence.

Yamada is perceptive to link the rise in fame (and Zen) of Ryōanji to Herrigel’s book, and it is true that Japan generally, in the 20th century, sought to enhance its international reputation. One way in which this occurred was culturally, with a greater attention to ancient sites. Further, he mentions the connection between Zen and Japanese militantism, and connects this with interpretations of Ryōanji similarly turning toward Zen. This is to say: Zen Buddhism had a wide effect on Japanese culture with the rise of the Japanese military, and Herrigel was simply playing to an already receptive audience.

Cultural values are determined not by means of reasoned arguments, logical constructions, or geometric principles. What a culture calls beautiful is largely based upon common agreement, with the agreeing parties ranged to a greater or lesser degree across the culture depending on power, influence, freedom of individuality, communication, etc. And, this is the point Yamada makes: that interpretations of two cultural components changed in the 20th century based upon “non-aesthetic” factors, including complimentary views from the West. At the time, just before and after the Second World War, Japan was striving for recognition from the West, and was especially willing to adopt the latter’s views of itself. It was those elements of Japanese culture seeking Westernization which readily accepted the Zen of archery and Ryōanji as described by Herrigel.

Yamada’s book is a fascinating study, a highly targeted analysis of the rise and adaptation of two key Japanese cultural icons as a result of interaction with the West. Perhaps it is its own worst enemy due to an unwillingness to go far beyond factual analysis and, rather than point to it as anomalous, accept as a given that non-aesthetic factors are powerfully significant in cultural judgments. Despite the centuries of claims by art historians and cultural champions, aesthetic decisions are often based on strictly non-aesthetic positions. Shots in the Dark offers substantive and pointed evidence for this in 20th century Japan.

Book design
Shots in the Dark
 is beautifully designed, with a careful and thorough selection of images (from the cover, an indication of the preference for perceived beauty over truth which is the author’s thesis, to the interior illustrations drawn from historical sources). Page size, typography, reversed (white type on black paper) pages between chapters, all indicate intelligent and tasteful design choices.

• • • • •

Reading Zen in the Rocks: the Japanese Dry Landscape Garden
Francois Bertier, translation and philosophical essay by Graham Parkes
179 pages | 37 halftones | 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 | © 2000

Readers interested in a treatment of Ryōanji that proceeds from art history and Buddhist philosophy are strongly recommended to Reading Zen in the Rocks: the Japanese Dry Landscape Garden, by the same press. This volume is a translation by Graham Parkes of Francois Bertier’s essay Le jardin du Ryoanji: Lire le Zen dans les pierres (1989), paired with a philosophical essay by Parkes, “The Role of Rocks in the Japanese Dry Landscape Garden.”

Bertier offers a concise history of the dry landscape garden (枯山水, karesansui) combined with a close examination of significant Japanese examples, with particular attention paid to the garden at Ryōanji.

As their name indicates, these gardens replicate landscapes: mountains (“san”) and water (“sui”), using dry (“kare”) elements like rocks, gravel, sand, and also moss.

Both Berthier and Parkes place the dry landscape garden within several of its key cultural influences: Taoism and literati culture (in China), and Shinto (in Japan).

Taoism and its influence on Zen Buddhism
Echoing the organic metaphor quoted above, Berthier writes: “one of the original traits of this branch of Buddhism [Zen] is that it is nourished by the sap of Taoism” (1-2). A significant sources of nourishment was closeness to (and alignment with) the natural world. Taoism, while not simply animism, does postulate a common energy (qi) in all things. This concept found resonance in Mahayana Buddhism which widened the idea enlightenment to include all beings, even allowing for the possibility of the enlightenment of trees, rocks, and dust (Graham, “Mountain Brushes, Ink of Oceans: Nature as Sacred in Japanese Buddhism” (559)).

Further, as Parkes points out in his essay, early Japanese Buddhist thinkers (based upon Chinese precursors and influenced by Taoism) made a clear connection between this world — the world of rocks, trees, oceans, and so forth — and the Dharma.

The founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan, Kūkai (744-835) effected a “bold innovation in Mahayana Buddhist thinking by revisioning the Dharmakaya (hosshin), which had been previously understood as the formless and timeless Absolute, as the ‘reality embodiment’ of the cosmic Buddha Mahavairochana (Dainichi Nyorai) and nothing other than the physical universe” (139). Understood thus, the world of the senses is a complete expression of the Dharma, and proclaims its teachings. One easily sees the connection between Zen and Taoism, in which the natural world is a means of understanding Buddhist philosophy.

While hearing these teachings through experience of the physical world is exceedingly difficult, Kukai relates the claim of his Chinese teacher Huiguo, that “the profound meaning of the esoteric scriptures could be conveyed only through art,” with painting (and gardens) particularly recommended by Kūkai (空海).

Berthier notes that early, iconoclastic Zen teachers, who were suspicious or dismissive of images for religious practice, “privileged the garden most of all as a means of expression” (3). Visually, rocks placed in gravel resemble the mountain at the center of the Buddhist world, Mt. Sumeru “rising from an illimitable ocean” (Kuck, p. 94).

While a well-trained student of Buddhism can see and hear the Dharma in the world as such, the less advanced benefit by the creative works of right-minded artists in paint and rock. Art is in this sense upaya, or “skillful means”. The artist is a bit like a lawyer whose organization and presentation of physical evidence makes it easier for the jury (the viewer) to read the truth in it, a truth that is wholly in the physical evidence, but obscure to the untrained observer.

Literati Culture and Rock Gardens
Literati culture formed during the Song Dynasty in China, in the South, and developed in opposition to the Northern, official, style of painting. Literati values praised naturalism and freedom from rigid court structures. Song Landscape painting is a major influence on dry landscape gardens. “This sober and lapidary art, which renounced the marvels of color, was a response to the demands of simplicity and austerity that informed the life of the Zen monk” (Berthier, 9).

In The World of the Japanese Garden (From Chinese Origins to Modern Landscape Art), Loraine Kuck makes a similar point:

“Superimposed on the pattern laid down by the Heian court, [Zen] reoriented almost completely most of the older cultural expressions. In place of gaiety, brightness, and color it substituted a subtle symbolism, extreme simplicity, and naturalness. We see the transitional process taking place in Saihoji garden. While the garden was not laid out on Zen principles, it became a Zen garden through nature’s influence on it…” (Kuck, 89)

Shinto and Rock Gardens
In Shinto “the natural world and human beings are equally offspring of the divine” (Graham, “Mountain Brushes”, p 560). One sees in this idea ancient Chinese ideas of nature, particularly of rocks and mountains, in which all “natural phenomena, including humans [are] animated by the psychophysical energy known as qi” (Berthier/Parkes, 89). Parkes describes an ancient Chinese myth on the creation of the universe, in which the sky is the vault of a gigantic cave, and the earth’s mountains formed as chunks of this rocky ceiling broke off and fell through the air and “became charged with vast amounts of cosmic energy, of qi (ch’i) before embedding themselves in the earth” (89).

Berthier notes several links between Shinto and the dry landscape garden. First, the animism of Shinto, which posits divine beings (kami) in everything, with greater concentrations in some places (especially in certain rocks and natural sites). Makers of gardens are attuned to rocks of particular power. “Because Shinto is essentially a cult of forms and forces of nature, it is no surprise that the Japanese should experience such attraction for “true” rocks” (44).

Second, the value placed on untooled rocks, rather than those fashioned by human hands, which thereby still express the language of nature (and hence of the Dharma), “since to work it is to desacralize it” (44).

Nature stripped down in this way is reminiscent of the Buddhist koan. As against something formed by human hands, according to principles which can be read for meaning, an untooled rock is a blank page, a nonsensical statement against which the reader reflects his search for an answer. “The garden of Ryōanji, about which so much has been written, is as enigmatic as a Zen riddle” (7-8).

This point is important when placed next to Yamada’s attempts to browbeat readers of that garden into claiming that it is not beautiful at all.

Finally, the positioning of rocks in dry landscape gardens refers to geomantic placement (feng shui). The placement of the garden at Ryōanji south of the hojo [方丈, abbot’s quarters] is “an heir to the sacred spaces of Shinto” (47). Flat, gravel fields in Shinto are ritual spaces where one “received and celebrated the gods”, and was “situated south of the building where the emperor, who was also the country’s religious leader, conducted the affairs of state” (46).

Those familiar with Zen Buddhism will see many carryovers from these three strands, thus creating a fuller, more accurate genealogy for Zen and Japanese culture than the one transmitted to the West by Suzuki.

Creators of Rock Gardens
Of particular interest is Berthier’s consideration of social class and gardens. The creators of rock gardens in Japan are unknown, and this anonymity is linked to the untooled or uncrafted aspect of the gardens themselves. However, it also masks social order. While various claims have been put forward over the centuries for the authorship of Ryōanji, most seem designed to give authority to the gardens by linking them to eminent monks and artists. Meanwhile, two mysterious names are carved into rocks there: Kotarō and Hikojrō. Berthier points out (and Yamada fails to) that these are kawaramono names, “laborers from the lowest stratum of the social structure at that time”(54) — the “untouchables” who performed menial and impure tasks — and conjectures that these were the names of the workers who crafted the garden. “From the beginning of the fifteenth century laborers began to replace the monks as garden makers, and their entry into the scene was associated with the rise of Zen” (53). While at first instructed by monks, Berthier suggests (perhaps romantically) that these laborers found identity through the work of garden making:

“One imagines that […] the art they developed gained in originality and depth precisely because of the the difficulties it forced them to confront. From another perspective these men must have been powerfully motivated: it is true that, stuck as they were in this implacable medieval society in which they were almost imprisoned, they could never hope to attain any decent status; but in devoting themselves to less vile tasks than those which they were usually forced to perform, they could improve to some extent their image of despicable wretches.”

By their very placement outside of cultural canons, and often without access to the norms and guidelines of such canons, these individuals might find creative actions their only recourse. Thus innovations in garden design proceeded more readily than they might within hidebound, traditional systems.

• • • • •

Parkes’ dry sense of humor appears immediately, in the first words of his translator’s preface, and more as a tone than an intention occurs sporadically throughout his essay and endnotes. Giving welcome space for wide consideration of the topic, he presents an overview of some Western thinkers on rocks, revealling instances which veer from the standard model of rocks as soulless. In addition to a few references from classical and biblical sources, and a nod to Spinoza, attention is given to Goethe and those he influenced: Nietszche and the American transcententalists.

He also refers to the Ryōanji scene in Ozu’s Late Spring, which, despite its simplicity, he describes as “a profoundly moving expression of the human condition” (145).

Coincidentally, earlier in the film a Noh performer’s words echo those of Kukai, positing the eventual enlightenment of trees and grass.

This book is an initial treatment of a largely neglected subject, and the many avenues opened for consideration are a great encouragement to readers interested in Asian rock gardens, Buddhist philosophy, and Japanese cultural history.

Book design

A small volume, Reading Zen in the Rocks is nearly square in size, comfortable to read, the wide pages well-chosen to accomodate the many halftone (black and white) photographs of rock gardens and brush paintings. The typography, while plain, is certainable servicable, and in fact one appreciates the absence of the hackneyed “Orienatalist” treatment of books on this subject.


Berthier, Francois (2000). Reading Zen in the Rocks: The Japanese Dry Landscape Garden. Translated by Graham Parkes. Chicago, Ill.: University of illinois Press.

Dumoulin, Heinrich, and James W. Heisig, Paul F. Knitter (2005). Zen Buddhism : a History: India and China. MacMillan Publishing Company.

George, Edwin (2002). “The Man Who Loves Rocks”–An Interview with Graham Parkes.

Herrigel, Eugen (1971). Zen in the Art of Archery Tr. R. F. C. Hull. New York: Vintage Books.

Kuck, Loraine (1968, 1984). The World of the Japanese Garden (From Chinese Origins to Modern Landscape Art). John Weatherhill, Inc. of New York and Tokyo.

Kuitert, Wybe (1988). Scenes and Taste in the History of Japanese Garden Art.. J.C.Gieben, Publisher, Amsterdam.

Parkes, Graham (2003). “Mountain Brushes, Ink of Oceans: Nature as Sacred in Japanese Buddhism,” in H. Eisenhofer-Salim, ed., Wandel zwischen den Welten, 557-74. Frankfurt: Peter Lang. [PDF]

Sharf, Robert (1993). The Zen of Japanese NationalismHistory of Religions 33/1: 1–43. (Reprinted in Donald S. Lopez Jr., ed. Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism , 107–60. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1995.) [PDF]

Sharf, Robert H.: Whose Zen? Zen Nationalism Revisited [PDF]

Suzuki, D.T. An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Grove Press.

Suzuki, D.T. Zen and Japanese Culture, Princeton University Press.

Sōgen Hori, Victor (2010). review of Shots in the Dark in:
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 37/1

Welter, Albert (2006). Monks, Rulers, and Literati: The Political Ascendancy of Chan Buddhism. Oxford University Press.

Yamada Shoji: The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery [PDF]

Yamada Shoji (2009). Shots in the Dark: Japan, Zen and the West
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Film review by Jonathan Ciliberto
for Buddhist Art News, March 2011

Director Gaspar Noé’s 2010 release, Enter the Void, portrays the bardo — the intermediary state between death and re-birth which is described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol). This portrayal follows the death of the film’s protagonist, Oscar, a Canadian living in Japan.

No capsule review can effectively present the contents of the film, which is less about telling a story, and more about describing mental states. The film proceeds through three successive viewpoints: Oscar’s, shown on screen from his eyes, complete with eyeblinks; Oscar’s life prior to that (shown from the same in-head view and from a vantage point just behind his head), and finally a fully disembodied view, as Oscar’s spirit drifts between past, present, and future.

Oscar dies early in the film, shot in the back by Tokyo police in a bathroom stall while trying to flush his drug stash. Prior to this a friend (Alex) has loaned him a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. In a movie without much compassion, Alex (and Oscar’s sister, Linda) strive to guide him away from bad choices, and one cannot help but hear Alex’s urging to read the Bardo Thodol as echoing the urgent pleas of Shakyamuni, that time is short and there is no time but the present to begin preparing for death.

In addition to the disorientations of multiple viewpoints and non-linear time, Oscar’s use of DMT and other hallucinengenic drugs are visualized on screen, from his viewpoint. Portrayals of drugged states through complex visuals, flashing lights, etc. tend to be a bit tiresome in films. In this case, the director attempts to draw clear parallels between the drugged state and the passage between lives, e.g., the feeling of a loss of willpower and control, fear combined with exhilerated freedom, the breakdown of the ‘reality’ of the physical world.

The film’s attention to the detail of consciousness is subtle. In the first section, when the action is shown through the eyes of Oscar, one notices how sound is  conveyed: rather than a steadily volumed stream, it rises and falls as in the real world in response to changes in environment. So, as Oscar walks along behind  Alex, the latter’s voice becomes clearer or more muffled as he turns his head, forward and backward — the common effect of walking along behind someone who is talking. It is a small detail, but one notices that this careful approach to sound and music, making the entire film a presentation of Oscar’s empirical frame is thorough.

Upon the death of the protagonist, the film’s plot turns aimless, and this is surely intentional, meant to describe an aspect of the bardo in which the soul casts about for its next incarnation, pulled by past desires and memories. Oscar, having made a promise to his sister after the violent death of their parents in a car crash, is drawn to follow her as she struggles to live on in Tokyo.

As another reviewer has noted, “adherence to the Bardo Thodol creates what may be the film’s two greatest flaws: length and repetitiveness.” Upon Oscar’s death the film protrays each of three states described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

O nobly-born, thou wilt experience three Bardos: the Bardo of the moment of death, the Bardo [during the experiencing] of Reality, and the Bardo while seeking rebirth.” (Bardo Thodol)

Some aspects of this phase of the movie will tire viewers who do not view it in terms of Tibetan Buddhism, since there is a great deal of repetition. Further, this is a long movie (150 minutes in the version I saw). For the most part, the length is justified by exposition of the three states of the bardo. However, other features seem merely gratuitous — e.g., as a disembodied spirit, Oscar floats from place to place in Tokyo. Thus, rather than employing traditional cuts from one locale to another, during the phase the film repeatedly shows Oscar’s view of one location (his sister on the telephone), then shows this viewpoint as it moves across the Tokyo cityscape, over buildings, through walls, until reaching the next locale — the friend of his sister on the other end of the phone. This visual conveyance across the urban landscape, intended to show the spirit’s unfettered, drifting aspect, became tiresome after five instances, and mind-numbing after the tenth or twentieth.

A Reuters review titled “virtually unwatchable” makes the same point: “This happens at least 20 or 30 times in the film, to the point that viewers will begin to long for the simple directness of a good old-fashioned cut.”

While not a technical or philosophical exposition of the bardo state, the film is very effective in expressing the sense of confusion, being tugged by unresolved karma, held by bodily things while lacking a body.

Not short on sex prior to Oscar’s death, the film lingers in a Love Hotel as his spirit flits from room to room, hovering over various slickly pornographic scenes of sexual activity, intended to illustrate the Bardo which: “features karmically impelled hallucinations which eventually result in rebirth. (Typically imagery of men and women passionately entwined.)” (Wikipedia)

The film is an immersive experience, owing to the exploration of internal states (living and dead), and while I felt disappointment at the conclusion, and occasional frustration with some seemingly gimmicky techniques, when I exited the theater, and found myself after passing through from a windowless building out onto an urban street, stunned to recognize the roaming mind of the protagonist, in a city with flashing lights, the sounds of traffic reflected off of concrete and reduced to a susurrus. All of it resounded with the experience of the spirit floating in bardo state, aimless yet pulled by previous aims. Despite its flaws and overlarge approach, I recommend the film.

Additional links and reviews: the fantastic opening credits IMDB IFC Films New York Times Review

December 2010, by Jonathan Ciliberto

Yasodharā, the Wife of the Bodhisattva: The Sinhala Yasodharāvata (The Story of Yasodharā) and the Sinhala Yasodharapadanaya (The Sacred Biography of Yasodhara)
Translated with an introduction and notes by Ranjini Obeyesekere
SUNY Press, 2009

The eventual Buddha, Shakyamuni, listing the many obstacles to his renunciation of the world, named the most difficult: leaving his beautiful wife Yasodharā and his two-day old son Rahula. So hard is this trial that he chooses only to look upon them sleeping, fearing that their remonstrances and sadness at his planned departure for the forest and asceticism would be too much for his resolve.

This emotional expression of the power of the most basic human ties is at the core of the Sinhala poem, “Yasodharāvata” (The Story of Yasodharā), which in many ways is a parallel biography to the life of the Buddha himself.

The life story of the Buddha — the historical Shakyamuni — includes a great deal more than his birth, pursuit and achievement of nirvana, teaching, and death. Buddhist biographies take into account the long series of previous lives that for each human stands behind the present one, or, in the case of the Buddha, the final one. Only through many, many lives focused on compassion and wisdom was the prince of the Shakya’s able to achieve final liberation.

The “Yasodharāvata”, a folk poem from Sri Lanka, presents the long life-story of Yasodharā as intertwined with the Buddha’s, not only in his final re-birth as his wife, but throughout innumerable past lives.

Upon learning of his departure, Yasodharā is filled with sadness, and also bitterly criticizes the Bodhisattva for leaving her:

“We were first born in the animal world as deer,
Since that life we two have never been apart.
In every samsaric birth I have always been your consort.
Why then did you leave today without a word?” (74)

In addition to giving an endorsement of both monogamy and a women’s subservient place to her husband, the description of the two joined together through near-eternity casts Yasodharā’s life in romantic terms, as the constant companion and support of the Bodhisattva. Beyond monogamous romance, the chain of connection between the two underscores the ultimate interconnectedness between all beings and the shared project of achieving release from suffering.

In more human terms, the reader is confronted with both the enormous decision made by the young prince, and by the manner in which such a choice affects those left behind. For a devoted companion through many lives, who marched arm-in-arm with the Bodhisattva on the long path to liberation (“Once we went as ascetics together to the forest”, “Once in a former life we were born as squirrels”), the tragic feelings brought on by her realization that he has crept out in the night, abandoning her, are given thorough dramatic space in the poem.

For lay persons everywhere, the joyful choice of the renunciate is countered by the feeling of loss felt by those left behind. Whether or not such sadness is merely a form of clinging is to the side: for, laypersons by definition feel more sharply the sting of loss, both at the absence of a loved one or friends, and the subtle message such a decision delivers to the way of life of those not yet ready to enter the forest. As the biography of Yasodharā reveals, wisdom eventually shows a means to find happiness in the disappearance of one’s lifelong companion.

This volume presents both the 18th or 19th Sinhala poem (the biography) and a 15th century related prose text (which expands the biography to include miracles performed by Yasodharā as a nun and after achieving enlightenment), as well as excellent introductory materials which place the poem in context, and other scholarly apparati.

The author traces the presence of Yasodharā in early Buddhist literature, as well as the many instances in which her life story has received expansion over the centuries. The Sinhala poem suggests “a text composed of several strata” (Introduction, p. 27). Several episodes in the earliest literature offered later writers places in which to upon enlarge her story: 1) the “great departure”, when the Bodhisattva departs, and in which she is asleep; 2) the enlightened Buddha’s return seven years later; 3) the request to the Buddha by Prajapati Gotami (the Buddha’s foster mother), Yasodharā, and others to allow women to enter the religious life; 4) prior to the parinirvana of the Buddha, when Yasodharā displays supernatural powers as an arhat and then enters nirvana. All of these incidents grew richer in re-telling, bringing more life to the previously shadowy figure of the Buddha’s wife.

In their enthusiasm for Yasodharā, some writers even give her powers superior to the bodhisattva. Upon enlightenment, the Buddha remembers in complete detail all of his past lives. In the Yasodharāvata, however, Yasodharā begins recounting her past lives immediately upon learning of the Prince’s departure. The poem draws from earlier sources, including the Pali Yasodharāpadāna, which describes the same recounting, placing it at the end of Yasodharā’s life, when she becomes an arhat and thus manifest a more supernatural memory of her past lives.

She appears in the earliest Sanskrit biography of the Buddha: Aśvaghoṣa’s, from the first-second century CE. The poem is a considered my recent scholars an apologetic to the counter-reformation, contemporary Brahamanical epics which sought to fight the rising power of Buddhism in India. [“Life of the Buddha” By Aśvaghoṣa, Translated by Patrick Olivelle. Clay Sanskrit Library, 2009. p xxi-xxiii]

Yasodharā appears in this work in Canto 8, “Lamenting in the Seraglio,” and this section forms the centerpiece of the Sinhala folk poem. It is the lament portions which have found their way most readily into the folk traditions of Sri Lanka. The translator provides consideration of this tradition, in Sinhala poetry, within and outside of Buddhist literature.

The principle purpose of Buddhist poetry is to praise the Buddha and the dharma, and these are foremost in the biography of Yasodharā. While scenes of lamentation and recrimination against the Bodhisattva might appear counterproductive to this end, “the Buddhist worldview is also strengthened by by the description of Yasodharā’s grief as process — a forward movement from her first almost manic attack on Canna […] to a mood of resignation and acceptance as she turns to a life of Buddhist meditation” (31). This movement also increases Yasodharā’s significance dramatically. Her previous lives document sacrifices for the sake of the bodhisattva, and her eventual arhat-hood and enlightenment (prior to the Buddha’s) project her beyond the role of “wife.” Yasodharā’s story shifts from lamentational to heroic. The poem thereby serves as a model both for laypersons (wives) and nuns.

The translation by Ranjini Obeyesekere is fluid, readable, and reflects well the folk tradition from which is springs.

I do not read Sinhala, the language from which the poem is translated. Speaking then solely from the English side, I was delighted by the decision to retain some of the rhyme scheme of the original  in which each line in each four line quatrain ends with a rhyme, without a rigid adherence. That is, while in translation many of the quatrains have two or more lines rhyming or near-rhyming, many others do not.

She tore off her precious pearl and gemstone jewels,
Took off her golden silks and the rings on her toes,
Pulled off the golden ornaments in her ears,
The queen sat lifeless as if turned to stone. (93)

More generally, the rhythm of the poem captures what (I imagine) is the easy, swinging feel of the original text, a folk poem recited and repeated by generations of Sinhala speakers. It is a pleasure to read.

~ Jonathan Ciliberto

Table of Contents



Yasodharā: The Woman
Yasodharā in Early Sanskrit and Pali Buddhist Literature 
Yasodharā in Sinhala Literature 
The Folk Poem Yasodharāvata (A)
The Tradition of Lament in Sinhala Poetry
The Yasodharāvata (A) in the Context of Sinhala Literary History
The Printed Texts
An Analysis of the Poem Yasodharāvata (A)
Modern Critics of the Yasodharāvata

1. The Poem: Yasodharāvata (The Story of Yasodharā)

2. Comments on the Yasodharāpadānaya

3. The Prose Text: Yasodharāpdānaya
(The Sacred Biography of Yasodharā)

A Review of the Palm Leaf Manuscripts of the Yasodharāvata in the National Museum Library, Colombo, and the British Museum Library, London.


October 2010

Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art: 1600-2005
by Patricia J. Graham
University of Hawaii Press, 2007

Book Review by Jonathan Ciliberto for Buddhist Art News

Visual art is deeply tied to Buddhist practice, and certain sites and structures possess special significance to this practice. In Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art: 1600-2005 Patricia J. Graham tracks “the thread of change over time to the practice of Buddhism” through a thorough examination of works of Japanese Buddhist art and architecture from the 17th into the 21st century. This superb survey includes non-traditional works — that is, those not connected with institutional Buddhism in Japan — including those intended for museums. It also aims to overturn the fallacy of the ‘declining’ Buddhist arts of Japan in recent centuries.

Thus, the book has three goals: 1) to reconsider the canon of Japanese art in order to make room for Buddhist art and architecture from the 19th century to the present; 2) “to define the social history of recent Japanese Buddhist art and architecture” (p 3); 3) to illustrate the place of Buddhism as an influence or inspiration on art and artists outside of institutional Buddhism. It is the first book to study the 400-year span from the beginning of the Edo period to the present and to link this period to the established canon of Japanese Buddhist art (p 9-10).

In contrast to the typical Western perception of Japanese Buddhism — Zen — two often overlooked practices are considered: the layperson’s (seeking relief for dead relatives, working toward a better rebirth for them) and the political (prestige derived from funding Buddhist art and power gained through control of sacred images). “The power of religious art empowers those who control its images. The finely made statues and ornaments housed in Buddhist temples created a theater, a showcase to display a patron’s splendor” (p 3, quoting Ikumi Kaminishi).

Summary of Contents

The traditional view, that Tokugawa Ieyasu’s consolidation of power in 1600 represented a shift in power away from Buddhism — as a means of limiting the power the sacred had had over the secular — is questioned by Professor Graham. Early 19th c. revisionist history described the pro-Confucian (anti-Buddhist) actions of the early Tokugawa shogunate, a politically-motivated description designed to undercut the power and influence of Buddhism on a rapidly modernizing culture. Thus, the canon of Japanese art came to include ancient and medieval Buddhist art while placing more recent instances from the Tokugawa in a purported period of decline. This idea of decline was also due to Western influence: the canon of Japanese Buddhist art was defined in the 19th century largely as a result of contact with Westerners and from the valuation of Western art. In addition, only sacred art was included in this canon, in part due to the preservation of such works over the secular. Finally, only works of sacred art created for the elite class were admitted to the canon. “Particularly in the case of Japan, traditionalist scholars decree that the technical sophistication, the rarity and cost of the raw materials, and the high social standing or wealth of the patrons determine whether or not a particular artifact should be defined as art” (p 9).

A major theme of the book is class and how social position has determined the boundaries of the canon of Japanese Buddhist art. Beginning with the Edo, owing to the growth of a middle class, influences on Buddhist art come more and more from sources other than the elite class. The subsequent writing of art history has tended to value these influences less than those of elite classes.

The author points to Sally Promey’s “Secularization Theory of Modernity” which posits the European Enlightenment’s disdain for the “value of religious institutions to the modern world” (p 10) as a major influence on the construction of the meaning of art in modern Japan. The author also follows Tamamuro Fumio’s lead in moving beyond the examination solely of the religious life of high-ranking priests, of “localizing the study of religion, and of transcending sectarian boundaries,” all hidden boundaries checking scholarly inquiry.

Although grounded in theses regarding class and power, the book is an historical overview of art and architecture from 1600-2005. That is, the majority of the book’s content consists of detailed descriptions of artworks and sites, rather than extended theoretical discussion. The author’s states her grounds simply, then largely allows a vast and orderly exposition of material to build them.

A study of the “broad four-hundred year span” beginning with the Edo, Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art is the first to bridge the artistic histories of premodern and modern. Further, scholars of Japanese Buddhist art and architecture generally completely ignore modern works. Graham’s work fills this gap wonderfully.

A work of superb scholarship, the book examines early trends of the Edo period in which the Shogunate went further than its predecessors in using Buddhist institutions to its advantage. For example, by appropriating “two trusted Buddhist monks, the Zen abbott Ishin Sūden (1569-1632) and Nankōbō Tenkai (1563-1643), a Tendai priest” to help him draft laws, “first aimed at specific, troublesome temples and sects, then expanded to include temples of all denominations” (p 23). A household temple registration required “all citizens to register with a local temple”, in part to combat Christian proselytizing (p 24). The bakufu also took powers from the Imperial family to grant rank to Buddhist clerics. Such political uses of Buddhism find repeated historical precedent in Japan, and obviously extend to the visual arts.

Imperial patronage of Buddhist sites is exemplified by the introduction of the Ōbaku sect in the mid 1700s. Ōbaku was formed when a group of Chan (Zen) monks from China fled upon the overthrow of the Ming. Although based in Rinzai Zen, the sect had formed differently over the centuries, bringing in Pure Land, Confucianism, Daoism, as well as Zen practices like “introspective self-cultivation in reclusion” (p 52). Ōbaku spread quickly in Japan thanks to both Imperial and Shogun support. The bakufu donated both land for construction of the Ōbaku temple Manpukuji, beginning in 1661. However, the shift in class power affected this patronage system. “By the end of the Edo period, lacking funding, neither the bakufu nor the daimyo could support temples they founded and patronized. But patronage of these temples continued as these institutions embraced commoner devotees, who helped pay for new structures for their own use” (p 69).

Stable times and increased urban population, combined with education and wealth, led to a greater participation by commoners in Buddhist material culture. The “pilgrimage boom” of the 17th c., in which large numbers of commoners made journeys to sacred sites, purchasing personal icons and block prints, foreshadowed the rise of economic and spiritual influence this class would come to wield. A syncretism had long attended Japanese religious practice, with Shinto and Buddhism operating in harmony for many centuries. During the 18th c., most lay practitioners showed little discrimination for the boundaries of sects, freely worshiping at a range of sites. Professor Graham does not suggest a specific reason for this increased syncretism, other than the new urban concentrations and the “shared concerns of devotees for safety and material success in this world and fears about the unknown afterlife.” Langdon Warner refers to the “practice nature of the Japanese to explain this ease with belief in a wide range of religious sects”. Particular attention is paid to “newly popular trans-sectarian Deities: Jizō, the Rakan, the Seven Gods of Good Fortune,” devotion to whom grew rapidly during the Edo (p 97).

Professional image makers (busshi) also benefited from the burgeoning middle class. Increased population, the requirement to register with a Buddhist temple, and the effective proselytizing by clerics, all led to increased patronage of temples. This also increased opportunities for professional artists. Prior to the Edo, lay artisans created most Buddhist sculpture. “In the Heian period, busshi became freelance artists who operated family-run workshops” (p 128). The publication in 1690 of the Butsozō zui (Compendium of Buddhist Images), which “served as an authority for aspiring Buddhist painters, sculptors, craftsmakers, and the lay public” (p 110) aided artists, while also contributing to the “stylistic fatigue” noted by scholars as early as the Muromachi amongst images of the Kyōtō workshops. Thus, sculptures of the period vary between traditionalist and innovative.

Chapter Six, “Expressions of Faith,” examines visual imagery made by devout followers of Buddhism during the early modern period, images created by a wide range of class. “None sold these objects for personal gain” (p 150). For such artists, making Buddhist images was a devotional practice: to help the situation of the deceased and to help promote a particular temple.

While admired in their day for their piety, most of these artists were not considered “artists” by contemporaries. “For the most part, their imagery remains marginalized from that which constitutes the orthodox canon of Japanese art history” (p 150). The author’s implication is that class and economics, rather than purely aesthetic criteria, determined what art is, a claim emphasized with the creation of the Japanese art canon in the 19th century. Amongst the artists considered in this group are: imperial clerics and nuns, elite samurai, and daimyo wives.

As with other individuals whose work reached out to commoners, the Rinzai master Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768) has largely been excluded from the canon of Japanese art. None of his works are designated Important Cultural Properties, and few have a place in Japanese museums. Hakuin’s style was self-taught, and he was “not a professional artist who painted for the elite of Japanese society” (p 157). According to Graham, Hakuin entered the canon only after Westerners (prodded by Japanese Buddhist popularizers to the West, Yanagi Sōetsu, D.T. Suzuki, et al) began praising the work of such “primitive” expressionism.

The Meiji Restoration’s separation of Shinto and Buddhism in 1872 and the elevation of Shinto to official state religion led to the closing down of many temples and monasteries, mandated retirement of monks and nuns and although not officially sanctioned, promoted the great destruction of temples “under the slogan ‘destroy the Buddhas, abandon Shakya’ — 18,000 by some estimates” (p 177). Despite this, however, devotion to Buddhism did not diminish. Rather, Buddhist sects sought new ways to maintain their status. “The pivotal moment for Buddhists came in 1893, then four Japanese Buddhist priests (of the Shingon, Tendai, Shin, and Rinzai sects) and one Buddhist layman journeyed to Chicago to participate in the seventeen-day forum of the World’s Parliament of Religions” (p 179). The prestige this generated translated to esteem in Japan for Buddhism. The need to transmit knowledge of Buddhism to the world became closely associated with Japan’s expansionist policies.

Once again, politics motivated trends in Buddhism (and its visual art) in Japan. Aware of the place held in European’s minds for religious sites and art as culturally important, Japan’s government began identifying and restoring sites in the country, as well as establishing a national museum.

Graham describes the subsequent identification of Cultural Properties and National Treasures and the incorporation of Western styles with special lucidity, touching on themes of interest to readers engaged in cultural and colonial studies.

Simultaneous with the growth of appreciation for Buddhist arts was the appearance in Japan of foreign collectors, who came to play a significant role in the creation of the canon of Japanese art, as well as the conversion of “icon to art”.

The book continues with chapters covering Buddhist sites and visual art during the interwar period, and from 1945-2005. The latter, especially, is unique and valuable. “Since the end of World War II, Japanese Buddhist followers have become divided into two, not mutually exclusive, groups of enthusiasts: monks and lay practitioners associated with its traditional institutions, and individuals inspired by Buddhist philosophy as propagated by secular scholars” (p 251). This latter group is mirrored in the West. A great many 20th c. artists (e.g., John Cage, Bill Viola, Marina Abramovic, Allen Ginsburg) point to Buddhist ideas as the basis from which they create, without making clearly “Buddhist art”. (c.f., Buddha mind in contemporary art, edited by Jacquelynn Baas, Mary Jane Jacob.)

While temples in Japan still seek traditional art, and artists still make it for them, “other visual materials, generally more suggestive and allegorical and the product of professional secular artists” derive of the more general humanitarian nature of Buddhism. It is only the latter that are named by “scholars and art critics” art (p 251). The same dichotomy exists in western art, and for the same reason: as a means to control cultural capital.

The book’s conclusion is brief: the power shift in Japan over the past four centuries, from the religious to the secular, led to broad changes in its society. However, the Japanese faith in Buddhism has persisted, even as its visual forms have developed beyond the traditional iconographic treatments. The opening of society to other classes interconnected the aesthetics of the elites (formerly the sole province of Buddhist art) with those of the commoner/popular. The different face of this culture resulted in its rejection by scholars into the modern canon of Japanese art. “This oversight derives in large measure from the ways those in power […] use material culture to create definitions of cultural identity in the contemporary world” (p 276).


Art history has, in recent decades, followed other scholarly areas in examining more closely the prejudices and powers that have created the parameters of critical inquiry. The greater economic stakes (works of art have monetary value, events of the past, largely, do not) that art history commands have perhaps led to a harder calcification of its canons, these stakes in addition to the ones (e.g., ethnicity, gender) that attend the determination of the edges and center in any study of history. By far the majority of Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art deals with trends in Japanese Buddhist art, and the historical occasions that surround them. The author is commended for not hammering away at her points regarding class and cultural capital, but rather for achieving these points by a steady, thorough, and deep examination of history and art.

Graham gives equal attention to visual art and architecture, rightly seeing these as connected, both in terms of style and the themes of her book.

Finally, it is important to emphasize that these themes spring largely from observations on Buddhist practice. Changes in Japanese culture did bring a new class into a position to influence Buddhist art, but it is because these individuals felt a genuine interest in Buddhist practice that their influence grew large.

Book Design

The University of Hawaii produces extremely well-designed books. Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art: 1600-2005 is beautiful from a graphic design standpoint: simple, rather than showy, wide pages with comfortable margins. The volume’s numerous black and white photographs are kept separate from the body, allowing them room to breath, with 32 color plates set in. The paper stock is of a semi-gloss variety, and while most likely chosen for its archival properties (and cost), is not well-suited to pencil-marking. Erasure is nearly impossible. In addition to an excellent bibliography and notes, the book includes an Appendix (“Guide to the Tokyo-Area Temples…”), character glossary, and index.

Many site photographs are by the author, indicating (if further evidence were needed) the range of research: far and wide within Japan. Unlike many author’s photographs, which simply fill a need where no other option exists, Graham’s are above average, revealing a photographer’s willingness to make an extra effort to get a good shot.

Book Review by Jonathan Ciliberto for Buddhist Art News

BOOK REVIEW by Jon Ciliberto, June 2010

The Art of Buddhism: an Introduction to its History and Meaning

by Denise Patry Leidy
Shambhala, 2008

Only three volumes exist in print in English which cover Buddhist art as a whole, both historically and iconographically. I presume that this scarcity is due to the breadth of the subject, to the still shifting opinions on broad trends, and to the inclusion of Buddhist art within wider surveys on Asian art. Until recently, the UK press Thames & Hudson’s Buddhist Art (by Robert E. Fisher) was the sole volume to which individuals could turn. In 2009, River Books released Buddhist Art by Giles Beguin. One year prior to this appeared The Art of Buddhism: an Introduction to its History and Meaning, by Denise Patry Leidy, which is specifically for “general readers and undergraduate students” (p. 5).

Shambhala is the most prominent American press dedicated to Eastern spirituality. For many readers unfamiliar with Buddhism, it is a primary or initial source of information on Buddhism. While many of its releases are popular in nature, a significant portion of their output comes in the form of translations and scholarly works.

The author is a curator in the Department of Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York).

Befitting a general introduction to the subject, the author’s approach is not to delve too deeply into any particular aspect of Buddhist art, providing instead an overview of its history, from earliest beginnings in India to its dissemination and growth in South, Central, and East Asia through the Nineteenth century.

For example, rather than wading into the once-contentious question of the origin of the Buddha image, she describes a general appearance of anthropomorphism across a wide area, and leaves it at that.

Two particular themes run throughout the volume: 1) the connection between art and Buddhist practice, and 2) the geographical movement of artistic styles and techniques. Most of the examples are presented in terms of one or both of these ideas.

The author touches on these two themes steadfastly; instances are found on nearly each of the volumes 342 pages. This approach makes for a clear and focussed (if sometimes misleading) introduction to the subject.

After introductory examinations of early forms (“Pillars and Stupas,” “The Buddha Image”), chapters are regionally themed; for example, three cover Korea and Japan for three historical periods. Chapters begin with a brief presentation of regional history, and examples of works of art follow, referring to the general historical theme presented and to the overarching consideration for the relationship between art and practice. This simple approach will be appreciated by educators eager for an easy foothold on the history of Buddhist art. Further, those interested in the traditions in Buddhist art in particular regions may easily read through appropriate chapters.

An additional chapter on the spread of Buddhist art to the West would have rounded out the volume. The absence of such consideration in the history of Buddhist art is, however, common.

The examples presented are largely from history’s most well-known, again appropriate to the general approach of the volume. Figures are identified by captions, with location and era, as well as an additional sentence underscoring some key aspect of the work. These sentences — sometimes facile (on Alchi: “Some of these buildings are filled with magnificent paintings and sculptures” (p. 155)) — either highlight some theme from the immediate text, again giving the introductory reader a means to engage the works based upon style or practice. Information on the size and museum holding of the pieces are given in at the end of the book.

The author chooses not explore in any depth pre-Buddhist iconography and styles, e.g., the roots of mandala paintings (India), portraiture and narrative scenes (Persia), etc. Leidy states that the book “focusses on the dialogues between cultures that underlie the dissemination of Buddhism” (p. 5). This focus is steady through the volume, with numerous instances in each chapter of particular styles and trends transmitted from place to place., e.g.,

“The small flame rising from ushnisha is […] a regional characteristic” (p. 140).

“The painting’s dense, scrolling background and the precise depiction of of details, such as the jewels decorating the throne and the patterns of the robes, reflect the long-standing importance of Nepalese aesthetics…” (p. 250)

“The posture and proportions in a bronze image of Shakymuni from Pagan illustrates [sic] the continuing importance of Indian traditions in neighboring Myanmar” (p. 166).

The latter quotation points out a flaw in the text: it is filled with minor errors, most of them typographical (misplaced hypens, likely to the text re-flow during layout).

Despite the emphasis on local and regional styles, there are very few descriptions of influences from outside of Buddhism, either chronologically and geographically.

The work contains occasional examples of architecture, but always in support of general artistic points, e.g., to show “the sharing of religious traditions” between China and Tibet and “the diverse Buddhist traditions that coexisted in China during the Qing dynasty” (p. 287).

In addition to the role of cultural trade in disseminating Buddhist art, the other thesis that the author pursues through the length of the book is the relationship between Buddhist practice and Buddhist art:

“… portraits of monks played an important role in Buddhist practice as early as the Tang dynasty.” (p. 118)

“The acceptance that such terrifying figures embody a great spiritual understanding is part of the shift in perceptions that leads to a deeper awakening.” . (p. 176-7)

“The ox […] and herdsman as a metaphor for practice…” (p. 195)

While the earliest purposes for Buddhist art are unclear, it is well-established that mandalas, e.g., were designed as visual tools for practitioners. Many scholars also agree that representations of the Buddha and other figures in meditation were designed to help the non-literate. These two instances are given by Leidy with respect to specific works of art, and clear links between art and practice are consistently and intelligently presented throughout.

Other, less religiously-oriented motivations for the creation of Buddhist art receive less exploration: donations by the wealthy, materiality, and technical skill as awe-inspiration to the lower classes or as other means of political empowerment, etc. While the author acknowledges the presence of these in the creation of art, the main line of influence on production and visual styles she cites is: as means to Buddhist practice. While it is true that, from the religious point of view, this is the purpose of Buddhist art, failing to recognize other purposes is overly idealistic.

Buddhists of certain schools would of course agree with this description of the making of art. Buddhist art is not an art of worship, but one of practice. Nevertheless, an art history which places religious motives as the main ones in complex technical productions, ones which occur only within an advanced material culture, is something of a simplification. Students of history would benefit from a more thoroughly reasoned (and realistic, in the worldly sense) appraisal of the reasons that a religion directed at self-improvement, doing it oneself, and non-materiality has generated so many ornate and costly artifacts, personal objects of devotion, and monumental sculptures. Again, the author likely wishes to limit the scope of the book, leaving to others these critical approaches.

The author does not pursue disputations, instead stating a single opinion on sometimes open questions. While streamlined, this approach also has the effect of appearing categorical to the reader new to the field. Although few of the author’s positions are especially controversial, it is also the case that the reason for this non-controversy is at times due to the force of tradition rather than established certainty. Enterprising students might investigate the literature and uncover open questions, but little assistance is given the students by the book’s notes and bibliography. Understandably intended for general audiences, perhaps I am willing to give undergraduates more credit for intellectual curiosity, and a desire to see varied scholarly lines of argument.

One map is included, covering the entire Asian region, with a single icon representing sites (e.g., Nalanda and Ajanta) and cities (ancient and modern). Nearly all items listed in the bibliography are post-1980, while most of the (few) quotations from primary sources are from early 20th century translations.

The graphic design of Buddhist Art is also non-controversial: clean and efficient. I appreciate the simple use of typography and color. The many images are given good space and a nice attention is paid to page layout. The paper does not allow pencil mark erasures — erasing on one page leads to rubbing off of an image on the reverse side.

This survey fills a noted gap, and as an introductory survey for students (high school or undergraduate) is appreciated. By avoiding what are deemed secondary concerns, the author has produced a stream-lined, readable volume, however at the cost of discarding many avenues of inquiry.

– Jonathan Ciliberto, October 2010

EXHIBITION REVIEW by Jonathan Ciliberto

February 2009

pdf link

Contemporary Tibetan Art: From the Collection of Shelley & Donald Rubin at Oglethorpe
University Museum of Art.

February 2009
Review by Jonathan Ciliberto for Buddhist Art News.

Jan. 10, 2009 – Feb. 22, 2009 at Oglethorpe University Museum of Art (Atlanta, Georgia)

Despite Tibet’s remote and inaccessible location, Tibetan  art has historically developed under a strong amount of foreign influence. Buddhism, itself an import to Tibet, has incorporated influences in visual styles, artistic techniques, and traditions from neighboring areas from the religion’s introduction in the 7th century. These influences have come from many neighboring cultures: present-day India, Pakistan, Nepal, Central Asia, and China.[1]

The Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1959 has had wide repercussions for Tibetan artists, and these continue to reverberate to the present day. Many contemporary Tibetan artists have grown up and trained entirely outside of Tibet proper, while others have remained in the region and received education in the Tibetan Autonomous Region or other parts of China.

Prominent collectors of Tibetan religious art (and founders of the Rubin Museum of Art), Shelley and Donald Rubin (Oglethorpe Alumnus, 1956) have also collected contemporary Tibetan art, which is the basis for an exhibition at Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University Museum of Art Skylight Gallery. Amongst the artists included are many of the most prominent names in contemporary Tibetan art: Drugu Choegyal Rinpoche, Gade, Tsering Dorjee, Gonkar Gyatso, Losang Gyatso, Norbu, Pema Donyo Nyingje (the 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche),
Mukti Singh Thapa.

The Oglethorpe Skylight gallery displays more than 35 works by 18 individuals through 22 February 2009. One large monochrome photograph, (by Lois Conner), shows a number of Tibetan artists standing in front of the Potala, the previous home of the Dalai Lamas and the emotional heart of Tibet. Standing between the artists and the Potala is some scaffolding: leftover from the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Tibetan Autonomous Region in 1965. One wonders if the juxtaposition of 14 contemporary artists with the ’statement’ of 40 years of Chinese over-lordship is meant to convey some unified artistic stance. However, the voices of these artists, as evidenced by Oglethorpe’s exhibition, are multiple, rather than singular.

This ambiguity of voice confronts the viewer throughout the exhibition. In the West, one is accustomed to view Tibetan art through the lens of politics. But, according to Museum curator and director, Lloyd Nick this monomaniac focus is something a viewer brings to the work of art, and not necessarily the sole or primary motive of the artists. While it is undoubted that works by Tibetan artists refer to recent (and ongoing) tragic events in their homeland, it is not the case that this is the only note they sound. While monks whose culture has now largely vanished in Tibet will surely express this loss in artwork, it is also the case that monks bring more to their work than comment on the events of the last century. Thus, viewers of contemporary Tibetan works by Buddhist monks should not develop tunnel-vision regarding the message of such works; general comments on materialism and the Western hegemony on international culture are as evident in the works as more particular comments on the state of Tibet.

While the purpose of Buddhist Art is clear, the intentions of contemporary artists are more often ambiguous. Ambiguity is, of course, a theme, as well as an explanation for the meaning of contemporary art. A lack of clearly-defined purpose, message, motivation, or execution is explained as a kind of intentional and/or valued ambiguity, based as much on the 20th century’s erosion of the individual through industrialization as on the ideas of dislocation in Freud and quantum physics.  The exhibition is titled “Tibetan Contemporary Art”, as opposed to “Contemporary Tibetan Art,” and one sees the distinction in the many artists represented who partake of the styles of modern Western art: impressionism (Tsering Dorje), conceptual art (Gonkar Gyatso), pop art (Tenzing Rigdol, Losang Gyatso), naturalist portraiture (Shelka), and surrealism/ DADA (Nortse [Norbu Tsering]). For these artists, the world of contemporary art seems takes precedence in their work over the particularly traditions of Tibetan art. Given their dislocated status, this is not surprising.

Meanwhile, others (Pemba Wangdu, Jhamsang, Dru-Gu Choegyal Rinpoche, Pema Donyo Nyinje [Tai Situ], Mukti Singh Thapa) work with traditional materials and forms, from thangka painting to familiar narrative elements (e.g., Dru-Gu Choegyal Rinpoche’s paintings of episodes from the life of Milarepa).

This is not to say that there is clear demarcation, a point made by the “New Scripture” series by Gade “based on traditional Tibetan woodblock printed pages of religious texts” [from exhibition label], but incorporating imagery from both traditional and Western sources. Also exhibiting this blending of traditional and non-traditional are two exquisite paintings by Tenzin Norbu Lama (Norbu) employing traditional thangka painting technique with non-standard symbolic and compositional devices.

Pemba Wangdu’s trio of paintings — Lust, Envy, Jealousy — employ graphic styles traditional to Himalayan Buddhist art in the figures and clouds, as well as traditional materials (stone-ground pigments on cloth). However, the compositional device of removing these traditionally peripheral, supporting figures in full frame, presents a modern vision. Such figures serve a similarly didactic purpose in Buddhist art, enforcing the artist’s metaphoric physical positioning of the figures, bent and twisted by their titular ills. “Each individual painting in this series depicts a specific “mental poison” that, when indulged, pushes one further away from nirvana.” [Museum label]

The arrangement of the exhibition in both of the Museum’s two large rooms, lit by both natural and artificial light, is spacious and welcoming. On my many visits to the Skylight Gallery, set atop Oglethorpe’s library and amid its scenic campus, I have rarely encountered crowds; indeed, I am often the sole visitor, which truly encourages a peaceful, considered experience.

Although the exhibition lacks supporting material (in the form of artist bios, essays, etc.) the label quality is superb, providing cogent and concise information on artists and their approaches.

Amongst the works obviously rooted in Tibetan Buddhist art is a painting of Buddha Vairocana by Mukti Singh Thapa, a Tibetan artist who works in the Newar tradition — a strong aesthetic current throughout the history of Tibetan art.

Upon casual viewing, one sees a painting executed in a traditional manner of Vairocana. “But the iconography in this painting is not technically correct, and this would exclude the painting from a strict religious use. The religious iconography in a traditional thangka derives its meaning from a very specific logic, and is meant to be actively used by practicing Buddhists. But by filling the space around the Vairocana figure here with small heads that have no iconographic value, and by associating Vairocana with dragons instead of the
traditional lions, Thapa has created a painting that serves a more decorative function. It is beautifully executed, but has no specific ritual use.” [Museum label] What is the purpose of this painting, one wonders. Is it intended as a purely decorative work, albeit one which refers to the lineage of painters of which Mukti is a part? Are the slight deviations from canonical standards meant to illustrate the consistent, unavoidable strain that exists between a tradition devoted to religious art (clearly purposed) and one whose purpose is less well-defined (contemporary art)?

Further, the international artworld is a world unto itself, and many Tibetan artists work in it, accepting the influences and rules of that world and incorporating these into their practice. This position is presented especially clearly in Gonkar Gyatso’s Cindy Sherman-esque My Identity series of photographs,  which picture the artist in a variety of personae, including Mao propaganda painter and cosmopolitan art world artist. The photographs underscore the precarious nature of Tibetan artists’ identity,  counterpoised with the multiple identities of the artist in contemporary society: social commentator, hagiographer, creator of goods, slave to fashion and a global industry.

Speaking more speculatively, one omission from the exhibition is work by non-Tibetan artists from the Tibetan region. Tibet has existed under Chinese suzerainty for four decades and one wonders about the broader aesthetic activity of the region during this period, beyond the well-documented erosion of Tibetan Buddhist art? Another way to put this is: the “canon” of contemporary Tibetan art is determined according to a particular historical/ethical perspective, rather than to any truly objective scholarly position.

It is true that the changed demography of Tibet is due to aggressive actions undertaken by the government in Beijing, but art history, if it claims to any objective standard, is beholden to view history, however brutal or destructive, as instances of something that stands beyond personal or ethical preference.

For example, Mongolian Buddhist art partakes of the traditions of Tibetan due to the previously militaristic-expansionist activity of both Tibetans and Mongolians.

One wonders if the re-settling of ethnic Chinese into the Tibetan region will produce responses wholly unexpected, both in terms of Tibetan traditions and the victims of the takeover of Tibet.

Similarly, and not to give validity to the actions of the government in Beijing, one wonders if any evidence exists behind the rhetoric of the latter: have any artistic traditions previously in the minority in the region not shown signs of resurgence?

Given that this collection is derived largely from those involved in the international art market, with collectors sympathetic to Tibetan culture, this sort
of monoculture is not surprising. Further, while Tibetan contemporary art is hot, contemporary art from individuals living in the Tibetan Autonomous Region who consider themselves Chinese is decidedly not.

Oglethorpe’s dedication to Buddhist art is rare amongst Atlanta institutions. Beginning in 1986 with its exhibition “The Many Faces of Buddha” (”the first American exhibit in 50 years devoted exclusively to the Buddha” [link]), through its recent alliance with the Rubin Museum of Art which brings six exhibitions of Tibetan art to the Museum, Oglethorpe continues a steady tradition of exhibiting works of Buddhist art in Atlanta.

While the works in the present exhibition are not pieces of religious art, that they proceed in many instances from an artistic culture which is deeply tied to a religious activity is evident in both the techniques and styles of the works, but also through many of the themes considered: identity, the individual in society, personal freedom, and
cultural history.

[1] della_santina/development_pdsantina.html


May 2008

by John Johnston for Buddhist Art News

pdf link

Early Himalayan Art
By Amy Heller
Ashmolean Museum
Cambridge University Press

REVIEW by John Johnston for Buddhist Art News

Dr. Amy Heller, author of the recently released Early Himalayan Art, is an outstanding scholar and an established and recognized leader in the field of Himalayan art studies. As such it is very fitting that she was chosen as the author for the catalogue presenting early works of Himalayan art at the Ashmolean Museum.

The catalogue presents 61 pieces from the Ashmolean collection. Early objects are defined as 7th to 14th century. As some of these images have never before appeared in print, collectors and specialists on this subject will want to include this book in their libraries. The general public and specialists alike will enjoy the fine introductory essay by Dr. Heller. Her succinct summary of how styles originated in India and were transported and evolved in the Himalayas is insightful. The stylistic chronology and geographic distribution of these styles are illustrated with many examples from Nepal and Tibet. Practitioners and those interested in how these images are (or were) used in Buddhist religious activities are not given many clues or interesting tidbits in the essay or entries, the focus being more on the development of aesthetic features and styles over time.

Works of art in the catalogue that particularly merit the attention of the Buddhist art community are figural sculptures in stone and bronze. The tall stone sculpture of standing Avalokiteshvara from Nepal (cat. no. 2) is a very beautiful work of art. The slight movement evident in the treatment of the body, almost a subtle tribanga pose, is entrancing. The bodhisattva looks light and lithe despite being rendered in stone. I would have enjoyed detail photographs as the incising of the garments, the jewelry features, and elaborate crown all merit closer inspection. The author explains how the distinctive sash worn below the waist is an indicator of the object’s date.

A stone relief from 8th-9th century Nepal depicts a Yaksha in the form of a supple nature deity (cat. no. 4). The figure’s bearded face and wicked smile are amusing. Though relatively small (13 cm), a pensive Shakyamuni in bhumisparsa mudra (cat. no. 5) is quite moving. I found the 9th century bronze image of Manjushri (cat. no. 32) alluring and memorable as well, perhaps due to the figure’s apparent poetic detachment. Other highlights include an 11th-12th century gilt bronze Standing Shakyamuni (cat. no. 8), a wonderful gilt bronze Vajrapani from the 13th-14th centuries (cat. no. 11), a large standing 11th century bronze Shakyamuni from Tibet (cat. no. 31), an 11th century Tibetan sutra cover (cat. no. 39), a vivid and wrathful 12th century gilt bronze image of Yamantaka (cat. no. 46), and a beautiful and early Western Tibetan gilt bronze of Tara from the 11th century (cat. no. 50). A striking silver vase (cat. no. 15) attributed to Tibet (though obviously influenced by Tang precedents) is given very fine analysis by the author who is a specialist on such works of art.

Only one painting is included in this collection overview, a 15th century Tibetan-Newar mandala of Manjuvara recently purchased with funds from the Neil Kreitman Foundation. The painting is very good, with vibrant colors, bold and simple geometric composition, and inventive scrollwork. Similar purchases will elevate the museum’s collection. It should be mentioned that Neil Kreitman supported the Early Himalayan Art book project and is also a benefactor and advisor on the subject to the Ashmolean Museum.

One difficulty in presenting a limited group of objects from a single museum or collection is the potential variation of aesthetic quality of selected works of art. In other words, some very fine and important objects may be presented alongside material that is marginal or inconsequential. This is certainly the case with the Ashmolean Museum’s collection of early Himalayan material as presented in this volume. Many small metal objects are included based on their antiquity, not their artistic presence. Examples of works which received more treatment than their due, compared with the fine works of figural sculpture cited above, are an 8th century Tibetan brass buckle (6 cm in height, cat. no. 16), a 9th century Tibetan pendant (4 cm in height, cat. no. 17), and several items of similar size and date (cat. no.s 13, 18, 19, 28, 33, 34, 42, 43, 53). Tokchas, which in recent decades have gone from trinkets available at Himalayan markets to objects worthy of serious collections, are amulets favored by Tibetans and other Himalayan peoples. The tiny tokchas are quite worn, the metal being heavily rubbed, and are generally visually uninspiring. Without their early date, and thus the material link to early Tibet, they offer very little aesthetically and in fact diminish the overall visual impact of the book. One exception is the beautiful 9th century Plaque of Fifty One Seated Buddhas (cat. no. 27). If but all the small metal objects reached this high level of artistry.

I would like to note the fine design and size of this volume. The front and back covers of this soft book are simple and understated. The gilt bronze Newar figure of yab yum samvara is a good selection as the cover image, although the background gradation from light to dark is a bit abrupt to my eye. This small matter is more than made up for on the back cover where a colorful mandala stands boldly and beautifully on a white background. I imagine many will be curious about what you are reading when they spy this strangely beautiful mystical diagram. The size and weight of this book makes it portable and easy to handle, not like the large and weighty anchors that normally pass for art books. At about 175 pages and roughly 8 x 10 format, it makes a good choice for the carry on bag or for a weekend trip.

The varying sizes of photographs and backgrounds somewhat obscures otherwise solid object photography. Several back and profile views of objects appear as additional entry photographs. Such perspectives are used to illustrate points made by the author and, perhaps inadvertently, also help the viewer grasp the three-dimensionality of the objects. A few of the images accompanying the introductory essay are blurry and out of focus. While this is often the case with “field” photos, in several cases these drop below the minimally acceptable standard.

The omission of an index in this book is regrettable. I wanted to quickly refer to a few subjects but had to flip through the book to find the relevant passages. I hope editors of future volumes on Buddhist and Asian art take the extra time and money and include indexes which we can all use. The index is not an optional inclusion; they make the book a much more valuable tool and resource for researchers and the general public. The bibliography is excellent, a focused list of the best books on the subject in western languages. Any library or collector could convert the bibliography to a very fine library on Himalayan art. The addition of web references and articles is also helpful.

Early Himalayan Art is a recommended addition to the libraries of those interested in the subject. This book is helpful in developing an understanding of the earliest epoch of Buddhist art in the Himalayas. The book is not meant as the last word on the subject, but rather has a more introductory tone. Specialists will want to consult the many images of early objects published in the volume. Several stellar works of art are contained within the book which merit returned viewing and continued reflection and contemplation. There are also many less memorable and less important works of art that constitute about a third of the selections. The photography of the objects is generally good. The introductory essay, lively catalogue entries, and bibliography are all interesting and helpful. Dr. Heller writes text that you want to read, no easy feat when presenting a somewhat esoteric historical subject. This volume also brings to light fine examples of Buddhist art in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum and underscores the institution’s admirable commitment to Asian art.

Black Jambhala, Tibet, 18th century; Black stone with pigments

A Shower of Jewels: Deities of Wealth at Oglethorpe University 
November 2008

Review and photographs by
Jonathan Ciliberto
for Buddhist Art News

i. Review, ii. Catalogue, iii. Bibliography; iv. Notes i.

Despite the increased interest in Tibetan Buddhism since the general dispersion of Tibetan culture following the Chinese takeover of the country in 1950, exhibitions which explore the ritual nature of Buddhist art in the Himalayas are scarcely found in the West. This is largely owing to the esoteric tradition which surrounds (and creates) such artworks. One of the largest collections of Tibetan Buddhist art outside of the native region is held by the Rubin Museum of Art (RMA) in New York, and thus one expects a great opportunity for Atlantans to learn more about this art-culture through the six exhibitions arranged between the RMA and Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University Museum  of Art.

A Shower of Jewels: Deities of Wealth, the second exhibition in this series, runs through 7 December 2008.

An important set of practices of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism involves the actualization of a particular deity as a means of removing obstacles to spiritual growth. Chief techniques include meditation and visualization.[1] “Tibetan practices seek to evoke a particular deity as a transcendent aid to help clear away the obstacles to ultimate understanding.” [2]

Although seemingly antithetical to Buddhism’s emphasis on non-materialism, a lack of money (or the things it can buy) is just such an obstacle. [3] A number of deities are propitiated particularly for the acquisition (or protection) of wealth. Stories from sacred literature describe the result of proper veneration of these “Wealth Deities” (Tibetan: nor lha), in which both monks and laity receive showers of gems, pearls, and other bounty from the proper veneration of deities. However, it must be borne in mind that the acquisition of such wealth depends strictly upon the motivation of the practioner. “If the motivation is pure, such as seeking wealth to relieve the suffering of others, this fits well with compassionate principles of the dharma and hence is more likely to succeed.” [4]

Mahakala Shadbhuja

Deities of wealth are perhaps best understood in the same terms Rob Linrothe uses to describe wrathful deities: as removers of obstacles. “As embodiments, or personifications, of the destruction of obstacles, the appearances of wrathful deities give us confidence in their abilities to master that which is malignant in human life: illness, misfortune, ingrained destructive pattens of behaviour, the capacity to lust, hate, and envy, and the ability to act out of selfishness and ignorance, faculties with which we are all endowed.” [5] Wealth deities in this sense represent a form of upaya (skillful means) for Buddhist practice.

The rituals associated with gods of wealth may also be thought of as a form of skillful means for eliminating, or at least reducing, attachment to material concerns. By projecting these matters onto a potent deity, the individual turns these concerns over to a higher agency. So, mental activity related to material things, by its nature contingent, is removed from the mind of the practitioner and becomes an objectified obstacle which may be overcome through the intercession of a particular deity. [6]

In an apocryphal but instructive story, the layman Sucandra asks the Buddha to for “a method whereby he could amass stores of grain, gold, silver, and gems in order to support his family and servants and engage in philanthropy. Shakyamuni disclosed that he had leaned a mantra for precisely this purpose.” [7]

A more likely explanation for the origination of Wealth Deities is found in the readiness of Buddhism to incorporate local rituals and deities, particularly as it spread to new regions. This assimilation, combined with Tibet’s position at the center of a vast crossroads (between India, Persia, Central Asia and China), provides a useful lens for understanding the appearance of wealth deities in Tibetan Buddhism. Several local religions existed in Tibet prior to the introduction of Buddhism, all associated with magical and ritual acts directed toward deities. “Within Indian Mahayana Buddhism speculative thought and ritual had already become indissolubly linked, and thus it came about that the ritual side of Mahayana Buddhism began to prevail in Tibet, thanks to the tendencies to magic already present within Indian ritual.” [8]

The selection of 12 pieces from the RMA (9 paintings and 3 sculptures) focuses on “the five most prominent figures within the vast pantheon of Buddhist deities devoted to protecting and providing wealth” (exhibition signage): Mahakala, Vaisravana, Jambhala, Vasudhara, and Ganapati. Amongst these we find: two clear incorporations of Indian deities; the personal deity of Genghis Khan; one whose worship was closely associated with the Khotanese royal family; one who in her six-armed variety is almost exclusively seen in Nepal. Thus one sees in the significant wealth deities of Tibet a wealth of connections to international contact between that country and her near neighbors.

A small statue of Mahakala Shadbhuja (six-hands) opens the exhibition, the protector deity figured in copper allow with pigments, legs in a wide stance, with two arms held in front, the right holding a vajra tipped chopper and the left a skullcap. The other two pairs of arms spread out to the flaming halo, with hands forming mudras and holding a hand drum, a small rosary of skulls, and other ritual implements. Mahakala treads upon the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha (Ganapati in the Buddhist pantheon), an obstacle of material cupidity. The stance of the main figure’s body, slightly upraised by a right foot pressing on the neck of Ganesha, combined with the rotational effect presented by the outflung arms and halo, put Mahakala in active motion cutting through mental obstacles and inspiring confidence. [9]

A second image of the six-armed form of Mahakala appears in a nineteenth century painting from Eastern Tibet, again treading upon Ganapati (here holding a radish, his favorite food) and with similar iconography. This trampling of a Hindu god is a didactic representation of the superiority of Buddhism (material austerity) over Hinduism (material cupidity). The mountains in the background the the left and right of Mahakala appear unfinished, rendered in simple ink on cotton.

Ganapati appears as the primary subject in another painting, here himself the “remover of obstacles” as he is known in India. [10] The flowing treatment centers on a red form of the deity, who holds a monkey, the latter feeding him a radish and bearing a wish-fulfilling gem ” the painting overflows with gems of all colors. Two forms of Guru Rimpoche Padmasambhava appear at the top of the painting. Lush flowers bloom to either side of Ganapati. Two small sculptures of Yellow and Black Jambhala (in Tibetan pronunciation Dzambala or Zambala) show this wealth deity in both his round- bellied, jolly form, and in a rare tantric form, with consort. [11]

Vaisravana, the Lord of the North, Lokapala, and chief of the yaksas are presented in paintings: he rides a Tibetan snow lion, is garbed in armor or regal attire in his blue form, commands his squadron of horseman, and carries in his right hand a victory banner, and in his left clutches his key symbol: a mongoose which at the squeeze of his hand spits out a stream of precious jewels. As with Ganapati trampelled by Mahakala, this iconography indicates the dominance of Buddhism over Hinduism, with the mongoose sent beneath the earth to conquer the naga (snake) king and retrieve earthly treasures. Vaisravana, the transformed Indian god Kuvera (also Kubera), is “protector of the state par excellence” [12] and also called Dhanada, distributor of wealth” in India. [13] The military trappings of Vaisravana seem to originate in his veneration in Central Asian, as evidenced by his eight horseman, “dressed in Mongolian costumes.” [14]

The final piece in A Shower of Jewels is a Mandala of Vasudhara, the goddess of wealth and “considered to be the ahakti of Jambhala.” [15] This painting offers evidence of the actual worship of this deity, from scenes of monks and laypersons in ritual practice, to an image of the old man of longevity, a symbol of long life and prosperity.

Mahakala Shadbhuja

With a superb selection of paintings and sculpture on the Tibetan wealth deities, this second offering of sacred art from the Rubin Museum of Art gives local Atlantans a chance to see a specific category of ritual artwork of Himalayan Buddhism. The one flaw in this exhibition is the paltry accompanying materials for study and increased understanding. It is difficult to see why the RMA or Oglethorpe did not provide even more expansive information on each piece in a binder (as given in the initial exhibition in this series), especially since such is available from the excellent Himalayan Art Resources website (links are provided for each piece in the Catalogue below), a resource of the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation. Putting aside this small failing, I commend the fine partnership of the RMA and Oglethorpe University and look forward to the future exhibitions in this series.

ii. Exhibition Catalogue 
(image data from Himalayan Art Resources; click on links for additional information and zoomable images of the artwork):

1 Mahakala Shadbhuja 
compare: imageremote.cfm?icode=87903 fif=fpx/3313949.fpx&obj=uv,1.0&page=image. html&rect=0,0,1,1&hei=400

(protector) –
Shadbhuja (Six-hands) (item no. 794
Eastern Tibet
1800 – 1899
Shangpa Kagyu
54.61×33.02cm (21.50×13in)
Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton Palpung / Situ Painting School
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art (acc.# P1998.32.1)

2 Mahakala Shadbhuja Mahakala

3 Ganapati Rakta Ganapati (Tibetan: tsog kyi dag po mar po, English: the Red Lord of Hosts);a wealth deity from the Revealed Treasure tradition (Tib.: terma) of the Nyingmapa School.

4 Red Jambhala 
(Trapa Ngonshe Lineage) (item no. 199)
1700 – 1799
Nyingma Lineage
48.26×26.04cm (19×10.25in)
Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line on Cotton Palpung / Situ Painting School
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art (acc.# P1995.21.9)

5 Yellow Jambhala (item no. 65701)
1300 – 1399
Himalayan Region
Buddhist Lineage
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art

6 Black Jambhala 
18th century
Black stone with pigments

7 Red Jambhala (item no. 200032)
1700 – 1799
Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art (acc.# F1997.52.1)

8 Red Jambhala 
Jambhala – Red (Trapa Ngonshe Lineage) (item no. 970)
Eastern Tibet
1800 – 1899
Nyingma and Karma (Kagyu) Lineages
63.50×48.26cm (25×19in)
Ground: Cotton
Karma Gardri Painting School
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art

9 Sita Mahakala 
compare: cfm/351.html html 
Mahakala (protector) – Shadbhuja, Sita (White) (item no. 813)
1700 – 1799
Shangpa Kagyu Lineage
68.58×43.18cm (27×17in)
Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art

10 Vaishravana Riding a Lion compare cfm/102.html (item no. 518)
1600 – 1699
Nyingma, Gelug and Uncertain Lineages
83.82×56.52cm (33×22.25in)
Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line on Cotton
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art

11 Blue Vaishravana (item no. 811)
1800 – 1899
Nyingma Lineage
91.44×66.68cm (36×26.25in)
Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art

(item no. 100010)
1800 – 1899
81.58×48.56cm (32.12×19.12in)
Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art (acc.# P1995.37.1)

12 Mandala of Vasudhara

iii Notes: 
1 “The entire monastic life is ruled by the regularly repeating cycle of liturgical assemblies and dispersals (cho ga). Cho ga means “liturgy”. It encompasses many types and means for the attainment of the desired goal. According to the Tantric system, for example, cho ga is the meditation in which one’s guardian diety (yi dam) is visualized before one.” – Tucci, Religions of Tibet, p. 11.

2 Fisher, The Art of Tibet, p. 90.

3 “Once the Buddha was asked a question: (Jata Sutta)
“The inner tangle and the outer tangle ”
This world is entangled in a tangle.
Who succeeds in disentangling
this tangle.”
“The Buddhist Way to Economic Stability,” in Gems of Buddhist Wisdom, p. 409-10.

4 Bartholomew and Johnston, The Dragon’s Gift, p. 241.

5 Linrothe, Demonic Divine, p. 7.

6 “These deities of prosperity, unlike the Western god Mammon, are considered benevolent, and are helpful to spiritual people by supporting the educational purpose of life in the Buddhist perspective.” Rhie, Thurman, Worlds of Transformation, p. 228, 232. The tradition of monks propitiating Wealth Deities for the benifit of the lay community continues into the Internet age (Prayer 102: Norlha Yang Kyab (Prayer to the Deities of Wealth and Good Fortune)):

7 Shaw, p. 248.

8 Tucci, p. 8. “[…] it is certain that the Buddhist communities were forced to adopt some of the ancient rituals, which were idigenous and deep-rooted, and therefore ineradicable.”

9 Mahākāla (mGon po), “The Great Black One,” is also “the main protector deity of Mongolia, given such distinction by the Third Dalai Lama” in the seventeenth century. (Rhie, Thurman, Wisdom & Compassion, p. 294.)

10 In another thanka, Mahākāla “stands erect on the prostrate figure of Ganesa […] The Buddhists’ ambivalent attitude toward this god is evident from the fact that in the lower left-hand corner of the thanka a monk is seen worshipping another image of Ganesa.” Pal, Art of Tibet, p. 145.

11 The distinction between Tibetan deities is not always clear, nor need it be; thus Frédéric refers to Jambhala as “a Nepalese form of Vaisravana,” and Fisher writes: “Jambhala is another of the deities borrowed from the Hindu pantheon, in this case from Kubera, god of wealth” (p 118). Similarly, Pal writing on a scene of worship in a 15th c. painting from Guge in Western Tibet, refers to “Jambhala, also called Kubera, the dispenser of wealth.” (Pal, Art of Tibet, p. 142) Kreijger refers to Jambhala as “an earlier name for Vaisravana” (Tibetan Paintings).

12 Frédéric, p. 242.

13 Shashibala, p. 149.

14 Pal, Art of Tibet, p. 151; “The iconography of the lokapalas reached its definitive state in Central Asia, where mural paintings of Vaisravana figure among the made in the Yulin caves during the ninth century Tibetan occupation of the Dunhuang region.” Heller, Tibetan Art, p. 148. See also Rhie, Thurman, Wisdom & Compassion, p. 161.

15 Frédéric, p. 224.

iv. Bibliography 
Gems of Buddhist wisdom. (1998). Taipei, Taiwan: Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation.

Bhattacharyya, B. (1968). The Indian Buddhist iconography, mainly based on the Sādhanamālā and cognate tāntric texts of rituals. Calcutta: Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay.

Bartholomew, Terese Tse, and John Johnston (2008). The Dragon’s Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan. Chicago: Serindia Publications.

Eliade, M. (1986). A history of religious ideas : volume three: From Muhammad to the Age of Reform. Chicago: University of Chicage Press.

Fisher, R. E. (1997). Art of Tibet. World of art. London: Thames & Hudson.

Getty, A. (1988). The gods of northern Buddhism: Their history and iconography. New York: Dover Publications.

Heller, A. (1999). Tibetan art: Tracing the development of spiritual ideals and art in Tibet, 600-2000 A.D. Milano, Italy: Jaca Book.

Jansen, E. R. (1999). The book of Buddhas: Ritual symbolism used on Buddhist statuary and ritual objects. Havelte: Binkey Kok.

Kapstein, M. (2000). The Tibetan assimilation of Buddhism: Conversion, contestation, and memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Klimburg-Salter, D. E. (1982). The silk route and the diamond path: Esoteric Buddhist art on the trans-Himalayan trade routes. Los Angeles, Calif: Published under the sponsorship of the UCLA Art Council.

Kossak, S., Singer, J. C., & Bruce-Gardner, R. (1998). Sacred visions: Early paintings from Central Tibet. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Linrothe, R. N., Rhie, M. M., Watt, J., & Busta, C. (2004). Demonic divine: Himalayan art and beyond. New York: Rubin Museum of Art. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Pal, P., & Richardson, H. (1983). Art of Tibet: A catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art collection. Los Angeles, Calif: The Museum.

Rol-paāi-rdo-rje, & Lohia, S. (1994). Lalitavajra’s manual of Buddhist iconography. āata-piāaka series, v. 379. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture and Aditya Prakashan.

Makransky, J. J. (2000). “Mahayana Buddhist Ritual and Ethical Activity in the World”. Buddhist-Christian Studies. 20 (1), 54-59.

Mills, M. (2006). “King Srong btsan sGam po’s Mines-Wealth Accumulation and Religious Asceticism in Buddhist Tibet.” TIBET JOURNAL. 31 (4), 89-106.

Nebesky-Wojkowitz, R. d. (1956). Oracles and demons of Tibet; The cult and iconography of the Tibetan protective deities. Gravenhage: Mouton.

Pal, P. (1967). Two Buddhist paintings from Nepal. Amsterdam: Museum van Aziatische Kunst, Rijksmuseum.

Pal, P., & Woodward, H. W. (2001). Desire and devotion: Art from India, Nepal, and Tibet in the John and Berthe Ford collection. Baltimore, Md: Walters Art Museum.

Pal, P. (1975). Nepal: Where the gods are young. [New York]: Asia Society.

Rhie, M. M., Thurman, R. A. F., & Jackson, D. P. (1999). Worlds of transformation: Tibetan art of wisdom and compassion = [Gnas ‘gyur dkyil zin]. New York: Tibet House in association with The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation.

Rhie, M. M., Thurman, R. A. F., & Taylor, J. B. (1991). Wisdom and compassion = āes rab daā sñiā rjeāi rol pa : the sacred art of Tibet. [San Francisco]: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Ricca, F., & Lo Bue, E. F. (1993). The great stupa of Gyantse: A complete Tibetan pantheon of the Fifteenth Century. London: Serindia.

Shaw, M. E. (2006). Buddhist goddesses of India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Shashibala. (2007). Buddhist art and thought. New Delhi: Akshaya Prakashan.

Singer, J. C., & Denwood, P. (1997). Tibetan art: Towards a definition of style. London: Laurence King.

Tucci, G., & Lokesh Chandra. (1988). English version of Indo-Tibetica. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.

Tucci, G. (2000). The religions of Tibet. The Kegan Paul library of religion and mysticism. London: Kegan Paul International.

Willis, M. D. (1999). Tibet: Life, myth, and art. Life, myth, and art. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang.

Lord of Compassion: Images of Avalokiteshvara from the Rubin Museum of Art
Oglethorpe Museum of Art
, May 2008

Atlanta, Georgia’s short list of Asian art holdings has grown in the past decade, with the opening
of a small gallery of in Emory’s Michael C. Carlos museum and that university’s affiliations with Tibet and H.H. the Dalai Lama, and the nearby Drepung Loseling Buddhist monastery.

These associations are paralleled by the dramatic growth of the Asian population in the region over the past two decades, with Georgia experiencing “2nd fastest-growing  Asian American population growth in the United States” from 1990-2000. Metro Atlanta is now home to more than 200,000 Asian Americans.” [1]

The most recent alliance of Asian art and Atlanta is between the Rubin Museum of Art (RMA) in New York and the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art, a three-year partnership which will bring six exhibitions to the north Atlanta university. The Rubin collection of Himalayan art was assembled by Donald Rubin, Oglethorpe graduate. [2]

The initial exhibition, “Avalokiteshvara: Lord of Compassion”, on display to 11 May 2008, presents in the museum’s small gallery 12 works of Tibetan art — 10 paintings and 2 sculptures which depict the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, a deity whose traditional connection to Tibet reaches back to the country’s formation.

Buddhism was introduced to Tibet in the 7th century A.D. At the time, major trade routes ran through the Tibetan plateau: south-to-north with India, Nepal, and Central Asia, and west-to-east linking the area with present-day Iran, Pakistan, and Northwest India, and with China and Southeast Asia.

Buddhism arrived in Tibet from both Nepal/India and China, although scholars account the greater influence coming from the south. Tibetan Buddhist history ascribes 7th century Tibetan king Song-tsen-gam-po’s construction of Lhasa’s two earliest Buddhist sites as responding to the needs of his wives: one Chinese, the other Nepali, both tribute brides sent to him, and thus indicative of the growing power of Tibet. “In later Buddhist tradition he was accounted as the first of three great religious, i.e., Buddhist, kings,”[3] and indeed Song-tsen-gam-po and the Dalai Lamas are both regarded by Tibetan Buddhists as reincarnations of Avalokiteshvara.

This exhibition translates the bodhisattva’s name “He who looks down on the suffering of the world”, and while scholars debate on the meaning / origination of this [4], that this deity expresses the Mahayana ideal of compassion — the gaze of the Buddha, not upon nirvana, but rather outward and upon the suffering of myriad beings — is undoubted. Viewers of the exhibition are reminded that in this small gallery, they are surrounded by the infinitely compassionate gaze of the bodhisattva, and while this sacred aspect of these works of art is not over-stressed, viewers’ experience of them is  improved by recognizing the specific, and overwhelming, presence of a being of compassion.

The origins of the cult of Avalokiteshvara have not been clearly determined, [5] but early visual evidence exists during the reign of the Kusanas in northwest India, from Mathura in the first century A.D., to Bactria in succeeding centuries. This Buddhist culture of northwest India, placed along the ancient Silk Route, led eventually to the dissemination of Buddhism into Western Tibet. Avalokiteshvara iconography such as the “Bearer of the Lotus” (Padmapani), princely attire and the “royal ease” pose, and the triad forms of Buddha, Vajrapani, and Padmapani all appear during this period. [6]

“After the 5th c., Avalokiteshvara images began to change. First, assimilating attributes of Maitreya, he became more ascetic than regal. Second, he increasingly assumes the status of an independent deity.” [7] This latter change is especially associated with his growing soteriological aspect, with the development of cultic images for protection, relief, safety on journeys. This aspect, combined with the dissemination of Buddhism along trade routes, increased the diffusion and importance of Avalokiteshvara across Asia.

The presence of his cult in Mathura (present-day NW India) in the 5th c. A.D. is noted by the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hsien, and in the 7th c. Hsüang-tsang witnessed the bodhisattva’s image propitiated, especially by travelers seeking assurance of a safe journey. “The most glorious period in the history of the worship of Avalokiteshvara seems to have taken place after the 6th c. A.D. as evidenced by the literature and archaeological remains of India.”[8] “The cult of Avalokiteshvara evidently reached its apogee in the medieval period of Northern India,”[9] that is, concomitant with the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet.

Although the significance of  Avalokiteshvara to the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet has lately been questioned [10] the importance of Avalokiteshvara to Tibetans as their patron deity is undoubted, and indicated by the great number of images, dharanis, mandalas, and other visual and textual artifacts devoted to him.

The Potala, the residence of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa, is named for Avalokiteshvara’s heavenly residence (the Potalaka), “the Buddhist equivalent of Mt. Meru, cosmic central mountain, from where he looks down and surveys the universe  with his all-seeing eyes and all-commiserating mind.” [11]

Numerous legends and scriptural sources tie Avalokiteshvara to the formation of the Tibetan kingdom:

When Buddha was residing at the Veluvana garden he was surrounded by Arahats. There were five different divine rays coming out of his circle of hair between the eyebrows in the middle of the forehead and gradually it formed itself into a rainbow. Thereafter it went to the north in the direction of the Himalaya country of Tibet. At that time Buddha looked and smiled, then immediately Bodhisattva Sarvanivarana Viskambhi asked Buddha, What is the reason of your smiling, Lord? Buddha answered, “Noble boy! In the future there will be a pure Dharma through which one can be delivered to the path of liberation in the barbarian country of Tibet where there has never been a single Buddha for three junctions of time and there are uncountable demons and ghosts yet to time. “Therefore, Avalokiteshvara will tame those wild men, because once upon a time when he was a Bodhisattva he prayed to One thousand Buddhas Saying,” May all the transcendent bless me to be able to time those beings who are into barbarian country. May you bless that barbarian country through my taming, May you bless me to become the parent of those ghosts and demons;. May you bless me to free all those beings. (Legends of 1000 Armed Avalokiteshvara (Saddharmapundarika Sutra)) [12]

Avalokiteshvara is thus viewed as an agent of spiritual growth for the country, a figure whose introduction transformed the people. Tibetans believe that Chenrezig, as a disciple of the Buddha, made a vow of compassion to free the Tibetan peoples from their violent ways:

May I be able to establish in emancipation all living beings in the barbaric Land of Snow; where the beings are so hard to discipline and none of the buddhas of the three times has stepped…May I be able to mature and emancipate them, each according to his/her own way. May that gloomy barbaric country become bright, like an island of precious jewels. (Geshe Wangyal, Door of Liberation, New York, Lotsawa, 1978, pp. 54-55).

He is the patron and protector of Tibet. Further, the Tibetan people claim lineal descent from Chenrezig, who in the form of a monkey sired the original inhabitants of Tibet. Chenrezig, according to Tibetan legends, has appeared in numerous forms to defend Buddhist teachings. He has been identified with the Tibetan emperor Songtsen Gampo (617-698 C.E.) and the successive lineage of Dalai Lamas. The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the current incarnation of Chenrezig.

* * * * * * *

The Rubin collection includes some of the finest Tibetan art in the world. The small sampling exhibited at Oglethorpe University presents images of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara “as understood in Tibet between the 12th and 19th centuries” (press release). These works show stylistic changes in the Avalokiteshvara image (heroic royal, ascetic, cosmic) and offer samples of prominent forms (mandala, lineage, esoteric). As a being infinitely dedicated to easing the suffering of numberless beings,
Avalokiteshvara assumes various forms, all of them indicative of his ability to heed any request.

A 14th-15th c. thanghka shows the bodhisattva facing forward, 1,000-armed (Shashrabhuja), eleven-headed (Ekashamukha). The heads are in a 3-3-3-1-1 configuration. Multiple arms radiate about the figure, each red-palmed hand lightly holding a lotus, trident, vajra, or other symbolic attributes. Raised gold highlights jewelry on the wrists, earrings, necklace, crowns, and halo framing the heads. A halo (mandorla) surrounds the heads in close-fitting bands of raised-gold, two outlined green stripes, red, a thin line of raised gold, and a broad band of red.

The torso has an oblate oval mandorla which extends to enclose the two arcing sets of arms. With slight bends at the elbow and turns of the wrists accomodating gracefully the ranges of arm positions, and hands whose inner face is neatly colored red, their movement forms two half-circles from mid-thigh to the head area. The main figure of the bodhisattva is placed in front of a somewhat roughly gridded field of small Buddhas, arhats, and animal-headed deities. Two small attendant figures stand at his feet, which
are placed heel-to-heel, with long toes (an auspicious mark).

The representation of “heroic altruism” assumes royal form in the small metal sculpture of Padmapani (lotus holding) Avalokiteshvara that opens the exhibition. From the 14th century, this is amongst the earliest representations of the deity from the Himalayas: athletic, with a flaming head and body cakras (aureoles), stylized, flattened robe forms, clearly defined musculature, and an ascetic absence of jewelry combined with a regal posture. His right hand forms the abhaya (absence from fear) mudra, his left holds a lotus. A seated Amitabha (the standard iconographic element of the bodhisattva) is prominent in the crown. Yaksas fly to the left and right of the head cakra, and worshippers kneel and the base of a lotus throne.

The exhibition’s second sculpture, a seated brass figure in the Pala (Indian) style is more feminine and graceful, in the “royal ease” pose with head slightly tilted, right hand resting on right knee in varada mudra, left hand raised at the elbow and forming the dharma-cakra mudra and clasping the stem of a lotus, whose bloom faces the figure’s left cheek. The rhythm of the upper body continues through the lower, the entire form relaxed and attentive. Prayer beads circle the wrists and dharmacakras are visible on the palms and soles of feet.

Exhibition Catalogue (information and links: Himalayan Art Resourses):

Avalokiteshvara – Padmapani (Lotus Holder)
1300 – 1399
Buddhist Lineage

Rakta Lokeshvara (Tibetan: chen re zi mar po. English: the Red Lord of the World), a meditational form of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. 
1800 – 1899
Buddhist Lineage
Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton

Mandala of Avalokiteshvara – Chaturbhuj
1700 – 1799
Nyingma Lineage
40.64×40.01cm (16×15.75in); Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton

Avalokiteshvara – Padmapani (Lotus Holder)
1200 – 1299
Buddhist Lineage

Avalokiteshvara – Chaturbhuja (4 hands) 
1700 – 1799
Uncertain Lineage
80.01×50.80cm (31.50x20in); Ground Mineral Pigment, Raised Gold, Fine Gold Line on Cotton

Avalokiteshvara – Padmapani (Lotus Holder)

Central Tibet
1800 – 1899
Gelug Lineage
71.76×53.98cm (28.25×21.25in)
Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton

Avalokiteshvara – Jinasagara (Ocean of Conquerors) 
Eastern Tibet
1800 – 1899
Nyingma and Karma (Kagyu) Lineages
49.53×30.48cm (19.50x12in); Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Palpung / Situ Painting School

Avalokiteshvara – Jinasagara (Ocean of Conquerors) 
Eastern Tibet
1800 – 1899
Karma (Kagyu) Lineage
Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Karma Gardri Painting School

Avalokiteshvara, Sahasrabhuja Ekadashamukha (Tibetan: chen re zi, chag tong, shal chu chig. English: the All Seeing Lord with 1000 Hands and 11 Faces).
1700 – 1799
Gelug Lineage
59.69×43.18cm (23.50x17in); Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line on Cotton

10 Avalokiteshvara – Sahasrabhujalokeshvara (11 faces, 1000 Hands)
1500 – 1599
Uncertain Lineage
58.42×47.63cm (23×18.75in); Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton

11 Simhanada, Avalokiteshvara (Tibetan: seng ge dra, chen re zi. English: the Lion’s Roar, All Seeing Lord).
1800 – 1899
Kadam, Sakya and Uncertain Lineages
55.88×37.47cm (22×14.75in); Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton

12 Avalokiteshvara – (11 faces, 8 hands)
1400 – 1499
Gelug Lineage
92.71×104.14cm (36.50x41in); Ground Mineral Pigment, Raised Gold on Cotton

All pieces Collection of Rubin Museum of Art.


3 Snellgrove & Richardson, p. 73 — the authors warn of the strongly revisionist tendency of future generations of Tibetan Buddhist historians to overstate the early influence of Buddhism.

4 De Mallmann (1949), Mironov (1927).

5 Yü p.9.

6 Huntington, The Art of Ancient India, p. 139.

7 Yü p.10.

8 Chutiwongs, p. 14.

9 Chutiwongs, p.38.

10 Kapstein (2000) questions the traditional accounts of the significance of Avalokiteshvara in the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet arguing that “the Tibetan cult of Avalokiteshvara is primarily a product of the period of the later spread of the teachings, that is, from the eleventh century onwards.” p. 148.




Blofeld, J. E. C. (1978). Bodhisattva of compassion: the mystical tradition of Kuan Yin. Boulder: Shambala.

Chandra, L. ( ). Dictionary of Buddhist Iconography, Volume 2. Sata Pitaka Series: Indo-Asian Literatures Vol. 602.

Chutiwongs, N. (1984). The iconography of Avalokitesvara in mainland South East Asia Nandana Chutiwongs. S.

De Mallman, M. T. (1949). À propos d’une coiddure et d’un collier d’Avalokitésvara. Oriental Art, V. 1, No. 4. Surrey, England, etc: Oriental Art Magazine, Ltd.

Epprecht, K. (2007). Kannon: divine compassion : early Buddhist art from Japan. Zurich: Museum Rietberg Zürich.

Frederic, L. ( ). Buddhism. Flammarion Conographic guides.

Holt, J. (1991). Buddha in the crown: Avalokiteshvara in the Buddhist traditions of Sri Lanka. New York: Oxford University Press.

Huntington, S. L., & Huntington, J. C. (1985). The art of ancient India: Buddhist, Hindu, Jain. New York: Weatherhil.

Idema, W. L. (2008). Personal salvation and filial piety: two precious scroll narratives of Guanyin and her acolytes. Classics in East Asian Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Kapstein, M. (2000). The Tibetan assimilation of Buddhism: conversion, contestation, and memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mironov, N.D. “Buddhist Miscellanea: Avalokites´vara — Kuan-Yin,” in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1927.

Neville, T. E. (1999). Eleven-headed Avalokitesvara: Chenresigs, Kuan-yin or Kannon Bodhisattva : its origin and iconography. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.

Pal, P. (1984). Tibetan paintings: a study of Tibetan thankas, eleventh to nineteenth centuries. Basel, Switzerland: R. Kumar.

Snellgrove, D. L., & Richardson, H. E. (1980). A cultural history of Tibet. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Tay, C. N. (1976). Kuan-yin: the cult of half Asia. [Chicago]: University of Chicago.

van Schaik, Sam. 2006. “The Tibetan Avalokitesvara Cult in the Tenth Century: Evidence from the Dunhuang Manuscripts” in Tibetan Buddhist Literature and Praxis (Proceedings of the Tenth Seminar of the IATS, 2003, Volume 4), ed. Ronald M. Davidson and Christian Wedemeyer. Leiden: EJ Brill, 2006. 55–72. Available at

WangyalGeshe (1978). Door of Liberation, New York, Lotsawa.

Yü, C.-f. (2000). Kuan-yin: the Chinese transformation of Avalokiteśvara. New York: Columbia University Press.

Zwalf, W. (1985). Buddhism–art and faith. London: Published by British Museum Publications Ltd. for the Trustees of the British Museum and the British Library Board.

The 14 Dalai Lamas – Tibetan Reincarnations of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, August 4, 2005, through April 30, 2006. (Curator: Martin Brauen; assistant curators: Amy Heller and Michael Henss; staff: Dario Donati and Renate Koller.) Location: Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich, Pelikanstrasse 40, CH-8001 Zurich

Avalokiteshvara: The Initiator of Buddhism in Tibet


March 2009, by Jonathan Ciliberto for Buddhist Art News

Zen (2008, 127 minutes)
Film Review by Jonathan Ciliberto for Buddhist Art News

Buddhist art includes not only images of Buddhas, but also paintings and sculptures of historical figures: monks, nuns, teachers, poets, artists, and others. Tibetan thangkas which depict great teachers include, in addition to a large central figure: protective deities, lineage holders, and episodes from the primary subject’s life arrayed around the painting in such a way that the viewer might learn through narrative elements the history of the individual portrayed and thus Buddhist practice. In short: Buddhist art serves to explicate Buddhist practice.

“Dōgen stringently warned against the building of magnificent temples or the making of Buddha images for their own sake.” (Zen Master Dōgen, Yoho Yokoi, p. 33)

In modern media, films devoted to the life of the Buddhist masters in the same way offer an expression of Buddhist teaching through the narrative of an individual’s life. The recently released Japanese film on the life of the 13th century founder of Soto Zen on Japan, Dōgen Zenji (道元禅師, 19 January 1200 – 22 September 1253) , hews to this model, while also pursuing the aesthetics of film. Scene after scene portrays with superb symmetry his life and the understanding of Buddhism that he presented. At the same time, the film is wonderfully filmed, acted, and edited, such that viewers wholly unaware of Buddhist practice will find delight in its viewing.

Zen was directed by Banmei Takahashi and stars Kantaro Nakamura, the 19th generation Kabuki actor and son of Kabuki legend, Nakamura Kanzaburo, who delivers a masterful performance, capturing the quality of Dōgen’s character: from his early struggle to understand Buddhism, to his firm commitment to see Zen spread to his native country. Rather than portraying so monumental a figure as distant or superhuman, Nakamura conveys an everyday person, one engaged in this life fully. And, this is the Buddhism Dōgen professed: that enlightenment is not a goal, but rather a practice.

So, despite the spiritual and historical weight that Dōgen carries as the founder of one of Japan’s two main Zen traditions, his person is presented without sensationalism or pomposity: no miracles or grandiose gestures are attributed, nor does the filmmaker turn to extreme hagiography, and this is appropriate to the subject. Dōgen, frustrated with the artifice and worldliness of the Buddhism he encountered, sought his “true master,” one who practiced the true form of Buddhism. He found this in a Zen practice he encountered in China, which he transmitted to Japan in the form known as Soto. Dōgen

“claimed that people commonly believe the occult powers of Buddhas are such as exhaling water and fire from the body or inhaling water from the ocean into the pores of the body. These may be termed “small occult powers,” but they are not worthy of being termed true occult powers. The true occult powers […] exist within and only within the simple everyday occurrences of “drinking tea, eating rice, drawing water, and carrying faggots.” ” (A Comparative History of Ideas, Hajime Nakamura, p. 492)

The Dōgen presented in Zen pursues first and foremost: seated meditation. Many scenes which begin with a conflict of some sort end with Dōgen inviting seated meditation. On only one occasion does the film attempt to depict meditation in any other form than monks seated, meditating, and this representation of in terms of water, lotus, and light is brief.

In addition to the life of Buddhist practice, the film skillfully conveys the life of Japan in the 13th century: war, famine, political struggles, deep mountain forests and burgeoning urban areas. Although the cinematography (Chinese landscapes, mountain monasteries) is spectacular, the filmmakers seem to have made a particular effort not to lead the viewer to ooh and aaah at marvellous sites, always keeping focused on human beings in the landscape, seeking meaning.

Enforced upon those who encounter Dōgen in the film, and thus upon its modern viewers, is the key question Buddhism asks: what are you doing? “When death suddenly comes, neither the king nor his ministers, relatives, servants, wife or children, or rare jewels can save us. […] Therefore while we still retain our human body we should quickly enter monkhood.” (Shōbōgenzō, quoted in Yokoi, p.27) So insistent is this message that one leaves the theatre asking, “what am I doing with myself?” That such a question sounds so clearly, with such force, indicates the Buddhist quality of the film, serving as does all Buddhist art to guide the individual to self-criticism and thus better practice.

(I thank Emory University and the Japanese Consulate of Atlanta for their screening of this film.)

Movie site

Japan Times review

International Association of Buddhist Studies XVth Congress; Emory University (Atlanta, GA) July 2008 Notes by Jonathan Ciliberto Thanks to the kindness of Sara McClintock (Emory University), I attended several panels related to Buddhist art. The complete academic program for the event is here. Following are my brief notes which represent my reception of the papers presented; obviously, I am responsible for inaccuracies. General Comments The congress was held from Tuesday, 23 June to Saturday, 28 June, with 9 sessions, each having 7 panels. Each panel consisted of 5-6 papers. The dozens of interesting papers presented ranged across the wide scope encompassed by Buddhist studies.

Buddhist art panel (25 June 2008) Moderator: Cristina Scherrer-Schmidt Daniel Veidlinger (California State University (Chico)) “ Sarvastivada Buddhism and the Advent of the Buddha Image” Professor Veidlinger suggests Buddhist philosophy as a guide to the development of Buddhist art. His thesis is that the emergence of the figural in Buddhist art comes from a philosophical position of the Sarvastivada school as regards temporality. The Sarvastivada was a school in the Hinayana prominent just before and in the early centuries of the present era. Veidlinger first places early Buddhist figural work in the Hinayana tradition by pointing out that the sole figures represented initially were Shakyamuni and Maitreya — also the only deities recognized by the Hinayanists. Further, the Sarvastivada school is indicated in early inscriptional evidence, thus linking it with early image-making. (The Bimaran casket from the time of Azes II (50-10 BCE), e.g., also in related coinage.) [more]

The Marshall Albums: Photography and Archaeology Sudeshna Guha # Hardcover: 288 pages # Publisher: Mapin Publishing Gp Pty Ltd (March 16, 2011) # Language: English # ISBN-10: 1890206458 # ISBN-13: 978-1890206451 # Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 9.7 x 1.2 inches This volume is a study exploring multiple perceptions of Indian history and related scholarship produced through archaeological fieldwork during the colonial period.

2010 Tibetan Art and Architecture Verfasst von pw am Fr, 06/10/2011 – 11:10. Lo Bue, Erberto [u.a.] [Hrsg.]: Tibetan Art and Architecture in Context : PIATS 2006, Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Königswinter 2006 / Erberto Lo Bue and Christian Luczanits (Editors). – Andiast : International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 2011. – XIII, 406 S. : Ill., graph. Darst. – (Beiträge zur Zentralasienforschung ; 20) ISBN 978-3-88280-089-0 EUR 72,50 DDC: 709.515 Inhalt Foreword / Erberto Lo Bue & Christian Luczanits. vii 1. Reinhard Herdick: The Historical Architecture of the Trandruk Temple in the Yar lung Valley of Tibet. 1 2. Eva Allinger: Considerations on the Development of the Representation of the Buddha’s Life in Early Tibetan Thangkas. 27 3. Amy Heller: Preliminary Remarks on the Donor Inscriptions and Iconography of an 11th-century Mchod rten at Tholing. 43 4. Christiane Papa-Kalantari: Courtly Cavaliers, Mounted Heroes and Pehar: New Issues in the Iconography and Iconology of Protector Deities in Early Western Himalayan Art. 75 5. Helmut F. Neumann & Heidi A. Neumann: An Early Wall Painting of a Bhaiṣajyaguru Maṇḍala in Western Tibet. 121 6. Kurt Tropper: Inscriptions and Captions in the Gu ru Lha khang at Nako, Kinnaur. 143 7. Melissa R. Kerin: Visual Evidence for ‘Bri gung Activity at Nako, Kinnaur. 175 8. Olaf Czaja: The Commemorative Stupas at Densathil a Preliminary Study. 197 9. Christian Luczanits: Mandalas of Mandalas: The Iconography of a Stupa of Many Auspicious Doors for Phag mo gru pa. 281 10. Ursula Toyka-Fuong: Three Tibeto-Chinese Mandala Paintings of Around 1442. 311 11. Federica Venturi: Reconstructing Sakya: Written Sources, Photographic Archives and Fieldwork. 335 12. Erberto Lo Bue: The Śambhala Murals in the Klu khang and Their Historical Context. A Preliminary Report. 353 13. Jakob Winkler: The Dbu yab pho brang in the Nor bu gling ga and Its Connection with the Murals of the Klu khang Behind the Potala. 375 14. Ingrid Kreide-Damani: An Unusual Highlight in Trade in Tibetan Art: A 20th-century Thangka of Shangs pad, Protector of the Dge ldan byams pa gling Monastery at Chamdo in the Province of Dagyab in Kham, Eastern Tibet. 393

Early Buddhist Art of China and Central Asia, Volume 3
The Western Ch’in in Kansu in the Sixteen Kingdoms Period and Inter-relationships with the Buddhist Art of Gandhāra
by Marylin Martin-Rhie
Series: Handbook of Oriental Studies.
Section 4 China
ISSN: 0169-9520
ISBN13: 9789004184008
Publication Year: 2010
Edition info: 1
Version: Hardback
Publication Type: Book
Illustrations: lviii, 962 pp. (460 pp of illustrations)
Imprint: BRILL Language: English

This book, third in a series on the early Buddhist art of China and Central Asia, centers on Buddhist art from the Western Ch’in (385-431 A.D.) in eastern Kansu (northwest China), primarily from the cave temples of Ping-ling ssu and Mai-chi shan. A detailed chronological and iconographic study of sculptures and wall paintings in Cave 169 at Ping-ling ssu particularly yields a chronological framework for unlocking the difficult issues of dating early fifth century Chinese Buddhist art, and offers some new insights into textual sources in the Lotus, Hua-yen and Amitabha sutras. Further, … read morethis study introduces the iconographpy of the five Buddhas and its relation to the art of Gandhara and the famous five colossal T’an-yao caves at Yün-kang

The Buddhist Caves at Aurangabad: Transformations in Art and Religion (Brill’s Indological Library) Pia Brancaccio # Hardcover: 332 pages # Publisher: BRILL (December 17, 2010) # Language: English # ISBN-10: 9004185259 # ISBN-13: 978-9004185258 # Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches This is a study that focuses on the art and architecture of a group of Buddhist rock-cut monuments excavated on the western edge of the Deccan Plateau in India. It analyses the various cultural, historical and religious phenomena that shaped the caves at Aurangabad through the first seven centuries of the Common Era and it comments on the Buddhist tradition of the western Deccan as a whole. The result is a comprehensive work that does not address exclusively iconography and chronology, but looks beyond Aurangabad to the larger artistic and religious traditions of the Indian Subcontinent.

The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin By Audrey Yoshiko Seo and Stephen Addiss Hardcover: 288 pages Publisher: Shambhala (September 7, 2010) Language: English ISBN-10: 1590305787 ISBN-13: 978-1590305782 Product Dimensions: 11.7 x 8.3 x 1.2 inches Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds List Price: $65.00

Wonders of Lo : the artistic heritage of Mustang ed. by Erberto Lo Bue. – Mumbai : Marg Publications, 2010. – 164 S. : zahlr. Ill. (= Mārg, vol. 62, no. 2 (December 2010). ISSN 0025-2913) ISBN 978-93-80581-02-6

Ritual and Representation in Buddhist Art Jeong-hee Lee-Kalisch, Antje Papist-Matsuo (Hg.) ISBN: 9783897396418 Ladenpreis This publication investigates the ritual and cultural contexts in which art and representations of Buddhist thought were used in East and Central Asia. The book contains nine essays by specialists in the field. The contributions range from the Buddhist cult of relics in ancient China and material evidences for Buddhist rituals of confession and repentance in North Chinese cave temples of the 6th and early 7th centuries to aspects of cultural exchange, regional innovation, and traditions of imperial workmanship as means of dynastic power. The development of popular iconographies based on Avatamsaka doctrine in Tang China and the Korean kingdom of Unified Silla is discussed as well as representations of Amitabha’s Pure Land on the Northern Silk Road produced under Uygur patronage. Some aspects in Sino-Tibetan sculptures and thangkas of the early 15th century appear to testify to the imitation of approved artistic models as mean to strengthen Chinese influence over Tibet. By looking at Tibetan medical thangkas mainly of the 19th century, one essay elaborates basic principles of Tibetan medicine which has been influenced throughout the centuries principally by Indian and Chinese ideas. The book also scopes developments of visual traditions in Japanese Buddhist art and their use in ritual contexts, namely Japanese sculptures of the Kamakura period, iconographically unorthodox depictions of Amitabha Buddha, and religious connotations of lacquered implements in Negoro style. Originally based on a university lecture series organized by the editors in 2005 at the Department of East Asian Art History, Institute of Art History at Freie Universität Berlin, this work is of value to both specialists and students of Asian art and religion.

Buddhism: The Icon of Cultural Linkage with China Prem Kumari Pant and Prof. Shanker Thapa (Ed.) Kathmandu: Nepal China Society, 2010; 446pp., Rs.1050/- NC (Hard), Rs.750/- NC (S0ft).

Buddhist Temples of Thailand: A Visual Journey through Thailand’s 40 Most Historic Wats By Joe Cummings Photography by Dan White Published by Marshall Cavendish Editions

Ham, Peter van: Heavenly Himalayas : the Murals of Mangyu and Other Discoveries in Ladakh / Peter van Ham. With contributions by Rob Linrothe, Gerald Kosicz and Amy Heller. Foreword by His Eminence, Raja Jigmed Wangchuk Namgyal, King of Ladakh. – Munich ; Berlin ; London ; New York : Prestel, 2010. – 176 S. : Ill., Kt. ISBN 978-3-7913-4543-7 EUR 59,00 DDC: 726.14309546

Dagens, Bruno [u.a.]: Archaeologists in Angkor : photographic archives of the École française d’Extrême-Orient (French school of Asian studies) : [exhibition], Musée Cernuschi-Musée des arts de l’Asie de la Ville de Paris, September 9th 2010-January 3rd 2011 / [Musée Cernuschi (Paris)]. – Paris : École française d’Extrême-Orient ; [Suilly-la-Tour] : Éd. Findakly, 2010. – 239 S. : zahlr. Ill. ISBN 978-2-85539-121-2 EUR 45,00 DDC: 959.602; 726.1450959607444361

Surviving Nirvana: Death of the Buddha in Chinese Visual Culture Sonya S. Lee Product Details * Hardcover: 400 pages * Publisher: University of Washington Press (March 15, 2010) * Language: English * ISBN-10: 9622091253 * ISBN-13: 978-9622091252 * Product Dimensions: 11 x 8.1 x 1.1 inches Product Description The Buddha’s nirvana marks the end of the life of a great spiritual figure and the beginning of Buddhism as a world religion. Surviving Nirvana is the first book in the English language to examine how this historic moment was represented and received in the visual culture of China, of which the nirvana image has been a part for over 1,500 years. –Mining a selection of well-documented and well-preserved examples from the sixth to twelfth centuries, Sonya Lee offers a reassessment of medieval Chinese Buddhism by focusing on practices of devotion and image-making that were inspired by the Buddha’s “complete extinction.” The nirvana image, comprised of a reclining Buddha and a mourning audience, was central to defining the local meanings of the nirvana moment in different times and places. The motif’s many guises, whether on a stone-carved stele, inside a pagoda crypt, or as a painted mural in a cave temple, were the product of social interactions, religious institutions, and artistic practices prevalent in a given historical context. They were also cogent responses to the fundamental anxiety about the absence of the Buddha and the prospect of one’s salvation. By reinventing the nirvana image to address its own needs, each community of patrons, makers, and viewers sought to recast the Buddha’s “death” into an allegory of survival that was charged with local pride and contemporary relevance.- -Thoroughly researched, this study engages methods and debates from the fields of art history, religion, archaeology, architecture, and East Asian history that are relevant to scholars and students alike. The many examples analyzed in the book offer well-defined local contexts to discuss broader historical and theoretical issues concerning representation, patronage, religion and politics, family values, and vision.–Sonya S. Lee is assistant professor of art history and East Asian languages and cultures at University of Southern California.

Buddhism: The Icon of Cultural Linkage with China Prem Kumari Pant and Prof. Shanker Thapa (Ed.) Kathmandu: Nepal China Society, 2010; 446pp., Rs.1050/- NC (Hard), Rs.750/- NC (S0ft).

The Story of Korean Art Yoo Hong-jun Nulwa: 412 pp., 28,000 won

Power of Place: The Religious Landscape of the Southern Sacred Peak (Harvard East Asian Monographs) [Hardcover] James Robson Product Description Throughout Chinese history mountains have been integral components of the religious landscape. They have been considered divine or numinous sites, the abodes of deities, the preferred locations for temples and monasteries, and destinations for pilgrims. Early in Chinese history a set of five mountains were co-opted into the imperial cult and declared sacred peaks, yue, demarcating and protecting the boundaries of the Chinese imperium. The Southern Sacred Peak, or Nanyue, is of interest to scholars not the least because the title has been awarded to several different mountains over the years. The dynamic nature of Nanyue raises a significant theoretical issue of the mobility of sacred space and the nature of the struggles involved in such moves. Another facet of Nanyue is the multiple meanings assigned to this place: political, religious, and cultural. Of particular interest is the negotiation of this space by Daoists and Buddhists. The history of their interaction leads to questions about the nature of the divisions between these two religious traditions. James Robson’s analysis of these topics demonstrates the value of local studies and the emerging field of Buddho-Daoist studies in research on Chinese religion. Product Details * Hardcover: 450 pages * Publisher: Harvard University Asia Center; 1 edition (October 30, 2009) * Language: English * ISBN-10: 9780674033320 * ISBN-13: 978-0674033320 * ASIN: 0674033329 * Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.1 x 1.6 inches

Buddhist monasteries towards urbanism in southern Sri Lanka Prishanta Gunawardhana. Imprint: Battaramulla : Neptune Publications, Physical Desc.: xvii, 240, [21] p. : ill., maps (chiefly col.) ; 32 cm. Year: 2009 ISBN: 9789550028009 Summary: With special reference to Ruhuṇa, Sri Lanka. ================================================= For their sheer size and number, architectural remains of Buddhist monasteries figure among the foremost areas of archaeological research in Sri Lanka. Their historical and archaeological importance apart, these structural remains are equally important for considering the cultural history of the island. The relationship between rulers, laymen and the Buddhist monks along with the environment, says the author, were the key factors in developing the ideologies for the monastic organizations from their very inception. With a theoretical analysis of the Buddhist monasteries towards urbanism in southern Sri Lanka: from the Protohistoric period to the Polonnarwa period, this study tries to show how Magama was not just a major city of Buddhist monasteries, but also the chief urban centre of political rulers of the Sri Lanka. The pre-polity and primary urban form surfaced in Magama from the 9th century BC onwards – with the possible emergence of village-based settlements, agriculture and megalithic burial sites. It is worth noting that a considerable urban form, political structure, agricultural development and the commercial guild, long-distance foreign trade in the KO system might have emerged during the Protohistoric and Early Historic periods. The situation from the pre-polity and pre-urban form changed due to climactic development of the international trade from 3rd century BC to the 4th century AD. This resulted in the emergence of mature urban form, along with monasteries. The book is largely an attempt to reconstruct the social reality of the Buddhist monasteries during the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods in Magama — the southern kingdom of ancient Sri Lanka. Even if the study is mainly confined to the monastic architecture, it also proposes to investigate the specific spatial manipulation of Buddhist monasteries within the context of trade in the urban form. Concludingly, the author assumes that Magama – having been linked to good political rulers, Buddhist monasteries and trade — might have become a magnificent urban city during the period. Dr Prishanta Gunawardhana is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.

2008 REVIEW The Art of Buddhism: an Introduction to its History and Meaning by Denise Patry Leidy Shambhala, 2008 Only three volumes exist in print in English which cover Buddhist art as a whole, both historically and iconographically. I presume that this scarcity is due to the breadth of the subject, to the still shifting opinions on broad trends, and to the inclusion of Buddhist art within wider surveys on Asian art. Until recently, the UK press Thames & Hudson’s Buddhist Art (by Robert E. Fisher) was the sole volume to which individuals could turn. In 2009, River Books released Buddhist Art by Giles Beguin. One year prior to this appeared The Art of Buddhism: an Introduction to its History and Meaning, by Denise Patry Leidy, which is specifically for “general readers and undergraduate students” (p. 5). Shambhala is the most prominent American press dedicated to Eastern spirituality. For many readers unfamiliar with Buddhism, it is a primary or initial source of information on Buddhism. While many of its releases are popular in nature, a significant portion of their output comes in the form of translations and scholarly works. Continue Reading…

Buddhist Iconography and Ritual in Paintings and Line Drawings from Nepal, by Gudrun Buhnemann November 2008 Lumbini International Research Institute, Nepal

This book is divided into three sections. The first section introduces one specific tradition of Siddhas transmitted by artists from Nepal. This artistic legacy, which is related to a corpus of texts that go back through Srīsena and Buston, includes two paintings and an incomplete set of line drawings. One of the paintings is an early-sixteenth-century paubhā of Vajradhara surrounded by the eighty-four Siddhas (now preserved in the National Art Gallery, Bhaktapur). The set of line drawings of originally all eighty-four Siddhas (now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) goes back to the seventeenth century. On the basis of a comparison of the portraits of the eighty-four Siddhas in the painting from Bhaktapur (which provides the Siddhas’ names) and the line drawings (which also label the Siddhas) it is suggested that the eighty-two Siddhas surrounding the Siddha Virūpāin the other Nepalese painting, from the second quarter of the thirteenth century, which is now part of the Kronos Collections of S.M. Kossak, New York, are part of the same tradition. The Siddhas in this well-known and frequently reproduced painting have so far remained unidentified since their names are not inscribed in the painting.

The second section of the book focuses on lesser known manifestations of (Cakra)samvara, a form of Heruka, and includes a discussion and reproduction of images of two groups of Samvaras. The first document is a painted scroll showing the group of sixty-four Samvaras with their consorts; the second one is a set of line drawings of what appears to be another group of Samvaras (thirty-six in number) with their consorts. The last section presents a set of line drawings which is based on a section of the parikramavidhi found in chapter 6 of Kuladatta’s Kriyāsamgraha(pañjikā). This text is an important Tantric manual which has been particularly influential in Nepal and whose author may even have been of Nepalese origin. The set of line drawings, which dates from approximately the eighteenth century, illustrates the ritual of walking around the site of a mandala. The line drawings are of great interest for the study of Buddhist ritual, since they illustrate a large number of stances, sitting postures and hand gestures described in the Kriyāsamgraha(pañjikā) but whose names are not recorded in standard reference works on iconography.

Gudrun Bühnemann is Professor in the Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia at The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her recent publications include The Iconography of Hindu Tantric Deities (2 volumes, Groningen, 2000–01), Mandalas and Yantras in the Hindu Traditions (Leiden, 2003; New Delhi, 2007) and Eighty-four Asanas in Yoga. A Survey of Traditions (with Illustrations)(New Delhi, 2007).

The Origins of Yoga and Tantra
by Geoffrey Samuel

Product Description
Yoga, tantra and other forms of Asian meditation are practised in modernized forms throughout the world today, but most introductions to Hinduism or Buddhism tell only part of the story of how they developed. This book is an interpretation of the history of Indic religions up to around 1200 CE, with particular focus on the development of yogic and tantric traditions. It assesses how much we really know about this period, and asks what sense we can make of the evolution of yogic and tantric practices, which were to become such central and important features of the Indic religious scene. Its originality lies in seeking to understand these traditions in terms of the total social and religious context of South Asian society during this period, including the religious practices of the general population with their close engagement with family, gender, economic life and other pragmatic concerns. Product Details Paperback: 432 pages Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (June 9, 2008) Language: English ISBN-10: 0521695341 ISBN-13: 978-0521695343 Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.8 x 1 inches

Buddhist Monasteries, Castles & Forts and Traditional Houses
Author : O.C. Handa
ISBN 8173872139
ISBN13 9788173872136
Publisher: Indus Publishing Company
Published In 2008

2007 Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art: 1600-2005 by Patricia J. Graham University of Hawaii Press, 2007 Book Review by Jonathan Ciliberto for Buddhist Art News Visual art is deeply tied to Buddhist practice, and certain sites and structures possess special significance to this practice. In Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art: 1600-2005 Patricia J. Graham tracks “the thread of change over time to the practice of Buddhism” through a thorough examination of works of Japanese Buddhist art and architecture from the 17th into the 21st century. This superb survey includes non-traditional works — that is, those not connected with institutional Buddhism in Japan — including those intended for museums. It also aims to overturn the fallacy of the ‘declining’ Buddhist arts of Japan in recent centuries. Thus, the book has three goals: 1) to reconsider the canon of Japanese art in order to make room for Buddhist art and architecture from the 19th century to the present; 2) “to define the social history of recent Japanese Buddhist art and architecture” (p 3); 3) to illustrate the place of Buddhism as an influence or inspiration on art and artists outside of institutional Buddhism. It is the first book to study the 400-year span from the beginning of the Edo period to the present and to link this period to the established canon of Japanese Buddhist art (p 9-10). Continue Reading…

Burmese Buddhist Murals: Vol. 1-Epigraphic Corpus of the Powin Taung Caves By : Munier, Christophe & Myint Aung Bangkok 2007, 524 pp., illus. 56 pp. illus. in col., 210 x 295 mm, pbk. Weight 2.300 kgs Price : US$83.00 This book offers a systematic study of a preeminent site in the artistic and cultural heritage of Southeast Asia. With over five hundred caves, Powin Taung has for centuries attracted pilgrims and today houses eleven monasteries providing a home for about a hundred monks, novices and nuns. The caves, dug into a sandstone formation, are decorated with murals of the twenty-eight Buddhas. They depict the life of Gotama (the historical Buddha) and the Jatakas (the narratives of his previous lives). Only twenty-nine caves (regarded as the most important at the site) and one temple have captioned murals dating from the Nyaungyan and early Konbaung periods (Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries). This volume publishes, for the first time, the complete original Burmese texts of these captioned murals, laid out in registers, and their English translation. With its footnotes and appendices, this book is a tool for Buddhologists, historians and art historians, linguists, archaeologists and enlightened amateurs, as well as for guides. It makes a major contribution to the dissemination of the Burmese Buddhist cultural and literary heritage. This systematic work has fifty-six color pages, and altogether four hundred photographs. For each cave it gives a floor plan and plans of the walls with murals.

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