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The Concept of Buddhist Art

The Concept of Buddhist Art

“I do not aspire to death, I do not aspire to life...
I consciously and cheerfully wait for my time to come.”
~ Buddha

“When you draw a tree, you need to feel it grow.” ~ Su Shi

During the conquest of India, Alexander the Great and his soldiers were amazed that the peasants who worked in the fields near the battlefields and the townspeople who stormed the Greek troops were completely indifferent to the military events while continuing to do their jobs. Only later did the Greek conquerors become acquainted with the teachings of the Buddha that originated in northern India in the mid-first millennium BC. They realized that this behavior was not surprising, that it was dictated by the idea of Buddhism (dating back to the ancient Vishnu cult) that a person should not do evil, should not harm any life, and should refrain from violence.

Ideas of neutralism

And it would seem that this neutralism made Buddhism a religion that did not affect social life. People who believe in Buddha do not worry over trifles, do not complete "will I be alone forever checklist," or think how to impress others. But as Thomas Monroe rightly points out about Buddhism, “neither Buddhism nor Christianity emerged as social or political revolutions; their messages were moral and religious. But they had profound social and political consequences... ”

And Buddhism has introduced quite certain social ideas into the arts; these are ideas of the unfulfilling of evil and violence, which have acquired a concrete and figurative character in art. For example, since ancient times, there is a traditional sculptural image of a thousand-handed Buddha: The Buddha sits on a lotus flower, lifting thousands of hands like a halo (the number, of course, conditional) around his head and shoulders, with thousands of eyes in his open palms. The social context of this religious method is this: Buddha has a thousand eyes to see all the wrongs done on earth, and a thousand hands to reach out to help all the afflicted, to take away their grief and misery.

The three hypostases

From generation to generation, from century to century, to reproduce this image of a thousand-handed Buddha, imparting to the believer the thought of the omnipotence of the Buddha and the illusory efforts of the person doing good since his efforts are incommensurate with the great master's. Thus, the "neutralism" of Buddhism acquired quite a certain social meaning, justified the invariance and infallibility of existing unjust social relations.

However, Buddhism always gravitated to the socio-moral teaching that it sought to embody in specific artistic ways. However, the works of art were more capacious and meaningful than the religious, social, and moral teachings of Buddhism. Yes, there is a Buddhist story about the three hypostases, the three stages of the search for truth by the Buddha. You may not know, for example, the religious significance of this plot, embodied in the three sculptural images of a person located in the Buddhist pagoda of Tai Phua (Shan Tai Province, North Vietnam), but just look carefully at these images to understand the aesthetic, the artistic value of these sculptures.

These three sculptures depict:

  1. A man sitting cross-legged with a huge belly, closed eyes, and a blissful smile on his face.
  2. Sitting behind him, but just above, a very exhausted man with an ascetic face of a saint (he holds a small grain in his hands).
  3. Behind them a slender young man with a harmoniously developed body, a tall naked torso, and a beautiful, spiritualized face. 

The religious meaning of these sculptures is this: a living man, like many, was mired in gluttony and forgotten about his soul. But here he saw how many were starving and unable to live better, he became a holy hermit, eating only one small hemp grain in a day.

Equality and kindness

Buddhist theology has always sought to return a person to "not distinguish between good and evil, humans and animals..." feelings of affection and love, i.e., removed the harmonious and humanistic aspects of human beings.

Here, Buddhism clearly transforms the more humanistic principles of Vedic culture. Thus, the Mahabharata clearly defines the dignity and meaning of human life.

Of great social importance was the idea of Buddhism about the death of man, which is not simply annihilation but is only a transition to another life, and only in nirvana does a person achieve complete dissolution, disappearance (extinction). This idea was a grain of dialectical thought about the indestructibility of reality (material or ideal), the idea of the infinity of being of the world, and therefore of man in it. 


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