Seated Gautama Buddha, T.W. Rhys Davids Ph.D. LLD., Victoria Charles

1000 Buddhas of Genius

The text below is the excerpt of the book 1000 Buddhas of Genius (ASIN: B00T8VNZ5O), written by T.W. Rhys Davids Ph.D. LLD. and Victoria Charles, published by Parkstone International.

The Life of Gautama, Down to the Time of his Appearance as a Teacher:

Around 500 BCE, at a place called Kapilavastu on the banks of the river Rohini in what is now Nepal, there settled a tribe named the Sakyas. The river rose thirty or forty miles to the north of their settlement in the spurs of the mighty Himalayas, whose giant peaks loomed up in the distance against the clear blue of the Indian sky. The Sakyas had penetrated further to the east than most of their fellow tribes, but beyond them in that direction was the powerful confederation of the Licchavis and the rising kingdom of Magadha, while behind them to the west lay those lands which the Brahmans held most sacred. Their nearest neighbours to be feared were the subjects of the king of Sravasti, the rival of the king of Magadha. It was this rivalry more than their own strength that secured for the Sakyas a precarious independence; but their own hand was strong enough to protect them against the incursions of roving bands from the hills, and to sustain them in their quarrels with neighbouring clans of the same standing as themselves. They lived from the produce of their cattle and their ricefields; their supplies of water being drawn from the Rohini, on the other side of which lived the Koliyans, a kindred tribe.  

Head of Buddha, 1000 Buddhas of Genius, T.W. Rhys Davids Ph.D. LLD., Victoria Charles
Head of Buddha, date unknown, Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Burma, gold

The Sakyas sometimes quarrelled with the Koliyans for the possession of the water supply, but at this moment the two clans were at peace, and two daughters of the raja, or chief, of the Koliyans were the wives of Suddhodana, the raja of the Sakyas. The story tells us that both were childless, a misfortune great enough in other times and in other countries, but especially then and in that culture where it was firmly believed that the state of a man’s existence after death depended upon ceremonies to be performed by his heir. The rejoicing, therefore, was great when, at the age of 45, the elder sister promised Suddhodana a son. In accordance with custom, she started off with the intention of being confined to her parents’ house, but it was on the way under the shade of some lofty satin trees in a pleasant grove called Lumbini that her son, the future Buddha, was unexpectedly born. The mother and child were carried back to Suddhodana’s house; there, seven days afterwards, the mother died. The boy, however, found a careful nurse in his mother’s sister, his father’s other wife.

The Beginnings of Buddhist Art in India and Aniconism

Buddhist art in India did not appear immediately following the death of the historic Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, but was rather the product of the conversion of Asoka, a powerful monarch of the Maurya dynasty, who reigned from 272 to 231 BCE. In order to spread Buddhism throughout his empire, he ordered edicts to be engraved onto columns that were erected throughout the kingdom, from Bengal to Afghanistan and the southernmost regions of India. These pillars were topped by sculptures on which one could find a representation of the Wheel of Law. An iconographic project developed simultaneously with the erection of these columns, with the aim of producing sculptures that would be used to decorate stupas.

Colossal Buddha of Bamyan, 1000 Buddhas of Genius, T.W. Rhys Davids Ph.D. LLD., Victoria Charles
Colossal Buddha of Bamyan, 5th-6th century, Bamyan, Afghanistan, carved sandstone, height: 53.3 m. (Destroyed in 2001)

Sculptures became more explicit, representing episodes of the Buddha’s life and teachings, and took the form of votive tablets or friezes. Although India had a long sculptural tradition and had mastered rich iconography, the Buddha was at this time never represented in human form but only through some of his symbols, such as the wheel of the dharma, a decorated stupa or an empty throne.

The reluctance towards anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha and the sophisticated development of aniconic symbols to avoid them (even in narrative scenes where other human figures appear), seems to be connected to several of the Buddha’s sayings, recorded in the Digha Nikaya, that disfavour representations of himself after the extinction of his body. He wanted to emphasise his teachings and not his personal existence. This tendency continued as late as the 2nd century CE in the outhern parts of India, evident in the art of the Amaravati school.

The four heads of Vairocana, 1000 Buddhas of Genius, T.W. Rhys Davids Ph.D. LLD., Victoria Charles
The four heads of Vairocana, mid-12th to early 13th century, Sumda Assembly Hall, Dukhang of Alchi, Ladakh, India, painted clay

Introduction to Chinese Buddhism

When discussing Chinese Buddhism, it is important to refer to the various schools that thrived in that part of the world for centuries. Through these schools’ methods of incorporating Confucianism and Taoism (among other belief systems) into their philosophy, the originally foreign religion became an integrated, characteristic aspect of culture and society in China. Buddhism’s effect on Chinese people’s way of thinking and everyday behaviour has been significant, extending from art to politics, from literature to philosophy, from medicine to interpersonal relationships.

Many consider the construction of Báima-Si, the White Horse Temple, to be the most definitive introduction of Buddhism to China. Established in 68 CE by Emperor Ming of the Han Dynasty (reigned 58-75 CE), Báima-Si is the result of a well-known inspired dream. The Emperor had dreamt of an immense golden man with the glow of the sun and the moon radiating from his head and shoulders. Learning from his advisors that a figure known as the “Buddha” was worshiped in distant countries, Emperor Ming sent representatives west of China in search of the “golden god” that had appeared in his dream.

Vairocana Buddha accompanied by Candraprabha and Suryaphrabhasa, 1000 Buddhas of Genius, T.W. Rhys Davids Ph.D. LLD., Victoria Charles
Vairocana Buddha accompanied by Candraprabha and Suryaphrabhasa, 326, Hangzhou, China

In 67 CE, emissaries returned to China with Buddhist scriptures and artwork. Legend has it that the temple took its name from the white horses that bore the materials into the country. By the mid-1st century, Buddhism had already spread north of the Huai River. Emperor Ming himself and his brother Liu Ying, the Prince of Chu, were among the first influential figures in China to convert to Buddhism.

With the arrival of Parthian missionary An Shih Kao in Luoyang in 148 CE, the earliest documented translations of Indian Buddhist texts into Chinese took place. Most likely following the Kushan Empire’s 2nd century expansion into the Tarim Basin area, An Shih Kao had already helped to spread the popularity of the religion by constructing Buddhist temples. His most influential contribution is perhaps the Chinese translations of various Buddhist scriptures that he commissioned throughout his time in Luoyang. The Buddhist proselyte tradition sparked by An Shih Kao’s example spread throughout Central Asia and thrived for centuries…

And there have other countries’ Buddhism in this book.

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