SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

An imperial mission for the Khmer medical Buddha

Peter Sharrock (SOAS)

Date: 14 December 2011Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 14 December 2011Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B111

Type of Event: Seminar

The importance of the medical Buddha Bhaisajyaguru attests to the skills of monks in many Buddhist communities in using medicinal herbs and meditation techniques to treat illness. Yet identifying the icon of this important Buddha has proven persistently difficult. The brief appearance at a New York auction of a bronze Buddhist triad in 12th century Cambodian Bayon style has recently enabled scholars to challenge the labelling of a Buddha with vajra and bell crossed at his chest. This Buddha identified for the past 90 years as the supreme esoteric Buddha Vajradhara can now be re-identified as the Khmer Bhaisajyaguru, who presided over a unique mediaeval network of 102 hospitals in the ancient Khmer Empire. The findings of a SOAS field trip to Isan, northeast Thailand this summer have reinforced the new identification and shown how the medical Buddha could be an important instrument of imperial strategy. Bhaisajyaguru was found to have been the dominant, peaceful envoy of King Jayavarman VII among the Mons and Khmers of the Khorat Plateau. This peaceful, medical-backed campaign in the west contrasts with the king's decade-long purely military campaign against neighbouring Champa in the East, revealing a marked difference in strategy to extend Khmer suzerainty over the western and eastern wings of his empire.

Organiser: Crispin Branfoot

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