SOAS University of London

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

Imag(in)ing Buddhas in South Asia (1)

Module Code:
154900182
Status:
Module Not Running 2019/2020
Credits:
15
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1

This course will engage in a truly inter-disciplinary manner with the central ideal of Buddhism, as it developed within and beyond its South Asian cradle. The notion of Buddha (i.e., the Awaken One), being primarily an epithet of the founder of Buddhism, the religious leader also called Śākyamuni, has developed historically so as to encompass the range of his predecessors and successors on Earth, and of Masters currently teaching in distant universes. These have been and still are the primary focus of religious practice and devotion throughout the Buddhist world, believers not only willing to witness and benefit from the sacred presence of Buddhas, but also to identify with them and to imitate their journey to realise the ultimate goal of Buddhism. Bringing together the expertise of an Art Historian (Dr. Luczanits) and a Historian of Buddhist thought (Dr. Tournier), it will expose students to a diversity of approaches to textual, iconographic, and archaeological sources, to understand how Buddhas and their achievements were imagined, presented, pictured, and encountered by Buddhist practitioners in Pre-Modern South Asia. In order to allow for this double vision, each key topic will be dwelt upon during two courses, juxtaposing dynamically the textual perspective with what is communicated through imagery (see syllabus for further details).  

Prerequisites

Co-requisite : Imag(in)ing Buddhas in South Asia, Part 2

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course students:

  • Week 1: The Buddha’s invisible presence: relics and their importance in early Buddhist cult (Vincent Tournier)  
    The Buddha's Final journey, final Extinction (parinirvāṇa), and funeral. Relics as receptacle of the Buddha's enduring presence and their importance in early Buddhist cult.
  •  Week 2: The Buddha’s invisible presence: depicting the Buddha's previous and continuous presence (Christian Luczanits)
    The veneration of the stūpa, eminent places, narratives, and emblematic representations as references to the Buddha’s past and continuous presence.
  •  Week 3: Buddhas of the past and future: the predecessors of the Buddha, and the emergence of Maitreya (VT)
    Buddhist visions of the past and future. Narratives on the predecessors of the Buddha Śākyamuni, and prophecies about the future Buddha Maitreya. Past and future Buddhas in the sacred landscape.
  •  Week 4: Buddhas of the past and future: group depictions of past Buddhas and Maitreya (CL)
    Four and seven Buddhas of the past in art; addition of Bodhisattva Maitreya to the group; exemplary representations of the set of eight in early South Asian Art.
  •  Week 5: Anthropomorphic representation of the Buddha: etiological myths and bodily marks (VT)
    Myths explaining the conception of the first Buddha images. Buddhas, universal emperors, and the development of the bodily marks of great men.
  •  Week 7: Anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha: early images and the representation of bodily marks (CL)
    Emergence of the Buddha image; Mathura and Gandharan types; selection of the bodily marks in iconographic representations.
  •  Week 8: On the path to Buddhahood: the emergence of the Bodhisattva doctrine (VT)
    Past lives, spiritual lineages, and the retrospective of the Buddha Śākyamuni's career. Mapping the path to Buddhahood and the development of the Bodhisattva doctrine. The genesis of the ten stages (bhūmi) system in early Mahāyāna discourses.
  •  Week 9: On the path to Buddhahood: early Bodhisattva imagery (CL)
    Bodhisattva or Buddha in Kaniṣka inscriptions; Maitreya as archetype; the Bodhisattva as heir to the Buddha; early triads with two types of Bodhisattvas and their identity.
  • Week 10: Buddhas beyond: Buddhas of the present and their pure lands (VT)
    The emergence of the beliefs in present Buddhas in early Mahāyāna discourses. Two major Buddhas of the present: Amitābha and Akṣobhya. Visualisation, commemoration, and other practices securing rebirths in their pure lands.  
  •  Week 11: Buddhas beyond: the Muhammad Nari stele and its interpretation (CL)
    A detailed analysis of a masterpiece representing a Buddha-field and its implications for the history of Buddhism.

Scope and syllabus

  • The Buddha’s invisible presence: relics and their importance in early Buddhist cult (T)  
    The Buddha's Final journey, final Extinction (parinirvāṇa), and funeral. Relics as receptacle of the Buddha's enduring presence and their importance in early Buddhist cult.
  •  The Buddha’s invisible presence: depicting the Buddha's previous and continuous presence (L)
    The veneration of the stūpa, eminent places, narratives, and emblematic representations as references to the Buddhas' past and continuous presence.
  •  Buddhas of the past and future: the predecessors of the Buddha, and the emergence of Maitreya (T)Buddhist visions of the past and future. Narratives on the predecessors of the Buddha Śākyamuni, and prophecies about the future Buddha Maitreya. Past and future Buddhas in the sacred landscape.
  •  Buddhas of the past and future: group depictions of past Buddhas and Maitreya (L)
    Four and seven Buddhas of the past in art; addition of Bodhisattva Maitreya to the group; exemplary representations of the set of eight in early South Asian Art.
  •  Anthropomorphic representation of the Buddha: etiological myths and bodily marks (T)
    Myths explaining the conception of the first Buddha images. Buddhas, universal emperors, and the developement of the bodily characteristics of great men.
  •  Anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha: early images and the representation of bodily marks (L)Emergence of the Buddha image; Mathura and Gandharan type; selection of marks in representation.
  •  On the path to Buddhahood: the emergence of the Bodhisattva doctrine (T)
    Past lives, spiritual lineages, and the retrospective of the Buddha Śākyamuni's career. Mapping the path to Buddhahood and the development of the Bodhisattva doctrine. The genesis of the ten stages (bhūmi) system in early Mahāyāna discourses.
  •  On the path to Buddhahood: early Bodhisattva imagery (L)
    Bodhisattva or Buddha in Kaniṣka inscriptions; Maitreya as archetype; the Bodhisattva as heir to the Buddha; early triads with two types of Bodhisattvas and their identity.
  •  Buddhas beyond: Buddhas of the present and their pure lands (T)
    The emergence of the beliefs in present Buddhas in early Mahāyāna discourses. Two major Buddhas of the present: Amitābha and Akṣobhya. Visualisation, commemoration, and other practices securing rebirths in their pure lands.  
  •  Buddhas beyond: the Muhammad Nari stele and its interpretation (L)
    An example for a Buddha-field and its implications.

Method of assessment

Essay of 1,500 words worth 25%, Essay of 3,000 words worth 75%

Disclaimer

Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules