Buddhist Art and Iconography

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Buddhist Art and Iconography

As Asian culture became popular, Buddhist art became very familiar to Americans. We can find statues of Buddha not only at Asian restaurants but also at bars, night clubs and even at furniture stores. Buddhist art is becoming less associated with religion; however statues of Buddha and other Buddhist motifs such as lotus flowers have significant religious meanings behind them. Although some of people who are interested in Buddhist art are non-Buddhist, there are millions of followers in the United States today. The followers include non-Asian converts as well as Asian Americans. Buddhism was brought to America mainly by immigrants, Western scholars, writers and artists. The number of Buddhists in the United States has been growing since then. Buddhism in the Western world has a very short history compared to its more than 2500 years of history in Asia (Buddhist studies, 1995). Buddhism began in India in 6th century BCE with the birth of Siddhartha Gautama. He sought the path to Enlightenment and became known as the Buddha, the awakened one” or “the enlightened one”. By the third century B.C, the teaching of Buddha spread to the whole India. Then, it continued to spread to the rest of Asia, and became the dominant religious force in most of Asia. In early years, the Buddha was represented by symbols but not in a human form. According to Coomaraswamy (1972), in early Buddhist art, “the Buddha is constantly represented by a simple seat or throne situated at the foot of a Mahabodhi-tree” (Elements of Buddhist iconography, p. 39), and after the second century A.D, the Buddha himself started to be represented in a human form seating on a lotus-throne. In early Buddhist art, other deities were also represented by various symbols such as bull, tree, mountain, circle surmounted by stemless trident, lotus, bow and arrow (Coomaraswamy, The origin of the Buddha image, 1972). When the Buddha became to be depicted in a



References: Buddhist Studies: symbols/iconography. (1995). Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc. Retrieved December 9, 2008 from http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/symbols.htm/. Coomaraswamy, A. K. (1972). Elements of Buddhist Iconography. New Delhi, India: Munshiram Manoharal. Coomaraswamy, A. K. (1972). The origin of the Buddha Image. New Delhi, India: Munshiram Manoharal. Kossak, S. M. & Watts, E. W. (2001). The art of south and southeast Asia: a resource for educators. Available at the metropolitan museum of art website: http://www.metmuseum.org/explore/publications/asia.htm. McArthur, M. (2004). Reading Buddhist art: an illustrated guide to Buddhist signs and symbols. New York: Thames& Hudson. Religion facts: just the facts on the world’s religions. Retrieved December 9, 2008 from http://www.religionfacts.com/. Signs of a great man. (2002). Dhammakaya International Society of Belgium. Retrieved December 9, 2008 from http://www.onmarkproductions.com/Signs-of-Buddha-32-80.htm/. “The noble eightfold path” Retrieved December 9, 2008 from http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/eightfoldpath.html/.

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