Narrative Visions and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism - Naomi Appleton

Narrative Visions and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism - Naomi Appleton

7. Interpretations and (Mis)understandings: Three Case Studies of Illustrations of the Buddha's Lifestory

Narrative Visions and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism - Naomi Appleton

John S. Strong [+-]
Bates College, Lewiston, Maine
John Strong is Charles A. Dana Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies and Asian Studies at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine (USA), where he taught for forty years.  He has also had visiting appointments at the University of Peradeniya (Sri Lanka), at the University of Chicago, and at Stanford, Princeton, and Harvard Universities.  His research has focused on Buddhist legendary and biographical traditions mostly in South Asia.  His book publications include: The Legend of King Aśoka (1983), The Legend and Cult of Upagupta (1992), The Buddha: A Beginner's Guide (2001), Relics of the Buddha (2004), and Buddhisms: An Introduction (2015).  He now lives, happily retired,  in a house on a lake in woods in Maine.

Description

This chapter expands the theme of visualising the Buddha, by exploring the literary and visual endeavour of biography. We know that Buddhist narrative art often required (and still requires) oral or written explanations by monks or others tasked with interpreting the visual depictions. These explanations could, of course, greatly influence a person’s understanding of the images. This chapter looks at three instances featuring explications of illustrations of the Buddha’s lifestory, taken from three very different milieux. The first example comes from the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya: Strong reexamines the story of Mahākāśyapa’s ordering the depiction of selected scenes from the Buddha’s life and then using them to help King Ajātaśatru cope with the news of the Buddha’s death. Second, Strong explores what is possibly the earliest comprehensive account of the legend of the Buddha by a Westerner: Tomás Pereira’s 1685 Portuguese summary of a 190-chapter Ming Dynasty life of the Buddha, in which each page of text is illustrated by a facing woodblock print. He focuses on the effect this systematic illustration of the original may have had on Portuguese understanding of the narrative. Finally, Strong looks at early 18th century Dutch misexplications (as depictions of Adam and Eve) of various Buddha images they saw at Mulkirigala in Southern Sri Lanka—a site they further misperceived as being Adam’s Peak. A conclusion will relate these three case studies and return to the wider themes of the volume, around how visual and verbal images can help us to understand the history of Buddhism.

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Citation

Strong, John. 7. Interpretations and (Mis)understandings: Three Case Studies of Illustrations of the Buddha's Lifestory. Narrative Visions and Visual Narratives in Indian Buddhism. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 186-209 Apr 2022. ISBN 9781800501317. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=39987. Date accessed: 03 Dec 2022 doi: 10.1558/equinox.39987. Apr 2022

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