Bodhisattvas

Erica Bonavida Professor Schilz April 14, 2009 The Bodhisattvas Both pieces of artwork I have chosen are Bodhisattvas. To understand these pieces it is important to have a slight understanding of the Buddhist religion and some of its ideals and practices. Buddhism datesback to the fifth century BCE. Siddhartha Gautama, son of a ruler of India, had foretold at his birth by seers that he would either become a Buddha or a great ruler (Hagen, 26). After a shelter upbringing that his father hoped would shape him into a leader like himself, Siddhartha left his home at the age of 29 and wandered in the forest meditating.

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It was at this point that he achieved enlightenment and thus became a Buddha. After this he began his teaching based on four noble truths (Hagen, 33). The entire religion is based off of principles of education, generosity, giving, and sacrifice. From these principles we derive the being called a Bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is an enlightened being who chooses not to reach nirvana in order that they maystay to help others on their path to achieving nirvana (Fuchuan, 15). This ultimate sacrifice goes to the core of their religion (Fredericks, 87). Both pieces we are viewing today are both Bodhisattvas but of greatly different origins.

The Ajanta bodhisattva comes from the Deccan region of India (Stokstad, 326) while the Seated Guanyin Bodhisattva comes from The Song-dynasty of China. The Ajanta Bodhisattva, painted in 475 AD, was created in the Gupta period of India history. It was a short-lived but greatly influential time period that brought about a rise in the arts (Williams, 2). Under the Gupta rulers’literature, sculpture, and painting flourished. The subject matter was often either Buddhist or Hindu. The Seated Guanyin bodhisattva, however, is Chinese. It was carved in the tenth century AD, much later than our other piece.

It was created under the Song dynasty which was noted for its richness and grandeur (Gardner, 320). Song dynasty artwork had a focus on introspection and Confucianism (Hu, 10). Nature was closely studied as can be noted in the sculpture. There was a focus on the mastery of detail and the artwork often brought convincing realism although they were seldom real places. The song dynasty Bodhisattva is truly a gem in the period’s oeuvre. Now that we know some of the historical context and background surrounding our two Bodhisattvas we can take a look at how they were madeand analyze them a bit further.

Both are very different mediums but manage to convey a similar sense of awe and beauty. The Indian Ajanta Bodhisattva is made in a very unusual and specific manner. It is found within one of many caves carved out of the mountains in India. The caves had monks’ chambers and shrines to Buddha. This particular piece is a pair, the companion to the Padmapani Bodhisattva. They were intricate mural paintings done of plaster using mineral pigments (Stokstad, 327). The figure uses a typical outlining method common for Gupta artists. The tone of the skin is then highlighted in places to give the appearance of depth.

We also find that the figure is much larger than the background, showing hisspiritual power (Gardner, 321). The background is relatively dark thus showing the divine light of the subject. He is adorned in princely garb as is customary for bodhisattvas. His crown is adorned with all manner of jewels and gems and he wears many bracelets and bangles. He has a sympathetic gaze and easy posture and has his hand raised in a symbolic gesture. The figure comes off as majestic and divine while still showing humanity. The Seated Guanyin Bodhisattva is equally beautiful and majestic.

It was created several hundred years later than our other piece and from very different materials. This bodhisattva is carved from wood. Several centuries later it was also painted and gildedto create the grandeur and richness that we can see today. It is a spectacular piece. Like our other Bodhisattva he is garbed in princely attire although this time he wears more clothing. He is seated on rocks by the sea and has one foot resting on a lotus blossom which was very symbolic in Buddhism. He has a graceful and easy pose, that of a carefree prince. The carvings have many intricate details then lend to the overall awe of the piece.

The Bodhisattva’s easy expression relates his spiritual enlightenment and puts the viewer at easy. It is a truly stunning addition to the Song dynasty artwork. I chose to look at these two particular pieces not only because of their extreme and immediately recognizable beauty but also because of my own fascination with other religions. It is interesting to note that while most Americans and westerners are Christian we can relate to Buddhism. Above all we can relate to Bodhisattvas. It is said that the best example to be found of a true Bodhisattva, an enlightened being willing to go through any acrifice to save another, is Jesus Christ (Senauke, 54). I found this to be a very interesting concept as I personally struggle with my own religious beliefs. But aside from the religious subtext I also was fascinated by the imagery of the two pieces. With the Seated Guanyin Bodhisattva I was amazed at the detailed carvings but above all with its masterful use of color. The richness of the reds paired with the elegance and sumptuousness of the gold combined to create a delight for the eye that I’m sure the artists had intended to glorify Buddha.

It inspires an awe that could certainly turn a nonreligious person on the path toward Buddha. One gets a sense of enlightenment for merely viewing it. The Ajanta Bodhisattva is spectacular as well. One again we see a masterful use of colors that was not present in any other culture at the time of its creation. It shows how truly advanced a culture in was. The detail work in the crown is what I find of particular interest. It is a bit of a darker piece but the way light is used to illuminate the figure is lovely. The lack of true perspective reminds me of numerous European pieces, mostly religious.

I also enjoy the composition with less important figures in the background. Overall I found both pieces to be inspiring and stunning. To say the least the two Bodhisattvas and other similar artwork are both artistically, historically, and spiritually significant. They symbolize the important movements in art during the times they were created and give the viewer a spiritual awe that cannot be duplicated. For those that practice Buddhism they must be a truly inspiring personification of their beliefs. One can only hope to aspire to create something equally stupendous. {draw:frame} Ajanta bodhisattva draw:frame} Seated Guanyin Bodhisattva Works Cited Fredericks, James. “Masao Abe: A Bodhisattva’s Vow. ” Buddhist – Christian Studies (Nov. 2008): 115-117. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. [Library name], [City], [State abbreviation]. 14 Apr. 2009 http://search. ebscohost. com. vortex3. uco. edu:2050/login. aspx? direct=true&db=aph&AN =34698235&site=ehost-live. Fuchuan Yao. “The Compatibility between Bodhisattva Compassion and ‘No-self’. ” Asian Philosophy 18. 3 (Nov. 2008): 267-278. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. [Library name], [City], [State abbreviation]. 14 Apr. 2009

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