Category: buddhism

Rāgarāja, also known as Aizen-Myōō, one of the five Wisdom Kings of Buddhist tradition. He has a fearsome appearance, all red, with a third eye and flaming wild hair.

Japan, Kamakura-Nambokuchô period, 1300s.

NINNA-JI 

NINNA-JI is a Shingon Buddhist temple complex located in Kyoto, Japan. Known as the ‘Temple of Heavenly Benevolence’, it was founded in 888 CE by Emperor Uda (r. 887-897 CE). Ninna-ji is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and its Main Hall is recognised as an official National Treasure of Japan. The site is today perhaps most famous for its Buddhist artworks and the large grove of cherry trees which provide a magnificent sight during their annual blossoming.

Emperor Uda reigned in the final quarter of the 9th century CE, and he oversaw the completion of the construction of a Buddhist temple site in the western foothills outside the capital Kyoto (Heiankyo) in 888 CE. The name Ninna-ji derives from ninna (‘Virtue and Harmony’), the posthumous era name of the reign of Uda’s father and predecessor, Emperor Koko (r. 884-887 CE). When Emperor Uda retired from office in 897 CE he promptly took up the position of abbot, the temple’s first. The royal connection to the site continued until 1869 CE with an imperial prince always being appointed as abbot.

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One man, Kumarajiva, is responsible for revolutionizing Chinese Buddhism. He lived from 334 to 413 CE during China’s Sixteen Kingdoms Era, and was tasked by the Later Qin emperor with translating key Buddhist texts into Chinese from Sanskrit. This is harder than mere literal translation. Sanskrit and Chinese are very different, linguistically, and Kumarajiva complained that the translation work was like having to eat rice after someone else had already chewed it!

Kumarajiva was able to translate many key Buddhist texts. In China today, millions of Chinese speak the words of Kumarajiva every day.

The Jade Record or “Yuli” is an illustrated religious tract that circulated in various versions and editions in the 1800s in China. It describes the horrors of Diyu –  “earth prison,” or hell, based on a mix of Chinese Daoism and Buddhist tradition.

According to the Jade Record, bad people are sent through ten courts after they die. Each specializes in punishing a specific misdeed. Examples include having weak faith in the Buddha, gambling, drinking, stealing, drowning baby girls, and disbelieving in the Jade Record.

At the end of their journey through Diyu, souls forget their past life, in the goddess Meng’s “Tower of Forgetting.” They are then reincarnated in a new body. The new body depends on their old life. Bad people get bad bodies, good people get good bodies. Options include being an animal, an ill or ugly person, a poor person, and if they are lucky, a rich person.

The largest seated Buddha in the world was carved out of the rock face of Lingyun Hill in Leshan, China. Dating to around 800 CE, the statue stands about 230 feet (70 m) tall and the shoulders measure 90 ft (30 m) across.

Kuthodaw Pagoda is a Buddhist stupa, located at the foot of Mandalay Hill in Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar). It was built during the reign of King Mindon Min who had the pagoda built as part of the traditional foundations of the new royal city of Mandalay, which he was building in the 1850s. He was concerned that the teachings of Gautama Buddha would be lost, due to an ongoing British invasion and their lack of support for Burma’s traditional religion.

So King Mindon came up with a giant, amazing, and extremely unique way to preserve the entire text of the Tipitaka Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism. He had it inscribed in huge stone slabs, 730 slabs in total. Each slab is a meter wide and a meter and a half tall (3.2 ft by 5 ft), and 13 centimeters thick (5 inches). Each stone has 80 to 100 lines of inscription on each side in round Burmese script, chiseled out and originally filled in with gold leaf. The slabs are big enough, but King Mindon wasn’t done yet. Each slab was housed in its own shrine, called kyauksa gu, with a precious gem on top. Again – that’s 730 shrines with 730 giant stelae. Finally, the shrines were arranged around a central golden pagoda. Maybe King Mindon figured that the British wouldn’t want to destroy such a large, expensive complex.

By the way, about the title of this post. Because they technically can be read, these 730 slabs of marble are figuratively called the “world’s largest book.”

The Buddha is a canonized saint of the Catholic and Orthodox Christian Churches.

Although Ryōan-ji, in Japan, has temples built as far back as the 1000s CE, the garden at Ryōan-ji was thought to have been built between 1450 and 1473. Which makes this rectangle of land one of the oldest gardens in the world. A World Heritage site, the garden at Ryōan-ji is considered to be one of the defining surviving examples of a form of Japanese Zen temple garden design called kare-sansui or ‘dry landscape’.

This beautiful depiction of a preaching Buddha was sculpted in Gandhara, a kingdom in northwestern Pakistan, around the 200s CE. After the Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment, he decided to teach others his path to spiritual freedom. The gesture that this Buddha makes refers to the Buddha’s first sermon and more generally to the Buddhist teachings, or “dharma”.

This is not a purely Indian sculpture, however. The Buddha’s wavy hair, his toned arm, and the folds of his cloak show influences of Greco-Roman sculptural conventions. Gandhara had been conquered by Alexander the Great in the 300s BCE, and continued to have trading ties with the Mediterranean through the time this particular sculpture was made.

BUDDHISM IN KOREA: 

IN this interview, James Blake Wiener, Co-Founder and Communications Director at Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE), speaks to Emeritus Professor James H. Grayson, Professor of Korean Studies at the University of Sheffield, about the historical and cultural impact of Buddhism in Korea through an anthropological lens.

Dr. Grayson’s research interests lie in two main areas, the diffusion of religion across cultural boundaries, and an analysis of the religious and intellectual conceptual framework of the Korean and East Asian peoples. His research is broadly anthropological in approach with an interest in both the ancient and recent periods of Korean history. He has done fieldwork in Korea, Japan, and Okinawa. [BA (Rutgers), MA (Columbia), MDiv (Duke), PhD (Edinburgh)]

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