Sunday, January 13, 2013

Buddhism on the Silk Road (The Met, NYC)

Along the Silk Road (Asterix611/
The fifth and fourth centuries B.C. were a time of worldwide intellectual ferment. It was an age of great thinkers, such as Socrates and Plato, Confucius and Laozi.
In India, it was the Age of the Buddha, after whose passing a religion developed that eventually spread far beyond its homeland.

The Gupta period, from the fourth to the sixth century A.D., in northern India, sometimes referred to as a golden age, witnessed the creation of an "ideal image" of the historical Buddha.
Along the Silk Road (Asterix611/
Siddhartha, the prince who was to become the Buddha, was born into the royal family of Kapilavastu, a small kingdom in the Himalayan foothills [likely in what is now Afghanistan, traditionally believed to be in modern Nepal]. 
His was a [beginning associated with a dream by his mother, Maya, and spoken of as a [divine conception and miraculous birth], at which sages predicted that he would become a universal monarch, either in the physical [or the spiritual realm].
It was the latter conquest that came to pass. Giving up the pleasures of the palace to seek the true purpose of life, Siddhartha first tried [meditation and samadhi under two yogis then] the path of severe asceticism, only to abandon [these efforts] after six years as a futile exercise [not getting him to enlightenment and the final end of all suffering].
Buddhism along the Silk Road at the Met, New York City, Jan. 9, 2013 (Asterix611/flickr)
He then sat down in yogic meditation beneath a banyan tree [pipal or "sacred fig," the Ficus religiosa, the forebear of world's oldest historically documented tree] until he achieved enlightenment. He was known henceforth as the Buddha, or the "Enlightened One."
He found the Middle Path, rejecting both hedonism and asceticism. Buddhism proposes a life of good thoughts, good intentions, and straight living, all with the ultimate aim of achieving nirvana, release from [all conditioned] existence. 
For most beings, nirvana lies in the distant future, because Buddhism, like other dharmas [doctrines] of India, believes in a cycle of rebirth.
Beings are reborn many times, each time with the opportunity to further perfect themselves or devolve. And it is their own karma -- the sum total of deeds, beneficial and harmful -- that determines the circumstances of future births. 
Aukana Buddha, Sri Lanka (
The Buddha spent the remaining 45 years of his life teaching a doctrine and discipline and making vast numbers of converts. When he entered final nirvana, released from all rebirth, his body was cremated as was customary in India.

The cremated relics of the Buddha were divided into several portions and placed in relic caskets that were interred in large hemispherical mounds known as stupas. Such monuments are centrally placed in Buddhist monastic complexes. They attract pilgrims from far and wide who come to experience the teaching, the monastic order, and even some small portion of the remains of the Buddha. 
Stupas are enclosed by a railing that provides a path for respectful circumambulation. The sacred area is entered through gateways at the four cardinal points. More

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was a beautiful exhibit. We also found an amazing Tibetan Buddhist art museum on Staten Island that gave a very intimate experience in a setting with the atmosphere of a small temple. Great time in NY