Buddhism on the Silk Road III - the Extent of Gandhāran Buddhism

Wed., Aug. 20th, 09:30-15:30

‘Ho! King, you ought to build a vihara here.’ Connecting foundation legends and Buddhist monasteries in Khotan

Forte, Erika (Käthe Hamburger Kolleg, Ruhr Universität Bochum, Germany)

The archaeological material in the oasis of Khotan has provided significant traces of the tradition of representing Buddhist legends in Khotanese artistic production: an overall common practice in the visual culture of Buddhist Asia. This paper will concentrate on the extant visual evidence of accounts that are specifically related to the history of the kingdom of Khotan.

Depictions of Khotanese local legends have been found from a number of Buddhist ruins during the pioneering expeditions in the Tarim Basin at the beginning of the 20th century. Previous research succeeded in identifying the subject of some of these paintings, drawing on Buddhist literary sources from and on Khotan. However, the archaeological context of the materials and the chronological attribution of the various sites is rarely clear, leaving this material with many questions unanswered.

The revival of investigations in Khotan in the last decade offers a valuable starting point for gaining a new understanding of already known evidence in the light of recently discovered material — within a now firmer archaeological context. This paper will analyse the material from a group of Buddhist structures (7th-10th c.) recently uncovered near Domoko, in southeastern Khotan. It will be shown that the pictorial evidence of this site alludes to a specific legend on the origin of a famous monastery founded by the royals of Khotan, and that the painting thus suggests a direct association between this Buddhist structure and the Khotanese royal family.


Mara’s Monsters and the Faces of Fear

Karetzky, Patricia (Bard College, NYC, USA)

Since the earliest scriptural descriptions, the army of Mara, deity of death and desire, the opponent to Shakyamuni’s enlightenment, embodied the basic impediments to meditation — lust, discontent, hunger, thirst, desire, sloth, drowsiness, cowardice, doubt, hypocrisy, stupor, gain, fame and celebrity — as described in such early scriptures as the Dhammapada. In the Kushan era, contact with other cultural and religious traditions had an impact on the nature of Mara’s army which became more numerous, complex, monstrous and militant. The extended narrative in the later texts comprised a tri-prong attack of Mara’s sensuous daughters, his seductive words, and finally a martial attack. This transition is apparent in the arts, beginning with the bas relief sculptures at Sanchi (first century) in central India and culminating in those created by Kushan artists in Gandhara comprising northwestern India and parts of modern Pakistan and Afghanistan (first to fourth century). These demonic soldiers, a truly awful embodiment of fear, appear in one of the most popular images of the life of the Buddha, the scene of the Enlightenment which traveled east along the Silk Route to China and the Far East. This paper will trace the origins and development of the depictions of Mara’s monsters in India and view their representations along the Silk Route with the goal of analyzing the visual representation of fear in Buddhist art.


The Transmission of Buddhist Astral Science from India to East Asia – The Gandharan and Central Asian Connections

Mak, Bill (Kyoto University, Kyoto, JPN)

Among the bodies of auxiliary knowledge Buddhist missionaries brought into East Asia which had a lasting impact on the local cultures was the astral science, comprising a broad range of related subjects such as cosmology, astronomy, calendrics, astrology and the worship of astral deities. This particular body of knowledge, though somewhat frowned upon in the vinaya and the early Buddhist texts, was nonetheless highly esteemed in all ancient cultures, and was widely adopted and propagated among the Buddhists themselves. The great interest in the subject was evinced also by the fact that detailed accounts of the subject found their way into a number of key Sanskrit Mahāyāna texts, as well as their Chinese translations such as the Śārdūlakarṇāvadāna, the Mahāsaṃnipātasūtra and Amoghavajra's Xiuyao jing. A comparison of the Indian astral science and the East Asian version of it, both textually (as presented in the Chinese Buddhist translations) and iconographically, however, reveals some key differences between the two. In my paper, I will examine whether these differences may be attributed to Gandhāran influences. Iconographically, some of the developments not yet fully accounted for include the representation of zodiacal signs (most notably Gemini and Virgo) and the planetary deities. Textually, my focus will be on the three chapters of the Mahāsaṃnipātasūtra which contain substantial astral references, and had been considered by scholars to be Central Asian and Gandhāran interpolations.

The Cult of Śākyamuni and Its Centrality at Dunhuang

Schmid, Neil (Beijing, CHN)

Discussions of religious life in medieval China generally stress the demise of Śākyamuni’s role in cultic worship. Research on Buddhist ritual, texts, doctrine, and visual culture during the medieval era maintains worship of Śākyamuni peaked in the Northern Wei (386-535) and declined in favor of the “cult of Maitreya” 彌勒信仰, “cult of Mañjuśrī” 文殊信仰, “cult of Amitābha” 阿彌陀信仰, “cult of Avalokiteśvara” 觀音信仰, and other cosmic buddhas. However, a close analysis of Dunhuang ritual and narrative manuscripts demonstrate an equivalent "cult of Śākyamuni" dominated daily religious life during the Tang and Song periods. Worship of Śākyamuni at Dunhuang was specifically configured around his life as a mundane historical figure in pre-Maurya India. Furthermore, this life was elaborated through a complex yet highly coherent network of textual genres such as narratives (yinyuan 因緣), poetry, and ritual texts (lichan wen 禮懺文, jiangjing wen 講經文, etc.), ritual practices, together with a wealth of cultural and visual resources as exemplified in the Dunhuang grottoes themselves. Such a consistent set of materials did not originate ab nihilo but rather stems from a set of canonical texts, namely the Xiuxing benqi jing 修行本起經, T184; the Taizi ruiying benqi jing 太子瑞應本起經, T185; Yichu pusa benqi jing 異出菩薩本起經, T188; and the Guoqu xianzai yingguo jing 過去現在因果經, T189. This paper defines the corpus of textual, visual, and ritual resources at Dunhuang that characterize this cult, elaborates Śākyamuni's centrality in medieval religious life, and demonstrates how these later developments at Dunhuang clarify earlier traces of Śākyamuni's cult in Central Asian materials as a continuous and highly delineated Buddhist tradition that extends from Gandhāra to medieval China.


An Aristocrat Sasanian Female as Devotee of Buddhism

Schmidt, Carolyn (The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA)

During the Archaeological Survey of India, Frontier Circle, season of 1909-10, David Brainerd Spooner recovered, from Mound B at Sahrī-Bāhlol, a circa 163 centimeter, independently sculpted, schist figure of a haloed female dressed in Sasanian attire. In addition to elaborate jewelry, this figure is adorned with a high-rising Sasanian hairstyle displaying an ordered row of forehead ringlets bracketed by a single ringlet curl before each ear, and a diadem secured by Sasanian-style pleated ribbons. In her hands she holds a portable shrine that is believed to have originally held an image of a Buddha. Portrayed on the figure’s base are the head and shoulders of what appears as the genius loci, or Earth Goddess raising her arms and hands as if to support the ornately adorned female. Spooner concluded that there could not be a more immortalizing motif for a reigning monarch. He described her as extraordinary and new to archaeology in the northwest. To the present, this figure remains unique to the Gandhāran Buddhist tradition and is, perhaps, the finest attestation of Sasanian royal patronage extant.

This aristocratic image is presented with the same sense of hieratic formality, weightiness, and scale as the major second and third century stone images fashioned in the Buddhist genre of Sahrī-Bāhlol, Mound B, and of Takht-i-Bāhī. Comparisons among a number of almost identical sculpted details used for Bodhisattvas recovered from these sites leave no doubt that all are products of the same time and atelier. These facts offer invaluable insight into the regional, relative, stylistic chronology that postdates the rise to power of the Sasanian King Shapur I (r. 240/42–270/72).

As this female image is uninscribed, her identity is not known. Her iconographic features, however, are indicative of authority and a level of transmundane status. Research suggests that her jeweled diadem, ornamented on the right and left sides with two crescent moons with vertical projections rising from their centers, once displayed a larger version of this moon motif at center front as its most prominent feature. Unfortunately, the crescent moon motif with vertical projection remains enigmatic.

The archaeological record indicates that the companion figure to the female was that of an aged monk, who also held a portable shrine. This pairing of an aristocratic Sasanian female devotee with a monk devotee recalls the painted pair of images found on the interior sidewalls of a diminutive niche from Tapa-Kalān, Hadda (Musée Guimet, no. MG 21810), although no direct relationship between these pairs can be demonstrated.

While many Sasanian artifacts and documents attest to the important roles women played in Sasanian society, the role of females of Sasanian ethnicity as devotees of Buddhism is largely unstudied. This on-going effort is intended to draw increased attention to, and provide new insights into, the role of female Sasanian patronage and its influence on the transmission of cultural values and Buddhist traditions both eastward and westward during the vibrant and turbulent period of Sasanian hegemony.


Examining an Early Manuscript Mahāprajñāpāramitā Upadeśa: A Case Study of Sogdian Buddhist Scribe An Hongsong (安弘嵩) in Early 5th C.

Tsui, Chunghui (Centre of Buddhist Studies, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, CHN)

In the collection of the National Library in Beijing, one existing Buddhist manuscript, the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Upadeśa fascicle 55 (大智度論卷第 55), came from the Dunhuang library cave with the inscription of a Sogdian scribe named An Hongsong. According to their record, the manuscript was dated the “Six Dynasties” (ca. 3rd - 6th century CE). The colophon is written as: “Dharma Master Huirong’s text, copied by Bhiksu An Hongsong”. However, it is not dated, nor is there any other related biographical information on Bhiksu An Hongsong.

Since the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Upadeśa was translated by Kumārajīva in 405 CE, the manuscript should be a copy from after 405 CE. Coincidently, another section of the same manuscript, the 59th fascicle of the same sūtra, records that it was copied by the same monk, An Hongsong.

Based upon a detailed examination and analysis of the calligraphic style from the dated Buddhist manuscripts and stone inscriptions before 500 CE, the paper first discovers the evidence for dating the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Upadeśa manuscriptby the Sogdian Buddhist monk. It is probably the earliest existing Chinese Buddhist manuscript written by Sogdian monks to date. Secondly, it explores the important role of early foreign scribes, from Central Asia to China, Buddhist monk scribes who also specialized in writing bilingually or in multi-language scripts.


Buddhist Women during the Kuṣāṇa Empire (Afghanistan and Northwest India) According to Kharoṣṭhī Donor Inscriptions

Walter, Mariko (Association for Central Asia & Silk Road Studies, Cambridge, USA)

Women in northwest India and the region currently called Afghanistan under the Kuṣāṇa Empire were very active Buddhist donors, according to Kharoṣṭhī donor inscriptions. They owned some property and had the financial means to donate a Buddhist statue or lion capitals for a Buddhist stūpa, for example. The inscriptions tell us that typically women as daughters, wifes, or mothers concerned with their family donated goods to Buddhist monasteries and stūpas in order to accumulate merit for the wellbeing of their family members. 

There are mainly two different kinds of script used for the early Buddhist inscriptions: Brāhmī and Kharoṣṭhī. Brāhmī inscriptions were found in a wide range of time and geographical regions in India and Central Asia. Among the 1726 Brāhmī inscriptions studied mostly by Lüder and others, there are countless examples of women’s involvement in Buddhist donations. These women were wives, mothers, sisters, elderly nuns (therī), ordained women (samanikī), Bhikṣunī, as well as women disciples of well-known scholar monks.
Here I discuss mainly Kharoṣṭhī inscriptions, as their dates correspond with the time of the Kuṣāṇa Empire, and the inscriptions written in northwestern Prakrit in the Kharoṣṭhī script are mainly found in the region under the Kuṣāṇa Empire. Most of the Kharoṣṭhī inscriptions used here were published by Sten Konow in 1929. Konow studied about 109 inscriptions in total, which were dated within the four hundred years from towards the end of the first century BCE to c.315 CE. But the majority of his inscriptions were dated around the first or second century CE, around the time of Kaniṣka I, during the peak of the Kuṣāṇa Empire.
The overall impression of the women’s position in north India and Afghanistan gained from the Kharoṣṭhī inscriptions is quite positive. Women owned property and wealth, and they were actors of their own religious decisions such as Buddhist donations. This active participation of women in religious acts is very different from the typical negative views regarding women in the Brahmanical tradition or early Buddhist texts, which often emphasize the passiveness, greediness, and evil nature of women, although other Buddhist texts tend to include both positive and negative aspects of women’s nature as perceived by men. For example, the Fo-shuo yü-yeh-nu ching (T2,863c-864c, unknown Central Asian translator, 265-316 CE) and the Yü-yeh -nu ching (T865c-867a, translated by T’an-wu-ch’en, c. 381-395) talk about the three evil qualities and four virtues of women. When the Buddha expounded on this teaching, Princess Yü-yeh (Sujata) choose to be a slave-like woman to serve her husband.
In contrast, women in Gandharan and greater Gandharan regions seem to have been respected as vital family members. Even the donations initiated by husbands or fathers tend to include wives and daughters as donors in the inscriptions, as for instance in the case of a Greek local general in Taxila: “...the Meridarkh, together with his wife, the stūpa was established, in honour of (his) mother and father, for the presentation of a respectful offering”. (Note that “mother” comes before “father”). Thus the Kharoṣṭhī inscriptions seem to indicate relative gender equality and women’s freedom in religious participation in contrast to the early Buddhist texts, which usually reflect the male authors’ aspirations in Indian society of that time.


The Transformed-Buddha Figures in the Aura – The Transmission from Gandhāra to Central China

Zhu, Tianshu (University of Macau, Macau, MAC)

Depicting small emanated Buddha figures in the aura is a convention of Buddha/bodhisattva images commonly seen in Buddhist art. However the overall history of this motif is poorly studied. This motif was derived from Gandhâran Buddhist art of the late third and fourth centuries (e.g. the Buddha image on the upper left corner on the Mohammed Nari stele). It was then developed in the Khotan area (e.g. sculpture R13 found at Rawak and published by Stein in 1907), reached Kucha area (e.g. the well-known cosmological Buddha painting in Kizil 17), and became prevalent in central China after the mid-fifth century (e.g. the colossal Buddha statues in Yungang Cave 20 and Longmen Cave 19). Images with emanated figures in the aura from Gandhâra are traditionally identified as the Śrâvastî Miracle. I argue that this motif represents the nirmâṇabuddha (transformed-Buddha) concept which is fundamental in Mahâyâna doctrine-- a Buddha transforms into nirmâṇabuddhas to save sentient beings in the ten directions. Gandhâra was instrumental in the spread of Buddhism in central Asia and eastern Asia. However, among the exclusive features of Gandhâran Buddhist art, what actually generated an enduring impact on a large scale in eastern Asian Buddhist art is this convention of representing Buddhist images, not the Gandhâran style or any specific iconography. The main task of this study is to map out the transmissions and transformations of this motif in different areas in central Asia and central China. A successful transmission of a concept or an image is often simply described as “influence.” This study aims to go beyond the concept of influence and examine the mechanism of such transmission. In the case of the transformed-Buddha figures, I found three aspects that are critical. First, the Gandhâran influence is not simple linear, and in every region this motif has developed its own unique features that depart far from its source. Consequently, the Gandhâran influence in a location can be direct, but most of the time it is indirect through variations developed in other regions. Second, the original meanings may have been altered or detached from the visual representation in the process of transmission. Third, a foreign element flourished in a new environment maybe because it resonated with pre-existing indigenous belief systems. In short, the study, although it focuses on one motif, ultimately enriches our understanding of the significance of Gandhâran Buddhist art and the working of Buddhist transmission in different areas.


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