The Buddha statue and Buddhist Temple are very significant to every Buddhist follower. Buddhist Temple is sanctuary dwelling place of venerated monks and celestial area for lay people. Buddha Statue is an agent and symbol of media between final goal of Buddhism and human beings. Lay followers come to the temple to vow before the Buddha and also to receive precepts, offering Danā to the venerated monks, worshipping Buddha, practicing meditation and to observe three basic Buddha’s fundamental teachings such as Aniccatā(impermanence), Dukkhatā (suffering) and Anattatā(soul) . Generally the people think that Buddhist temple is a holy place of Buddhism and Buddha statue is the representative of Buddha’s characteristics. Buddha statue and Buddhist temple are different in shape and structure from country to country ethnically as well as culturally. But sacred themes and divine expression are fairly similar. The two authors’ Titus Burckhardt and Keith Critchlow explained the theme in their two books, Sacred Art in East and West and Art form the sacred to the profane east and west very systemically. The both authors applied their ideas, experience, expression and own explanation about sacred art, naturalistic art, profane art and modern art. They also explained sacred symbols of the temple and secular art and compare the relationship between them. They describe why people worship various symbols, secular art, profane art and what they receive in return. I am going to analyze in my paper two basic aspects: one is Buddha statue and another is Buddhist temple. I will try to explain Buddha statue as sacred art and naturalistic art as well as Buddhist temple ground structure with sacred symbol according to two authors’ basic theory. I also try to apply my own idea, expression and analysis about sacred and naturalistic art. In the first section of my paper, I explained Buddha statue and in second section I analyzed ground of Buddhist temple. I select my own dwelling Buddhist temple WAT RANG BUA, located at Pasicharoen district in Bangkok for my analysis.
Buddha image has taken a significant place in every Buddhist’s life. After the great passing of Buddha, it becomes very popular. It seems that people are trying to cover the absence of Buddha with His image. Buddha statues inspire us to develop our inner qualities to achieve happiness, good fortune and satisfaction in our lives. We place Buddha statues in the central area of our home or office for daily inspiration. Buddha image is considered as a reminder of our own capacity to achieve the good life. Images were the one of the most widely accepted mode of realizing the presence of non-present. The image gives us strength in sorrows.
There is no doubt that all the images of Buddha are considered as sacred art. There are some contradictions regarding the matter whether all the images of Buddha are sacred or not?
I would like to explain Buddha image as sacred art. The art which illustrates the celestial expression is called sacred art. Icon of Buddha, God and Goddess, Sacred symbols are considered as sacred art. There must be a link with spirituality in sacred art. Sacred art must have enough elements to expose it. Every Buddhist worships Buddha with profound respect. So, Buddha image is very significant for practising religion. According to the Maha Lakkhana Sutta , Buddha had 32 great sings and 80 secondary characteristics in his physical feature. So, we can imagine how difficult for an artist to characterize all signs in his art. It is said that attempts were taken during Buddha’s life time also. But no artist becomes successful. Then Buddha himself projects his portrait using his spiritual power. So, Buddha images of past and present are trying to project some major characteristic of Buddha. But we consider these images as sacred image of Lord Buddha. The perfect proportions of a Buddha, the graciousness of his physical form, represent one of the ten qualities or powers of a Buddha. These are the basic harmony and beauty of a Great Being. Now, the artists follow one ideal measurement for preparing Buddha image. But the appearance of Lord Buddha is different in different culture such as Theravada Buddha, Mahayana Buddha, Tibetan Buddha, etc. Now, I will explain images of Buddha and will try to explain Buddha statues as a sacred object and as sacred art compared to a profane object and naturalistic art:
Fig-1: The figure 1 is considered as one of the most sacred image on earth. This was made just 300 years after the Great passing of Buddha patronized by Emperor Ashoka. Buddhist people firmly believe that this statue has spiritual power and it was made with the instruction of holy Sangha of that time. Buddhist religion and Buddha status were almost destructed all over India by Hindu Emperors or Rulers. This statue survived without any damage. It is the superb creation that has ever made. Though it looks like very simple, it is very much extra ordinary. Sharp nose, long ear-lobe, large eyes and the gentle face everything express the greatness of Buddha. The colour of the statue is golden and this is the symbol of ray of the sun. In the back of the head, there is a circle which is the symbol of rebirth. According to Buddhism, man born again and again in this earth and suffers a lot. The seat on which the statue is placed on is known as padmasana which is very sacred. This figure is purely sacred. This is why; we can say that Fig 1 is a pure sacred image of Buddha.
Fig 2: The figure 2 is also the image of Shakyamuni Buddha which is situated in Taiwan Buddhist Monastery. This statue is decorated with lotus flower, where there is a cosmic circle at the back side of the statue. On the top, the symbol of circle expresses time of infinity ‘Nirvana’ final goal of Buddhism. Divine light is like as sun, and it seems to us that Buddha distributes his great compassion of light for removing ignorance. The artist tried to apply all sacred themes in the statue of Buddha and in its surrounding. The sitting place of Buddha and all decorations are quite similar to sanctuary dwelling place of divine cosmos. The Buddha’s celestial smiling face, compassionate eyes, long ear, divine beauty of sharp nose and Dharmaccakara Mudra hands; all features quite sacred. I think the artist applied the two authors’ theory in this figure of Buddha statue which is completely sacred art.
Fig 3: This figure I collected from internet. The founder of Buddhism is Lord Buddha. After achieving ‘enlightenment’, he taught his followers how to achieve ‘Nirvana’ which lead them free from all kinds of sufferings. After the great passing of Lord Buddha, his followers felt the absence of Buddha severely. So, they started to make the statue of Buddha to fill up the gap. This is why, Buddha image is very sacred. But not all statues of Buddha followed the characteristics of sacred art. So, we can’t consider all Buddha image as sacred art. If we study the figure 3, we see that it is the image of standing Buddha. It is shown that some devotees and deities are worshipping him. The shape of image looked completely naturalistic. Flat body, face and improper hand shape everything looks like naturalistic art. Here the artist failed to create celestial environment and also failed to project the major characteristics of a sacred art. Only the hair and ear symbolizes the greatness of Buddha. So, we can undoubtedly say that figure 3 is a naturalistic art though the theme is sacred.
It is another image of Buddha which is not sacred but naturalistic. It seems that the artist tried his best to characterize Buddha as simple human being. The artist made the statue as part of myth. In the very beginning, I want to discuss about the surrounding of the image. There is no element in the image which helps to create a celestial environment. Even the guardian god of Buddha who seems to protect Buddha is purely naturalistic. The artist also doesn’t follow the ideal measurement for making Buddha statue. Though he made the lotus seat for Buddha, it is no way a sacred art. The emotion that a sacred face of Buddha expresses is also absent here. It seems that Buddha is a very ordinary person and express emotion like us. We can call an art sacred when it has enough elements to expose it. Here we find no such element for which we can call it a sacred. A sacred art of Buddha can’t be placed everywhere. It must be placed in a sacred place where people can show respect and worship. Figure 4 is seemed to place on the walking way. For all these reasons, I think figure 4 is a naturalistic art.
Wat Rang Bua Buddhist Temple:
In Buddhist life cycle, for awakening the sense of humanity, the importance of a Buddhist temple, a sanctuary of benevolence can’t be finished in one word.
“Wat Rang Bua” Thai Buddhist Monastery
Since Buddha’s lifetime till today, in familial, social and national life, the role of this sacred home, a centre for moral practice is immense. This is Buddhist temple which is the centre for austere ascetic practices. It has been marked as the estuary of relief in rural and social gregarious life-cycle of Buddhists. I would try to analyze, in my writings, the basement and structure, specific features as well as its effect of Buddhist temple in socio-humane life. For the followers of every sects in Buddhism i.e. Theravada, Mahayana, Hinayana, Vajrayana, Tantrayana, Buddhist monasteries are essential institutions. Basically the first lesson of moral practice begins from here. The shape and structure vary from country to country, nation to nation and even race to race. I like to exemplify here a Thai Buddhist Temple named ‘Wat Rang Bua’ located in Bangwa under the district of Phasicharoen. It had been established in 2403 BE Buddha year with the patronization of some local generous and religious-loving people and its area is about 11 RAIs. Most Venerable Chawalit Paripunno is the lord abbot of this Monastery. Here have more than 30 resident monks and 10 foreigner monks among them who study various university and colleges. It has been divided into three parts- ‘Buddha hall’, ‘dwelling place for monks, and ‘Cremation hall’. Monk hall concludes ‘bell-house’, ‘Merit Building’, ‘Store house’ and an ‘auditorium’ . In regarding this some symbols are mention worthy; these are important for what is my fundamental purpose for writings.
In Buddhism Brahma occupies a significant place. He is considered as equivalent to the qualities of parents. That means he is the primary preceptor of learner while Brahma himself is a creator in accordance with the opinion of Hinduism. The Hindus know him as Mahabrahma (Great Brahma). But whenever Buddha used to sit in meditation in a solitary place, outside the locality, Brahma would worship him with divine materials appearing before him. In the figure Brahma’s four heads symbolize four sides of the universe as if he were the protector. This is clearer in his expression of two anterior hands. Both of them assure of safety while rest of the six hands hold six different materials. Conch in hand symbolizes an auspicious sound (Sacred sound), brick in one hand symbolizes building something while a three-pronged spear destroys the devils or devilish works. Dhammachak symbolizes the cycle of cosmos as well as the spear symbolizes a weapon of a caretaker of this universe. Another hand holds a pot of holy water; here water is the media for purifying the world. In one word Brahma is the symbol of Mettā (love for others), Karuņā (compassion), Muditā (to be glad in sympathy) and Upekkhā (to be neutral and unmoved) . Brahma is four-headed and he contains also four qualities and he is careful about what is happening in four sides of the universe. But the statue of Brahma is kept just beside the main temple, particularly at the side of the gate. Like all gods and goddesses Brahma comes to worship Buddha too. In Buddhism Brahma is none but a god. From this point of view, I consider the internal theme of this art is sacred though the image is profane.
The word Dhammachak is composed of two words ‘dhamma’ and ‘chak’; here dhamma means ‘the way of life’ and chak means ‘life-circle’ i.e. Dhammachak means the way of life in life-circle. The use and significance of ‘Dhammachak’ in Buddhism is immense. Though the form and color vary from country to country, the aims on objectives in using are similar. On the basis of sides inside the circle three types of Dhammachak are seen. Some of them contain four sides, some are eight-sided and some are twelve-sided. Four sided Chak indicates ‘Noble Four Truth ; eight sided chak indicates ‘Noble Eight-fold Path ’ and twelve sided chak indicate ‘Twelve types of Cessation’ in Buddhism. Dhammachak is seen on the back side of Buddha statue, in the Uposath Hall and on the very part of the main gate engraved at the upper level. It has ceremonial use as well. These are seen to use in religious magazines, religious messages, dwelling place of monks, sacred masks, dhamma flags and some other rituals. Besides, in Thailand all monasteries use this Dhammachak as their monastic use.
But the inner significance of Dhammachak is more attractive and marvelous. These are symbolical and meaningful through Buddhist Language. Two cycles in Dhammachak indicate two realms. The inner cycle symbolizes the final goal of Buddhism, ‘Nibbana’ while the outer cycle can be compared to thirty one ‘Lokabhumi’ (Life cycle). Four, eight or twelve sides are the connecting routes in between the two circles. If someone likes to get rid of the hand of birth and death, he has to adopt the ways shown by Buddha. These sides are genuinely the routes to reach the inner cycle from the outer cycle. Consequently these became significant to all classes of people those who come to visit temple and these are set in front of the entrance of temple so that people might think of it at the first sight. Then questions may arise into their mind that what are these and what are the meanings of these. Once they seek for the answer, they must come to someone who knows its meaning i.e. who can explain it properly. Thus they may find out the way of truth eventually and the way of ever-relief afterwards.
Indeed, in all the sectors of Buddhism Dhammachak is used abundantly and from that point of view this is obviously another example of sacred art.
Serpent is considered as the king of water in Buddhism. There are many ‘Jatakas’ (The previous life history of Buddha) and events on serpent. In Buddhism anger has been compared to serpent. But ‘Jatakas’ tell us that serpent king protected Buddha many times. The serpent kingdom is apparently inferior to mankind. Serpents or Nagas can change their corporal figure. Sometimes, for the necessity of time they appear in disguise of human. For this reason, during ordination every monk should utter ‘Buddhang Sharanang Gachchami’ (I am taking shelter of Buddha) two times in two ways. The pronunciation of ‘ng’ is impossible to utter for the ‘Nagas’. This is done to determine the person whether man or serpent .
In Chinese tradition, serpents are considered as the symbol of violence. Dragon is such one which emits fire from its mouth and burns everything when it gets angry. This anger may come from human being. Whenever a man gets angry, he turns into a serpent and apparently there are no differences between a man and a serpent.
In the figure the serpent king ‘Muchalinda’ protected Buddha seven times by spreading its hood over the head of the Buddha. This gigantic serpent-genie used to live in the roots of the Bo tree under which the Buddha attained to supreme consciousness. In a step of bliss he did not perceive the gathering of a frightful storm and for this reason Muchalinda encircled the body of the Buddha seven times before spreading his hood above as an umbrella. When the storm was over Muchalinda, the Naga king appeared before him in the guise of a young man and bowed low to him joining two hands with profound respect. In the life time of Buddha, once he came into victory over a most ferocious king serpent through love and peace . That is, human and serpent worship Buddha in their individual style and this is completely a natural phenomenon. It is clear in Buddhism that serpents have their own kingdom inside the ocean and they may change their physical shape where necessary but they are never equivalent to the humane qualities. So, on the basis of this point of view, this is nothing but a Naturalistic art.
Water occupies the three-fourth part of the earth; another name of water is life. In the language of chemistry water is the best cleaning agent. Water keeps the living world alive and washes the dirt away. Water is called the symbol of grace. So it is not only used in the organic use but also in religious use. In accordance with the theme of biological science, water goes from higher concentration to the lower concentration due to osmosis. The same phenomenon occurs while a devotee pours water at the time of transferring merit for his ancestor. His belief is that merit goes to the ancestor while he pours water downwards.
Basically water purifies our body and keeps us fresh and well. From this point of view, water is acceptable rather than petrol or oil or same liquid substances. Though air, fire, earth and water are the four structural elements of the universe, water is exceptional for the purification of the cosmos.
In Hinduism, the Ganges is considered as a sacred river. Consequently those who bathe in this river, get purified and get rid of all sins they committed because it is believed that this water comes down to them from heaven. It is said in the Biblical story the spirit of God moved upon the face of waters before the creation of earth. In Islam and Christianity the story of Noah’s flood is more attractive and optimistic. The Noah’s flood washed the whole earth away and purified the land with holy water. Here water is the media through which the earth got purified. Moreover, once the city of Vesali (Uttar Pradesh, India), in the lifetime of Buddha, faced a great famine due to the scarcity of rain. By the order of Buddha Venerable Anandha Thera recited ‘Ratan Sutta’ and eventually a heavy rainfall came, cleaned the city and protected the people. Merit-expecting people, however, seek for the touch of holy water from their ‘Lumpha’ (Abbot) as a result of which he takes a bowl of water and sprinkles over the devotees’ head by the help of a broom-like material; here water is holy to them.
Bell-house is a part and parcel of a Buddhist monastery. It is generally ringed three times a day- at dawn to awaken the monks and devotees; in the morning and afternoon to call in for prayer. Besides, sometimes it is ringed for particular purposes i.e. when someone is expired; his/her relatives gather outside the temple before putting his/her into the graveyard and then a bell is ringed to call in for dhamma-discussion. Genuinely its purpose is to awaken both monks and people. By hearing its sound they could realize that it is time for meeting, prayer or likewise these. It is made for the general use of a temple. Though its essentiality is much in religious field, it is nothing but a profane art.
Uposathā Hall (Chapel Building):
Uposathā Hall or ordination hall is the most sacred place of all in a temple because through this an ordinary man enters into the true kingdom leaving all earthly attractions and false relations. This is the place where he gets ordained under the supervision of a senior monk. The symbol of Dhammachak is located in the main gate indicates that he is entering into the way of salvation, the way of merciful Buddha. Dhammachak including deities indicate as if he were welcomed in this new horizon. Lion faced statues are the symbol of lion heart, courage and strength. Buddha in his lifetime was also known as ‘Shakyo-lion’ (Lion man in the Shakyo dynasty). Moreover Uposathā Hall is one and only place where all the monks can admit their offences if committed anyway and thus they purify themselves in accordance with the rule of Sangha. So this is absolutely an instance of sacred art.
Covered-face Monk statue:
“I will hear no abusive language, I will see no blamable act and I won’t allow any misdeed inside myself” is expressed in this figure. This figure indicates that this monk is covering his face with spreading two hands, keeping two thumbs into the ear. That means he would like to subdue ‘six indriyas’ (Six sense fields) i.e. ears, nose, tongue, eyes, body and heart . This statue is an excellent object of temple to make the common people vigilant about their daily activities. This will create, no doubt, the eagerness in the mind of people and questions will be arisen in their mind about what they should do and what not. Though this is a profane art, it has qualities to make something sacred.
The cremation hall or the funeral hall is also a very important part of a temple. Most of the time, it is established just beside the ‘Uposoth hall’ so that monks can always remember everyone must die in course of time and they must come to embrace it ultimately. When someone expires monks are invited to contemplate the dead person. This way of thinking automatically prevents recklessness. Mindfulness from seeing death arises from truth of things. Constant awareness of death will make us undaunted of death .
Buddha however discouraged it, or at least, there prevailed conflicting views whether Buddha allowed worshiping Buddha image or not. So far I know by studying his life stories, he severely criticized Hinduism for idol worship. He often used to tell his Sangha not to remain busy in worshipping Buddha. In the ‘Milinda Paññā’, we got the evidence in support of this. Ven. Bhikkhu Nagasen also explained to H. E. King Milinda why Buddha made this kind of comment . If Buddha used to encourage his pupils to worship him, they will remain busy in that work and will forget to practise his teaching which is more important. For worshipping Buddha, they were ready to do anything and even could sacrifice their lives also. According to Buddha, the first and foremost duty of Sangha is to practise his teaching for them and to preach his Dhamma universally. They will work as social reformer. They will work to lessen the sufferings of the sufferers. They will pass their time in practising Silā, Samādhi and Paññā. Buddha said if his pupils practise his true teaching properly and work harder to preserve it; that will be perfect worship to Buddha. He did not claim that he was a god, the child of a god or messenger from a god . He was a human being who perfected himself and taught his pupils to follow his example to make them also perfect. An image of Buddha with its hand rested gently in its lap and its compassionate smile reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves. He added that it is the most important duty for the lay people, god and goddess to show respect and worship relics of those persons who are worthy for worship. This way, Buddha emphasized on his teaching rather than to worship his image. So, a Buddhist worships Buddha as a great teacher. A Buddha image is very scared to every Buddhist people. But now-a-days, it is seen that people remain busy to worship him and are not realizing or practicing his teachings truly. People lost their peace of mind and are becoming restless and crazy day by day. It is only the teaching of Buddha that can help to bring back their peace of mind. It is only the Dhamma that can make them free from all kinds of sufferings. Now, I want to make comment on the theories of two authors Titus Burckhardt and Keith Critchlow who explained the theories of sacred art, naturalistic art, profane art and modern art in their two books, Sacred Art in East and West and Art form the sacred to the profane east and west. I here will discuss about the theory of sacred art and naturalistic art which are related with Buddha image. I agree with them in that comment where they mentioned that we can’t accept all images as sacred art. There must be some characteristics of each and every art and an artist should follow and maintained it perfectly. In my paper, I discussed about four images of Buddha and try to explain them how two are sacred and the other two are naturalistic following the theories of two authors. We should not worship all the images. We should worship only the scared image of Buddha. Then I discussed about the symbols and statues which are used in temple ground. For these, I chose my resident temple Wat Rang Bua for discussion. In Wat Rang Bua, I found each and every statue used in the temple is perfect. Though all the symbols and images are not sacred but they were used perfectly. Some are used to create a sacred environment for keeping the sacred image of Buddha and some are kept to make people conscious about religion. The temple also followed an ideal measurement for the temple ground. It is also a historical place which was established about 150 years ago. Here each monk and lay people get a perfect environment for practising true teaching of Buddha.
-Titus Burckhardt, Sacred Art in East and West, 1967, UK
-Keith Critchlow, Art form the sacred to the profane east and west, 2007 world wisdom, Inc
-Somdet Phra Mahā Samana Chao and Krom Phrayā Vijirañāņavarorasa, Navakovāda, Salaya Budthmonthon, 2008
-Lakkhana sutta of Digha Nikaya
- Jitentdra Lal Barua, Buddhism and Buddhist Community in Bangladesh, By, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1999, Page 53-55
- Mr. Subrata Barua and Mrs. Nurgij Begum, Buddhist Religious Studies, NCTB, Dhaka, 2007, Class Six, page 35
-Mr. Bimal Kanti Barua, Buddhist Religious Studies, NCTB, Dhaka, 2007, Class Eight, page 38
- Robert E. Fisher, Buddhist Art and Architecture, London-1993, page-23
- W. Vajiramedhi, Looking Death in the eye, Thailand-2008, Page-53 (Vajiramedhi, 2008)
-Ven. Dharmadhar Mahathero, Milinda Paññā, Kolkata, 1977, Page-75, 79, 182
-Ven. S. Dhammika, Good Question Good Answer, Singapore, 2005, Page-3
-Interview from Most Venerable Chawalit Paripunno, Lord Abbot of the Wat Rang Bua Buddhist Monastery in Bangkok, Thailand