By Sonya Lee
The Buddha's nirvana marks one of many pivotal moments within the background of Buddhism. My booklet explores how this occasion used to be made right into a strong allegory of survival in premodern China during the nirvana photo. In different settings, the motif pressured devotees to redefine what the Buddhist religion intended of their lives.
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Extra info for Surviving Nirvana: Death of the Buddha in Chinese Visual Culture
17 The face-up posture of the reclining figure, for example, is never found among extant specimens from the Kushan empire, nearly all of which show the Buddha figure sideway facing toward the viewer (see fig. 4). The lack of emotion and motion among mourner figures runs contrary to the highly spirited character of most Gandhāran examples. 18 Although the cluster comprised of X91–92 at the easternmost end of the site has been identified as the Mahāsattva jātaka in which Prince Mahāsattva sacrificed 33 Surviving Nirvana himself to a hungry tigress (fig.
25 The scene is located in the 38 Doubles Fig. 8 The Buddha’s nirvana. Third tier of west wall, Cave 11, Yungang, Shanxi, 480s, stone relief sculpture. Photograph courtesy of Wenwu Press, Beijing. third tier of the west wall, directly below a large niche with a seated Buddha making a “no-fear” gesture (fig. 8). It depicts Śākyamuni in monastic robes lying on a platform between two trees, with attendants supporting his head and feet respectively. At each end are two lay worshippers with a tiger approaching the reclining Buddha.
An investigation into other specimens of the life story motif from the same period shows that the emphasis on the Buddha’s birth to the exclusion of his demise was in fact shared by many devotional implements as well. A number of single-figure stone altars with large, almond-shaped back panels provide us with ample evidence. Purported to have come from the Chang’an area of the second half of the fifth century, these implements all exhibit similar sizes, carving styles, and a distinctive arrangement of pictorial motifs.
Surviving Nirvana: Death of the Buddha in Chinese Visual Culture by Sonya Lee