Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ways of Seeing the Buddha...

In the book (and presumably TV series) "Ways of Seeing," John Berger presented a very cogent way to view art.  He made the rather obvious (in retrospect) point that much of the classical art we see had a larger purpose behind it.  That purpose was intentionally propagated by those who funded the work.  This is clearly true from all works we see around us, from the Jesuit Churches (to my knowledge, generally built according to a plan) to the pyramids, to portraits of nudes, to Gaugin's work, and so forth.  This trend extends all they way into modern advertising.  Yes, there is a similar ethos in play in the famous Snicker's commercial (and its parody in Family Guy) and the Sistine Chapel.

This also holds with images of the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas.  These images were crafted to convey various aspects of the Buddha, and these aspects are present in the images.  Often these images and statues were commissioned by the elite classes, but I would hardly generalize them all as propaganda falsities, just as I would not characterize the Jesuit churches or St. Peter's that way either.  They are the works of true believers.  With that in mind, I'd like to present some images of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhist teachers and historical figures.

What do you see?  How do the visages of the modern pictures compare with those of the ancients? I will submit that the one of Ven. Warner is more candid than the others, and I've left out quite a few others that are "popular," but this collection says something rather direct to me. (HT: ~c4chaos for the link to Adyashanti.)


Harry said...

Hi Mumon,

I think we may generally have a very different idea of 'happiness' in our latter day culture.

I found it interesting to consider which of those 'Spiritual Masters' pictured are trading in it (and the attendant mysery that propels the industry)?

Yes, it's pretty obvious.



Mumon said...

Yeah, I was struck by that, especially after seeing the picture of Ikkyu; the impression I got from that compared to some of the moderns was only reinforced by getting a picture of Hakuin.

Dogen was kind of a cheat for this exercise, though; that picture's quite famous; I saw it in Tiantong-si in China where Dogen studied.