Buddhist Art in East Asia : Three Introductory Lessons towards Visual Literacy

  • abhaya mudra: A sacred, conventional hand gesture of the Buddha, right hand raised with palm facing outward, expressing “fear not.”

  • Amitabha: (Japenese: Amida) In Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha who presides over the Western Paradise , which is also known as the Pure Land.

  • Avalokitesvara: (Chinese: Guanyin; Korean: Kwanum; Japanese: Kannon) In Mahayana Buddhism, the bodhisattva whose infinite compassion gains a particularly large following in East Asia. The iconography of Avalokitesvara is particularly rich and diverse, including manifestations with eleven heads, and with one thousand eyes and arms. Avalokitesvara also appears as distinctly feminine in certain East Asian forms.

  • bodhisattva: An enlightened being who chooses not to enter directly nirvana but out of compassion to remain in the cycle of birth-death-and-rebirth to assist all beings in reaching enlightenment.

  • continuous narration: When two or more moments from a story are depicted within a single scene.

  • jataka tales: Stories of the Buddha’s past lives as noble animals and persons who perform exceptional sacrifices.

  • Mahayana: Literally “great vehicle,” a later form of Buddhism arising about the fourth century CE that distinguished itself with such beliefs as in salvific bodhisattvas and paradisical places. See also: http://www.exeas.org/resources/foundations-text-4.html.

  • Maitreya: In Mahayana Buddhism, both a Buddha and a bodhisattva, Maitreya is the Buddha of the Future, successor to Sakyamuni. Maitreya currently waits in Tushita Heaven until the time arrives for him to descend to earth. He is frequently depicted wearing a crown (signifying his bodhisattva status) and his seated posture with right elbow resting on right knee. Fingers touching his jaw may convey pensiveness.

  • mandorla: Halo surrounding Buddha’s body.

  • mappô: Literally “latter days of the law,” refers to the era that is so far removed from the time when the Buddha was present on earth that the best a believer could hope for is rebirth into one of the pure lands, such as Amida’s Western Paradise.

  • medium: The materials of a work of art, such as ink on silk or bronze, and so forth.

  • mudra: Sacred conventional hand gestures of the Buddha that communicate meaning to the viewer.

  • raigô: The descent of Amitabha (Japanese: Amida) and his attendants to welcome the devotee into the Western Paradise.

  • sutra: Literally “aphorism,” discourses traditionally regarded as having been spoken by the Buddha or sanctioned by him, later written down and anthologized and/or canonized.

  • urna: One of the thirty-two marks of a great man distinguishing the Buddha. The urna is the dot located between his eyes or at the center of his forehead. Some interpret this mark as a third eye.

  • ushnisha: One of the thirty-two marks of a great man distinguishing the Buddha. The ushnisha is the bump protruding from the top of his head. Sometimes, it appears as a bun of twisted hair gathered together. In other cases it is perfectly smooth or covered with snail-shell shaped curls. Some interpret this mark as signifying the Buddha’s extraordinary mental powers.  

  • visual literacy: The ability to analyze and articulate how an image, object, or building conveys meaning to and solicits reactions from its audience.

  • Western Paradise: In Mahayana Buddhism, the Western Paradise is also known as the Pure Land over which the Buddha Amitabha presides. Devotees may pray to Amitabha to be reborn into his Western Paradise as an alternative to pursuing the path to enlightenment.

***http://uwacadweb.uwyo.edu/religionet/er/buddhism/BGLOSSRY.HTM has a comprehensive glossary of Buddhist terms. It is from the University of Wyoming, and is a very useful link for students.

back to top