VISUAL AND MATERIAL PERSPECTIVES ON EAST ASIA
Jan 25 (Fri), 2013, 4:00-6:00, CWAC 156
PhD Student, the University of Chicago
“Reflections on a Lotus Pond: A Case Study of the Cave 171, Mogao, Dunhuang”
The so-called “Pure Land Cave” of Cave 171 from the High Tang Period is highly unique in two aspects. Firstly, it is the only cave at Dunhuang that has the Visualization Sutra illustrated three times in a single cave, each covering the entire surface of the north, south and east walls. Secondly, it contains an “Amitabha and Fifty Bodhisattvas” motif that only occurs in Dunhuang three times. Visualization Sutra paintings have normally been understood through the Visualization Sutra itself, while the “Amitabha and Fifty Bodhisattvas” motif have only been discussed as an illustration of the Western Pure Land. Thus, in order to unpack the logic of Cave 171’s design, this paper considers the cave’s own pictorial program prior to the various sutras and commentaries such images refer to, and take into consideration the religious, ritual and artistic contexts of the Dunhuang cave beyond Pure Land doctrine and practice. Firstly, in terms of the mirror/doorway analogy in Buddhist visuality, I demonstrate that the cave interior is conceptualized as the pond of the Western Pure Land. Secondly, I analyze the “Amitabha and Fifty Bodhisattvas” motif from Dunhuang and other sites to draw a connection between this particular image and the monastic headquarters of Sanjie Buddhism in Chang’an, in which this compelling image is understood as an auspicious dream vision related Huadu Monastery. Thirdly, while pertaining a critical reading of contemporary Pure Land and Sanjie writings, I argue that the “Amitabha and Fifty Bodhisattvas” was placed among the three Visualization Sutra paintings in Cave 171 in order to enhance the efficacy of the Sutra paintings and the rituals associated with them.
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