Buddhism in China
Buddhism was established as a state religion during China’s Northern Dynasties period, 386-550 A.D. During this period it was Fa Hsien who made a pilgrimage to India in 411 and returned with sacred Buddhist images and texts that served as models for Chinese craftspeople. As a result of these early encounters, China was heavily influenced by Indian art forms and philosophy. Chinese carvers created images of “Kuan Yin” – the one who hears prayers, and the Chinese version of the “Goddess of Mercy and Compassion.” Attention to facial expression, robe ornament and folds, and linear shape became the preoccupation of indigenous Chinese carvers. Their compositions were often more free flowing to better encompass their own ideas of Buddhist spirituality and movement.
About Kuan Yin (Quan Yin)
Kuan Yin is the Buddhist goddess or Bodhisattva of compassion. She achieved enlightenment long ago but refused to go on to total bliss until all suffering humanity could go with her. Originally depicted as a male who could take many forms, one of them female, she was gradually feminized by Taoistic and Tantric influences into a sympathetic goddess of ineffable sweetness and merciful disposition. She fulfilled needs in Chinese religious and folk life similar to those answered by Mother Mary in western culture. Whenever help is needed, Lady Kuan Yin can manifest her calm, loving presence. She brings comfort and inner peace no matter what the outer circumstances.
About Luohans (lohans)
Luohans are Buddhist figures, in sanskrit known as Arhat or “destroyer of enemy” (desires) or deserving or worthy” . A luohan supposedly has passed through all the stages of enlightenment, the eightfold path, and has conquered all the desires that enmesh a person in a continuous cycle of birth and death. They are regarded as saints reaching nirvana and are attributed with supernatural powers. Ananda is considered one of the principal disciples of the Buddha. He was a first cousin of the Buddha and was deeply attached to him. His counterpart, Kassapa, when hearing of Ánanda’s attainment of arahantship, led the applause. Ánanda held him in the highest veneration………
The Song (Sung) Dynasty helped to reunify Cchina after the fall of T’ang and developed the Lohans role. The Song Dynasty is noted for a revival of ancient Confucian beliefs. The enlightened rulers urged construction of Buddhist temples with rows of eighteen or sixteen lohans…a differencet due to Buddhist texts. Lohan, derived from sanskrit Arhan, is a disciple of Buddha who is enlightened. Lohans became popular since the T’ang Dynasty. By the time of the Song Dynasty, artists depicted each Lohan with different facial features.
About “Asparas” or Flying Angels
The ethereal “deva performers” are also known as “fei-tian” (flight to heaven) or “asparas” figures. They originated from depictions of bodhisattvas. Like many of the bodhisattva figures, the tops of the dancers are nude with only a necklace or sash decorating the bare chest. Flute in hand, the effect is a serene ease with the bodily self with the awareness of pleasure (nirvana). Despite the slender bodies enhancing the delicate curves of dancing postures, the limbs of the dancers are fleshy and their cheeks are gently rounded. This sense of plump roundness in physical appearance symbolizes ease and harmony and was part of the Tang dynasty standards of feminine beauty. And since Tang dynasties Buddhist figures were patterned after the courtly noble women of the imperial court, it is not surprising at all that the religious figures reflect the specific period trends of cultural aesthetics. The natural flow of the garment is also a part of the Tang dynasty fashionable design. The dancers are clothed in alluring dresses with long skirts and flowing sashes, and the fluid depictions on this Buddhist stone carving perfectly portray how the sheer fabric dances with the movement of the dancers. They symbolize flight and add an overall sense of airiness to the visual effect. Fei-tian figures originally appeared in T’ang dynasty art, and their influence on subsequent Chinese art is substantial.
About Guardian “Lokapala” Figures
In Hindu and Buddhist mythology, any of the Gguardians (sometimes referred to as “Lokapalas”) are each associated with one of the four cardinal directions. They are known in Tibetan as ‘jig-rtenskyong, in Chinese as t’ien-wang, and in Japanese as shi-tenno. . The earliest known examples of guardian figures date from around the 5th century, coinciding with an increased acceptance of Buddhism. The Buddhist Guardians of the four cardinal directions, north, south, east and west, mixed easily with the Daoist Heavenly Kings who were also Gguardians of the four directions. As Guardians they could call upon the spirits of the next world to help them protect the tomb if necessary. It was usual for pairs of guardian figures to be placed in tombs near its entrance. Two figures were usually in human, albeit fierce militaristic form while the other pair took the forms of frightening mythical beasts.
In history, a bodhisattva was an enlightened person and Buddhist disciple who once having attained enlightenment from the Bbuddha, remained earth bound to teach human kind about the Bbuddha’s acts of compassion and love.
A bodhisattva is literally a living being (sattva) who aspires to enlightenment (bodhi) and carries out altruistic practices. The bodhisattva ideal is central to the Mahayana Buddhist tradition as the individual who seeks enlightenment both for him–or herself and for others. Compassion, an empathetic sharing of the sufferings of others, is the bodhisattva’s greatest characteristic. A bodhisattva has also attained the six Perfections:: 1] generosity, 2] ethics, 3] patience, 4] effort, 5] concentration, and 6] wisdom.
The path of a bodhisattva is not an otherworldly undertaking for people with unique gifts of compassion or wisdom. Rather, the qualities of the bodhisattva are inherent in the lives of ordinary men and women, and the purpose of Buddhist practice is to strengthen these qualities until compassion becomes the basis of all our actions.