The Relationship Between The Diffusion Of Buddhism Cultural Studies Essay

Chosen Question:

Discuss what contribution art and iconography made to the diffusion of religious traditions along the Silk Road?

Essay Topic:

The Relationship between the Diffusion of Buddhism and the Religious Art

The Silk Road is not only a trading path that connecting the Asia and Europe and stimulating the economic development of passing area, but also is an access that promoting the interchange of the diverse cultures and religions. Those valuable goods and beliefs transported through this pass way by soldiers and merchants and leave numerous valuable trading posts and art pieces. Because of the attraction that caused by the similarity of India and China in geography, ecology and society and the barrier of the Tibet Plateau, the Silk Road become one and the only way that allows Buddhism to be introduced rapidly from India to China around 400CE. Therefore, the religion architectures which contain large amounts of scriptures and figures were constructed along the way. This essay will discuss that these art and iconography promote the spread of the religious culture along the Silk Road. It will be divided into the exotic attraction of Buddhist sculpture, drawing art to votaries and the political demand of Grottoes, temples which from India to China along the Silk Road two main sections.

There are large amount of exquisite ancient religious art pieces such as Buddha’s statues and portraits that can be found all along the Silk Road nowadays. Most of them were be traded by the merchants and the pilgrim with other valuable goods like silk. Like other religions, the statues of Buddha are the representation of the Buddha which can accept the pray and respect by their believers. Accordingly, the distribution of Buddha’s portraits demonstrates that the influential region of the Buddhism. On the other hand, without those Statues and icons, the Buddhism cannot affect that amount of people to believe. The printing technic, which is origin from China and spread to Western world through Silk Road, affects the productivity of the Buddhism art pieces especially the image of the Buddha. Those printing images represent the spirit of the Buddhism and Buddha himself by the art creation of the Buddha’s figure, portrayal of the kindness smile and the peace posture of the statue. (T.H. Barrett, 2005)

Another example is about Gandhara Art, especially the sculpture skills origin from that area which is a significant art achievement in the history. This art also can be seen as a promotion and evidence of Buddhism spreading. This kind of art takes the expression and posture of the Ancient Greek, Ancient Persia and the local comprehension of the Indian Buddhism. Create a unique style of Buddhist sculpture. This kind of exotic art attract a lots of votaries and the collectors and spread from India to China and Middle East World. For instance, the Yun Gang Grotto has lots of huge statues that are pretty similar to Gandhara statues style, which refers to the Middle Eastern human traits. Besides, the way that artists present the sculpture and painting was changed. Compare with the Gandhara sculpture, the earlier Chinese sculpture was more abstractive and exaggerative. Since the influence by Gandhara art style, the realistic description of human bodies and faces is presented on the Chinese art works. So, we can assume that the spread of sculpture skills are the other significant approach to accelerate diffusion of Buddhism. Furthermore, Pilgrim Xuanzang seeking the four great stupas in Taxila is evidence that attests spreading advancement of religious art’s attraction. The story that is described by Sally Hovey(2004) says Xuanzang, one of the most influential missionary and believer searched for the stupa that contains the legend that Buddha’s scarified his body to a tiger. This story explain that even the religiosity as Xuanzang needs the spiritual power that inducted by religious art and this kind of psychic power will enhance their believing and accelerate the diffusion.

Secondly, authority needs stable society to let people produce more fortunes, thus the development of economy will accelerate and the regime could be strengthened. Religion can calm and ease people as well as needs financial foundation for constructing religious building to let believers pay their respect. Meanwhile, those rulers who believe in religion also need to construct religious temples or grottoes to gain their merits which is the credit as the standard that will be judged weather you will get better life in next world. One of the earliest records about the emperor believes in Buddhism, Ashoka who unified the Indian Peninsula in 269BC-232BC, built 84,000 stupas and temples to present his believing of Buddhism. (Ritchard, Foltz) Those monumental structures commemorate the major events of Buddha's life and content large amount of Buddhist scripture. These buildings attract believers and the residents live in neighbourhood, and impact some of them become a mock and left their home. Even for those inhabitants who do not believe in Buddhism, the religious discipline influenced their lifestyle and thoughts by devout environment. Furthermore, the religion also changed the Ashoka’s policy from violent force conquest into peaceful reunification. The preservation of the empire also protects and encourages the diffusion of the Buddhism. Another instance in the other end of the Silk Road is the emperor of Northern Wei (400CE-500CE), which survived in the Northern-Southern-civil war in China. The war that lasted several decades caused the very low birth rate and ruined the homeland of people. Therefore, the 7th Emperor of Northern Wei, Emperor Xiaowen started to popularize the Buddhism, he not only commanded mocks to live in the temples, and started the construction of the Yungang and Mogao Grottoes which contents numerous of Buddha’s statues and wall painting. Those active policies that advocated the Buddhism encouraged more inhabitants to believe in Buddhism and more foreign preachers. Besides, the paintings and sculptures in those caves describe the stories about the life of the Buddha and the fantasy world that in the Buddhist scriptures. These legends can be empathized by those visitors and impact them to believe in Buddhism. After the reformation of emperor Xiaowen, the population of Northern Wei was doubled and the agricultural families were increased. These series of construction were continued by later dominative government because of its political effect. Moreover, besides the royal construction of the statues of Buddha, there are large amount of other Buddha’s sculpture that donated by civilians. Those Buddha’s followers want to pray for lucky and health by contributing the smaller statues or wall paintings in Yungang and Mogao grottoes. And these caves can be the place that master mocks cultivate their religious doctrine. (Roderick Whitfield, 2000) This kind of circulation tremendously promoted the expansion of Buddhism in Chinese. There is another more extreme example that shows the religious building were impact the religious influent ability. After the Battle of Talas which is a war between Arab Abbasid Caliphate and the Chinese Tang Dynasty, most of churches in the muslin armies controlled area were all transform into masjids to increase the effect of Islam in that region, others are destroyed.5 That region transform into believing in Muslin instead of Buddhism. That proves the important influence of the religious building and the governor’s demand of controlling the religion by religious structure.

However, the negative influence may be caused by the large scale religious constructions. Because the large scale construction usually needs numerous labour resources, structure materials and strong financial foundation, and it often last several decades. The productivity of other industries such as agriculture may decrease. The battle between Kara-Khanid Khanate and Kingdom of Khotan was ended by the winning of the Islam and the destruction of the Buddhist architecture. The over construction of the religious building is one possible reason that caused the result of the war.

In conclusion, apart from the condition that caused by the similarities in the economies and the geography condition of the different societies, the attraction and the motivation that leaded by religious art and symbolization contribute the diffusion of the religions in several different ways. And the Silk Road as an international commercial path became the perfect middle connection. The political demands of the belief and the exotic cultural attraction may be the two of most significant effect that caused by those religious art and architecture. The population of the Buddhism was both influenced by the national rulers’ generalization and people’s interesting of foreign art and culture. Furthers, those art pieces also became the most valuable culture outcome of that period of history.