What I Learned This Week in Art History

Well, we were focusing on the Buddhist and Hndu eras in India. I learned that the real Buddha was from a royal family and he was kept inside the castle walls of his father's house until he was in his early twenties when he escaped outside and realized that there were things like sickness, old age, and death. This caused him to realize the first tenet of Buddhist, Life is suffering. He ran away to help others, fasted, and became a spiritual leader. Or something like that. I don't know where we get these Western images of Buddha as a fat and happy smiling man, because I guess in real life, he was thin. The top knot you see on many of the sculptures of Buddha stands for the extra wisdom he carries. Sculptures of Buddha from ancient India often show him sitting on a lotus flower because in his very first sermon under the Dog Tree (?), he made the comparison about how something so beautiful such as a lotus flower could grow out of the muck of a mud pond--so, even humans have that capability to improve themselves regardless of their origins.

More importantly, I learned the origin of the meaning of Dan's brother-in-law's dog. Shiva is the name of one of the three Hindu gods (the other two are Vishnu and Brahma). Shiva stands for destruction, though the Shiva I'm speaking of (the dog) is white and timid. The god Vishnu can take many forms such as the blue Krishna and also Buddha and Jesus. Here is a dancing Shiva on top of a dwarf, surrounded by a ring of fire (see illustration).

We learned that many of the sculptures and structures in India were carved directly out a mountainside--these really ornate and beautiful temples where you can circumambulate (from left to right) in prayerful meditation. There's an undergraduate student in my class who spent most of the time dozing, but snapped awake when the teacher was talking about the Taliban destroying one of the Buddhist ancient sculptures in Tibet in 2001 because they were considered idolatrous. She snapped awake then. I'm not sure she was even born when that happened. She wanted to know if anyone tried to stop them. Yes, they did. She fell back to sleep. I think she must have a late night job of some kind.


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