Born in the Latter Days of the Dharma:
Ecology and Eternity in a Song-Dynasty Buddhist Monastery
November 3, 2017
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
University of Toronto, Mississauga – IB 345
3359 Mississauga Rd
Part of the Numata Program
Related Reading Group
Ghosts in the Mists: The Visual and the Visualized in Chinese Buddhist Art, ca. 1178
at McMaster (University Hall 122) on Thursday, November 2, 4-6pm.
This talk begins with two simple questions: Who is the humble figure that kneels in the middle of the Cave of Perfect Enlightenment (Baodingshan, Dazu County, Chongqing), a sculpture-filled grotto constructed during the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries? More significantly, why is spectatorial attention focused on this enigmatic kneeler rather than the eminent buddhas he worships? Examining the visual program of this mesmerizing grotto and the kneeling figure’s place therein, I argue that the cave creates an idealized representation of a space of Buddhist ritual practice. In particular, I contend that the kneeler, a figure that finds no exact counterpart in scriptural sources, both enacts perpetual reverence on behalf of absent worshippers and solicits spectatorial identification, enabling viewers to imagine themselves into the representational world of scriptural narrative and liturgical practice constructed in the cave. However, this sculpture-filled space paradoxically insists on the fundamental irrelevance of all images and matter. In the end, I argue that the mind itself comes to serve as an ultimate medium.
PHILLIP E. BLOOM is the June and Simon K.C. Li Curator of the Chinese Garden and Director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA. A specialist in the art of Song-dynasty China, he recently completed a book manuscript entitled Nebulous Intersections: Ritual and Representation in Chinese Buddhist Art, ca. 1178. He is currently beginning a new project on the landscapes and gardens of Song Buddhist monasteries.