Assessing The Spreads Of Buddhism Cultural Studies Essay

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The advance of the Buddhists beyond the others is largely due to the enthusiastic support of Asoka king of the 3rd century BC. The Mauryan Emperor Aśoka (273-232 BCE) converted to Buddhism after his bloody conquest of the territory of Kalinga in eastern India during the Kalinga War. This event led him towards Buddhism and he built his empire into a Buddhist state, a first of its kind. In order to awaken and enlighten his people about the teachings of the Buddha, he has instructed the building of stupas and pillars, respect all animal life and encourange people to follow the Dharma. He has also send emissaries to various countries in order to spread the teachings of Lord Buddha, such as Burma, Sri Lanka(far south), the Greek kingdoms(far west), the neighboring Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, and possibly even farther to the Mediterranean.


Buddhist proselytism at the time of king Aśoka (260-218 BCE), according to the edicts of Aśoka, retrieved from

There are two major branches of Buddhism which are recognized: Mahayana ("The Great Vehicle") and Theravada ("The School of the Elders").

Mahayana Buddhism was characterized by the idea that all beings have a Buddha-nature and should aspire to Buddhahood. Mahāyāna was to spread in the East from India to Southeast Asia, and towards the north to Central Asia, China, Korea, and finally to Japan during the period of 1st century CE to 10th century CE. Mahayana Buddhism tradition has been found throughout East Asia including the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, Tendai and Shinnyo-en.


Expansion of Mahāyāna Buddhism between the 1st-10th century CE,

retrieved from

Vajrayana Buddhism, also called tantric Buddhism,a subcategory of Mahayana, is recognized as a third branch. It emerged in eastern India between the 5th and 7th centuries CE. It accepts all the basic concepts of Mahāyāna, but introduces additional techniques including the use of visualizations and other yogic practices. It has persisted in Tibet, where it was wholly transplanted from the 7th to 12th centuries, and on a limited basis in Japan as well where it evolved into Shingon Buddhism.

From the 11th century, the destruction of Buddhism in the Indian mainland by Islamic invasions led to the decline of the Mahāyāna faith in Southeast Asia. This eventually leads to the expansion of Theravada Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism, the oldest surviving branch, stresses philosophy of a continuous analytical process of life, not a mere set of ethics and rituals. Theravada Buddhism is carried eastwards into Southeast Asia, in an upsurge of Indian trade from the 1st century AD. The areas which eventually choose Buddhism are Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.


Expansion of Theravāda Buddhism from the 11th century CE,

retrieved from

Gradually, the teachings of all three branches of Buddhism have spread throughout the world which resulted in development of the religion.

2. Design Philosophy

2.1 Buddhist Design Philosophies

Although there are a variety of sculptures, practices, languages, cultures, and approaches, the core of all the traditions of Buddhism is the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. These are the basic teachings of Buddhism which comprise the fundamentals of all the schools. You can understand the essence of the various forms of Buddhism found in different countries-- Tibetan, Japanese, Burmese, Thai, and so on with the understanding of these philosophies. These vital teachings and principles are the backbone of Buddhist art, architecture and training, no matter how different the forms and approaches are.

2.2 The Four Noble Truth

The Four Noble Truths were the first teaching of Gautama Buddha after attaining Nirvana. They are the truth of suffering (dukkha), the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering.

The Four Noble Truths are teaching about dealing of the suffering (dukkha). The First Truth is suffering exists. The Second Truth seeks to determine the cause of suffering. In Buddhism, desire is the root of suffering. It is refer to craving of pleasure, material goods, and immortality which can never be satisfied. Desiring them can only bring suffering. The Third Noble Truth is there is an end for suffering. The end of suffering can be achieved by reaching a liberated state of enlightenment, which means Nirvana. The Fourth Noble truth is the path to attain the end of suffering. The Noble Eightfold Path is the way leads to end of suffering.

2.3 The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path is the way to the cessation of suffering (dukkha). It has eight sections, each starting with the word "samyak" which means "correctly", "properly", or "well" in Sanskrit. The steps of the Noble Eightfold Path are Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. It is practiced through three trainings: wisdom training (prajna); ethics training (sila); meditation and mindfulness training (samadhi). These trainings are the fundamental base that supports all the Buddhist practices on the path of enlightened life.

Prajna means wisdom, discrimination and discernment that purify the mind which allow it to attain spiritual insight into the true nature of all things. It includes the first and second practices of the Eightfold Path:

(1)Wise View : seeing things as they are, not as they ain't;

(2)Wise Intentions : unselfishness;

Sila is the ethics or morality about self-discipline, morality, virtue, unselfishness, service, and so on. Ethics Training consists of the next three practices:

(3)Wise Speech : speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way;

(4)Wise Action : acting in a non-harmful way;

(5)Wise Livelihood : making a life, not just a living;

Samadhi is the mental discipline required to develop mastery over one's own mind. This is done through the intentional cultivation of self, observation and awareness, training the attention and concentration, presence of mind, and meditation training. Mindfulness training includes.

(6)Wise Effort : appropriate and balanced effort;

(7)Wise Attention : awareness, mindfulness and presence of mind;

(8)Wise Concentration : focus

3. Design Characteristic

3.1 Buddhism Design Characteristics

The Buddhist art and architecture began with the development of various symbols, representing aspects of the Buddha's life (563 BCE - 483 BCE). It has deeply rooted in India, the birthplace of Buddha's teaching and developed in all over the Asia. Emperor Ashoka who converted his empire into a Buddhist state has played a great part in developing the Buddhist architecture as he has used architectural monuments to spread Buddhism in his state and to other regions.

As Buddhism spread through out south and east Asia, Buddhist art and architecture have diverged in various style. The different forms of Buddhism have influenced the building form to some extent as in the northern countries, Mahayana Buddhism is practiced and in the south, Theravada Buddhism prevailed. Even though Buddhism virtually disappeared from India itself in the 10th century, the early Indian models were still served as a first reference point.

Distinctive Buddhist architectural structures and sculptures can be found through out different eras speaking about the phases of the Buddhist stages, such as Asoka pillar, monasteries, rock-hewn cave, stupas and temples. All these Buddhist architectures have various design characteristics but they are based on the Buddha's teaching.

3.2 Asoka Pillars

Ashokan Pillar at Vaishali, retrieved from

The pillars of Ashoka are a series of columns erected by emperor Ashoka during his reign and dispersed throughout the northern Indian subcontinent. There were probably thirty in all, but now only ten with inscriptions still survive. The pillars were about forty feet in height, weighing up to fifty tons each, circular and rising straight out of the ground. They were usually found near stupas or along the royal route to Magadha, the capital. The pillar itself has inscriptions from the king or teachings of the Buddha in large letters 450px-Asokanpillar1.jpg

until a readable height and topped off with a stone lion.

3.3 Monastery


The Nalanda Monastery at India, retrieved from

Monastery or Viharas initially serves as a dwelling place for community of monks during the rainy season, but it was later developed to accommodate the formalised Buddhist monasticism. The construction of monastery is evolved from the site of an ancient stupa. It is usually built on the patterns of a fort and defended by a stone wall. The principle buildings were housed within a rectangular courtyard with a stupa in the south and the monastery in the north. The court was the most important building, surrounded by a range of small chapels on three sides. An existing example is at Nalanda (Bihar).

3.4 Rock-hewn Cave


The Buddhist murals found at the Ajunta Cave, retrieved from

Caves are the oldest form of the Buddhist architecture. They are also known as the rock-cut monasteries, which were hewn from the cliffs and rock walls of the valleys. The Buddhist caves traces back their beginning around 100 BCE. The construction of cave temple is very complicated. Firstly, wooden pegs were driven into the mountainside and watered. This is to let the pegs expand, breaking the rock face into manageable blocks. Huge sections of stone were either moved or left where they were depending on the requirement. The split rock face would then be dug into, carving entire halls from it. After that, all that was left to be done was to carve out intricate details into pillars, walls, ceilings and doorways, which usually took years to complete. In India, the most significant cave is Ajanta caves, near modern Aurangabad, Maharashtra. The Ajanta caves are chiefly famous for their Buddhist murals, surviving from at least the 5th century AD. The Indian Buddhist monks carried this art of cave hewing to China, where the earliest cave temples were built in the 4th century in Dunhuang or Tun-Huang, which were further decorated with relief carvings, paintings and stone images of the Buddha or the Bodhisattvas.

3.5 Stupast.bmp

Buddhist art and architecture : Stupa, retrieved from

Stupa of Sanchi, retrieved from

The stupa holds the most important place among all the earliest Buddhist sculptures. It was a large hall capped with a dome and bore symbols of the Buddha, associating with a number of additional smaller structures such as pillared gates, decorated railings, umbrellas and lion thrones. All these were first made with brick, but were substituted with stone later on to stand the vigours of time and weather. Stupa functioned in safe-guarding of the relics of the Buddha or to commemorate significant facts of Buddhism.

The Great Stupa at Sanchi, retrieved from The Great Stupa at Sanchi built by Ashoka is the most famous stupas. There are stone railing encompassed the entire area around the stupa and the sacred tree which the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. The entrance to a stupa is through a stone gate carved with images of the life of Buddha. When Buddhism spread to China and Japan, the Indian architectural 800px-Sanchi2.jpg

tradition was transformed where stupa is evolves into the tall and slender wooden pagoda in the hands of Chinese and Japanese carpenters.

3.6 Temple

Mahabodhi Temple, retrieved from

Buddhist temples were used for prayers and teachings. In many case, stone is used to form the base of most temple building. Most temples followed a simple plan - a square inner space, the sacrificial arena, often with a surrounding ambulatory route separated by lines of columns, with a conical or rectangular sloping roof, behind a porch or entrance area, generally framed by freestanding columns or a colonnade. The external profile represents Mount Meru, the abode of the gods and centre of the universe. The dimensions and proportions were dictated by sacred 3588475-Mahabodhi_Temple-Bodh_Gaya.jpg

mathematical formulae. In essence the basic plan survives to this

day in Buddhist temples throughout the world. The Buddhist t

emples in India are superb examples of the temple architecture. The most prominent temple is at Bodh Gaya (Mahabodhi temple), the place of the Buddha's enlightenment. Other major Buddhist temples at Sanchi(450 CE), Taxila and Sarnath are also fine examples of the golden Indian architecture. Similarly, other temple at Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China and Japan also display an excellent example of the Buddhist architecture.

4. Case Study : Borobudur

4.1 Background

Borobudur temple is a well-known and also the biggest Buddhist temple in Indonesia. Borobudur is located at south of Magelang in the province of Central Java, Indonesia, approximately 40 kilometers northwest of Yogyakarta. It is also located in an elevated area between two twin volcanoes, Sundoro-Sumbing and Merbabu-Merapi and two rivers, the Progo and the Elo. Borobudur is surrounded by idyllic landscape of incomparable beauty of rice-terraced hills. Besides being a popular tourism spot, it's also a center place of worship for Buddhist in Indonesia especially when they celebrate Vesak.


4.2 Construction

One of the greatest monuments in the world is Borobudur temple. It have been built between the end of the seventh and beginning of the eight century A.D. For about a century and a half it was the spiritual centre of Buddhism in Java, but it lost until its discovery in the eighteenth century. Borobudur was built by Sanmaratungga in the 8th century, and belongs to Buddha Mahayana. Borobudur was revealed by Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles in 1814. The temple was found in ruined condition and was buried.


4.3 Origin of Borobudur

Actually there are several versions that explained the name of Borobudur temple. The name Borobudur itself based on written evidence by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. The temple used to be a place for meditation for Buddhist. Based Kayumwungan inscription, an Indonesian named Hudaya Kandahjaya revealed that Borobudur is a place of worship completed on 26 May 824, almost a hundred years from the time of the construction. As some people say Borobudur means a mountain having terraces (buddhara), while the other says that Borobudur is believed to mean monastery on a hill. It is derived from the words "bara" and "buduhur". "Bara" is from Sanskrit word "Vihara" meaning a complex of temples, monasteries, or dormitories.

4.4 Architectural Review

Borobudur is built as a single large stupa and takes the form of a giant tantric Buddhist mandala. It is an embodiment of three concepts; a stupa, a replica of the cosmic mountain Meru, a mandala (an instrument to assist meditation). Borobudur is constructed as ten-terraces building. Each terrace symbolizes the stage of human life that someone must go through in order to reach the level of Buddha. The two lowest levels was used as supporting base, the first six terraces are in square form, two upper terraces are in circular form, and the last on top of them is the terrace where Buddha statue is located facing westward. Borobudur represents the ten levels of Bodhisattva's life which he or she must develop to become a Buddha or an awakened one. The overall height was 42 meters, but was only 34.5 meters after renovation, and had the dimension of 123 x 123 meters (15,129 meters).


Borobudur is divided into 3 major parts, namely kamadathu, rupadathu, and arupadathu. The base is kamadathu which describing how people still bound by lust or desire.

Kamadathu is the reliefs of the base level were covered up with an extra wall before they were completely finished.

There are two theories for the additional wall:

the entire structure began to slide and needed support

the explicit material on the reliefs was considered to revealing for the young Buddhist initiates.

This level depicts the deeds of passion and worldly desires.

The 3 levels above kamadathu is rupadathu. Rupadathu describing people who have been able to rid themselves of desire, but still tied to appearance and shape. On this terrace, Buddha effigies are placed in open space The levels related to Rupadhatu display events related to the life of Siddartha or Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Man enlighten by the meaning of life, to sacrifice oneself for others.

And above rupadathu is arupadathu which means people have been free themselves from desire (lust), appearance, and glance. No reliefs are there to convey the point. Instead, they display life-size statues of the Buddha, either within the stupas or in niches in the walls. The top part that is called Arupa symbolizes nirvana, where Buddha is residing.

4.5 Buddha Reliefs and Statues

Each terrace of Borobudur temple has relief panels. Kamadhatu depicts the world of passion and the inevitable laws of karma. The middle level contains various stories of Buddha's life from the Jataka Tales. The Jataka is a collection of stories about Buddha's previous reincarnation, chains, and virtues. The Lalitavistara reliefs tell about the life of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. The lowest level has 160 reliefs depicting cause and effect.

On the east wall:

Buddha Akcobya with his palm turned down ward calling the spirit of the earth to witness his victory over evil spirits, and to witness his inner strength (Bhumisparca mudra).

On the south wall:

Buddha Ratnasambhawa with his palm open seems showing, giving, and blessing (Wara


On the north wall:

Buddha Amoghasidha with his raised palm, showing his immunity to danger (Abhawa mudra).

On the last three circular uppermost terraces, 72 stupas circle the huge main stupa that crowns the top of the temple. The circular form represents the eternity without beginning and without end, a superlative, tranquil, and pure state of the formless world. There are no reliefs on the three circular terraces. There are eleven series of relief depicted on the monument. The relief panels describing the condition of the society by that time; for example, relief of farmers' activity reflecting the advance of agriculture system and relief of sailing boat representing the advance of navigation in Bergotta (Semarang).

On the fifth terrace:

Buddha Wairocana with a circular finger gesture indicates to give instruction with an honest and pure heart (Witarka mudra).

Nevertheless the number of Buddha statue is different:

First gallery 104 Buddhas

Second gallery 104 Buddhas

Third gallery 88 Buddhas

Fourt gallery 72 Buddhas

The total is 368 Buddhas. (Dumarcay, 1978)boro .jpg1.1235590800.borobudur-23-plan-of-levels.jpg


Borobudur is a temple that takes the form of a giant mandala and built in ten levels, symbolically depict the path of the bodhisattva from samsara to nirvana through the story of Sudhana described in the Gandavyuha Sutra, a part of the Avatamsaka Sutra.

Borobudur is also a symbol of cosmic mountain covered by the sky roof, a specific world that could be reached through isolated alleys as stages. The closed structural design of temple expressed the concept of a closed world.

Borobudur which is located away from the city and the crowd for the purpose of achievement of peace and tranquility in worship to God for the Buddhists exhibits an exceptional stage in the interchange of Buddhist values within a cultural area of the world. A perfect intellectual understanding of the cosmos and the organization of the universe at that time is shown through the Borobudur cultural landscape. The simple yet complex association of the core temple structure with the stunning surrounding landscape has represents a masterpiece of cultural and intellectual human creative genius. In addition to providing aesthetic value, the landscape of Borobudur also provides functional value. For example, Progo and Elo river which are the source of water for the development and maintenance of Borobudur. The temple has strong intangible relationships with the daily life traditions and intangible of the surrounding villages.