[Buddha-l] Re: angels and buddhism

Kate marshallarts at bigpond.com
Sat May 28 05:25:35 MDT 2005

"Well done" to you too, James!  And thank you.  As mentioned I couldn't find 
any details on this.

My original link:   http://www.kenji-world.net/english/works/texts/kari.htm/

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "James Ward" <jamesward at earthlink.net>
To: "Buddhist discussion forum" <buddha-l at mailman.swcp.com>
Sent: Saturday, May 28, 2005 7:14 PM
Subject: [Buddha-l] Re: angels and buddhism

> Hi Kate,
> On May 27, 2005, at 9:55 PM, you wrote:
>> The above article is rather vague on the relationship of the fresco of 
>> angels and buddhism (though it seems to be saying that there is a link) 
>> and deals mainly with a book written by the author Kenji.  Unfortunately 
>> I haven't been able to find out more about this fresco.
> These are probably what the author is referring to:
> http://dsr.nii.ac.jp/toyobunko/VIII-5-B2-9/V-4/page/0095.html.en
> http://dsr.nii.ac.jp/toyobunko/VIII-5-B2-9/V-4/page/0097.html.en
> Well done -- this is "hot stuff" as far as any discussion of Buddhism and 
> angels is concerned.  Note what Sir Aurel Stein says about these frescoes 
> at
> http://dsr.nii.ac.jp/toyobunko/VIII-5-B2-9/V-1/page/0597.html.en
> and following (see below).  I wasn't able to quote everything of interest 
> for this discussion, so do look at the complete text at the above web-site 
> as well (pictures may load slowly).  I will just add that the possibility 
> of Nestorian influence on these frescoes seems entirely likely, given the 
> history of the region.  I am not familiar enough with Manichaean art of 
> the area to be able to say whether this too could be a source of 
> influence -- I'm not even sure if angels are mentioned in Manichaean 
> texts.
>      "There still remain two questions of interest which claim our 
> consideration:  What is the iconographic origin and meaning of the 
> 'angels' which here figure so strangely on the walls of a Buddhist shrine, 
> and whence came the decorative scheme in which this painted dado exhibits 
> them?
> [merciless editing in the interests of message length]
>      "The close connexion which the preceding observations have 
> established between the designs used for the decorative dados of the Miran 
> temples and the festoon friezes of the Gandhara relievos helps us to trace 
> the true iconographic descent of the winged figures appearing on the walls 
> of M. iii.  They correspond too closely to the youthful figures with wings 
> which we see rising from the hollows of the festoons in so many of the 
> Gandhara friezes to allow any other direct origin to be claimed for them. 
> The smallness of these carved winged figures, and still more the 
> much-reduced scale of the reproductions, make it often difficult to 
> ascertain whether boys or girls are intended.  But almost invariably their 
> forms are childlike, and this, combined with the constant male 
> representation of the festoon-carrying putti which flank them, makes it 
> highly probable that the Gandhara sculptors, in accordance with their 
> regular wont using a classical type which was ready at hand, modelled them 
> after the youthful winged Eros of Greek mythology.  How accustomed these 
> sculptors were to draw upon the classical Cupids, whether with or without 
> wings, for their decorative personnel, and how closely the type presented 
> conformed to classical tradition, M. Foucher has lucidly demonstrated. 
> Nor is it difficult to discover why they preferred the winged form for 
> insertion in the hollows above the festoons.  No ornamental device could 
> have been artistically better suited for filling the tapering sides of the 
> lunettes thus created than the graceful ends of the wings.  The evidence 
> of the Gandhara relievos just discussed seems sufficient to warrant the 
> conclusion that these winged figures of the Miran dado must be traced back 
> to the classical god of love as their original iconographic prototype. 
> But there are indications, too, warning us that this descent may well have 
> been affected at intermediate stages by the influence of Oriental 
> conceptions.  In the figures before us, with their youthful but not 
> childlike looks, their low-cut plain garments and quasi-sexless features, 
> there is something vaguely suggestive of representations of angels such as 
> we might have expected to meet with rather in some Early Christian church 
> of the East than in a Buddhist shrine.  I am unable to secure either time 
> or materials for the researches which would be needed to test and 
> eventually to explain this impression.  There may be reasons, 
> chronological or other, to put aside altogether the possibility of 
> influence exercised by early Christian iconography.  But it should be 
> remembered that the idea of angels as winged celestial messengers was 
> familiar to more than one religious system of Western Asia long before 
> Christianity developed its iconography, and that the Zoroastrian doctrine 
> of Fravashis had specially prepared the ground for it in those wide 
> regions of ancient Iran through which both the influence of classical art 
> and Buddhist cult must have passed before reaching the Tarim Basin.  No 
> graphic representations of angels appear to have survived in the 
> Hellenistic East from a sufficiently early period to help us in clearing 
> up the question where and when the Cupids of classical mythology underwent 
> transformation into that type of winged figures of which the painter of 
> the dado in M. iii seems to have made use for the decoration of a Buddhist 
> shrine.  The unmistakable presence of Semitic traits in most of these 
> faces makes our thoughts turn instinctively to regions like Mesopotamia 
> and Western Iran as likely ground for such an adaptation.
>      "However this may be, it is certain that the appearance of such 
> strange figures, unconnected with Buddhism, in the fresco decoration of a 
> Buddhist place of worship need cause us no surprise.  The carved friezes 
> of Gandhara Stupa bases previously referred to, and an abundance of other 
> relievos, show us how familiar a procedure it was for Graeco-Buddhist art 
> on Indian soil to use, for the decoration of Buddhist shrines, figures and 
> whole scenes entirely unconnected with the cult or sacred tradition of 
> Buddhism.  That this decorative practice was inherited by the early 
> Buddhist art of Central Asia and carried to the very confines of true 
> China was conclusively demonstrated when, on excavating the neighbouring 
> shrine M. v, of exactly the same type, I discovered that the interior 
> walls of its cella, under a painted frieze with pious scenes from a 
> well-known Buddhist legend, were decorated with a dado displaying figures 
> of an altogether secular and frankly Western character.  Finally, it 
> should be remembered that if ever a Central-Asian Herodotus had visited 
> this temple of Miran, and had cared to inquire from the priest holding 
> charge about the significance of the winged beings so strangely 
> reminiscent of figures he might have seen before in regions where Buddhism 
> had never effected a footing, the local guardian would scarcely have been 
> at a loss for a name and might well have called them Gandharvas.  Though 
> in reality not needed, it would have been an acceptable label; for there 
> is abundant evidence to show that this class of celestial attendants was 
> as popular in the Buddhism of Central Asia and the Far East as their 
> representation was varied."
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