[Buddha-l] Re: angels and buddhism

Kate marshallarts at bigpond.com
Sat May 28 06:04:16 MDT 2005

Bother!  Make that:


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Kate" <marshallarts at bigpond.com>
To: "Buddhist discussion forum" <buddha-l at mailman.swcp.com>
Sent: Saturday, May 28, 2005 9:25 PM
Subject: Re: [Buddha-l] Re: angels and buddhism

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