Sunday, September 1, 2013

Christ the Teacher: Buddha the Preacher

Sarcophagus from the Crypt of the Abbaye of Saint-Victor Marseille France
Christ Teaching Peter and Paul 4th Century CE

Architectural Element from Gandhara, N Pakistan SF Asian Art Museum
Deities Imploring Buddha to Preach 100 to 300 CE

Don't we usually imagine Jesus as a preacher--Sermon on the Mount--and Buddha as a wise and psychologically insightful teacher of the Dharma? In these two images, a reversal of roles of these two community ministers compels us to re-imagine their messages. The early Christian iconography of traditio legis or Christ's handing down the law to Peter and Paul derives from Roman images of philosophers or emperors passing on knowledge or decrees, while Greco-Buddhist iconographic tradition of Buddha being coaxed by the gods to preach the Dharma comes from sutras narrating stories from Buddha's life. What these images share is an uncanny visual artistic style, that of the Hellenistic sculptural tradition. Here Provence meets Pakistan and Christ meets Buddha in a feast of the hybrid. Both Buddha and Christ preach and teach their respective laws through the medium of an expansive iconography that stretches across Eurasia. Could Christ and Buddha share ethical and sapiential values as well?

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