Art of Faith II: Buddhism
Art of Faith II is a sumptuous high definition visual experience exploring the architecture and art of Buddhism, Hinduism and Religions of the Tao presented and narrated by the broadcaster John McCarthy. The three 55-minute films travel the world visiting the greatest and most significant religious buildings, exploring how the passions and complexities of religious beliefs have been expressed in architecture.
Filmed for Sky Arts and looking back over the last 3000 years, the series provides an insight into how we have celebrated art through faith. With contributions from architects, scholars and worshippers, the films explain the buildings’ genesis, laying down the brush strokes of the sites’ design, whilst looking at the shared elements and contrasts between religions and the aesthetics of the places of worship.
Buddhism is a family of beliefs, all of which are derived from the teachings of the Buddha who died around 400BCE. The emperor Ashoka Maurya (who r.272-231BC) was responsible for the first large-scale art in stone in India and he also redistributed the Buddha’s relics among (supposedly) 84,000 simple stupas (or solid memorial mounds containing relics) across his empire. It is from this act that Buddhist architecture and art springs with Buddhism visiting the Great Stupa in Sanchi, India, the best preserved of the early stone stupas.
Buddhism looks at the central beliefs and understandings of the belief system alongside the story of the Buddha himself. The film examines how Buddhist architecture reflects the core tenets of the faith and how Buddhist architecture has adapted to local iterations of it. It asks, how has contemporary architecture responded to the spiritual concerns of Buddhists in a way that can also create something that is modern?
Emerging in India, Buddhism spread throughout Asia travelling east into China before arriving in Japan via Korea, as well as emerging in the south-east as far as Indonesia. This film tells its story of beginning in England before visiting China, Japan, and Indonesia.
Puning Temple, China
The Buddhist Temple of Universal Peace was built at Chengde in the mid 18th Century alongside the Qing Dynasty’s famous Summer Palace. The temple houses a 22.28 metres statue of Avalokitesvara (Goddess of Mercy) with a thousand eyes and a thousand hands, it is also called Temple of the Great Goddess by the local people.
Amaravati Monastery, England
A centre of Buddhist teaching and practice in central England, Amaravati is a monastery in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. This is a contemplative tradition and meditation is the main practice here.
Erected in the 9th-century this astonishing reminder of the spread of Buddhism away from India is unlike any other temple, stupa or memorial, both in size and decoration. It is truly vast and it contains over five hundred life-sized images of the Buddha and nearly 3 kilometres of relief carvings. As at all other Buddhist places of pilgrimage, the journey for worshippers begins at the base by walking around it and then going to the top through the three levels of Buddhist cosmology.
Caves at Ajanta, India
Early Buddhist monasteries were all carved from the rock, and the halls and living quarters at Ajanta are the most spectacular and highly decorated. As in other caves hewn from the rock across China and central Asia (but now almost all destroyed), the ceilings and walls here were covered with lavish painted decoration, and visitors would have needed a monk to guide them through the extraordinary imagery.
Great Stupa, India
The first site in India is this remarkable monument, which is the best preserved of the early stone stupas and has wonderful carvings. Buddhists flock to a stupa to experience proximity to the Buddha by way of his relics that are believed to contain his living essence.’ Stupa are remarkably constant throughout Buddhist architecture and among their later forms are the East Asian pagodas.
Emperor Shomu started the huge complex of temples and other buildings at Todai-ji in 743. Shomu believed that the piety demonstrated by constructing Buddhist temples would help protect the country from the famine, disease and rebellion that had blighted his reign. The Great Buddha Hall is supposedly the largest wooden building in the world and it houses a colossal bronze statue of the Buddha. Also famous are the two 28-foot-tall guardians at the temple entrance, carved around 1203.
Komyo-ji Temple, Japan
Designed by Tadao Ando, the temple was opened in 2004 where it replaced a near-derelict 250-year predecessor. The central temple is built of laminated wood and Ando’s signature concrete construction is confined to the surrounding buildings for the community of monks. The temple is surrounded by a kind of moat of natural spring water. Light streams in through an outer screen of wooden slats and there are views all around of trees, stone walls, a gatehouse and bell tower left from the previous building.