Amplifier for Art, Science and Society

Double Truth

Double Truth

Interactive installation of 15 revered Buddhist sculptures

Double Truth presents revered objects that were documented as part of the Atlas of Maritime Buddhism research project involving hundreds of sculptures, pilgrimage and heritage sites across seven countries in south and south east Asia. Many of these iconic representations of Buddhas and bodhisattvas have never been seen outside their country of origin before. The sublime art treasury of statuaries was created through the processes of photogrammetry; each of the 3D models exhibits exceptional fidelity assembled from 1000s of photographs capturing every possible viewpoint of the original. Each sculpture has been sonified with rare ethnomusical archival recordings. Double Truth, reveals itself in dynamic temporal sequentially to the viewer in motion. Rotating the human-scale viewing platform clockwise allows the participant an unparalleled and intimate experience of these sacred objects, in purposeful acts of circumambulation. Rotating the platform in the other direction reveals new materialities: melting, fragmenting, refolding each sculpture in a series of computer graphic transformations and parametric materializations. The geometries of the digital transcend the originating visible and material properties. Returning the platform to its clockwise rotation restores or renews, in a performance of instauration.

The Atlas of Maritime Buddhism exhibition embodies the long history of symbiotic relation between spiritual values and the global network of commerce. This history is especially visible along maritime trade routes from the 2nd century BCE to 14th century CE, which is the focus of this exhibition. It includes spectacular panoramic and hemispheric projections of Buddhist architecture, art, learning and practices from India and across Asia to China. The creators of this research project have developed a range of sophisticated multimedia techniques and innovative designs to make tangible the extraordinarily rich cultural legacy of Buddhism, as it encountered, infused and inspired so many Asian civilizations. In its engagement with these myriad civilisations and their diverse histories, Buddhism enriched both its own cultural expressions and the peoples it met with. Professors Sarah Kenderdine and Jeffrey Shaw, alongside other colleagues, spent many years travelling across Asia to document this abundant historical narrative using specialized equipment for panoramic 3D photography, spherical VR cinematography, and photogrammetry. This extensive work has culminated in two unprecedented exhibitions: at the Fo Guan Shan Monastery, from May 2021 to May 2025, and the Indra and Harry Banga Gallery, City University of Hong Kong, from July to November 2021.

Figurative representations of the Buddha first appeared in northern India in the 2nd century CE, after which Buddhist figurative art spread throughout Asia. The Atlas of Maritime Buddhism research project documented hundreds of sculptures located in historical and archaeological museums across the region, many not seen outside their country of origin before. These sculptures contribute significantly to the narratives of transmission and comprise an important digital archive for art historical knowledge. This seminal world-first collection is presented as full 3D models within the interactive installation titled Double Truth. The fifteen sculptures include one loaned for the exhibition by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art (The Cosmic Buddha). commentary is provided here for each of these rare sculptures, describing their provenance and significance, along with details on the accompanying archival audio recordings.

9th century CE
Gilt bronze
49.8 cm
National Museum Colombo, Sri Lanka.

This depiction of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara displays the mastery of Sri Lankan bronze casting during the 9th century CE. Avalokiteśvara is the Mahayana lord of compassion and saviour of the world in the present age. Avalokiteśvara became a popular deity among sailors, and has been found in its various localised forms in sites along the maritime trade route. This sculpture is seated in the pose of ‘royal ease’ (lalitāsana rājalalitāsana), the raised right hand held in kaṭakahasta (to hold a lotus flower). The Bodhisattva is dressed in a flowing loincloth with a jewelled belt. His hair is piled up in the jatāmukuṭa (a crown of matted hair), which cascades down onto his shoulders in loose curls. At the front of the headdress is a cavity, which most likely once held jewels, along with a small, seated image of the cosmic Buddha Amitābha.


Field recording in Sri Lanka by Indian ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya (1921-2001).

Homage to the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma teachings, Sangha community) sung in Sinhalese, one of the official languages of Sri Lanka, accompanied by the droning tones of the stringed tanpura. As a devotional song, with added emphasis on melodic development, it strays from the more austere liturgical chanting of the Theravada path. Though predominant in modern Sri Lanka, the veneration of Avalokiteśvara continues in the present day. Theravada Buddhism regards music with great caution. Among the Ten Precepts accepted upon entering monastic life, the seventh requires the monk to avoid distractions such as dancing, singing, or music.

The tension between Buddhist aesthetics that celebrate evocative presentations of the Dharma, and Buddhist austerities that attempt to limit the creative expression of the faithful, can be traced back to the oldest recorded Buddhist texts. The risk regarding music and singing is that one might focus on the musical qualities of the voice rather than on the teachings enunciated.

Buddha Dispelling Fear
9th century CE
Gilt bronze
66 cm
National Museum of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

This exquisite example of gilt bronze was found in 1968 at Veheragala, a rock cave temple in the Anuradhapura area of northern Sri Lanka. The Buddha is shown standing with his right hand raised in the gesture of dispelling fear, as he raises his robes with his left hand to touch his shoulder, a gesture known as ‘calling for discourse’, which was developed in Sri Lanka. The undulating lines indicate the fall of the robes, and the surface accentuates the curves of the physique. The nose is long and straight, and a slight smile indicates inner peace. The eyes are still set with the original crystals, although the pupils may have been made from gems that are now missing. Anuradhapura was a vast Buddhist kingdom in the north of Sri Lanka starting from the 3rd century CE, and was a major centre for Buddhist scholarship and discourse. Many important sculptures and examples of Buddhist architecture were produced there.

Devata Aradhana
Performed by Dhammadasi Kuluhamana of the Malwatta Vihara monastery in Kandy, Sri Lanka, recorded by Wolfgang Laade and published on the CD ‘Sri Lanka - Buddhist Chant II’, 1993.

Introductory liturgy to a pirit ceremony in Sinhala, followed immediately by an invariable formulaic invitation to the Sri Lankan Buddhist deities devas and yakas to attend. According to the recordist, Wolfgang Laade, this style of chant is not heard anywhere else other than in this very monastery at the time the recording was made.
Pirit (from the Pali ‘paritta’, meaning protection) is an important and popular ceremony in Buddhist Sri Lanka. Pirit (from the Pali “paritta”, protection) is an important and popular ceremony in Buddhist Sri Lanka centred on the chanting by monks of sutras from the Book of Parittas, which is part of the Pali Canon, to ward off misfortune and evil and prevent ailments. This communal event can take place in a variety of public or private situations, and remains open to everyone, sometimes involving large crowds. The elaborate ceremony may last for a few hours, for the whole night, or for a longer period, sometimes even up to seven consecutive nights.

Bodhisattva Vajrapāni
9th century CE
39 cm
National Museum of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Vajrapāni is the personification of protective power. He is richly adorned, with a crown decorated with a monster head motif, and ornaments including large drop earrings. The figure is depicted in a frontal pose with broad shoulders and a slim waist. His right hand is held in vitarkamudrā for the transmission of knowledge. In his left hand is the Vajra (thunderbolt), a symbol of spiritual power associated with Esoteric Buddhist practice.

Pin Anumodana Karavime
Performed by Rambukwalle Sumangala of the Malwatta Vihara monastery in Kandy (Sri Lanka), recorded by Wolfgang Laade in and published in “Sri Lanka - Buddhist Chant II” (1993)

Excerpt of the chanted thanks-giving at the end of the dânê, a liturgical invitation to an offering of alms or of a meal, and a form of benediction in Sri Lanka that expresses joy in the awareness of spiritual advancement. The surviving Buddhist chant repertoire in Sri Lanka stems from some of the oldest musical and artistic traditions of the island’s ancient past. It features timbral and stylistic influences from a variety of Theravada sources. Vedic chanting is one evident influence, especially notable in the limited number of pitches used in Pali cantillation, and the rapid, rhythmic delivery of the suttas (sutras). Theravada Buddhism was introduced into Sri Lanka from India in the 3rd century BCE. It imposed a puritanical influence upon music and dance, although in practice there exists numerous popular rituals involving chanting and drumming, most notably for invoking protection (pirit).

Buddha granting boons
Bujang Valley, Malay Peninsular
Early-6th century
Copper alloy
21.6 cm
Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore
Acc. no. A-1354

This sculpture was found in 1941 in the brick foundations of a monument near the Bujang River valley in Kedah, on the Malay Peninsula, Southeast Asia. Its discovery was important in establishing the existence of early Buddhist practitioners on the Malay Peninsula. This area was a former coastal trading post, founded around an estuary where the remnants of both Buddhist and Brahmanic worship have been found. This little sculpture could be of local manufacture, however it indicates that the prototypes for these sculptures were portable items brought from India across the sea, possibly by sailors, merchants, or monks. The lowered right hand displays the Buddha granting boons or wishes (varadamudrā), while the raised left hand holds the robe.

The Maha Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra
Performed by the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Choir, Taiwan, published in ‘Chants in Honour of a Thousand Buddha (Fo Guang Shan)’.

Chanting of the Heart Sutra in the Chinese Buddhist style known as fanbei, introduced in China in the 4th century CE. The ‘Prajna Paramita Hridaya’ or ‘Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom’, is the single most recited, copied and studied scripture in East Asian Buddhism. The original scripture was likely transmitted from East India to Sichuan around the Sui Dynasty (581-618 CE) and later on translated from Sanskrit into Chinese. It specifically exposes the essence of the Mahayana doctrine of the Two Truths, whereby the teaching by the Buddhas of the dharma has recourse to two truths: The world-ensconced truth and the truth which is the highest sense. Those who do not know the distribution of the two kinds of truth. Do not know the profound meaning in the teaching of the Buddha.
Nāgārjuna (c. 150–250 CE)

Kampong Chhnang Province
7th century
Copper alloy
49 cm
National Museum of Cambodia Ga.5406

This pre-Angkorian bronze depicts a standing Buddha. The hand reaches out in the gesture symbolising the teaching of the dharma (vitakamudrā). In general, depictions of Buddha Śakyamuni in human form were devoid of ornamentation because he had renounced the worldly values of wealth and beauty in exchange for spiritual perfection. As a result, this figure wears a simple monastic garment, embellished only with the Buddha’s large curls and elongated earlobes. The sculpture exemplifies the regional style of Angkor Bori and reveals the influence of the Mon Dvāravatī in Thailand. The sculpture has also been connected to a larger stylistic milieu associated with a collection of bronzes from the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Prayer In Pali. Sung by the monks of the Prayu Vongs pagoda in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, recorded by French ethnomusicologist Alain Daniélou, published on the LP ‘A Musical Anthology of the Orient–Cambodia’, 1961.

Prayer for the festival of Meak Bochea, which celebrates the spontaneous gathering of more than a thousand monks to hear the Buddha preach, while he had retreated. It is then that the Buddha is said to have ordered them to spread Buddhism’s principles, marking a milestone in the religion’s development. The festival is celebrated across the region during the full moon of the third Khmer lunar month (Meak), when Buddhists join candlelit processions within temples in their vicinity. The prayer is a psalmody on three notes derived from the ancient Indian Vedic chant. The recording was made in 1961, during a special ceremony in which several hundred monks and laymen took part.

Buddha on Nāga
11th century
Campong Cham Province
126 cm x 63.5 cm
National Museum of Cambodia Ga.1680

A popular iconography in Cambodia, this 12th century sculpture shows the Buddha protected by the nāga, or Mukilinda. Legend says that when the Gautama Buddha was seated under the Bhodi Tree in deep meditation, heavy rain suddenly fell. The King of the nāgas, Mukilinda, came from beneath the Earth and protected the Buddha with his hood, shown in this depiction with seven heads. When the great storm had cleared, the serpent king assumed his human form, bowed before the Buddha, and returned to his palace. This iconography is more common in Cambodia than anywhere else in Asia. The nāga is important in Khmer mythology, which may explain why this particular depiction of Buddha was so popular, peaking in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Homage in eight verses
Performed by Prum Ut for Trent Walker’s Dharma songs project, recorded between 2004 and 2011, Cambodia.

A Dharma song in Pali composed by a Thai king, Rama IV, whose legacy is indispensable in the history of Cambodian Buddhism, and whose present homage occupies a prominent place in Dharma song liturgies. Composed during his 27 years as a monk before ascending the throne in 1847, this song is still melodically recited by Cambodian monks in Pali. Although translations in Khmer exist, the Pali version is often preferred for its compact eloquence and sacred power. The final stanza offers a benediction for the performance of this liturgy.

The Cambodian Dharma song tradition, or smot, is a uniquely expressive form of Buddhist chant, endangered as few masters trained before the Khmer Rouge era continue to perform or teach today. Scholar of Southeast Asian Buddhism, Trent Walker created (Dharma songs) in 2011, with the hope of bringing new life to this treasure of Khmer, Buddhist, and world culture.

Jayavarman VII
Krol Romeas, Angkor Thom
Late 12th to early 13th century CE
138 cm
National Museum of Cambodia, Cambodia. Accession no. Ka.1703.

When Jayavarman VII came to power in Cambodia in the late-12th century, he changed the state religion of Angkor from Hinduism to Buddhism. Some scholars have purported that Jayavarman VII had himself depicted as cakravartin, the universal monarch in deep meditation, and that, over time, he sent multiple versions of this sculpture to regional areas throughout his Empire. This example was found at Angkor Thom, the heart of the Angkorean Empire. Jayavarman’s posthumous name was Mahāparamasaugatapada, ‘he who has attained the domain of those who are devoted to the Buddha’.

Prajnaparamita Stotram. Performed in Nepal by Professor Kashinath Nyaupane for the project, 2013.

Recitation of a stotra dedicated to Prajnaparamita, the ‘Perfection of Wisdom’, whose deification as a bodhisattva is the only feminine representation of Buddhist Angkorian Cambodia. Prajnaparamita attained the rank of chief deity during the reign of Jayavarman VII, while being associated with his own mother, Queen Sri Jayarajacudamani.

Stotras are Sanskrit hymns or eulogies sung in praise of the divine and the transcendent. Usually associated with the Hindu and Jain traditions, stotras are melodic expressions of devotion and inspiration found in other Sanskrit religious movements as well. This stotra was written by Nagarjuna in the 2nd century CE. It is recited by adherents of the Mahayana schools of Buddhism, regardless of sectarian affiliation.

The project aims to raise awareness and appreciation of Sanskrit Buddhist literature through audio recordings of its recitations, a rich tradition with a long oral history that is rarefied today.

Buddha in Abhayamudra
Possibly 14th century CE
Wood, lacquer
204 x 53 cm
National Museum of Cambodia, Cambodia. Accession no. Ga.5200.

The Buddha has an elaborate and jewelled costume, both hands raised in the double abhayamudra, or vitarkamudra, the reassuring gesture to dispel fear. Standing Cambodian wooden Buddha statues were generally sculpted in the hardwood. The main part of the body, and in some cases the shoulders, upper-arms, forearms, hands, and earlobes were separately carved. These appendages were later attached to the body using wooden or metal pegs.

Sarabhañña. Performed by Koet Ran for Trent Walker’s Dharma songs project, recorded in Cambodia between 2004 and 2011.

A Dharma song in Khmer with a Pali title, composed of simple words of homage for a soothing hymn and prayer for peace. The lyrics were penned by the most influential scholar-monk of 20th century Cambodia, the Supreme Patriarch Chuon Nath (1883–1969), for the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha's birth held in 1956. It praises venerating the Buddha and the still-present possibility of liberation while reminding the listener that only a peaceful mind may lead to lasting happiness.
The Cambodian Dharma song tradition, or smot, is a uniquely expressive form of Buddhist chant, endangered as few masters trained before the Khmer Rouge era continue to perform or teach today. Scholar of Southeast Asian Buddhism, Trent Walker created (Dharma songs) in 2011, with the hope of bringing new life to this treasure of Khmer, Buddhist, and world culture.

Crowned Buddha
9th–10th century CE
100 cm
Vaishali Museum, India. Accession no. 231(a).

This Crowned Buddha is seated on a lotus throne. The crown and adornments accentuate the Buddha’s station as universal sovereign. The Buddha touches the Earth with his right hand, in a gesture known as bhumisparsamudrā. This gesture symbolises the important moment when the Buddha Śakyamuni summoned the Earth goddess to bear witness to his attainment of enlightenment, as he subdued the demon Mara. At the top of the decorative arch are the branches of the Bodhi tree. The Buddha’s crowning represents his supreme spiritual state.

Jayamangala Astagatha. Field recording from 1954 by Indian ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya in Sarnath, India, published on the LP ‘Musique Religieuse de l’Inde’ (BAM ‎– LD 015).

Young monks sing Buddhist wedding blessings from the ‘Book of Protection’ (Paritta Sutta), a collection of verses from the Pali canon, which according to the Buddha provide protection from danger and misfortune when recited. Although Buddhism considers marriage a secular affair, it is common for lay people to seek blessings from monks, or by listening to the recitation of Paritta verses, which began very early in the history of Buddhism.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara
8th–9th century CE
Buff sandstone
160 cm
Archaeological Museum Nalanda, India. Accession no. 13102.

This Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara was found in the 1970s in Nalanda Bihar, India. This elaborate depiction of the saviour Boddhisatva features twelve arms, each with a different attribute. The hair is braided and piled up in to the jatāmukuṭa, at the front of which is a small shrine with the seated Amitābha Buddha inside. Six small figures of the Buddha and two female deities representing Tara are situated at the Avalokitésvara’s feet. The famous mahāvihāra of Nalanda was once a major centre of Buddhist learning, and attracted monks and pilgrims from foreign lands, such as Sri Lanka and China. The teachings and imagery of the Nalanda school were widely disseminated by monks via the maritime trade routes. Iconography stemming from Nalanda can be seen in examples of portable bronzes found in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.

Daily chanting of the Theravada path
Field recording by producer David Parsons at the Mahabodhi Temple, Bodh Gaya, India, 2001, published on the CD ‘Buddha: Transcending space & time’ (celestial harmonies 14215-2)

This is the daily prayer recited each evening over loudspeakers at the Mahabodhi Temple by Indian monks of the Bodh Gaya Temple Management committee. The recording was made in the shrine on the second level of the Mahabodhi Temple, where prayers are normally broadcast for the entire congregation. Bodh Gaya, where the historical Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment, is one of the most important contemporary sites for Buddhist pilgrims around the world.

Buddha Preaching
Late 5th century CE
Buff sandstone
155 cm
Sarnath Archaeological Museum, India. Accession no. 340.

For Buddhists, Sarnath was an important site because it was there, in a deer park, that the Buddha preached his first sermon and set in motion the Wheel of Law (dharmacakra). This famous Gupta-period image depicts the Buddha Shakyamuni at that very moment, presented in a seated pose (padmāsanā) with his hands in the rotating the wheel of Dharma mudra (dharmachakra pravartana). The throne that the Buddha is seated on is flanked by two deer, representing the park at Sarnath. The Buddha is thus depicted delivering his first sermon to his disciples, who are placed at the foot of the sculpture, together with a woman and child. The Buddha’s throne displays lions and makara heads, the latter being associated with water.

According to tradition, it was Siddhartha Gautama who, after the awakening, was given the honorary title ‘Buddha Shakyamuni’. Siddhartha Gautama was born as a prince in Lumbini on the border between today’s states of India and Nepal, and grew up in his father’s palace in Kapilavastu, before leaving home as a young man to search for the source of all suffering. He finally attained enlightenment in Bodhgaya, after meditating for a long time. He presented his teachings on the origins of suffering and how to overcome it for the first time in Sarnath, a small town in Northern India. He died at an old age in Kushinagar, surrounded by close followers.
For Buddhists, Sarnath, or Isipatana, is one of four pilgrimage sites designated by Gautama Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya, and Lumbini.

Performed by Professsor Kashinath Nyaupane for the project, 2013, Nepal.

This is a recitation is one of the most celebrated works of Sanskrit Buddhist literature, which describes in detail how a bodhisattva must practice in order to harvest the uppermost fruits of their spiritual journey. In India, the cradle of the Buddhist Dharma, these teachings were predominantly conserved in Pali and Sanskrit languages. Sanskrit Buddhist literature was of central importance in the transmission of the Buddha’s wisdom to China and Tibet, where many of its only texts survived in translation. While the Sanskrit Buddhist tradition only persists in Nepal today, its scriptures are regarded as most authoritative and sacred in the entire Mahayana Buddhist world and beyond.

The project aims to raise awareness and appreciation of Sanskrit Buddhist literature through audio recordings of its recitations, a rich tradition with a long oral history that is rarefied today.

Bodhisattva Bala from Mathura
Early 2nd century CE
Kushan Period, India
Red sandstone
247 cm
Sarnath Archaeological Museum, India. Accession no. 356.

Umbrella of the Bodhisattva
1st century CE
Kushan Period
304 x 30 cm
Sarnath Archaeological Museum, India. Accession no. 348

The quarries of southern Delhi provided the unique pink sandstone with white flecks, typical of the Kushan art of Mathura. Many sculptures produced in Mathura were subsequently transported across India. For example, this sculpture was discovered in Sarnath, but it is believed to have been created in Mathura. It was made during the reign of Kanishka the Great (c. 127–150 CE), and bears three inscriptions. According to these texts, the patron who commissioned this portrait of the Bodhisattva of Bala was a master of the Tripitaka (Buddhist scripture). The Bodhisattva’s robust shoulders have a prominent geometric tendency, also found in early sculptures of Yaksha spirits from Mathura. This rigid, linear style is echoed in the folds of the drapery and the typically bared shoulder. The sculpture originally stood with a large column behind it, topped with an umbrella – a symbol of royalty – on which were depicted the signs of the Zodiac, representing the Universe. Today the umbrella component is separated from the column, and sits against a wall in the Sarnath Archaeological Museum. Photogrammetric modelling has enabled the sculpture to be reconstructed in its original configuration, as seen here. The lion sitting in between the feet of the sculpture is another symbol of the Buddha, reinforcing his high status.

Evening prayer in the main Buddhist temple of Sarnath
Field recording in Sarnath (India) by Indian ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya (1921-2001)

Evening prayer by the Indian monks at the Mulagandha Kuti Vihar monastery, founded in 1931 on the holy site of Sarnath where half a dozen new temples and monasteries represent today every branch of Asian Buddhism from Thai to Tibetan. Speaking of the virtues of religion and religiousness, this prayer is a passage of the Pali Canon, the only completely surviving early Buddhist corpus of sacred texts in Theravadan lineges of Buddhism. It was composed in the Pali language in North India, and preserved orally until it was committed to writing during the Fourth Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka in 29 BCE, approximately 450 years after the death of the Buddha.

Walking Buddha
14th–15th century CE
Sukhothai, Thailand
Gilt Bronze
165 cm
Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, Thailand. Accession no. 12/1664/9999

The Walking Buddha is a Sukhothai-era innovation of present day Thailand. The sculptures of the time sought to create a hieratic image of the 'supernatural', emphasising everything found in the texts that made The Buddha, as the ‘exalted one’, possess all of the marks that define a ‘Great Man’. The walking Buddha is typically depicted in a dynamic posture, with one foot stepping out, adorned with curvaceous arms, and long, thin tapering fingers. The robe is fitted and smooth with a flowing hemline. A distinctive high flame is seen at the crest of the ushnisha, a cranial bump at the top of the head. One of the Buddha’s hands is raised in the abhayamudrā gesture, which represents protection, peace, benevolence, and the dispelling of fear.

Tham Khwan Nak
Performed by modern Thai singer Namphueng Boribun, published on the cassette Tham Khwan Nak.

Despite the fact that Buddhist monks are prohibited from singing, Thailand has a tradition of very melodic and expressive vocalizations used for reciting sacred texts and even sermons composed in various Thai poetic forms known as lae. Lae can be heard during all kinds of festivals in Isan, North-East Thailand. In central Thailand lae was a major influence on the popular music called ‘Luk Thung’. Namphueng Boribun was initially a pop singer who later turned to traditional singing. She was famous as a mo khwan or ‘soul doctor’, performing ceremonies to attach the soul to the body during major life events, and at Buddhist ordinations where the Tham Khwan Nak ritual text must be recited.

Buddha Subduing Mara
14th–15th century CE
120 cm
Gilt bronze
Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, Thailand. Accession no. 12/1722/9999

Sukhothai is the first school of Buddhist art to represent the Buddha in all four of the attitudes – walking, standing, seated and reclining – as defined by the texts. Early inscriptions from King Ramkamhaeng's reign describe a city filled with images, many of which were made of gold and that stood as tall as eight metres high. Many seated Sukhothai images have their hands in bhumisparsamudrā, calling the Earth to witness or subduing the Mara gesture.

In the Sukhothai style the Buddha has an ovoid shaped face. Its arched eyebrows are thin lines that descend in two unbroken lines to a fine nose. Downcast eyes and full bow shaped lids accentuate the appearance of profound serenity. As with the eyes, the Buddha’s slightly smiling lips are also gently curved, while the ears extend toward the base of the neck. The hairline's tiny ‘snail shell’ curls form a point at the middle of the forehead. The well-developed ushnisha at the crown of the head usually ends in a high flame (rasmi), implying spiritual radiance and physical transcendence, also evoking Sri Lankan iconography.

Anguli Mal Sutra
Recorded in 2001 by producer David Parsons at the Thai Temple of Bodh Gaya, India, published on the CD “Buddha: Transcending space & time” (celestial harmonies 14215-2)

A solo chant by Dr Phramahachalong Candsiri of the Anguli Mal sutra for the Thai congregation at Bodh Gaya. Aṅgulimāla (Pali language, literally ‘finger necklace’) is an important figure in Buddhism, particularly within the Theravada tradition. Depicted as a ruthless brigand who undergoes total transformation after embracing the Buddhist path, his story is seen as the supreme example of the redemptive power of the Buddha’s teaching and supernatural accomplishment.

Cosmic Buddha
6th Century CE
151 cm
Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, The United States of America.

Similar to all Buddhas, and as fully enlightened beings, this life-size limestone figure is wrapped in the simple robe of a monk. What makes this object exceptional are the detailed narrative scenes that completely cover its surface, which seem to magically emanate from within the sculpture. Several of the illustrations are based upon the past lives of the Historical Buddha, which has led some scholars to identify the figure as Shakyamuni himself. Others argue it represents Vairochana, the Cosmic Buddha (Pilushena in Chinese), who is mystically linked with Shakyamuni. The depiction of ‘Realms of Existence’, the Buddhist symbolic map of the Buddhist universe, on the front of the figure offers the principal basis for this latter identification.

Descriptions of Vairochana are found in the Avatamsaka sutra. Known as Huayan in Chinese, or ‘Flower Garland’ in English, this religious text describes the infinity of the universe and introduces Vairochana as the generative force behind all phenomena, including Shakyamuni. Vairochana became the central figure in the Chinese schools of Tiantai and Huayan Buddhism, and in later texts is closely associated with esoteric or Tantric Buddhist beliefs. Images of Vairochana are frequently depicted at a large scale, such as the 55-metre high 6th century version that formerly stood at Bamiyan, Afghanistan, which the Taliban destroyed in 2001.

The Three Refuges
Performed by the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Choir, Taiwan, published in ‘Chants in Honour of a Thousand Buddha (Fo Guang Shan)’.
Chanting of the Three Refuges, also known as the Three Jewels, in the Chinese Buddhist style fanbei, introduced in China in the 4th century CE.

To the Buddha I return and rely, vowing that all living beings understand the great Way profoundly, and bring forth the Bodhi mind.
To the Dharma I return and rely, vowing that all living beings deeply enter the Sutra treasury, and have wisdom like the sea.
To the Sangha I return and rely, vowing that all living beings form together a great assembly, one and all in harmony.

The earliest collection of Chinese Buddhist recordings was produced in Taiwan in 1957, under the auspices of Venerable Shi Hsing Yun, founder of the Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Taiwan’s Dashu District of Kaohsiung. With the rise in popularity of Chinese Mahayana Buddhism in many parts of East and Southeast Asia in recent years, recordings of Buddhist music have inundated the market. The majority of these productions are either composed as contemporary ‘New Age’ style pieces, or as traditional vocal liturgy re-arranged for Chinese instruments and/or electronic synthesizers or for western instruments. Commercial companies in Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore are the most prolific producers of such recordings. But temples and monasteries in China and Taiwan also generate their own recordings of Buddhist liturgy, most of which are designed for religious proselytizing rather than for scholarly documentation of traditional Buddhist liturgy.