Lecture 5. Buddhism Across Borders: Tang, Silla, Nara and Heian Buddhist Architecture

The extraordinary legacy of art and architecture associated with the teachings of Buddhism constitute one of the most enduring elements of cultural connection among diverse cultures in Asia. Originating in South Asia, these teachings found multifarious and complex pathways over both land and sea to find followers in cultures as distinct in their values as they separated by geographical distance. The history of East Asian Buddhist architecture, and Buddhist belief and practice more generally in China, Japan and Korea, echoes broader patterns of cultural exchange among these three regions. The irony of a non-materialist system of belief generating the rich panoply of architectural forms that justified imperial rule, centralized the control of ruling elites, motivated reform and rebellion in shifting contexts, and aroused violent repression and resurrection is nowhere more evident than in the variety and richness of variations upon Chinese timber-frame techniques that developed in Korea and Japan in the centuries after the introduction of Buddhism. More than trade, diplomacy or military adventurism, the teachings of the Buddha stimulated the spread and development of the timber-frame, ceramic tile-roofed system of architecture that today is seen as East Asia’s most distinctive visual contribution to world art.

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