Students will learn that Buddhism adapted to the indigenous religions of the countries, into which it was introduced.
Adaptability of Buddhism
Time Alloted60 Minutes
State Content Standards
History/Social Science :
Elective Course in Survey of World Religions: Buddhism's origins in the Buddha or Enlightened One; its path of enlightenment through meditations; its ethical mandate to inflict no suffering; and its acceptance of the transmigration of the soul, of Karma and of Nirvana, the ultimate state of all being
Visual Arts : Proficient
1.1 – Identify and use the principles of design to discuss, analyze, and write about visual aspects in the environment and in works of art, including their own.
3.3 – Identify and describe trends in the visual arts and discuss how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence are reflected in selected works of art.
4.3 – Formulate and support a position regarding the aesthetic value of a specific work of art and change or defend that position after considering the view of others.
For the Teacher :
- Projection system for the work of art, reproduction or overhead transparency.
- Initial worksheet of questions – one for each student.
- Copies of the Commentary by Jill Pease – one for each student.
- Lined paper and pencils
For the Student :
- Initial worksheet of questions.
- Commentary on the artwork by Jill Pease
- Lined paper and a pencil
- Collaborative Learning
- Looking closely
- Reading for comprehension
- Application of learning
Teacher will divide the class into small collaborative groups of students (about 4 to 5). Teacher projects the image of Buddha and Pedestal on a large screen and distributes to each student a worksheet of questions appropriate for the class . Students are to look silently (between 3 and 5 minutes) at the image and jot down answers to the worksheet questions.
- Worksheet questions may be composed of some of the following questions:
- Describe carefully what you see.
- Look for the lines in this sculpture. Which predominate – geometric or organic? What is the difference between geometric and organic lines?
- Identify the shapes that make up this sculpture.
- What colors predominate?
- Can you identify any of the materials used in this sculpture by the apparent color? Of what material do you think the hands and face are made? What materials do you think are used for the costume?
- Describe the costume – is it unusual or everyday? Support your answer by looking carefully at the sculpture.
- Locate the patterned areas. Do these patterns communicate any meaning?
- Do you recognize the person in the sculpture?
- Do you know what his hand gesture is meant to convey? (the gift giving gesture)
- Is there any part of the sculpture that looks unique? (the phalanges or pinnacles of curving arabesques with flame-like edges)
- How would you describe the expression on the face of the sculpture?
- At the end of the silent looking, students in the small groups can share their information or the teacher can facilitate a classroom discussion of what students described and speculated while looking silently.
- Teacher then enlarges the scope of the discussion by asking questions, which reveal how much information students know about Buddhism and sculptures of Buddha. Questions might include some of the following:
- Do all sculptures of Buddha look the same as this one?
- What ideas are prominent in Buddhist teaching?
- Who was Buddha? Was he a real person?
- Where did Buddhism originate?
- Are there any further questions about Buddhism, Buddhism in Burma or about this particular Buddha sculpture?
- If you have questions, where might you go for further information?
- After the classroom discussion, teacher distributes to each student the Commentary for the Buddha and Pedestal . Depending on student abilities within the class, the teacher might do any of the following:
- Assign each student to read the commentary silently. Students may take notes or underline important facts and key ideas.
- Within each group, students divide up the commentary and read it aloud within the group.
- Teacher may assign students to read paragraphs or sections aloud for the benefit of the entire class.
- Once the Commentary has been read, the teacher sends students back to their small groups for a discussion of what they have learned and what they now think about the sculpture. Students should concentrate on locating the elements, which are borrowed from the indigenous religion of the Nats.
- After 5 to 7 minutes, teacher asks one group to report back to the class on the results of the group discussion. Other groups may also report back, if they have new or different observations.
- When the classroom discussion has come to an end, the teacher assigns students the following writing prompts. Students should devote a paragraph to each question:
- It has been said that Buddhism as a religion makes adjustments to its practices, which reflect the indigenous beliefs and ideas of the countries into which it is introduced. Discuss this statement, using the Buddha and Pedestal as an example. (The phalanges with flame-like edges refer to the indigenous religion of the Nats in Burma before the introduction of Buddhism.)
- In what ways does Buddha and Pedestal make references to the life story of the historic Buddha? (the calm serenity and yoga position of the meditating Buddha, the gesture of gift-giving, the crown and opulent clothing, which recalls his former life as a prince.)
- Worksheet questions may be composed of some of the following questions:
Computer Lab Learning—Extension activity for students
Students will compare / contrast two sculptures of Buddha.
Students will come to a conclusion as to which sculpture they think best reflects the ideas they have learned from their study of Buddhism.
Students will access the online collections of the Crocker Art Museum and locate the Amida Buddha sculpture. They will read about it and then compare this sculpture to the Buddha sculpture from Burma in order to address some concluding ideas.
History/Social Science Skills
Use of primary sources
Art analysis and meaning
Sequence for students: (List what students will do, step by step, at the computer with your lesson.)
- Go to the Crocker Art Museum Web site: www.crockerartmuseum.org
- From the Homepage, go to the Digital Crocker.
- Locate the Amida Buddha under the Zoom tab.
- Look carefully at the Amida Buddha and read the commentary.
- Compare and contrast the Amida Buddha with the Buddha and Pedestal from Myanmar ( Burma ). Use the Venn Diagram to record how these two sculptures are alike and how they are different.
Materials Needed :
Computer and connection to internet
Paper for essay
Assessment : How do you know when students have demonstrated their knowledge of the skills listed above? Describe what kind of product students will submit to show their work.
- Write a two paragraph essay to the following two questions:
- What are the similarities and differences between the Amida Buddha and the Buddha sculpture from Myanmar ( Burma )?
- Which sculpture best reflects the Buddhist ideas, which you have learned by studying this religion? Support your ideas with sound reasoning.
Additional Tips : Group management, technical advice, reminders, etc.
- Ask students to work in pairs, three at the most.
- To ensure that every student learns and understands the important ideas, teacher needs to review the two questions in a classroom discussion as closure to the entire lesson – once all students have completed the computer activity and written the two paragraphs.
About the Historical Buddha
The historic founder of Buddhism was Shakyamuni, an Indian prince of the Shakya clan. He was called Siddhartha and lived about 556 – about 486 BCE . As a prince he was raised in luxury and trained to follow his father as ruler. However, as Siddhartha grew up, he became distressed by the suffering and poverty that he saw all around his kingdom. At the age of twenty-nine he renounced his inheritance and began to wander in search of the meaning of life. He wandered throughout his kingdom for six years, listening to wise men and begging for food. Then he sat down beneath a shady bodhi tree and began to meditate. After sitting for forty days and nights through sun, rain, and storms, Siddhartha reached a state of deep understanding called enlightenment. Siddhartha was recognized for his revelations, and he became known and revered as the Buddha, which means “enlightened” or “awakened” one. Siddhartha spent the next 45 years as a teacher in the villages of North India and Nepal.
About the Buddha from Burma (MYanmar), 19th century
Burmese figurative art shows the Buddha as a golden or white sculpture, which is intended to show his spiritual nature. A downward glance and spiritual aura are key characteristics of a Buddha image. Such images have been made according to specific proportions, which craftsmen have handed down from generation to generation for centuries. Bright simple colors, red, yellow, green and gold, and stylized floral decorations were intended to attract the mind and help the worshiper perceive the truth contained in the Buddha legends.
The youthful slender Buddha sits in the yoga position on his lotus pedestal/ throne. His head, hands and feet are made of marble and the rest of the body is made of wood. He has elongated ears, which once held earrings, as there is a hole in each ear lobe. His right hand is in the gift giving gesture with one hand open. His clothing and crown are richly gilded and patterned. The clothing pattern is of stylized flowers made of small dots; the flowers have blue petals and red centers. The flowers are contained within diamond shapes. The colored dots also form curving ribbons of lines throughout the costume.
On the crown on his head and on the shoulders the Buddha carries pinnacles of curving arabesques with flame-like edges. These adornments relate to that of early Nat sculptures and symbolize that the figure is a heavenly being. Buddha in the religion of Burma is seen as the supreme Nat. The cuffs, elbow, shoulders, and lobes on the coat all turn up. This elaborate and opulent costume, reminiscent of palace dance costumes, contrasts with the white marble head, hands and feet. The head appears once to have been painted, as there are traces of paint remaining. The face bears a serene, meditative expression. It is an inward expression, perhaps best described as calm serenity. The Buddha is stretching his open hand toward the viewer. Is he giving peace or offering the viewer help in achieving his own peace?
On his head he wears a stupa-like crown, which shows a spiraling movement toward a point. A stupa is a form of Buddhist architecture: a tall, brick cylinder, mounted on shallow, stepped circular bases. The top has a concave bell-like pinnacle (pointed ornament), tapering to a central point. The design of the stupa corresponds to the perfect proportions of the Buddha's body: the square base symbolizes the earth; the dome above the base symbolizes water; the next thirteen tapering steps symbolize the element of fire. These steps lead to a stylized parasol, the symbol of wind, which is topped by the “twin-symbol” (uniting sun and moon), which is the shimmering crown of the stupa.
The features of this sculpture that announce its Buddha-nature are the elongated ears, the gift giving gesture of the open hand, the downward glance and spiritual aura, the stupa-like crown, and the courtly dress. This courtly attire refers symbolically to Buddha's previous life as a prince.
About MYANMAR (BURMA)
Burma was composed originally of the Pyu peoples of northern Burma and the Mon of the south. In 1057, King Anawrahta of Bagan unified Burma and established Buddhism as the state religion. At the end of the 13th century there was a period of unrest and of frequent changes in capitals and powers, continuing until the 18th century. At this time King Hsinbyushin invaded and conquered the capital of Thailand , returning to Burma with members of the Thai royal family and dozens of artisans. These Thai artisans greatly influenced the art of Burma .
As a result of astrological predictions and calculations, there were frequent changes in the capital that necessitated constant building projects. All of these newly or re-built palaces and temples were embellished with carvings of Buddha and Nats , which were indigenous spirits. Sculpture and various crafts in different media filled temple compounds. After King Hsinbyushin's death, his son and later rulers became involved in conflicts with the British, who conquered Burma in 1885.
About Burmese Art
Burmese art is mainly religious, based on worship of the Nats and Theravada Buddhism. Originally the Burmese were worshippers of the Nats, who are a mixed collection of deities, including spirits of trees, rivers, ancestors, snakes, and the ghosts of people, who died violently or tragically. Nats are basically peaceful unless they are annoyed. Then they are known to wreak destructive vengeance on those who annoy them. Originally there were an infinite number of Nats . In time the number became fixed at thirty-six, with the Buddha as thirty-seventh.
Theravada Buddhism is a form of Buddhism, in which the individual is responsible for his own progress toward salvation. By performing good acts the individual accumulates good karma and strives to become an arhat , or perfected being, who practices the religious life for himself, not for others. As Buddhism melded with the worship of the Nats , Buddha became the supreme Nat . Burmese architecture, sculptures and court dancers all are embellished with “undulating, flame-like pointed plaques and pinnacles.” (Philip Rawson, The Art of Southeast Asia ) These adornments symbolize the realm of magic, which the Nats inhabit, as well as the heavenly sphere. The Buddhist temple, a symbolic representation of heaven, can be thought of as a “hugely glorified Nat -house.” Scholars consider the 11th to the 13th centuries as the Golden Age of Burmese art.