12 Ağustos 2015 Çarşamba

A Lady of Ren Buddhist Cave Art


-- for Geneva & Seneca Crane (blogging while drinking plum wine)
A few days ago, Professor A. Ku asked a question that continues to fascinate me. Concerned with 4.3 of the analects
4.3: 唯仁者能好人,能惡人
“The Master said: It is only the one who is ren who can love and hate others.”
he asks, "why should anyone be required to hate (or to love)?" For the obvious reasons, I am not crazy about the translation and attempted to give my gloss:
For me, the word of interest is not 惡 but rather, 能– which is to say that what is being emphasized is that this “liking and disliking” is based on a certain capacity, which is itself made possible by self-cultivation. And for what it is worth, this is how I am reading 4:3
The Lady of Ren, does not 1) restrain all emotion; nor does she 2) not restrain all emotion; rather she seeks to form/transform (形)emotion through the cultivation of self (via among other things the practice of rites) in order to discern the true ren capability in others. The like and dislike is not about personal preferences (arbitrary blind love or unmerited dislike) but rather is born out of cultivation of self.
The Professor then repeats his original question:
So, still my question here is — even if we build into “hating and loving” (on the part of the Lady of Ren) this very portrait you describe — whether this “intuition” is merely a ground floor level “capacity” that is simply redirected towards certain targets (like a culvert), or whether that intuition is a kind of “emergent” property, a new capacity that only the Lady of Ren would have. If so, then it’s not necessarily just a ground-floor level emotion “redirected by li. It’s more than that.
OK, I have no idea what a culvert is, but I intuitively feel that the closest approximation to what this is like is our aesthetic sense. And I say:
This is perhaps not unlike aesthetic sensibility. If you don’t turn off the TV; if you don’t stop drinking your booze out of a brown paper bag– well, need I say more?
Like our aesthetic sensibility, some people are born with more than others, but most people have this capacity. And yet, if we do not cultivate our aesthetic sensibility, perhaps only in a genius would it cultivate itself.
My beloved tea teacher would always repeat that the practice of tea (this kind of embodied mindfulness) and the actual handling of beautiful objects had the affect of "polishing our hearts"-- "This makes us more virtuous," she would repeat. For her, an aesthetic sensibility 美感 was not necessarily equivalent to virtue 美徳 but one could lead to the other (and indeed that understanding can be seen right in the kanji itself →美).
What do these two perhaps connected sensibilities share? Well, first of all, both require a kind of self-cultivation that is embodied. You cannot learn beauty nor virtue from books. It is impossible. It is sense know-how (embodied know-how) that is carried over into how you live your life (hence, "ritual comportment"). In addition, both types of sensibility, rather than universalize or categorically deginerate our emotions (love and hate) in the way of religion (Buddhism), instead seek to transform these emotions in a refined or edifying way (maybe this is what Professor Ku meant by a culvert??).
In what sense is this also cognitive? Well perhaps something along the lines of Merleau-Ponty's "anti-cognitive cogntive science" approach. Because we are talking about is-- in Sam Crane's words: a cultivated moral aesthetic sensibility.
And embodied practice is probably the only real means of improving or refining this sense. As Sam says:
And that is where Ritual comes in. Ritual is the conscious and well-intentioned enactment of all facets of Duty (the big duties and the little duties) at all times. It’s not like going to church on Sunday and then stealing hubcaps during the week. It is an all the time thing. The Ren person is always on, always working to perceive context and orchestrate proper response to context. It may get easier with age and reiteration (like Fingarette’s handshake!), but it always requires care and attention.
Human sensibility is probably something most humans are hard-wired for. But it demands exemplery examples and routine, doesn't it? And it is these exemplery examples (in the form of a teacher or art work) which are beautiful plus virtuous.
As is their enactment-- beautiful plus virtuous.
And again (for this is my main point this week): based firmly in human emotion, their aim-- rather than negating emotion or extinguishing desire-- rather is to refine them. And, perhaps no where is this linking of beauty and virtue more pronounced than in Japan-- don't you think? Is this not the hallmark of Japanese traditional arts and literature?
Anyway, I have been working on an editing job about the murals of Kizil. Part of the great "pearl necklace" of Buddhist murals that form a great arc across Asia, from Ajanta to unforgettable Alchi; up to Kizil, Bezeklik, Dunhuang-- straight across to the phenomenal murals at Horyuji in Nara; Kizil is said to have been perhaps one of the finest. I already wrote a bit about the lavish use of ultramarine that so stunned the German expedition team here, but thinking about the murals again today, I was imagining what it must have been like before the murals were cut out of the caves and shipped overseas. Pilgrims would have entered the cave from the blinding sunlight of the desert outside-- and much like pilgrims at the Borobudur, they would have moved along an "iconographic program": like any ritual, it would have been structured in such a way to aim at an inner transformation-- achieved bodily as one performed the ritual.
Emotions (émouvoir) as that which most moves us cultivated through physical movement (practice/pilgrammage). This is the task of the Lady of Ren. And you will notice that its opposite (Enlightenment) is characterized by non-movement, stillness and extinguishing. Anyway, it's interesting to think of it this way at least.

Buddhist Cave Art Preserving Profound Persian and Indian Influences

In the years 1906 and 1913, Albert von Le Coq, as part of the German expedition team, visited the Kizil cave site, in Xinjiang Province China. There, the German archaeologist was astounded by the great beauty of the ultramarine used in the murals decorating the walls. Reminiscent of the rich blue color of the sky, Le Coq described in his expedition diary:
“…the extravagant use of a brilliant blue – the well-known ultramarine which, in the time of Benvenuto Cellini[a], was frequently employed by the Italian painters, and was bought at double its weight in gold.”[b]
Derived from the mineral lapis lazuli, ultramarine comes from stones said only to have been mined in Afghanistan. The word “lapis lazuli” is a combination of the Latin word “lapis” (meaning “stone”), and the Arabic word “lazuli” (meaning “sky” or “blue”). Transported over long distances (from the area around present day Afghanistan), it was the abundant use of this pigment, deemed highly precious throughout history, which so stunned Le Coq.
In addition to the rich use of ultramarine, Le Coq was also surprised by the fact that “there was … not the slightest sign in the paintings of any East Asiatic influences.[b]”Despite its geographic proximity to China, the Buddhist art preserved in the Kizil grottoes showed a perplexing lack of Chinese elements; displaying instead more Indian and Persian (Iranian) influence. For instance, frieze murals(1) found at the time of excavation to the right and left of the great podiums showed a clear Persian (Sasanian 226-651) influence, as reflected in two Sasanian ducks with jeweled necklaces in their beaks which were drawn facing one-another within pearl-shaped medallions. Many such works created in the Indian or Persian style (displaying the artistic conventions of late antiquity) were to be found among the Buddhist art of the caves. Le Coq was deeply impressed with the art he found at Kizil, describing the murals in his diary as the “most interesting, and artistically perfect paintings.”[b]
The Sasanian Empire (226-651), whose artistic conventions so influenced the murals, ruled a vast area covering the Iranian Plateau and Mesopotamia; and at its peak, extended its rule as far as Afghanistan. The cave murals found at Kizil displayed a strong influence of the art of the Sasanian Persians as well as that of India. This was particularly seen in addition to the Persian artistic conventions, in the abundant use of Afghanistan lapis lazuli.

Artistic Style and Architecture of the Kizil Grottoes

(2) (3)
The Kizil Grottoes run along the Cliffs on the northern shore of the Muzalt River(2), sixty-seven kilometers west of the city of Kucha (庫車 in Aksu Prefecture, Xinjiang Province)(3). Because written records or dated inscriptions have not been found providing hints as to when the grottoes were begun, there is no standard theory on this point. A wide range of theories exist from those positing the earliest activity to have started in the third century, to those suggesting the fifth century. However, researchers generally agree that the caves were probably abandoned sometime around the beginning of the eighth century, after Tang influence reached the area.
(4) (5)
While little also is known about when the various murals were painted, the German team proposed categorizing the art into at least two stylistic phases, and this system remains in place to this day. The murals belonging to the first phase(4) are characterized by the use of reddish pigments. In addition, the lines in the paintings are drawn carefully, and gradation shades are blended in order to give a three-dimensional appearance to the paintings. In contrast, murals belonging to the second phase(5) use abundant bluish pigments, which include the use of lapis lazuli. In addition, second phase painting shows large differentiations in pigment shades to give a three dimensional appearance to figures. As will be discussed below, many works in the Kizil Grottoes belong to phase 2.
Let us now consider the architectural layout of the grottoes. There are three main architectural styles: namely, the central pillar caves, rectangular caves, and monastic caves. However, the most unique architectural features are seen in the central pillar caves(6), which consist of three areas: the main room, the central pillar, and the corridors. The composition of the murals drawn on the walls are mostly consistent throughout.
(7) (8)
The architecture of the central pillar caves follows an iconographic programme, functioning as the stage for the carrying out of a Buddhist pilgrimage. Entering the cave, the pilgrim would first contemplate the past lives of the Buddha as he or she passes along murals depicting scenes from these past lives shown on the walls in the main room. As part of this, the worshipper would stop to worship the main figure of Sakyamuni placed in a niche within the main central pillar. The pilgrim would next circumambulate the corridor moving in a clockwise fashion, thereby worshipping the Sakyamuni statue. Along the back walls of the corridor, the pilgrim would view scenes depicting Sakyamuni’s nirvana and there contemplate his or her own existence in a Buddha-less world. Upon exiting the corridor, the worshipper would view Maitreya (Buddha of the Future) painted on the wall above the entrance to the main room.
(9) (10) (11)
[1. The Main Room] Murals on various themes are displayed on the side walls of the main room. These include paintings on the theme of the Jâtaka Tales (本生図)(7), which are stories about the life of the historical Buddha, Sakyamuni; paintings on the theme of the Illustrated Biographies of His Life (仏伝図)(8), which depict the episodes from his life; and paintings on the theme of the Preaching Scenes (説法図, or 因縁仏伝図)(9) which depict various stories about the Sakyamuni’s preaching after Enlightenment. In a style characteristic to the Kizil grottoes, the vault ceilings of the main room are divided into diamond blocks, decorated with paintings done on these same themes (such as the Jâtaka Tales(10) and the Preaching Scenes(11)).
(12) (13)
[2. The Central Pillars] Typically, the central pillars of the front walls contain a large nich which originally accommodated a seated figure. Surrounding the figure was a background of mountain scenery composed of built-up stucco materials. Most of the three-dimensional figures have been lost, but there are a few remains of standing figures on the front wall. However, these are mere remains and their original appearance remains a mystery. On the left, right, and the back of the central pillars are corridors with low ceilings, and there along the walls are depicted images of donors(12), monks and stūpas.
(14) (15)
[3. The Corridors] On the back walls of the corridors behind the central pillars, we find either painted images(13) or stucco figures on the theme of Nirvana. This Kāśyapa image(14), which is particularly striking for the expressiveness of the figure as well as for its leaf patterns, is painted on this wall. The painting was originally part of the nirvana scene depicted on the back wall of the back corridor. These images represent Mahākāśyapa, the disciple who arrived late at the scene of Buddha’s nirvana, and thus failed to be there at the moment of his death. Finally, we find the Maitreya preaching in the Tuṣita Heaven depicted in the half circle above the entrance of the main room. (Line Drawing by Grünwedel(15)).

The German Expedition Team

The members of the German expedition team that conducted the major survey of the Kizil Grottoes of which Le Coq was a part, left not only written records concerning the murals and cave architecture, but also compiled and left us with various other kinds of written and visual materials records on a variety of other topics, including cave floorplan measurements, site photographs, records concerning the condition of the caves, and colored sketches and line drawings of the murals. Of particular note are Albert Grünwedel’s line drawings(16), which he made by pressing a thin piece of paper directly on the paintings. These carefully done line drawings by Grünwedel as well as Ernst Waldschmidt are of great value to us today.
The German Team, in addition to their onsite research, were to also cut out many murals from the Kizil site to bring back to Germany. The technique which they employed was to “cut round” the designated area “with a very sharp knife -- care being taken that the incision goes right through the surface-layer -- to the proper size for the packing-cases[b];” carefully cutting “the boundary line in curves or sharp angles to avoid going through faces or other important parts of the picture[b].” After this step was completed, they would then make a hole with “the pickaxe in the wall at the side of the painting to make space to use the fox-tail saw[b]. In cases where the surface layer of the cave walls were unstable, they would press boards covered with felt firmly onto the painting as they were being cut out.
As shown here, the paintings brought back to Germany(17) using this method had been cut into smaller parts. As a result, the walls in the Kizil grottoes are left scarred with countless blank areas where paintings have been cut out, or where the team quit their work part way through the procedure after making straight cut marks.
(18) (19)
The cut-out paintings were transported back to Germany along with sculptures(18), painted boards(19), and manuscripts; all in all making for a magnificent collection for the German team, which far outshone anything achieved by past expeditions. The result of this excavation was compiled into reports such as the seven-volume Die Buddhistische Spätantike in Mittelasien[c], contributing greatly to research on the Kizil Grottoes.

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