Buddhas | Buddhisms: Across and Beyond Asia

September 25, 2019–June 21, 2020

Invented by ancient Greeks and Romans and perpetuated by European geographers, the concept of “Asia” has arbitrarily homogenized diverse groups of people and their divergent civilizations. Buddhism, however, is one of the few cultural traditions that has connected distinctive Asian populations over time. Originating in historical India 2,500 years ago, Buddhism’s spread throughout Asia via trade routes, from the Silk Road that joined East and Central Asia to water routes reaching South and Southeast Asia, and has always been a global phenomenon. Since the 19th century, with the escalating migration of Asian Buddhists, formation of modern Buddhist studies against the backdrop of western imperialism, and growth of Buddhist institutions worldwide, this religion and its practices have continued to adapt to new contexts and believers.

The term “buddha” (enlightened or awakened one) originally referred to Siddhārtha Gautama, a prince born in the sixth or fifth century BCE. Legend has it that he renounced royal life and meditated to achieve enlightenment, breaking the endless cycle of suffering and rebirth. His teachings were the foundation of Buddhism, but “buddha” later came to be used for not only this historical figure, but all beings that attain enlightenment. Three major Buddhist doctrines developed in Asia, which often coexist in practice: Theravāda in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia; Mahāyāna that is most prevalent in East Asia; and Vajrayāna across the Himalayas and Mongolia. Just as Buddhism evolved into multiple forms, Buddhist imagery and art were also transformed by each culture that the religion encountered. This installation presents Buddhist objects and artistic imaginations, across and beyond Asia, in their many and varied styles and expressions.

Professor Christine I. Ho of UMass Amherst and Smith College alumna Levy Singleton ’19 have contributed to the development of this exhibition.

SCMA is grateful to the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, and the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum for their generous loans.

This exhibition is supported by the Nolen Endowed Fund for Asian Art Initiatives.

All the works on paper and silk in the exhibition are rotated in February for conservation purposes. Please visit both rotations in the fall and spring.


Images: Left: Sessō Tōyō. Japanese, 1420–1506?. Bodhidharma Crossing the Yangtze River on a Reed (detail). Muromachi Period (1392–1573), 15th century. Hanging scroll, ink on paper. Gift of Peggy Block Danziger, class of 1962, and Richard M. Danziger. Right: Peter Max. German, Born 1937. Prana. 1967. Photo lithograph in color on paper. Purchased.