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Ageless Borobudur : Buddhist mystery in…
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Ageless Borobudur : Buddhist mystery in stone, decay and restoration,…

by A.J. Bernet Kempers

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    Hindoe-Javaansche geschiedenis by N.J. Krom (mercure)
    mercure: Krom gives context, where Bernet Kempers gives details about the golden age of Hindu Java.
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Understanding the world's greatest Buddhist monument

Today, Buddhism in Indonesia is almost exclusively practiced by parts of its Chinese minority. This has not always been the case. Earlier in its history, the Indonesian islands were centres of Buddhist learning, and Sumatra and Java had various Buddhist kingdoms. Not much remains of this heritage, with one major exception: Borobudur and the smaller temples in its surrounding area.

We do not know much about the architect of this building, and there is no record of who ordered its construction. However, Dr. Bernet Kempers has little trouble in explaining the building's religious significance, at the same time attesting the profound understanding the developers must have had of what was basically an imported religion. Likely Buddhism at that time was practiced by a relatively small elite only, while the number of immigrants from India in Java must have been small also.

Borobudur was built at the time that Indian influence on Java was most profound. Traditionally, temples like Borobudur were built by an architect and a priest. Made of andesite, the stone found in the surrounding rivers, it must have looked quite different from now when it was first constructed. It must have been plastered or painted and therefore it must have looked a lot lighter. The building was also expanded after subsidence of the soil required strengthening of the construction. The expansion created the current look of an “tart that has not risen”.

Borobudur was built on and around a natural hill, which must have had symbolic significance as it has not made the construction easier. It is surrounded by volcanoes and mountains, among others the Tidat-hill, the “nail” that according to local legend keeps Java in its place.

From the outside the building has a closed character. Its walls encompass a labyrinth, while the building’s surroundings only become visible closer to the top. At the same time the decoration becomes more and more abstract if you go up the terraces. Going up the pilgrim follows the three levels of Buddhist cosmology, kamadhatu (the world of desire), rupadhatu (the world of forms), and then arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). Starting off like a graphic novel of the life of Buddha, the higher levels contain large (but decreasing) numbers of small stupas. Repetition expressing infinity is the purpose here. The holes in the stupas’ bells go from rhombus to octagon the higher you get, hence becoming ever more round, another symbol of infinity that offers liberation to the pilgrim.

Borobudur is the product of the Mahayana school of Buddhism. According to this school the Buddha is a supernatural being of unlimited size, power, and life expectancy. Bodhisattvas are those on the path to enlightenment but they may slow the process of achieving enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. Buddha’s path as a Bodhisattva is told through jakatas depicted on the monument’s lower terraces. Moving clockwise through the lower terraces of the temple (keeping the right hand to the building’s sacred centre), the pilgrim should be inspired to become a Bodhisattva also. Besides famous stories of previous reincarnations of Buddha (e.g. Buddha as a hare offering his meat and thus his life to a Brahmin) and stories of good behaviour, it also contains the most extensive depiction of the Lalitavistara, a story that formulates the life of the historical Buddha as a play of the supernatural Buddha. Although the panels express the essence of the stories quite clear, they do not always fully represent them correctly in its details. It is as if the sculptors were not always fully aware of them. And as you may expect in East Asia,the various transformations to new stories and new levels are quite fluent.

From the air, Borobudur clearly has the form of a mandala, a mystical Buddhist drawing made of squares and circles, that helps you to concentrate and to accomplish access to the heart of Buddhist philosophy. Borobudur offers the pilgrim a spiritual journey that uses meditation, visualisation and other experiences, and represents at the same time the cosmos in a micro format.

From the side Borobudur looks like a stupa. According to one tradition, a stupa symbolises the cloth (the flat part), the alms bowl (the bell) and the stick (the top) of the Buddha. It was this form the Buddha wanted to store his ashes after his death (however stupas als betray Persian influence on graveyard monuments in Gandhara). Originally for the storage of relics, eventually the stupa became the incorporation of the the dharma, the teachings of Buddhism. Stupas are also a representation of Mount Meru, the Indian centre and quintessence of the cosmos (and this close to the mystical centre of Java), that also has the form of terraces.

This is just part of the symbolism that Dr. Bernet Kempers describes in this 126-page book. It seems the Gesamtkunstwerk Borobudur easily beats European cathedrals in their abstraction, not to mention Mondriaan paintings. And the mosques that now dot the landscape of Java are certainly no match to what Java accomplished 1,200 years ago.

According to Dr. Bernet Kempers, Borobudur encorporates the quintessence of all that the East can offer in terms of special life experiences. It is the end result of centuries of reflection on the big issues of human and cosmic existence and old traditions of construction and sculpture.

Within the boundaries of its walls, Borobudur is sacred, something completely different from the common, profane world. It is a “concentrated absolute Reality”, “True, Real, and Imperishable”, and completely different from the world we live in. It forms a counterpoint for man, giving him a feeling for Reality, and a purpose and firmness for his existence. Borobudur is a microcosm replicating the macrocosm: it manifests the sacred. ( )
1 vote mercure | Dec 28, 2010 |
Als wij nu terugkeren tot de Barabudur, dan zien wij, dat hier een kunstwerk is geschapen behorende tot een nogal extreem product van de dynamiek der sociale differentiate en dat deze differentiatie zelf duidelijk te zien is op de reliefs: het hoog en laag en het koning - monnik komt er duidelijk op uit.
 
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