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Introduction to Korean Buddhism

07. Buddhist Paintings

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Writer Jogye Date07 Apr 2020 Read278 Comment0

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07. Buddhist Paintings


The quality of Buddhist paintings does not depend purely on artistic expression or merit, for they are displays of sacred art that emphasize Buddhist perspectives and ideology. Therefore, good Buddhist painting depends not on the use of ground-breaking technique or style, but depends largely on how skillfully the spirit of Buddhism is portrayed in the painting.


1) Buddhist Scroll Paintings (Taenghwa)

Buddhist scrolls usually portray images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, or stories from Buddhist scriptures, and are usually done on silk or hemp cloth and hung on the wall. The scrolls are subdivided into upper, intermediate, and lower altar paintings, depending on their content. Upper altar paintings are hung behind the main Dharma Hall altar, and include murals of Śākyamuni Buddha, Amitābha Buddha, Vairocana Buddha, the Medicine Buddha, and so forth. Intermediate altar paintings are hung on the platform of the divine Dharma protectors and portray the images of attendants and Dharma protectors. The lower altar paintings are hung on altars of the spirits of the deceased.


2) Buddhist Murals (Byeokhwa)

Murals are normally painted on temple walls. The majority of paintings portray the life of Śākyamuni Buddha, images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and scenes from the lives of spiritual patriarchs. There are also the Ten Ox Herding murals, which display the gradual awakening of the practitioner to his true nature through the depiction of an ox herder attaining an ox. These ox herding murals are also called Sipudo, Simudo, or Mokudo.


3) Paintings of Amitābha Buddha (Gamrodo)

These paintings portray Amitābha Buddha leading the sentient beings from the hell realms to the Western Pure Land. Amitābha Buddha is depicted as the king of ambrosia or amṛṭa (which literally means "sweet dew"). Ambrosia, or nectar, signifies the teachings, which can relieve the suffering of sentient beings. This painting is also called theUllambana SūtraPaintingbecause it tells the story of Maudgalyāyana liberating her mother from suffering. This painting is sometimes hung on Spirit Altars. Thus, it is sometimes called the Painting of the Spirit Altar, the Ambrosia Painting, or the Magnificent Ambrosia Scroll Painting.


4) Outdoor Scroll Paintings (Gwaebul)

These are paintings used during outdoor Buddhist services. Gwaebuljae refers to the outdoor scroll paintings hung for the performance of Buddhist ceremonies and rituals. The act of hanging of Buddhist scroll painting is referred to as "Gwaebuliwun," or "Enshrining (hanging) the scroll painting of the Buddha."


5) Transformational Buddhist Paintings

(Byensangdo or Mandalas)

Very complex Buddhist stories and profound knowledge are easily portrayed in this painting. The stories are transformed so that people can more easily understand Buddhism. Therefore, all types of Buddhist paintings can be displayed in the manner of Transformational Paintings.



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