From the Jacket:
The present work is an analysis of Buddhist symbolism in historical perspective. In author's view Buddhist symbolism, in art and religion, is but a part of the main current of Indian religion and art and has to be studied in that context. Early Indian art is, thus, essentially the continuation of a mainly aniconic "Vedic" style and the compositions are comprehensible only with reference to Vedic notions. The present work studies the fundamental elements of Buddhist symbolism which predominate in the early aniconic art and are never dispensed with in the later imagery, though they are subordinated to the "human" icon. "The present study is divided into two parts: in part I, the tree of life, earth-lotus and world-wheel (and other cognate symbols) have been analyzed; part II deals with the place of the lotus-throne. A study of these reveals that they represent a universal Indian symbolism and set of theological concepts.
Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy the greatest among the Indian Art historians was born in Colombo on August 22, 1877 After graduating from the University of London he became the director of the Mieralogical Survey of Ceylon. Between 1906 and 1917 when he joined as the curator he was busy lecturing on Indian art. In 1938 he became the Chairman of the national committee for India’s Freedom. His contributions on Indian Philosophy, religion art and iconography painting and literature are of the greatest importance as were his contribution on music science and Islamic art. He died on September 9, 1947.
Coomaraswamy’s A New Approach to the Vedas, Luzac and Company, 1933, The Transformation of Nature in Art, Harvard University Press, 1934, and the present volume, which is published under the auspices of the Harvard-Yenching Institute, are based on the following convictions, which have gradually been developing in his mind.
In the first place, Buddhist art in India — and that is practically equivalent to saying art in India begins about the second century before Christ with a well-developed set of symbols in its iconography. It does not seem possible to completely separate Buddhism as religion and as art from the main current of Indian religion and art, or to think that these symbols suddenly developed as a new creation. Therefore Coomaraswamy proceeded to study from a new point of view the symbolism which pervades the whole early Vedic literature of India, trying to discover whether concepts expressed symbolically in the literature of the anionic Vedic period may not have found their first iconographic expression in early Buddhist art.
In the second place, he noted many surprising similarities between passages in the mediaeval Christian theologians and mystics, such as St Thomas, Meister Eckhart, Ruysbroeck, and Bohme, and passages in the Vedic literature — similarities so striking that many sentences from the Christian writers might be taken as almost literal translations of Sanskrit sentences, or vice versa. The conviction developed in him that mystical theology the world over is the same, and that mediaeval Christian theology might be used as a tool to the better understanding of ancient Indian theology. This theory he proceeded to apply even to the Rig Veda, assuming, contrary to the general opinion, no complete break in thought between the Rig Veda and the Brahmanas and Upanishads. In many obscure and so-called “mystical” stanzas of the Rig Veda and Atharva Veda he finds the same concepts vaguely hinted at which are employed in a more developed form in Brahmanism and Buddhism.
The present study of the Tree of Life, the Earth-Lotus the Word- Wheel, the Lotus-Throne, and the Fiery Pillar tries to show that these symbols can be traced back beyond their first representation in Buddhist iconography through the anionic period of the Brahmanical Vedas even into the Rig Vedic Period itself and that they represent a universal Indian symbolism and set of theological concepts.
Objective linguistics is a apparently near the end of its resources in dealing with the many remaining obscurities of Rig Vedic Phraseology. This new metaphysical approach is welcome even though to the matter of fact linguist it may seem that ideas are not being built up on the basis of words but that words are being made to fit ideas.
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