November 15, 2022
Anne N. Feng
Boston University
Water Transformation: Buddhist Meditation and Pure Land Art in Tang China
4 30 pm
McCosh 50

This lecture investigates the relationship between Buddhist meditation and images in medieval China by reconsidering the development of Pure Land transformation tableaux in Dunhuang caves. Working against previous studies that treat the Sixteen Meditations as a linear step-by-step sequence in which the meditator focuses on a static visual object in each meditation, this lecture argues that painters looked to phenomena described in the Meditation Sutra to explore new possibilities for the representation of material metamorphosis. Although the stated goal of the Sixteen Meditations is to achieve a vision of Amitabha Buddha and the supernatural realm that emanates from his power, painters instead foreground the “Water Meditation” as the pivotal moment in meditational experience. This lecture examines the motivations behind, and consequences of this development in medieval Chinese art. Through linking the depiction of the “Water Meditation” to a hitherto neglected aquatic imaginary in Buddhist cave complexes, this lecture demonstrates how painters looked to the mutable properties of water to choreograph mediational experience and expand conceptions of pictorial space.