Numata Colloquium Series lecture by Prof. Christian Luczanits
As both Bodhisattva and future Buddha in our world Maitreya occupies a unique position in the history of Buddhism and Buddhist art. Besides Śākyamuni, it is this Bodhisattva who first receives cultic attention. Such a cult can first be grasped within the realm of the Kuṣāṇa rulers and in particular in the cultural region of Gandhāra, where his imagery is extremely frequent. Although the importance of Maitreya during that period is frequently mentioned and several studies are dedicated to the depictions of Maitreya as such, no study has as yet attempted to provide a more detailed account on the possible religious context and meaning of this imagery.
Although precise information is scarce, a consideration of the available imagery in the light of the development of Buddhism in general and ideas related to and characteristic for what is later to become Mahāyāna Buddhism in particular, allows for suggesting a much more complex picture of what Maitreya may have meant for a number of types of believers within the Kuṣāṇa realm. While some imagery can clearly be associated with the establishment of new ideas concerning the nature of a Buddha and a Bodhisattva, the conservative nature of iconography makes differentiation practically impossible in other cases. The more developed cults of Maitreya in Central Asia and China, roughly contemporary with later Kuṣāṇa art or slightly later, provide further clues for possible roles of Maitreya in Northwest India during the Kuṣāṇa period. While Maitreya clearly has been the most prominent Bodhisattva during the Kuṣāṇa reign, Avalokiteśvara takes the more prominent position in fully developed Mahāyāna Buddhism.
The lecture sets the upcoming of Maitreya imagery into context, explains his iconography, and relates different types of imagery to legends and believes associated with him and also to changing ideas about the nature and qualities of a Bodhisattva in general. In conclusion, it reflects on those changes that were instrumental in reducing the importance of Maitreya in fully developed Mahāyāna Buddhism.
Cost: Free and open to the public
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