Coningham, R. A. E., 2001, « The Archaeology of Buddhism » in T. Insoll (ed.), Archaeology and World Religion. London: Routledge, p. 60-95.
Observing that most of the current knowledge on Buddhism comes from the study of ancient texts as well as observation of modern devotional practices, Coningham investigates the role and potential of archeology in learning about Buddhism. He follows in the scholarship established by himself, Edwards, Schopen, and Trainor. The aim of this chapter is to investigate a new typology for Buddhist archeology. The methodology proposed is first to present textual narrative of the life of the Buddha; second to introduce the accepted typology of Buddhist monuments: stupa, grigha and vihara; and third to provide case studies to illustrate the complex and variable nature of Buddhist practice through space and time.
The life of the Buddha: a textual narrative
Coninghan notes that much of the writing that Western scholarship uses for analyzing Buddhism is based on narratives of the 5th and 7th c CE by two Chinese pilgrims Fa-hsien and Hsuan-tsang, who travelled as pilgrims to the sacred places. He suggests that the Sanskrit and Pali Books of India could be a more reliable and important resource to improve historical accuracy.
Conignham touches upon the concepts of the 4 noble truths (life is suffering, the cause of suffering is desire, the cessation of suffering is the removal of the cause, and the way to the removal of the cause is the eightfold path (right views, thoughts, speech, actions, means of livelihood; exertion, mindfulness, and meditation) advocating a middle path between self-gratification and self-mortification.
What is of interest in particular is that the body of the Buddha was cremated and his ashes divided into eight portions and distributed to Ajatasaru of Magadha, the Lichchhavis of Vaisali the Sakyas of Kailavasti, the Bulis of Allakappa, the Koliyas o Ramagrama, a Bahmin of Vethadipa, and the Mallas of Pava. The cremation urn was retained by the Brahmin who had divided the portions and the fire’s embers were given to the Moriyas of Pipphalivana. Ten stupas were created over these relics in various parts of India.
The life of the Buddha: an archeological narrative
Coningham suggests that a new typology of Buddhist archaeology may be created into three sections. The first would present the textual narrative of the life of the Buddha before critically reviewing his life from an archeological perspective. The second would will introduce the accepted typology of Buddhist monuments: stups, griha and vihara. The third will provide case studies illustrating Buddhist practice through space and time.
A review of the typology of Buddhist monuments
Stupa or mount, griha or sactuary, and vihara or monastery.
Oldest form of monument and most resilient. Four categories of stupas are commonly made:
1. containing corporeal remains of Buddha, his disciples, and saints (Dhatu)
2. containing objects of use (Buddha’s begging bowl)
3. commemorating incidents from Buddha’s life or places visited by him
4. votive stupas, built by pilgrim Bhikus or Bhikunis for obtaining religious merit.
The cetiya, "reminders" or "memorials" (Sanskrit: caitya)
- śarīraka, pieces of the body, associated with the śarīraka or dhātu cetiya - In Thai, these stupas are called chedī, retaining the second half of the phrase dhātu cetiya.
- paribhogaka, things he used,
- udeśaka, "indicative reminders" or "votive objects“.
- A fourth category, dhammaka, was added later to remind monks that the true memory of Gautama Buddha can be found in his teachings
The sanctuary or griha has been identified as one of the fundamental Buddhist monuments. It consists of a hall with the object of worship.
1. Stupa-griha, such as a circular relic house
2. Bodhi-griha, a sanctuary that holds the sacred Bodhi tree
The monastery itself can be identified as a discrete type of monument. The earliest vaharas were built from perishable materials and vanished, yet rock cut viharas survive.
The case studies
A crucial tenet of Buddhism is the need for patronage, and the case studies demonstrate the changing patterns of patronage. The development of the Busshist site of Sanchi in India; the Sirkap Dharmajika stupa in Taxila; Buddhist stupas at Anaradhapura in Sri Lanka; and others.
The Power of Buddha Relics
The role of relics is complex in Buddhism. The relics can be: corporeal relics, relics of commemoration, relics of use. A notable example is the Tooth relic in Sri Lanka.
The archeology of Buddhist Secterianism
As Buddhism developed it split into schools and traditions. The many schisms were followed by the Great Schism or Mahabheda of the orthodox and the Mahasanghikas. This would lead to the creation of the Hiyana and Mahayana schools or traditions.
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