Why do Buddhists build monuments despite the core teaching of ephemerality, and what can we learn from this paradox about our own conception of time and space?
Everything changes. This is, in its simplest and most fundamental formulation, one of the essential teachings of Buddhism. Buddhist communities throughout history have preached, practiced, and written about the ephemerality and illusoriness of our everyday lives and experiences. Ironically, however, many of these same communities have attempted to express these teachings in the form of monumental structures meant to stand the test of time. Some of the world’s greatest cultural heritage sites are a legacy of this seeming contradiction between the impermanence that is a central presupposition of Buddhist thought and the permanence to which these same monuments seem to aspire. If the world is characterized by emptiness and the Self is illusory, how does one account for the prodigious volume of art and architecture created by Buddhists throughout history? This Gen Ed course takes a multicultural and reflective engagement with the challenges presented by this conundrum through a study of Buddhist sites scattered throughout time and space. Pertinent topics such as cosmology, pilgrimage, materiality, relics, meditation, and world-making will be explored. Through these Buddhist monuments in South and Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, Central Asia, China, Korea, and Japan, students will learn about the rich, diverse world of Buddhist practice and experience.