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Traditional Buddhist Arts Fix

Two amazing gallery shows in NYC are running right now, showcasing the diversity of art from traditional Eastern Buddhist cultures, and how Buddhist art changes depending on the society that contains it. (And they're cheap! One's always free; the other's free on Friday nights.)

Asian Buddhas may not be your cup of tea (heh heh), but it's hard to beat the free exhibit at Tibet House, "Out of Uddiyana," for sheer value. Priceless treasures from the private Buckingham Collection, featuring some of the earliest and most unusual Buddha images in the world, are right upstairs at 15th St. and Fifth Ave., free for all to wander in, visit, breathe, learn, marvel, and return to the busy holiday streets. 


As old classics and art history student, I was fascinated by the story the exhibit told, how it traces the evolution of the Buddhist imagery as it traveled throughout different cultures from Uddiyana in northern India, where it was strongly influenced by the Greeks as early as the second century C.E., and along the Silk Road to China, Japan, Thailand, and beyond.

For anyone who chafes a bit at 21st American influence on Buddhist styles of expression, "Out of Uddiyana" and the current exhibit at the Japan Society (NOTE: free ONLY on Fridays, 6-9pm!) are instructive.

The Japan Society pulls off another stunning exhibition of original Japanese Zen scroll paintings, this time 69 beauties by the guy who actually wrote that famous koan on the one-hand-clapping thing, Hakuin. (Oft translated as "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" (If you're a fan of Zen stuff, you'll probably remember scratching your head over that one in high school or college.)

Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768) was particularly concerned with teaching lay people, or non-monastics, about practicing Zen in their daily lives. His sometimes whimsical, often entertaining, work does a wonderful job of that, even today.

See a gallery of images here; sign up for Roshi Enkyo O'Hara's discussion and meditation on Hakuin's work on Saturday, January 8, and read the review on This Week in New York.

And consider, what sorts of American-influenced 21st-century Buddhist imagery might a hypothetical "American Society" gallery be showing 400 years from now?

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