Guest Lecture: Living and Dying the Buddha Way: Borobudur as a Support for Deity Yoga

Borobudur upper terrace. Photo by Michael Gunther from Wikimedia Commons.

Speakers: Julie Gifford

When: 4 pm, Tuesday, April 19, 2018

Venue: Harvard University, CGIS South S050


By attending to the manner in which the Gaṇḍavyūha is pictured in the galleries of Borobudur, Julie Gifford has shown that the architects drew on the images of and methods for two types of what have been called “proto-Tantric” visualizations. In this lecture, she refines her earlier observations about the terraces of Borobudur in light of Haribhadra’s theory of the four (rather than three) Buddha bodies. The Buddha figures in the latticed stupas collectively represent the jñāna-ātmaka dharmakāya, which consists of the Buddha’s inner qualities, as they are cognized by his own enlightened consciousness. An interpretation of the vertical organization of Borobudur based on the exoteric account of the Buddha’s four bodies lines up convincingly with the vertical organizations suggested by Alex Wayman and Hudaya Kandahjaya on the basis of esoteric materials. While this still does not result in a positive identification of the Borobudur mandala, it does show that the terraces reflect a concern with the Buddha’s inner qualities, which in an esoteric tradition would correlate to the subtle body. If this concern were pursued in the context of esoteric deity yoga visualizations—by the people who designed Borobudur and/or by Tantric practitioners who came later and reinterpreted the monument—then the most likely practices would be dissolution into emptiness that mirrors death (on the way up) and the generation out of emptiness of the subtle body (on the way down).

About the Speaker:
Julie A. Gifford holds a Joint Ph.D. in Social Thought and Divinity from the University of Chicago. She is the author of Buddhist Practice and Visual Culture: The Visual Rhetoric of Borobudur and has spoken about Borobudur at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, as well as at various universities and academic conferences. She taught for ten years at Miami University of Ohio and is now working as an independent scholar. Her current projects include further work on Borobudur, as well as an article-length piece on a stupa recently completed at Amarbayasgalant Monastery in Mongolia.