Life of the Buddha at Jonang Monastery in Tibet: Art, Literature, and Institution

JonangBuddhaThe Life of the Buddha presents and analyzes in a synthetic fashion the first complete photographic documentation of the monumental murals depicting the Buddha narrative at Jonang Phuntsokling (Jo nang Phun tshogs gling) Monastery in Western Tibet, their related literature, and their architectural and historical contexts.

The challenge of studying visual art, literature, and their institutional contexts in a synthetic fashion is acute throughout the humanities today. The Life of the Buddha (LOTB) project addresses this challenge by presenting and analyzing for the first time monumental Tibetan murals depicting the Buddha’s life, their related literature, and their architectural and historical settings. LOTB will also offer scholarly and learning communities the first tool to research and engage image, text, architecture, and history as an integrated and meaning-rich whole. The project’s impact for the humanities and the study of Buddhism will thus be twofold: the largest study to date on visual and textual Buddha narratives in Tibet, and a new digital tool for synthetic teaching and research of Buddhist images and texts in context.

LOTB is based on a detailed series of murals produced at the famed Tibetan Buddhist monastery of Jonang, together with an extended literary narrative by the monastery’s founder Tāranātha (1575-1634). These murals date from the first decades of the 17th century and are among only a handful of fully preserved narrative paintings in Central Tibet. They are also among the few murals in Tibet explicitly linked to an extant collection of narrative, poetic, ritual, and technical painting literature about the Buddha. Practically nothing has been written about the Jonang murals, and no complete visual documentation has ever been attempted.

The LOTB project provides a multimodal framework for reading and analyzing the visual narratives of the Jonang murals in conjunction with their literary source: Tāranātha’s extensive treatment of the Buddha’s life story the Sun of Faith (Dad pa’i nyin byed), often referred to as the Hundred Acts of the Buddha (Ston pa Shākya’i dbang po’i mdzad pa brgya pa). To do so, the project has adapted and extended a suite of tools in the Mirador Viewer, a configurable and extensible environment for displaying and annotating IIIF resources.

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Supported by the ACLS-Ho Foundation Fellowship in Buddhist Studies.

Co-administered with Kurtis Schaeffer.