Archaeological and Visual Sources of Meditation in the Ancient Monasteries of Kuča


In Archaeological and Visual Sources of Meditation in the Ancient Monasteries of Kuča, Angela F. Howard and Giuseppe Vignato use diverse methodological approaches from archaeology, art history and religious studies to reconstruct monastic life and practices in the rock monasteries on the northern Silk Route (ca. 200-650). Analysis of the caves’ function, meditation manuals, and the cave murals highlights the centrality of meditation, a fundamental duty of Kuča monastics. This interdisciplinary study utilizes hitherto unpublished line drawings, maps, and photographs to reconstruct and interpret the architecture and décor of Kuča caves, thus revealing the close links between the spiritual and the physical, between doctrinal teaching and practice and the lay-out and décor of the monasteries.

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Angela F. Howard, Professor of Asian Art, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey is the author of The Imagery of the Cosmological Buddha, E. J. Brill 1986, Summit of Treasures, Weatherhill 2001, and co-author of Chinese Sculpture, Yale 2006.
Giuseppe Vignato, Professor of Archaeology, Peking University, is the author of Districts and Groups, an Archaeological Investigation of the Rock Monasteries of Kucha (in Chinese), Shanghai Classics Publisher, 2013, in addition to several articles and translations in Chinese of Western scholarly publications.

'This thorough study of the Kuˇca caves should guarantee that none of the sites continues to be studied in isolation. The importance of meditation underlies all the cave sites and much of their imagery. Monumental image caves are crucial to the region. Shravasti imagery cannot be ignored. At the same time, the authors recognise that chronology is crucial, but not yet fully confirmed.
It is a perennial challenge for historians of art and religion in Asia to understand the development of architecture, sculpture, and painting and their relation to theology and ritual. This book goes father in accomplishing that goal than any single-volume study of a Central Asian Buddhist cave-temple site. In large part, as we see here, it is because archaeology is the key to this deeper understanding. This book is technical, yet it is accessible. Anyone who engages with Kuˇca will have to process its ideas before going further. Not every scholar may agree with every interpretation, but the subject has been reopened and meticulously investigated as never before. The book will impact all future study not just of the Kuˇca caves but of Buddhist cave art more generally, as well.' Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt, University of Pennsylvania, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society2018/1-3. doi:10.1017/S1356186316000110
All interested in Buddhist religion and art of Central Asia, its relationship to both India and China.
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