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For the first couple of hundred years of its history, Buddhist piety honoured Gautama as an enlightened man but did not worship him as a God. For this reason it refrained from depicting him in statue or picture, but figured him symbolically only by the Bo-tree or the Truth-wheel. Muhammed was even more emphatic in demanding no higher recognition than as a Messenger, a Prophet, and strictly forbade the representation of his human form. To this day, in no mosque throughout the Islamic world can a single one be found. But, in striking contrast, every Buddhist temple throughout Asia has its Buddha statue. What overcame the earlier repugnance was human emotional need to admire the superhuman attainment of Nirvana, the religious desire to worship godlike beings or pray to them for help, the feeling of devotion toward a higher power. And a great help was given to breaking the ban by the spread of the Greek empire in the lands between Persia and India, as well as in Northwest India itself. For this brought Greek ideas and influence, a less otherworldly, more rationally human attitude, expressed in the way the Greeks figured their own gods always in human forms. When their artistic skills were called upon to make the first stone statues of the founder of Buddhism, they represented him not as a half-starved lean ascetic, not as a bare-shouldered shaven-headed monk, not even as a spiritual-looking saint, but as a curly haired, beautifully featured, Apollo-headed prince. For it was Greek sculpture which first portrayed the naked human body with a beauty, a pose, and a refinement unmatched earlier and hardly surpassed even in our own time.


-- Notebooks Category 15: The Orient > Chapter 2: India > # 325

-- Perspectives > Chapter 15: The Orient > # 23






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