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Architecture of Virtuality: Liao Dynasty Pagodas and the Embodiment of Buddhist Vision

October 31, 2023 @ 11:30 am 1:00 pm

Speaker: Youn-mi Kim, Ewha Womans University; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2023-24
Chair/discussant: Ryuichi Abe, Harvard University

This talk explores the pagodas of China’s Liao dynasty (907-1125), uncovering the intricate relationships between the materiality of Buddhist architecture and its entwined vision and virtuality. It’s essential to recognize that Buddhist materiality is deeply connected with its immateriality. This dual nature, inherent in Liao architecture, echoes the Buddhist perception of reality articulated in the renowned Heart Sutra phrase: “form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.” The Liao empire, established in the tenth century by the nomadic Khitans, dominated regions spanning current-day northern China, Mongolia, portions of Russia’s southern border, and Kazakhstan. Within this diverse empire, the dynamism of nomadism fused with the adaptability of Buddhist philosophy, birthing monumental architecture that emphasized Buddhist visuality and virtuality. Through a careful study of select pagodas, this talk sheds light on how Liao’s Buddhist architecture symbolized a virtual pilgrimage to India’s sacred sites, envisioned an ever-expanding Huayan 華嚴 cosmos, and transformed the pagoda’s vacant core into a representation of the Buddha’s truth body (zhenshen 真身).

More info: https://www.harvard-yenching.org/events/architecture-of-virtuality/


October 31, 2023
11:30 am – 1:00 pm
Event Category:


Harvard-Yenching Institute


Common Room, 2 Divinity Ave.

2 Divinity Ave.
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 United States

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