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Buddhist Art and Architecture  

Sonya S. Lee

The art and architecture of Buddhism has shaped the physical and social landscape of Asia for more than two millennia. Images of the Buddha and other Buddhist deities, alongside the physical structures built to enshrine them, are found in practically all corners of the continent, where the religion has enjoyed widespread dissemination. India boasts some of the earliest extant works dating from the 3rd century bce, whereas new images and monuments continue to be made today in many countries in East and Southeast Asia as well as in North America and Europe. Spanning across diverse cultures, Buddhist material culture encompasses a wide range of object types, materials, and settings. Yet the Buddha represented in anthropomorphic form and the stupa that preserves his presence through either bodily relics or symbolic objects remain the most enduring forms through time and space. Their remarkable longevity underscores the tremendous flexibility inherent in Buddhist teaching and iconography, which allows local communities to adapt and reconstitute them for new meanings. Such processes of localization can be understood through close analysis of changes in style, materials, production techniques, and context. The ubiquity of Buddhist art and architecture across the globe is made possible chiefly by a fundamental belief in religious merits, a concept that encourages believers to do good in order to accumulate positive karma for spiritual advancement. One of the most common forms of action is to give alms and other material objects to the monastic community as well as make offerings to the Buddha, thereby giving rise to active patronage of image-making and scripture production.