This chapter introduces readers to the problem of the visual, not only in the contemporary period but also in the premodern era when Buddhism flourished throughout the pan-Asian sphere. It provides a cursory overview of the key historical developments in Buddhist art and doctrine. It mentions the so-called an-iconic stage of Theravadin nonfigural art of early classical Indian Buddhism (fifth century BCE onward) and the early Mahāyāna figural depictions of embodied enlightenment beginning in the early centuries CE. It then chronicles the explosion of elaborate esoteric Vajrayāna (Mikkyō) iconography beginning in the seventh century CE, and the contrasting minimalistic spirit of Zen Buddhist artistic expression in China and Japan in the tenth century onward. It then outlines the content of each chapter in the book to follow.
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