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Visual Language and Buddhist Dharma Theory Free essay! Download now

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Visual Language and Buddhist Dharma Theory

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Visual Language and Buddhist Dharma Theory

Author’s Note
Due to its expansive spread across the world throughout history, Buddhist
terminology arises in several different languages. For example, when concerned with
older Indian Buddhism, a term such as Abhidharma (Sanskrit) may also appear as
Abhidamma (Pali). For the purposes of this paper, Sanskrit terms will be used primarily,
seconded by Pali when needed, with both terminology used to preserve the referenced
authors’ intentions.


With any other transition, this progression of time is not inherent, though
contextual elements of those transitions often imply a shift when in a narrative
environment. Naturally, when transcription of any sort is added integratively to visual
elements in the image, for instance through word balloons denoting speech, a temporally
bound environment is created from the union of sound and space. Despite these nuances,
the fundamental principle that a movement through space is a movement through time
allows temporal mapping to pervade the visual language form. This transitioning through
incremental moments coincides with the Buddhist theories on dharmas.
Early in the development of Buddhism in India, “a coherent, systematic approach
to Buddhist doctrine” was developed to analyze, organize, and delineate the varied nature
of the relatively unstructured early discourses of the Buddha.4 Through these aims, the
conception of Buddhist metaphysics, or Abhidharma (P. Abhidamma), came to life, and
“ultimately became both an explanation of the sutra teachings as well as a distinct body
of exegetical material in its own right.”5 Given that “no Buddhist scriptures of any sort
were committed to writing before about the time of Christ, almost five hundred years
after the death of the Buddha,”6 attempts have been made to trace these teachings back to
the Buddha himself. However, scholars “agree to a large extent that the individual
Abhidhamma books were propounded by the Elders”7 around the 3rd century BC, though
the source for such works most definitely arise in the texts attributed as the closest to the
lessons of the actual Buddha.
As the Buddhist philosopher Vasubandu (5th century AD)8 pointed out, the term
“abhidharma” can connote two things. He explains it as
‘etymologically, the prefix abhi means “over,” “next to,” or also “beyond” or
“above,” whereas the term dharma carries a complexity of meanings throughout
its pervasive use in Buddhism. Derived from the root dhr, which means “to
hold,” “to carry,” it originally was used to designate the “Law” in religious
contexts, meaning the Doctrine to be accepted by the mind and to be obeyed by
the will. Thus, the term abhidharma could be justly translated as the “Supreme
Doctrine” or “Supreme Law.”’”
However, a second meaning can also be derived. Beyond the description of
abhidharma as a treatise to acquire the teachings of “untinged knowledge” it also is “said
to mean ‘whatever carries…a proper characteristic.’” In this sense, Vasubandu describes
that it “‘it studies the characteristics of the dharma-s (now in plural),’ i.e. of those
primordial components or ‘factors of existence’ which are carriers… of both mental and
physical determinations.”9 From these metaphysical building blocks of experiential
existence, dharmas (P. dhammas), notions of the properties of time arise.

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