Saturday, January 08, 2011

Buddhist Architecture

Every now and then, a devout Buddhist decides to bring passion for their art or profession together with their devotion to Dharma. The results are often impressive, and Le Huu Phuoc's Buddhist Architecture is no exception.

Mr. Le is a Vietnamese-American architectural draftsman from Minnesota, with a pleasantly meticulous turn of mind. He has scoured Asia to thoroughly examine the origins and principal types of Buddhist architecture -- between the third century BCE and twelfth centuries CE -- with primary emphasis on India. He then constructs shared architectural traits and patterns along with the derivative relationships between Indian and Asian Buddhist monuments, demonstrating the spread of Indian influence and cross-fertilization of styles. 

The author also discusses the historical antecedents in the Indus Civilization and the religious and philosophical foundations of the three schools of Buddhism. Previously obscure topics such as Aniconic and Vajrayana architecture and the four holiest sites of Buddhism are also covered in this comprehensive volume. He further investigates the influences of Buddhist architecture upon Islamic, Christian, and Hindu architecture that have been overlooked by past scholars.

Mr. Le has a straight-forward, readable style welded to sound scholarship -- his writing is not dry -- and he has a real gift for making extensive subjects manageable. As a result, this book is a pleasure to use. There is no reason why it could not be put into immediate service as a college-level textbook on the subject. I would be willing to say it could indeed become the standard reference for student and specialist alike. 

A while back, we mentioned that we would be selecting and reviewing books that break the editorial stranglehold on Buddhist publishing we all suffer. This work is a perfect example of something that should have been done by a mainstream publisher, but of course was not considered, and a similarly perfect example of the sort of thing we want to encourage. Really -- this kind of effort needs our support, so if your devotion extends to studying the devotion of others, put this book on your shelf -- it is in the category of "must have." Hopefully, we'll be able to send the mainstream publishers a strong message that we've had enough of canned, pop self-help disguised as substance.

This self-published book has been done to a high professional standard, with 334 pages, 113 black and white drawings, 48 grayscale photos, and five maps. For USD $30 with free shipping from the author, you cannot go wrong with this one.


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