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Video available! "Maitreya Time: A Javanese Millenarianism?"


The 1500 exquisite relief carvings on the great early ninth-century monument of Borobudur, in central Java, culminate in a major set of panels keyed to the early Mahāyāna text, the Gaṇḍavyūha, with its story of the layman Sudhana's quest for enlightenment. He achieves this goal after he meets the Buddha-to-be, Maitreya, who enables him to enter a magical tower or palace, the kūṭāgāra, that transforms his mind. There are, however, other aspects of Maitreya that come into play at Borobudur and that suggest the existence of a Sarvāstivāda substratum at the site. We will explore the Sarvāstivāda sources on Maitreya as preserved in Sanskrit, Pali, and Central Asian texts with the aim of amplifying the profile of Maitreya in general and at Borobudur in particular. Is this monument set up, among other goals, to accelerate Maitreya's arrival in our world, or to turn the pilgrim-spectator into an embodiment of this still absent Buddha?


David Shulman is Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University. Trained in Tamil by John Marr at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Ph.D. 1976), he has specialized in the cultural and intellectual history of pre-modern southern India and in the languages and literatures of the south. He has worked closely with Velcheru Narayana Rao, Yigal Bronner, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, and Don Handelman. Among his books are Tamil: A Biography (Harvard University Press, 2017) and More than Real: A History of the Imagination in South India (Harvard University Press, 2012). At present he is directing a research team funded by the European Research Council on "The New Ecology of Expressive Modes in Early Modern South India." His passion is for Carnatic music, with Hindustani music a close second.