Eric Huntington’s Creating the Universe: Depictions of the Cosmos in Himalayan Buddhism (University of Washington Press, 2018) explores the various ways that Buddhists have imagined and represented the cosmos over the last nearly two thousand years of Buddhist history in Tibet, Nepal and India. It is a lushly illustrated volume, which trains readers to think beyond the textual, and enter the wider world of Buddhist art, material culture, architecture, archeology, and ritual practice.
Throughout the book, Huntington provides extensive visual annotations to the images under discussion, enabling the uninitiated reader to grasp the complexity — as well as the diversity and variation — that imbue cosmological images, while appreciating what those variations might reveal about the specific agendas that underlie the production and use of particular cosmological representations. One of Huntington’s main arguments is that cosmological thinking is more than just a derivative feature of Buddhist thought but, rather, is central to how Buddhists imagined their place in the world. As such, cosmological thinking directly informed the kinds of texts Buddhists wrote, the rituals they developed, temples and monasteries they built, and the religious art they created. By calling our attention to Buddhist cosmology — a topic that is familiar to all scholars of Buddhism but which has rarely received the kind of sustained critical attention it deserves — Huntington opens for his readers a new window through which to view Buddhist doctrine, ritual and soteriology.
This book will be of interest to anyone who works on the religious history and material culture of Tibet, Nepal and India, to students of religious art, architecture, material culture and art history, as well as to those working in Buddhist Studies and in Religious Studies more broadly, where Huntington’s interdisciplinary approach to working with non-textual materials will inspire many scholars situated beyond the immediate field of Buddhist Studies.
Lina Verchery is a PhD candidate in Buddhist Studies at Harvard University. She specializes in the study of modern Chinese Buddhist monasticism, with a secondary focus in Religion and Film. She can be reached at email@example.com or via her website www.linaverchery.com.