A Sky-Lecture by the Buddha


  • Robert L. Brown




There is a group of sculptures that display a Buddha standing on a winged creature, often flanked by two attendants. These sculptures are associated with the Dvāravatī style of art, date to ca. 7th and 8th centuries, and are almost entirely stone. They are unique in the iconography of Buddhist art. Scholars have searched without success for the meaning of these sculptures, looking for possible narrative explanations in Buddhist texts. It is probable that they were associated with stone Wheels of the Law and were raised together with the Wheels on stone pillars. I propose that rather than a specific narrative, they represent the Buddha elevated in the sky and giving a lecture on his Law (dharma). The act of giving a teaching while elevated in the sky is found in numerous textual episodes, an act that the Buddha performed in order to awe and impress listeners on the ground so that they will accept his teachings, or to dominate in a contest with another spiritual teacher. The Wheel of the Law that was the backing of the Flying Buddha represents the Law itself, which was the substance of his lecture.