Progress on the Life of the Buddha Project

During 2015-2017, we have completed the work necessary for the first phase of the project. This work included textual editing, translation, and analysis; visual editing and analysis; and comparative analytical work. In terms of textual editing, translation, and analysis, we have completed the following:

  • Editing a unicode version of the Tibetan-language life of the Buddha entitled The Sun of Faith, Chapters 1-30
  • Translating Chapters 1-28 of The Sun of Faith
  • Editing a unicode version of the Tibetan-language painting manual for depicting The Sun of Faith narrative as a mural, corresponding to Chapters 1-30
  • Translating the relevant sections of the painting manual
  • Transcribing, editing, and translating the complete Tibetan-language inscriptions on The Sun of Faith mural
  • Analyzing the overall content, structure, and literary context of The Sun of Faith, including a translation and study of the author’s extended colophon
  • We also began a literary analysis of Tāranātha’s approach to the Buddha’s life story by comparing it to a slightly earlier extended narrative by Nanam Tsünpa (Sna nam btsun pa, late 15th c.) entitled The Supreme Treasury.

A key challenge in the interpretation of the mural of the Life of the Buddha has been understanding the visual narrative’s structure and logic. We thus spent considerable time editing and analyzing the project’s visual materials. We identified visual units at the levels of “chapters,” which correspond to chapters in the literary narrative, and of “scenes.” Although scenes do not appear explicitly in The Sun of Faith text, they define the smallest narrative elements that can apply to both image and text. We accomplished this for Chapters 1-28 of The Sun of Faith, which total approximately 110 individual scenes, corresponding to the first two panels of the mural. We further determined the historical and religious contexts in which the murals were originally designed and created by reading a variety of primary sources, including Tāranātha’s autobiography and relevant monastic records.

Another important feature of this project is the visualization and study of relationships between text and image. To that end, we created a spreadsheet and database that shows correspondences across multiple visual and textual resources:

  • Mural panels, chapters, and scenes
  • Tibetan and English versions of The Sun of Faith
  • Tibetan and English versions of the painting manual
  • Tibetan and English versions of the inscriptions
  • Buddhist canonical sources for the narratives

Structured correspondences are now identified across all resources down to the level of sentences in the texts and scenes (or parts of scenes) in the murals. The spreadsheet now serves as the source for the content database behind the Mirador viewer.