Buddhist Art as Visual Communication

Subject Overview

The aim of this subject is to teach the knowledge and interpretative skills necessary to fully engage with Buddhist material culture. The subject will be structured thematically across 4 days, with the fifth day for presentations during an excursion to the Art Gallery of NSW.

It will start with a brief assessment of Buddhism from the viewpoint of select contemporary Western writers, before presenting the evolution of the image of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni, including aniconic and synoptic representations. Other sessions will include an analysis of the characteristics and distinguishing qualities of diverse buddhas and bodhisattvas (with special attention to Avalokitesvara); symbols that convey the values and beliefs of Buddhism; the generation of merit through commissions; the visualisation of a deity; and the power of inscribed dharani and ‘seed’ syllables.

In this intensive course there will be sessions devoted to the visual communication of Buddhist teachings, e.g., the Wheel of the Six Realms of Existence, the Pure Lands, and the mandala. Select teachers, such as the First Patriarch of Zen, Bodhidharma, and noted monks, lamas, and laymen, will be considered as well.


Learning Outcomes

  • Analyse and critically evaluate the inter-relationships between Buddhist teachings and their visual expressions
  • Understand the function of images within the Buddhist framework
  • Develop a knowledge of Buddhist iconography
  • Demonstrate critical knowledge of the history, form and meaning of Buddhist art, symbols, and material culture
  • Develop interpretative skills to apply to Buddhist material culture
  • Develop the ability to assess the social impact and cultural significance of Buddhist visual culture

Subject Structure

This subject runs for five weeks, with the following structure:

Week 1: Pre-reading of prescribed texts
Week 2:  Digital Intensive Classroom (5 days x 8 hrs/day)
Weeks 3 – 5: Submission of assessments online



Nan Tien Institute (NTI) is a private, not for profit, government accredited higher education provider offering studies in the areas of Buddhist studies, health and wellbeing, within an environment that incorporates contemplative education.

NTI offers postgraduate programs in Applied Buddhist Studies, Health and Social Wellbeing, Humanistic Buddhism, and Mental Health as well as customised Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programs and special interest subjects across the areas of meditation, mindfulness and health.

In accordance with the current restrictions our campus facilities are closed. You can continue to study online and our virtual library services remain available. Our academic and student services staff are online and by phone to assist you. Please stay safe.