Layered Cosmologies in Himalayan Buddhist Shrines
Himalayan Buddhist art represents the cosmos in a wide variety of ways. Some of the most obvious differences are easily explained by referring to the authoritative texts of various traditions, which describe the universe diversely. The scholar Vasubandhu’s (act. 4th/5th century) Treasury of Abhidharma (Abhidharmakosha) records the most commonly depicted vision of the world—a circular disc of oceans with an enormous mountain at the centre that is surrounded by concentric ranges of smaller mountains and four main populated continents, one in each of the cardinal directions. The Wheel of Time (Kalachakra) tantric texts (c. 11th century) describe a similar yet distinct world, images of which frequently include astronomical features, elemental substrates of wind, fire, water and earth, and proportional correspondences with the human body.