Epistemology of perception, or In order to be in a maṇḍala, you must know what a maṇḍala is (Kozicz 2008–9).

What experiences the practitioner when he is in an architectural setting of high symbolic value?

Gerald Kozicz discusses in “From Mainamati to Nyarma. Remarks on the Development from Cruciform to Oblong-shaped Temple Layouts” (Journal of Bengal Art, 13) some key transformations in temple architecture and their import. He notices that Buddhist temples around the 10th c. move from an initial structure where a solid stūpa lies at the middle and an ambulatory encircles it to one where the center is occupied by a cella. This is probably due to the influence of the maṇḍala-concept, in order to make it possible for the practitioner to access the center of the temple/of the maṇḍala (and, thus, to identify with its supreme figure). But can one convincingly argue that a practitioner was aware of the symbolic value of the spatial elements within the temple? Was not he just worshipping images, wherever they were put?

image by GK

The topic has to do with two of my pet-topics.

  1. There are no “lay” users of “texts” (including in this definition whatever can be interpreted, be it a philosophical work, a work of art, a performance, an architecture) in Classical South Asia. The audience does not need to be furnished with all interpretative clues, it does not need any in-troduction (Ein-leitung) to lead him/her into the text. By contrast, the audience is usually made of educated people who know the context well enough.
  2. Perception is not a natural, neutral (i.e., subject-independent) process. Rather, it depends on what the perceiver already knows about what s/he is currently perceiving. In my favourite example, one only sees a willow if one knows how it looks like. If not, s/he will not see the willow among other trees. Similarly, Gerald Kozicz comments about the fact that a practitioners perceives the architectural rendering of a maṇḍala also once put in an oblong shape because “the way we experience our environment largely depends on what we know. In other words: perception is not a passive act, but a reflective process. Thus, once the practitioner was initiated, i.e. had the ability to understand the architectural language that was underlying the process of transformation from an ideal diagram to an architectural plan, he was also able to perceive the spatial system as a maṇḍala“.

Do you know of other examples of knowledge-influenced perception?

For my discussion of the dependence of perception on Linguistic Communication, see this post on my previous blog. For other posts on Gerald Kozicz’ work on the spatial symbolism in Buddhist art, see here and here.

Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

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