A religious belief has been discussed as the embodied form of supreme beauty (Garrett 2012
); research on the aesthetic appraisal of artworks is evident throughout religious studies across the world. Numerous artistic representations of the religious subject matter have worked as a sensory way to map the spiritual world onto reality, such as painting, sculpture and so forth (Kraft 1992
; Pakhoutova and Helman-Wazny 2012
; Male 2018
). The abstract spirituality and doctrine of a specific religion can be perceived through observing religious artwork with sensational forms and symbols (Meyer 2010
). For instance, the visual narration depicting the legends of the Buddha were aesthetically designed in early Buddhist art (Hallman 2006
). The pictorial artworks depicting Jesus Christ carried and symbolized the hidden message throughout Christian history (Vera et al. 2017
Recent research suggests a shifting focus on the mental experience of religion and aesthetics from the perspective of cognitive science (Long 2019
). The academic conception of aesthetics refers to the perceptual attitudes and cognitive evaluation towards external objects (Adorno 2004
; Shimamura and Palmer 2011
) illustrates that an aesthetic experience happens when the internal meaning connects an external object with an individual. Later scholars have continued to enrich the academic understanding of aesthetic experience; that is a psychological state of mind when perceiving an artwork, which is characterized by some neurological manifestations, such as attention (Wanzer et al. 2018
; Parsons 1987
; Ramachandran and Hirstein 1999
). For this reason, aesthetic experience has been discussed as “an aesthetics-oriented method” to nourish religious belief in the relevant studies (McRoberts 2004
). Material objects with symbolic religious meanings tend to contribute to the configuration of religious experiences (Winchester 2017
). The reason lies in the psychologically aesthetic power of religious practices. For example, Bychkov
) studied how aesthetic observation in a religious environment can influence human belief in reality.
Buddhism, known for its spirituality beyond physical reality, has differed significantly from Western rational positivism (Hummel 2010
; Assandri 2019
). Scholars argue that Buddhist values teach a way of understanding real life, such as life suffering (Fuderich 2007
), compassion (Kraft 1992
), and inner peace (Lee et al. 2013
) and so forth. It has been suggested that Buddhist thoughts under these distinctive doctrines imply a transition from ethics to aesthetics (Voyce 2015
). Also, it has been argued that what links Buddhism and aesthetics is the common nature of the intrinsic value of pleasure, as Buddhism advocates the aesthetic pleasure of “inner” beauty (Bahm 1957
; Patnaik 2017
). For instance, Buddhist artworks or objects, such as an image of the Buddha, have been regarded as the “outer” beauty manifesting the “inner” aesthetic laws of virtue in Buddhism (Cooper 2017
). Indeed, many scholars have exerted efforts in defining and revealing the underlying nature of Buddhist aesthetics; it has remained ambiguous in relevant research to discover the concrete effects of Buddhism in terms of aesthetics.
More recent literature shows an increasing academic interest on the aesthetics of Buddhism in a wider range of disciplines, such as art and design (Song et al. 2018
), psychotherapy (Cormack et al. 2018
), cognitive engineering (Van Dam et al. 2018
), ecology (Lim 2019
), business (Lucas 2018
; Milligan 2018
) and so forth. For example, Macmillan
) suggested that superior design is not just about the aesthetic improvement of the quality of our lives; it is also about the value created for the viewers. According to the report “the value of good design” (CABE 2002
), superior designs can perform, convert, astonish, and fulfill its purpose, sharing both social and economic values with their reviewers, particularly aesthetics value, cultural value, useable value, and emotional value. Take Zen, a specific Buddhism-related aesthetic attitude, as an example. It has been regarded as an essential appealing style in landscape design (Brown 2019
). Figure 1
depicts a Zen garden in Ryōan-Ji, Tokyo, Japan. It is admired for visual simplicity by the minimalist approach. People enjoy Zen aesthetics as “less is more”. Thompson
) also has discussed how aesthetic experience can improve the state of Buddhist mindfulness in psychotherapy.
Buddhist aesthetics are a common phenomenon in countries with Buddhist culture, describing ‘the beauty of an inner state of mind’ or ‘the beauty of the inner reality’ (Cooper 2017
). Although some research has addressed Buddhist aesthetics in different contexts, only limited research has empirically explored how aesthetic pleasure elicited by Buddhist objects should be defined and subsequently be measured, which leaves a research gap for further investigation. Also, it is necessary to holistically understand and determine the antecedents of Buddhist aesthetics, considering the significant role of Buddhist mindfulness in increasing awareness and attention to the present, decreasing negative thinking and feelings, and refreshing the mind (Thompson 2018
). More specifically, most research has examined how specific components such as emptiness (Pelowski 2012
), and inner peace (Lee et al. 2013
) explain variations in evaluations of Buddhist aesthetic experience respectively. The results of these studies make it, consequently, difficult to help relevant researchers understand the empirical effects of the Buddhist aesthetic experience holistically. Accordingly, it is both theoretically and practically significant to explore the antecedents of Buddhist aesthetics. Thus, this study conducts an empirical approach to develop and validate a Buddhist aesthetics scale. It contributes to the current academic understanding of the impact of the aesthetic pleasure elicited by Buddhist artworks and objects.
2. Defining Buddhist Aesthetic Experience
) construes that Buddhist aesthetic nature derives from the momentary understanding of reality, which is characterized by dynamic elusiveness. Following this cue, people can find it aesthetically pleasing to be enlightened by Buddhist thoughts, such as the notion of nothingness and impermanence, because the fundamental beauty in Buddhism is rooted in meaning-making towards real life, which is the Buddhist philosophy of being. Many eastern scholars’ preliminary research into Buddhist paintings and poems has centered on the expression of such enlightening moments (D. Wang 1987
). Consequently, the aesthetic characteristics of superiority and elegance have been argued. Zhang
) has elaborated such characteristics into sensible artistic forms, such as exaggerated visual proportions, lively details, and closeness, which are aimed to construct a sense of pleasure beyond momentary reality.
More recently, Pelowski
) has argued a more concrete cognitive model to approach the appreciation of Buddhist artworks, which is constructed by a process starting from self-image, cognitive mastery, secondary control, and meta-cognitive re-assessment to aesthetic phase. According to Pelowski’s theory based on cognitive observations, approaching religious artworks or objects can be regarded as a way of constructing an “ideal self-image”. The cognitive mastery and meta-cognitive re-assessment stage here is in line with the conception of self-realization in Buddhism, since the existence of a separate self is fundamental in Buddhist thoughts.
Prominently, Buddhist art is mundane and material at the same time. From the perspective of artistic artifacts, the definition of aesthetics refers to the emotional and experiential perceptions of the object without particular motives; it is in line with the broad term of “aesthetic response” (Hekkert et al. 2017
). It happens between an observer and artifact cognitively and may not necessarily be preconditioned by an appraisal of emotion, which is slightly different from Pelowski
)’s argument of self-image.
Based on the aforementioned discussion, the definition of Buddhist aesthetic experience adopted here is thus a synthetic cognition towards a material object attached with Buddhist meanings, ranging from the expressive forms in Buddhist art to the cognitive response of aesthetic pleasure. Buddhist beauty is the distinctive aesthetic response elicited by meaningful material forms with Buddhist thoughts. In other words, similarly to other cognitive processes, Buddhist aesthetics are especially characterized by some fundamental laws of Buddhist appreciation of artifacts, namely, the value of realization, the acumen of details, and the response of materials.
5. Discussion, Conclusions, and Limitations
Buddhist aesthetics, as a profound intrinsic value of pleasure, play a significant role in increasing awareness to the present, decreasing negative feelings, and refreshing the mind, which has continually attracted scholars to shed light on its influential effects (Thompson 2018
). It is a frequent phenomenon in countries with Buddhist culture. Indeed, different emerging fields, such as design (Song et al. 2018
) and psychotherapy (Cormack et al. 2018
), have realized that the Buddhist aesthetic experience tends to positively enhance mental spirituality and ‘inner’ pleasure (Shimamura and Palmer 2011
; Thompson 2018
). Its aesthetic nature draws on the underlying laws of Buddhist thoughts; however, antecedents are seldom empirically discussed (Inada 1994
). Though some individual components or factors deriving from Buddhist aesthetics, such as inner peace (Lee et al. 2013
) and emptiness (Pelowski 2012
), have been developed and exploited in previous studies, a holistic construct of Buddhist aesthetics remains ambiguous and lacks a pragmatically useable measure.
In order to achieve a better understanding of Buddhist aesthetics, the current study fills this gap by developing and validating a Buddhist aesthetics scale. Regarding this, this study has several theoretical contributions. To begin with, it is the first development and validation of a Buddhist aesthetics scale. To date, Buddhist aesthetics have only been qualitatively explored in different contexts. This study provides a quantitative way to measure the perception of Buddhist aesthetics, at least for the impact of the aesthetic pleasure elicited by Buddhist artworks and objects. Second, it contributes to Buddhist aesthetics literature by exploring the antecedents and the relationship between each construct since it extends the scope of previous research which are mainly discussed from the perspective of inner peace or inner pleasure, rather than from a holistic perspective. Also, this study has some practical implications. For example, it can be utilized in measuring Buddhist aesthetics as a determinant in relevant practices, such as religious psychotherapy, cognitive engineering, and business.
To specify, this study has explored the relevant constructs and factors by reviewing previous literature and studies. Finally, three prominent determinants have been revealed, namely, Buddhist aesthetics value, Buddhist aesthetics acumen, and Buddhist aesthetics response (see Table 1
). A total of fifteen items has been found valid and reliable to measure these three determinants. These items were tested to be reliable, valid and generalizable. Therefore, this scale tends to capture a holistic measurement for objects associated with the aesthetic pleasure of Buddhism, ranging from experiential cognition to behavior level.
The scale developed in this study has been aimed to measure the immediate perceptions when observing an object and is, however, not necessarily restricted to use in the visual condition. Since it measures the Buddhist aesthetic experience and pleasure as such, it could, therefore, tend to be operated to capture the consequent perceptions of various kinds of other multimodal instances, whether they are a Buddhist poem, a Buddhist song, or a Buddhist movie clip. Studies in other diverse fields are encouraged to test its generalizability further.
Conceptually, Buddhist aesthetics has been argued as concrete and singular senses in this study from a practical perspective. However, as a latent construct, it cannot be directly and objectively observed. Consequently, choosing more items from our scale would be more effective and accurate to capture a holistic construct of Buddhist aesthetics.
This study has some limitations. Firstly, this scale has been validated only in the context of an Asian country, to be specific, China. Buddhist diversity, nevertheless, should be taken into considerations in further studies as scholars have noted that the thinking and practices of Buddhism are different across regions (Padgett 2000
; Prebish and Baumann 2013
). Moreover, it would be theoretically significant to compare the difference in the perceptions across different Buddhist regions. Secondly, the validity of the scale in different languages remains ambiguous. Additional studies are needed to test the generalizability when translating the scale into different languages.