The Atlas of Maritime Buddhism Project

The Atlas of Maritime Buddhism Project

This project and subsequent museum exhibits have been the result of efforts made by many people and multiple disciplines. The list of fields includes: Buddhist Studies, computer science and software development, photography in multiple dimensions, geography as it has been developed through Geographic Information Science (GIS), Archaeology, Anthropology, History, Meteorology, Engineering, Linguistics among others. The installation of the mainly digital museum exhibits in Taiwan and Hong Kong have been primarily the work of three scholars: Sarah Kenderdine, Lausanne, Switzerland, Jeffrey Shaw, City University Hong Kong, and Lewis Lancaster, University of California, Berkeley.

The initial research was started by Professor Lancaster a decade ago when he began to map Buddhist sites in South India and showed how they clustered at seaports and along the river embankments that led to these harbors. From this mapping it became obvious that the history of Buddhism was closely intertwined with the trade and travel that took place on the sea. It was Professor Kenderdine, with her expertise in Museums and photography, who undertook the difficult task of collecting the images that are shown in the exhibit. She, along with Professor Lancaster, received a grant from the Australia Research Council to make films of the sea route from India to China. For more than three months, she traveled the route from the Western shores of India to Guangzhou with a camera crew. The filming, post processing, and direction was under her sole direction. With the textual research data and images from these two scholars, the task of designing an exhibit that would include 3-D and Virtual Reality, was taken up by Professor Shaw and his team of assistants. His extensive experience with innovative approaches to museum presentations allowed him to put together a unique display that is seldom static and often interactive with the viewer.

Once the exhibit material and technology had been identified, the next problem was where to find a good location for such an expensive complex array. It was Ven Ruchang, the Director of the Buddha Museum, in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, who saw the potential of a virtual exhibit and found the funds to install it. Her support of this new vision of a museum exhibition was a brave move into an untested domain. However, Master Hsing Yun of Fo Guang Shan encouraged her to proceed.

Now the venue is open to the public who can for the first time see thousands of images in great detail as they have the experience of making the virtual journey from India through Southeast Asia to the shores of China. During the first nine months, even during COVID restrictions on group events, the exhibition entitled: “The Buddhist Maritime Silk Road” has attracted 600,000 in-person visitors.

Lewis Lancaster, Emeritus Professor, University of California, Berkeley, USA