Piecing Together the Life of the Buddha

The Life of the Buddha will create a platform that is not only an exciting environment for researchers and scholars, but also for teachers, students, and classroom learners, and eventually the broader public community.

The Life of the Buddha is a ground-breaking project to study a series of monumental Tibetan murals that tell a story of the Buddha’s life. Led by Andrew Quintman, professor of religious studies at Yale and scholar of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, and Kurtis R. Schaeffer, professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, the grant-funded project includes the creation of a digital tool that will bring together images and text, allowing students and scholars online access to materials and the ability to study the murals and literature in context.

The murals, created in the early 17th century, are located in a monastery in Central Tibet and have never been visually documented. Their narrative spans the Buddha’s life from birth to death, detailing his teaching and wanderings.

ITS’s Campus Commnity Technologies team collaborated with the project team to adapt Mirador, a platform developed at Yale and Stanford that enables online collaborative annotation of text and images, to meet the needs of the Life of the Buddha project. Mirador had not been used to handle images as large the murals, and the system needed to be configured to handle multiple layers of annotations and link to text sources. In addition, ITS took on the painstaking task of preparing the digital images for study. The work involves stitching together high-resolution photographs of the murals, which in total are 277 feet long and cover 1450 square feet, and correcting differences in color and perspective.

“The Life of the Buddha will create a platform that is not only an exciting environment for researchers and scholars, but also for teachers, students, and classroom learners, and eventually the broader public community,” Prof. Quintman said. “That’s the kind of multimodal use that would have been very difficult without the collaboration with a top-notch IT team.”

Work is continuing to annotate the 15 panels and prepare them for Mirador.  For updates on the project and to learn more, visit the The Life of the Buddha website.

Video produced by the Student Technology Collaborative