THE AMBIGUITY OF THE BUDDHA’S FACES. William Empson and his book SEVEN TYPES OF AMBIGUITY changed how I look at literature (and legal cases and at life). (Here is a post about Empson’s analysis of at least 8 different meanings in Shakespeare’s “bare ruined choirs”.) Kevin Jackson’s review at the Literary Review website of Empson’s long lost book THE FACE OF THE BUDDHA describes how Empson extended his analytical approach to Eastern art and religion.
Empson became fascinated by images of the Buddha. His quest for images of Buddha led him to visit Korea, French Indochina, Cambodia, Burma, India, Ceylon, various parts of China and museums in the United States.
He believed that: “Buddha faces could be regarded as expressing at least two and sometimes many different meanings at the same time; and the sculptural convention that allowed this was asymmetry, with the left and right sides of the Buddha’s face showing different emotions or spiritual states.”