Pacific Asia Museum

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46 North Los Robles Avenue
Pasadena, California 91101
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USC Pacific Asia Museum

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Look Up!


Take a look up at the 39 squares of this ceiling panel.

If you were looking at it when it was new, you would be in Japan over 500 years ago, visiting a Buddhist temple. As a Buddhist, you would recognize that despite their very different looks, the figures shown in the squares are all the same being, the bodhisattva Kannon. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who stay on earth to help others towards Buddhist awareness, and in Japan Kannon (or, Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit) is one of the most beloved.

As in many other religions, one way Buddhists can show their devotion is by making a special journey, or pilgrimage. Starting over a thousand years ago, three different pilgrimage routes, each with 33 or 34 stops at different temples, became very popular. Visitors could collect a different image of Kannon from each temple.

This ceiling shows some of those images of Kannon, sometimes labeled by the name of the pilgrimage route and the number of the temple. It may have at one time been bigger, with one square for each of the 100 temples along the routes. Visitors would be able to take a virtual pilgrimage under this ceiling, tracing their path from square to square.

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