Text Essay 1
The Perfected One: The Buddha
Introduction: The Perfected One
For 2,500 years people throughout Asia and the world have taken
teachings and made them their own. Artists have created images of
the Buddha that inspire and comfort, drawing on local traditions
and materials that celebrate and venerate the life and the teachings
of the Buddha. Through treasures from the Pacific Asia Museum's
collection of Buddhist art, we'll learn why the Buddha has changed
the lives of millions of people.
More about this artwork: Korea received
Buddhism from China in the 4th century A.D. With the faith came
Chinese Buddhist images, and throughout much of Korea's history,
Korean Buddhist images have been influenced by Chinese models.
As can be seen in this gilt bronze figure, Korean figures of the
Buddha tend to be simple in form and decoration, and the Buddha's
robes fall with rhythmic folds. In many Korean Buddha figures, including
this example, the head is slightly oversized in relation to the
body, and the face is broad and slightly squared. Their faces generally
appear gentle and calm, and they often display a slight smile, often
called the "enigmatic" smile of the Buddha.
One notable feature of this image is the reverse of the swastika,
called a sauvastika,
on his chest. In Buddhism, the swastika is the symbol of the Buddha's
universality and is believed to contain within it the whole mind
of the Buddha.
Korea, 16th century
Bronze with gilding
Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Mr. William Atwood in memory of Elain Spaulding Atwood,
1: The Birth of the Buddha
Even before his birth, his mother and father knew Prince Siddhartha
would be remarkable. After all, his father was the king of the Sakya
clan in what is now Nepal. His mother, Queen Maya, had strange dreams
of a white elephant while she was pregnant, and her son was born
out of her right side as she stood grasping a teak tree branch in
her right hand.
If this were not extraordinary enough, wise men examining the infant
proclaimed that he would either stay at home and become a powerful
king or leave his family and become a great spiritual leader. It
was even possible that he would become a Buddha,
an awakened one.
Like many fathers, King Shuddhodana, preferred that his son become
powerful rather than holy, and kept him at home, shielding him from
the world’s sorrows and providing him with every luxury.
Did King Shuddhodana succeed?
about this artwork: Although Siddhartha Gautama, the Historical
Buddha, was born in what is now Nepal in 563 B.C., he spent most
of his life in India teaching and seeking enlightenment. The practice
of Buddhism may have been brought to Nepal by the Indian King Ashoka
in the third century B.C., and was observed most widely there between
the eighth and thirteenth centuries A.D.
Buddhist art in Nepal often shows images of the Buddha in addition
and other Buddhist deities. The Newari metalworkers of the Kathmandu
Valley produced fine metalwork like this piece, often with gilt
embellishment and inlaid with gems. Like Tibetan thangkas,
this object served as an aid to study and devotion.
Like the Tibetans, the Nepalese practice Vajrayana
Buddhism, which emphasizes the assistance that rituals and sacred
beings such as bodhisattvas and other deities can give to help believers
Today, a small percentage of the Nepalese are practicing Buddhists,
although tourism to sacred Buddhist sites is an important part of
the economy. Nepal’s many stupas,
monuments that house sacred Buddhist relics, are unique for the
huge eyes painted on them. These eyes stand for the heavenly kings
who guard the four directions of the world or the eyes of the all-seeing
of the Buddha
Nepal, 17th century
Copper repoussé with gilding
Anonymous promised gift, Pacific Asia Museum
2. The Buddha Attains Enlightenment
Although his father King Shuddhodana tried to shelter him, Prince
Siddhartha inevitably came face to face with the world’s pain.
On a rare trip outside of his home when he was 29, the prince saw
a decrepit old man and was shocked at the suffering old age brings.
He didn’t know that pain like this existed in the world Seeing
a sick man and a corpse grieved him, and he tried to understand
what he had seen. Finally, Siddhartha encountered a monk, whose
peaceful expression impressed him after the misery he had witnessed.
To try and understand what he had seen, the prince gave up his
luxurious home and became a monk. He took the name Gautama and wandered
through northeastern India. After years of starvation and living
in the open, he realized that he could not attain enlightenment
through extremes. He arrived at a place now called Bodh Gaya and
sat under a tree and meditated for 49 days. The evil Mara, King
of Illusion, sent demons and seductive women to test Gautama's resolve
and prevent him from achieving enlightenment. He was not distracted
and reached down his hand to call on the Earth goddess to bear witness
to his strength, a mudra
known as the Earth Touching Gesture. He then attained the enlightenment
he sought, namely, he came to understand the truth of existence.
He had been released from the cycle of birth and rebirth.
After enlightenment, then what?
about this artwork: This Tibetan painting depicts the Buddha
just as he is attaining spiritual enlightenment, or nirvana.
He is flanked by his eldest disciples, Kashyapa and the youngest,
Ananda. He sits in meditation under the Bodhi tree and reaches his
right hand down over his knee to touch the ground, asking the Earth
to witness his unshakable resolve. This gesture is known as the
Earth Touching Gesture.
Buddhist painting has flourished in Tibet, and these paintings
on cloth known as thangkas,
depict stories that explain Buddhist thoughts and ideas and are
therefore quite elaborate.
Many incarnations of the Buddha are depicted, as are deities and
spiritual leaders and scholars. Thangkas may also show scenes from
the Buddha’s life and past lives, the wheel of life showing
worlds of rebirth, and symbolic views of the universe.
Buddhism did not reach Tibet until the 7th century A.D. and did
not become firmly established until the 10th century. Like the Nepalese,
the Tibetans practice Vajrayana Buddhism,
a complex form that relies on rituals and assistance from sacred
beings. Tibet was one of the most devoutly Buddhist countries until
China’s occupation in 1950. Its religious leader--who was
sometimes also historically its political leader--is the Dalai Lama,
who is considered to be the manifestation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
The current Dalai Lama lives in exile in Dharamasala, India after
the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese.
Painting of the
Buddha and Other Deities
Tibet, 19th century
Ink and opaque watercolor pigments and gold on cotton
3. The Buddha Meditating
Once Siddhartha Gautama become the Buddha, the Awakened One, then
He could return to Nepal and become and rich and wise prince, converting
his kingdom to his new beliefs. He could become a great general
and force men and women throughout the land to become his followers.
Instead, he continued to live a simple life of moderation as a traveling
monk and did not seek fame or wealth. He believed that possessions
were a burden and led men and women down the wrong path.
The Buddha’s compassion and wisdom inspired many of his followers
to give up their homes and belongings to practice the truths that
he had realized, called the dharma.
As he reached enlightenment, he became aware of the Four Noble Truths:
1. Human existence is full of conflict and suffering.
2. Suffering is caused by selfish desires.
3. Humans can achieve liberation from suffering, which is called
4. The Noble Eightfold Path is
the way to this liberation.
What is the Noble Eightfold Path?
about this artwork: Although Buddhism reached China during
the first century A.D., it spread slowly along the Silk Route through
that vast land. Buddhism began to flourish during the fourth century
and gained support of its rulers during the seventh through ninth
centuries. Many schools of Buddhism arose, forms of Mahayana
Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion toward others over self-perfection.
Buddhist monks often wore robes made of a patchwork of rags, a
symbol of belonging to the larger Buddhist community, or sangha.
Wearing rags kept a monk humble and reflected teachings of the Buddha,
who encouraged his followers to wear robes made in strips and squares
like the fields in India. Robes made from rags also allowed lay
people to earn merit for giving cast-off clothing to monks.
This Ming dynasty painting on silk reflects a tradition of capturing
the Buddha, bodhisattvas, or religious masters at a crucial point
in their spiritual growth.
Gautama in Meditation
China, 15th-16th century
Ink and colors on silk
Anonymous promised gift to Pacific Asia Museum
4. The Noble Eightfold Path
Meditation, a system of mental
concentration, was one of the tools that the Buddha used to achieve
enlightenment. It is also one of the branches of the Noble Eightfold
Path, and artworks often show Buddha sitting very still and calm
in a meditative posture
The Buddha taught his followers that following the Noble Eightfold
Path would lead them out of their cycle of endless rebirth and suffering,
the middle path that brings understanding, knowledge, nirvana.
The branches of the Noble Eightfold Path are:
1. right view
2. right thought
3. right speech
4. right action
5. right living
6. right effort
7. right mindfulness, and
The Buddha outlined these truths in his first sermon, which he
gave in northeastern India. He was quickly joined by five disciples
and over the next forty-five years, converted thousands of others.
about this artwork: This stone figure of the Buddha seated
in a meditation pose is representative of Buddha images from Sri
Lanka, where Buddhism, principally the Theravada
tradition, has been practiced for more than two thousand years.
Buddhist art in Sri Lanka has focused on the life of the Buddha
and on events in his previous lives as a bodhisattva.
Many Sri Lankan figures are carved from stone or cast in bronze
and then gilded. This Buddha is seated in the meditation pose with
his hands together on his lap. He has an erect back and his eyes
look straight ahead, a posture that is common in Sri Lankan images
of the Buddha. The gentle features and simple treatment of the Buddha's
robe, which clings to his form, are also characteristic.
Two hundred years after the Buddha reached enlightenment under
the Bodhi tree, a disciple brought a cutting from it and planted
it in Sri Lanka, where a descendant of the tree flourishes today.
Sri Lanka, 12th century
Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Mark Phillips and Iuliana Phillips, 2001.56.62
5. Death of the Buddha
When the Buddha reached the age of 80 or 81, he knew his existence
in human form was over. He traveled to a grove of trees in Kushinagara
in northern India. There he died, surrounded by his followers, and
or final release from the cycle of rebirth.
Despite the Buddha's teaching that death is inevitable, his
human followers and even the animals grieved. Only the cat, always
detached, knew better than to mourn.
But that's not the end of the story.
about this artwork: This Japanese painting depicts the Buddha
on his deathbed in a grove of trees, surrounded by mourning disciples
and Buddhist deities. In the upper right corner, his mother Queen
Maya, is shown descending from Heaven on a cloud to see her son
in his physical form for the last time. At the foot of the painting
are birds and animals who have also come to mourn his passing.
The Koreans introduced Buddhism to Japan in the 6th century A.D.
During the ninth and tenth centuries, various forms of Mahayana
Buddhism spread throughout the Japanese islands, first among
the upper classes and then among the general populace. Buddhism
became so important that it was sponsored by the state and the local
Shinto beliefs incorporated into its teachings. By the time this
work was created, Buddhism had ceased to be a state-sponsored religion
of the Buddha
Japan, 18th-19th century
Ink and colors on paper
Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Mr. Bill Kendall, 1994.48.2
6. The Buddha’s Words Live On
With the Buddha’s death, his followers saw that it was possible
to break the endless Wheel of samsara,
of birth, death, and rebirth. It really could be possible to attain
enlightenment, to reach Nirvana. Roll your mouse over the image
to see an example of a Tibetan wheel of birth, death, and rebirth.
In the decades and centuries that followed the Historical
Buddha’s life, his followers memorized his teachings and
passed along his wisdom. In time, these teachings and commentary
and interpretation were written down in texts called sutras.
Unlike Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Buddhism has no one holy
book that is considerted to be the word of god. Buddhist texts,
nonetheless, are cherished and treated with great respect.
about this artwork: In India, Nepal, and areas of Southeast
Asia, many religious scriptures were hand written onto loose palm
leaves and then tied together between two hard covers. The Tibetans
increased the size of these manuscripts by replacing the palm leaves
with paper. Manuscript covers were usually made of wood and were
often decorated with gold or with paintings of the Buddhas, bodhisattvas,
and deities. This example is similar to a sutra cover, but is actually
the frontispiece for a Buddhist sutra. It features the images of
the Buddha and important Buddhist symbols including the stupa, the
Wheel of the Law, the vase of abundance, and the endless knot.
As seen here, letters and words in Sanskrit, the language of the
sutras, are often incorporated into artworks.
Tibet, 18th century
Wood, pigments, gesso, gilding and silk
Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of David Kamansky in memory of Jerry Miles, 2002.20.2