Buddha: The Perfected One
Level: Upper Elementary (Grades
3-5), Middle School (Grades 6-8)
Subject: Language Arts
Estimated Time: 1-2 class sessions
The Death of the Buddha
Japan, 18th-19th century
Ink and colors on paper
Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Mr. Bill Kendall, 1994.48.2
For hundreds of years, Buddhists have passed along the teachings
of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, through stories
and sacred verses that they memorized and wrote down. They have
also created artworks that help believers understand his teachings.
One of the ideas that the Buddha taught is
that our souls have lived in many bodies, animal and human. He himself
had lived numerous lives, and the stories of these previous lives
(also called incarnations) are called Jataka
tales. Although it might sound like fun to have been a
crow or a snail in a past life, the Buddha taught that we all suffer
and that the goal of Buddhism is to end suffering. By truly understanding
about life and suffering and by obtaining perfect peace, we can
achieve Nirvana, which is the end to suffering.
Once we achieve Nirvana, or enlightenment, our souls are liberated
from the cycle of rebirth/reincarnation.
1. Understand the meaning of reincarnation and nirvana, two basic
tenets of Buddhism.
2. Learn about the Buddha.
3. Use an artwork from the Pacific Asia Museum as the basis for
understanding these ideas and for engaging student critical thinking
(All for ages 7-10)
Chodzin, Sherab, The Wisdom of Crows
and other Buddhist Tales. New York: Tricycle Press.
Demi, Buddha. New York: Henry Holt,
Demi, Buddha Stories. New York:
Henry Holt, 1997.
Lee, J. M., I Was Once a Monkey: Stories
Buddha Told. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Grioux, 1999.
Witwer, Julia, The Princess Who Overcame
Evil: A Jataka Tale. New York: Dharma Publishing, 2001.
More Jataka Tales:
Tales for Young and Old
The Buddha achieved enlightenment after he had spent many years
meditating and thinking about life. To help the rest of us this
reach enlightenment, he spent several decades teaching what he had
come to understand and delayed achieving full Nirvana.
When he was more than 80 years old, however, the time had come for
even the Buddha to die and achieve full enlightenment. This artwork
shows his students, friends, the animals in the forest, and even
gods and goddesses who were all there in his last moments on earth.
Ask students to look closely at this artwork:
1. What animals do they see?
2. What kinds of people?
3. Are there any beings that appear to be neither animals nor people?
What are they? (deities)
4. What emotions are the animals and people feeling? What does the
1. Ask students to write a short paragraph or a story describing
the scene in The Death of Buddha. What do they see in the
artwork? What is happening? Why do they think so?
2. Explain about the concept of Enlightenment.
Have they ever been confused and then figured something out? Or
bumped into something in the dark, turned on the light, and realized
what they’d bumped into? Ask students to write about this
experience and draw comparisons to the Buddha’s enlightenment.
3. Discuss reincarnation and read some of
the Jataka tales online or in the books listed above. Ask students
to write their own stories about who or what they might have been
or be in a former or future life. Why did they choose this incarnation?
Would their friends or family members have the same incarnations?
California State Framework for Reading and Language Arts
Literary Response and Analysis