Images of the Buddha recall important moments during the life of the Buddha himself, and the teachings which followed from them. As a starving ascetic, a resplendent prince, and an infinitely wise and dignified teacher, the Buddha in art offers a glimpse of the richness and complexity of the Buddhist faith.


Buddhism, unlike Hinduism, is a religion with an historical founder. Siddhartha Gautama, a prince of the Sakya clan, was born in the 6th century B.C.E., just inside the modern border of Nepal. Deeply moved by the inevitability of human suffering and death, the Buddha sought insight and peace of mind through self-denial, and finally, through the realization of the Middle Way. This philosophy of life consists of moral, ethical, and spiritual guidelines which help the believer to lead a happy, constructive, and responsible life.

The hand gestures of the Buddha - or mudras - convey specific meanings to the devotee. In this way, the language of art becomes the language of faith. Here, the Buddha touches the ground; an act known as "calling the earth to witness," or "bhumisparsa mudra." In this example, the Buddha marks the precise moment when he has achieved enlightenment. As he seeks to share the insights he has gained, his fingers intertwine into a form called "Wheel of the Law," or "dharmachakra mudra."

Buddhist images of wisdom, love, and compassion were created by people of various cultures, using indigenous materials and artistic conventions. The Japanese carving of Amida Buddha has the fluid drapery folds and subtly expanded stomach characteristic of this period of Japanese Buddhist woodblock carving.

The Pure Land Sect of Japanese Buddhism is devoted to the Amida Buddha, or Buddha of Infinite Light. The marks of wisdom and enlightenment, like the protuberance on the top of his head (ushnisha) and the small, circular form between his eyebrows (urna) have been integrated into a work of art whose gentle rhythms and subtle, lifelike contours convey the profound tranquillity essential to the Buddhist faith.

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