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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Meditating Buddha Shakyamuni

Meditating Buddha Shakyamuni

Meditating Buddha Shakyamuni

Meditating Buddha Shakyamuni shows Buddha with a chipped halo behind his head in the meditation pose with his right hand in his left palm, both facing upwards. His legs are crossed, and the feet are resting upturned on the thighs in a traditional posture. He is dedicated with long earlobes and wavy hair, and he has a conventional mark between his eyebrows. The Buddha was an ascetic and sage, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. He lived and taught mostly in the eastern part of ancient India sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE. Gautama Buddha is also known as Siddhārtha Gautama or Shakyamuni Buddha.

This statue of the Buddha comes from ancient Gandhara in modern-day Pakistan. Like other Gandharan or Greco-Buddhist art, the sculpture shows influence from Ancient Greek sculptural art. Gandhara had been part of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom established by Alexander the Great. Gandhāra was an ancient Indic kingdom in the northwestern region of Pakistan, around Peshawar.

Statues of the Buddha were not made until after the 1st century CE. For the first four hundred years after his death Buddha was represented by symbols alone such as his footprint or an empty throne or Bodhi tree. The statue was made in the 2nd or 3rd century, and although Buddha lived in the 4th century before Christ, this is an early and rare example of Buddha in human form.

The statue was carved in excellent detail and with the pose, which was to become one of the several standard ones and shows Buddha as a teacher sitting on a platform. On the front of the base, there are much smaller figures of a bodhisattva, flanked by kneeling figures probably representing donor portraits.  His robes feature the distinctive folds carved in well-rounded ridges and terraces that smooth out at the knees and shoulders. The neckline is in high relief with a plunging, and a semi-circular edge that is echoed as the robe overlaps the seat.

Greco-Buddhist Art

Greco-Buddhist Art is the cultural merging of Classical Greek culture and Buddhism, which developed throughout about 1,000 years in Central Asia. This amalgamation of different religions and cultures started with the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC and ended with the Islāmic conquests of the 7th century AD. This Greco-Buddhist art is distinguished by the realism and sensual depiction of Hellenistic art and the first representations of the Buddha in human form. It is one of the earliest examples of cultural amalgamation of eastern and western traditions.

The birth of Greco-Buddhist art was in the Hellenistic Greco-Bactrian kingdom (250–130 BC), in today’s Afghanistan. From this rich culture, Hellenistic trends rippled into northern India leading to the establishment of the Indo-Greek kingdom (180–10 BC). The Indo-Greek Kingdom was a Hellenistic kingdom covering various parts of Afghanistan and the northwest regions of the Indian subcontinent during the last two centuries BC.

This statue exemplified the subtle influence of Greco-Buddhist art that also spread to Central Asia and ultimately the arts of China, Korea, and Japan.

Explore

Reflections

  • How strong are the influences of Ancient Greek sculptural art in this figure?
  • This is an early and rare example of Buddha in human form, what impact did this depiction have on Buddhism?
  • For over 400 years Buddha was represented by symbols alone, what impulse in the western tradition required human form representation?

Meditating Buddha Shakyamuni

  • Title:                  Meditating Buddha Shakyamuni
  • Date:                 2nd century
  • Material:           Grey Schist, a metamorphic rock
  • Size:                  H: 65 cm; W: 35 cm; D: 23 cm
  • Origins:             Gandhara, Pakistan
  • Museum:          Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum

Highlights of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum

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“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”
– Buddha

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Photo Credit: 1) JOM

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