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Buddhism
Who's Who in Heaven

Buddhas

"Buddha" refers to a fully awakened or enlightened being. The Indian sage Shakyamuni came to be known as the Buddha, but with the development of the Mahayanist pantheon, other Buddhas were also recognized. While each Buddha has a specific iconography, there are certain characteristics that many share.

They are often dressed in simple robes suggestive of Shakyamuni's mendicant existence. They have elongated, pierced ears, in reference to his renunciation of material wealth such as heavy earrings. The most common pose is the seated, full lotus position, but standing images are also plentiful. Having achieved nirvana, they seem withdrawn from worldly concerns and give the impression of great calm and introspection. As the historic Buddha is said to have exhibited "thirty-two features and eighty characteristics" which marked him as a divine being, any number of these features may also be included. Some common characteristics are the urna (a curl of white hair on the forehead, sometimes represented by a golden disc or inlaid crystal), the ushnisha (a protuberance on the head, indicating his superior wisdom), a reverse swastika on his chest, and webbed hands and feet.

Frequently encountered Buddhas include:

A. Shakyamuni (Chinese: Shih-chia; Japanese: Shaka), the Historical Buddha, was born in the 6th century B.C. in Lumbini (present-day Nepal), achieved enlightenment at the age of thirty-five, and spent the remaining forty-five years of his life preaching his doctrine of salvation to others.

B. Maitreya (Chinese: Mi-lo; Japanese: Miroku), the Buddha of the Future, believed to reside in the Tsushita Heaven until it is time for him to succeed Shakyamuni as the next incarnation of Buddhahood on earth.

C. Amitabha (Chinese: A-mi-t'o-p'o; Japanese: Amida), Budda of "Infinite Light" or "Infinite Life," is one of the five transcendental Buddhas. He is believed to reside over Western Paradise where souls of his followers strive for enlightenment.

D. Bhaishajyaguru (Chinese: Yao-shih; Japanese: Yakushi), Buddha of Healing, is one of five transcendental Buddhas. He is believed to reside over Eastern Paradise and to dispense spiritual and physical medicine.

E. Vairocana (Chinese: P'i-lu-che-na; Japanese: Roshana), the Cosmic Buddha, is one of five transcendental Buddhas, and is considered to be the Supreme or Cosmic Buddha from which all others emanate. Consequently, he is sometimes depicted wearing a crown and surrounded by a mandorla comprised of miniature Buddhas.


 

Seated Buddha
Seated Buddha

The Buddha Sakayamuni
The Buddha Sakayamuni

Amida Buddha
Amida Buddha

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Bodhisattvas

Divine beings that, although enlightened, deny themselves Buddhahood in order to help others along the path to enlightenment. Still tied to the material world in this manner, they are usually represented in sumptuous garments and adorned with jewelry and crowns (a reference to Shakyamuni's earthly existence). Bodhisattvas are usually represented as extremely calm and benevolent beings.

Some frequently encountered Bodhisattvas include:

A. Avalokitesvara (Chinese: Kuan-yin; Japanese: Kannon) is the most popular of all bodhisattvas, beloved for his infinite compassion. Together with Mahasthamaprapta, he attends Amitabha when he welcomes the souls of the deceased into the Pure Land.

B. Ksitigarbha (Chinese: Ti-tsang; Japanese: Jizo) is worshipped as a savior to those condemned to the torments of hell. Since the 10th century, he as been portrayed as a young, itinerant monk who carries a pilgrim's staff and a wish-granting jewel. On a popular level, he is also believed to assist the wayward souls of deceased children.

C. Manjusri (Chinese: Wen-shu; Japanese: Monju), Bodhisattva of Wisdom, believed to have been a disciple of Shakyamuni. With Samantabhadra, he represents the two elemental aspects of Buddhism: Wisdom and Compassio n. He is often depicted holding a sword and/or a lotus, and seated on a lion.

D. Samantabhadra (Chinese: P'u-suien; Japanese: Fugen) Bodhisattva of Universal Goodness/Truth and Practice

E. Mahasthamaprapta (Chinese: Shih-chih; Japanese: Seishi) Bodhisattva of Extreme Strength


 

Kuan-yin
Kuan-yin

Avalokitesvara
Avalokitesvara

Jizo Bosatsu
Jizo Bosatsu

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Vidyarajas

Literally "Bright Kings," Vidyarajas (Chinese: Ming-wang; Japanese: Myoo) are wrathful saviors. Like bodhisattvas, they are enlightened beings committed to the salvation of mankind, but who are angry at humankind's indifference to the Buddha's Law. While they are often dressed similarly to bodhisattvas, they are frightening in appearance with flaming halos, angry expressions, bulging eyes and barred fangs.

A. Acalanatha (Chinese: Pu-tung; Japanese: Fudo)

 

Yamantaka Mandala
Yamantaka Mandala

 
B. Trailokyavijaya (Chinese: Chiang-san-shih; Japanese: Gozanze)

C. Kundali (Chinese: Chun-t'u-li; Japanese: Gundari)

D. Yamantaka (Chinese: Ta-wei-te; Japanese: Daiitoku), Conqueror of Death, is believed to be a manifestation of the ultimate wisdom which overcomes evil, suffering and death. In Vajrayana Buddhism, he is frequently depicted as a buffalo-headed demon, but in the museum's sand mandala, he is symbolized by a blue vajra, or thunderbolt.

E. Vajrayaksa (Chinese: Chin-kang-ch'a; Japanese: Kongoyasha)


Devas

Literally "heavenly beings," devas for a large group of deities from the pantheons of other religions, especially Hinduism, who have been adopted into the service of Buddhism.

A. Dvarapalas (Chinese: Ninwan g; Japanese: Nio) Guardian Kings found at the entrance of Buddhist temples. Befitting their roles as protectors of the Buddhist faith, they are depicted as ferocious, semi-nude figures with exaggerated musculature and scowling facial expressions.

B. Lokapala (Chinese: T'ien-wang; Japanese: Shi-tenno) Guardians of the Four Directions. As protectors of the Buddhist faith, these guardians are typically represented wearing armor and brandishing weapons. In Buddhist sculptural programs, they are typically placed at the four corners of the altar.

C. 12 Guardians of Bhaisajyaguru (Japanese: Juniten)

D. Mahasri (Japanese: Kichijoten) Goddess of Beauty

E. Sarasvati (Japanese: Benzaiten) Goddess of Language, Poetry and Music


 

Guardian figure
Guardian figure

Lokapala Guardian
Lokapala Guardian

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Patriarchs

These are historical or semi-historical champions of the Buddhist faith. Portraits (imaginary or real) of these paragons are kept in subsidiary chapels within temple complexes. In making daily offerings and conducting annual memorial services before these images, monks are reminded of the past priest's selfless example.


 

Book of Sudhana from the Garland Sutra (Hua-yan Ching Pu-hsien Hsing-yuan Pin)
Book of Sudhana

Portrait Sculpture of Priest Gyoki
Priest Gyoki

The Immortal Han-Shan
Han-Shan

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