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Amida Buddha, Japan 1885.3.1

Amida Buddha, Japan

Gautama Siddartha, the future Buddha, lived in India about 2500 years ago. He is believed to have been a prince of the Sākya clan, in the Indo-Nepalese foothills. As a young man, he lived within his father’s palace and grounds, sheltered from the realities of the outside world and its people and surrounded by every luxury.

However, after accidentally seeing a sick man, an old man and a corpse, the prince became disillusioned, realising that no one could escape illness, old age and death. Aged 29, Gautama left his home and for six years studied with various spiritual teachers in the hope of finding a way to escape life’s suffering, all the while living very simply and austerely.

He excelled at whatever spiritual practice he tried, but found that none of them gave him the answers he sought. Finally, he sat down to meditate, sheltered by the bōdhi  tree. That night Gautama awoke to the Truth – giving rise to the name “Buddha”, from the Sanskrit bōdhati “he awakes.” He had attained Nirvāna and was beyond the “three fires of greed, hatred and delusion.”

For the remainder of his life, Sākyamuni (The Sage of Sākya) Gautama taught the findings of his enlightenment. The Four Noble Truths are: the reality of impermanence; suffering which arises because of wanting; the end of suffering; and the noble path. The Noble or Eightfold Path details the right way of conducting oneself to achieve salvation or Nirvāna. At the age of 80, the Buddha died and his ashes were enshrined in a stupa (mound-like structure) in the Kala Grove in Kushingara, Northern India. and elsewhere. His teachings spread throughout India and beyond, becoming one of the world’s great religions and schools of thought.

Representations of the Buddha and Buddhist iconography date from about the second century BCE. Over time, these were influenced stylistically by the art of the different cultures which absorbed Buddhism. Certain features were retained, however. The Buddha is almost always shown clothed in a monastic robe which covers both shoulders or the left shoulder. He has long earlobes (the mark of nobles in ancient India), a skull protuberance, and a round or projecting spot in the middle of the forehead or between the eyes. The symbolic gestures of the arms and hands signify various divine manifestations.