, 9th century
7 x 2 inches (17.8 x 5.1 cm)
The Louis E. Stern Collection, 1963
[ More Details
About This Sculpture
This tiny sculpture of a standing Buddha is only seven inches
high. It may have once been part of a private altar, surrounded by
a lacquered or gold and silver shrine, and used in worship by a
royal or aristocratic devotee. Scholars have suggested that portable
images such as this piece were important in the spread of Buddhist
teachings and regional artistic styles. The delicate details and
graceful proportions exemplify the refined taste and exquisite
craftsmanship of artisans
working during the years of the Unified
Silla dynasty (668–935), a high point in the production of
Buddhist sculpture in Korea.
The sculpture was originally cast in bronze and then plated with
a thin layer of gold, much of which has worn away. The figure has
elongated, partially closed eyes, gently arched eyebrows, and a faint
smile. The bump on his head, which accommodates superior
wisdom, and his elongated ears, which reflect compassion and a
desire to hear the sounds of the world, identify this figure as a
Buddha. His right hand is raised with the palm facing outward, his
thumb and middle finger drawn together in a gesture of teaching
and serenity. His left hand is close to the body, the palm facing
upward in a gesture of giving.
Buddha images are often seen wearing robes of a monk; in this case,
he is shown in a two-layered, ankle-length garment that encircles
the body, drapes over the left shoulder, and is left open at the chest.
The modest dress reminds the devotee that the Buddha renounced
all worldly pleasures and riches to live a simple, secluded life.
The History of Buddhism in Korea
The religion of Buddhism began in India, and is based on the life
and teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (called the historic Buddha
or Śākyamuni) who lived between 563 and 483 BCE. Chinese
monks brought Buddhism to Korea around the fourth century CE.
Members of the Korean ruling and aristocratic classes were the first
to embrace the faith, which offered a new pathway to peace and
enlightenment. During the Unified Silla (668–935) and Koryŏ
(918–1392) dynasties, these wealthy devotees donated large amounts
of money and land for the construction of Buddhist temples and
works of art. By the mid-sixth century, Korean monks introduced
the religion to Japan.
Buddhist teachings greatly influenced Korean society, culture, and
arts. Many sects developed, the most prominent of which was Pure
Land, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism
. Pure Land Buddhism
focuses on the worship of Amitabha ("infinite light"), who presides
over the Western Paradise and is the Buddha represented in this
sculpture from the Museum's collections. This sect teaches
that salvation is not gained by good deeds or complicated rites or
rituals, but by pure and simple devotion to Amitabha. Those who
wished to be reborn in the Western Paradise had to simply invoke
Amitabha's name in their worship.
With the rise of Pure Land teachings, the figure of Amitabha
gained prominence in sculpture of the Unified Silla period. He
is often the central image in Korean Buddhist temples. Today,
there are more than 10,000 temples and 20,000 Buddhist monks
in Korea. About one-third of the population practices within one
of the 18 different sects of the religion.
This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: Korea
, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.