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Image of a Seated Bodhisattva in Meditation
Item No. 16254

18th Century, Buddhist, China
Lacquer over Wood and Polychrome
30.5" x 11.75" x 9.75"
( 77.47 x 29.845 x 24.765 cm)
(H x W x D)

This carving represents a bodhisattva in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. In this kind of Buddhism, a bodhisattva is regarded as an enlightened being who is no longer subject to the physical limitations of human life, nor limited by self centered or selfish thoughts. Bodhisattvas reside in a "celestial" realm, a spiritual field brought into being by their saintliness. They are credited with being able to bring sentient beings into this blessed realm and help all followers to achieve their own enlightenment through their example and their teachings by offering them their spiritual power and assistance. Although bodhisattvas can reach nirvana, they have postponed their entrance into this state to remain on earth until they are able assist all beings to their own salvation.
Although compassion for others had always been regarded as a virtue in early forms of Buddhism, it had a somewhat subordinate place to wisdom. In Mahayana Buddhism, compassion received an equal emphasis with wisdom, perhaps because the Mahayanists were more consciously universal than earlier forms of the religion and covered a wider spectrum of society. In the Mahayana view of the world, all men and women, not just those leading a monastic life, could receive the intervention of bodhisattvas to assist them in achieving nirvana.
Although it is apparent that this statue is a bodhisattva, it is not possible to identify the particular bodhisattva it represents. She has the pendulous ears of a bodhisattva, and has her fingers posed in a triangle, the triatina, which represents the three jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Sangha (community of monks) and the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha). She wears the three part robe of an enlightened being which is parted to reveal the jeweled necklace associated with bodhisattvas. In this finely carved image the bodhisattva’s face is framed by her hairline and her pendulous ears, the sign of an enlightened being. Her hair is piled on her head and held with a decorative pin. Her half closed eyes are cast down in meditation, imparting a feeling of serenity to the viewer.
In the back of the image, which retains some of its original lacquer and pigmentation, is a cavity indicating that the image was consecrated in an eye opening ceremony performed by a monk. At that time sutras and other significant items were placed in the cavity which was then closed, and the spirit of the bodhisattva was entreated to reside in the sculpture. Given the size and the quality of the piece, it was probably originally placed in a Buddhist temple or monastery.

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