Seated Lohan Holding a Bowl
Item No. 18020
18th - 19th Century, Buddhist, China
Lacquer over Wood with Polychrome and Gilt
11.25" x 6" x 6"
( 28.575 x 15.24 x 15.24 cm)
(H x W x D)
This seated image represents a Buddhist monk, as his head is clean shaven and he wears an elaborate form of a monk’s robes drawn at the left shoulder with a round clasp. His face is finely carved with high cheek bones, prominent rounded eyebrows above heavily lidded eyes and small closed lips framed by large ears. His right hand is held aloft in front of his chest and his left hand is placed firmly on his knee, holding an alms bowl, a very symbolic gesture in the Buddhist tradition. Monk’s proscribed behaviors have traditionally included celibacy, simplicity, homelessness and support by alms food donated by devotees. The tradition of almsgiving was practiced by the Buddha himself as a monk, thus, just as the Buddha was sustained by gifts of food, monks also receive their sustenance through this fundamental tradition. Alms giving renders to the giver even greater benefits than to the receiver, as through giving, donors earn karmic merit for their generosity.
This monk may be a lohan, one of the” Enlightened Worthies” or “Preferred Saints” of Mahayana Buddhism. Lohans were the first monk disciples of the Buddha who were thought have gained an understanding of the truth of the dharma (the teachings of Buddhism) comparable to the Buddha himself. They differ from the Buddha in two fundamental ways. First, although they are enlightened and at death will be released from the cycle of rebirth, in this final lifetime on earth they still bear characteristics and personalities of their former “unawakened” lives. Second, their enlightenment is a result of receiving instruction rather than through their own personal and inspired insight.
In Mahayana Buddhism, sixteen and later eighteen lohans were identified as guardians of he Buddhist faith, with images of them being placed alongside the walls of Buddhist temples and monasteries. They are generally represented as having large heads with pendulous ears, as this image does, which indicates their superior wisdom.
Although most sources concur that it is extremely difficult to identify specific carved images, this figure may represents the lohan Pindola, who was often depicted as an old man holding an alms bowl in his hand. Pindola was one of Buddha Shakyamuni’s greatest disciples and the first lohan he instructed not to enter Nirvana and instead to remain on earth to protect and foster Buddhist teachings until the coming of Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future. He was a noteworthy disputant and defender of orthodox Buddhism, and disseminated Buddhist precepts to his retinue of 1,000 lohan followers.
Richard Kent, “Depictions of the Guardians of the Law: Lohan Painting in China”, in Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism 860-1850, Marsha Weidner, Editor, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1994.
Meher McArthur, Reading Buddhist Art, An Illustrated Guide to Buddhist Signs and Symbols, London, Thames and Hudson, 2002.
Keith Stevens, Chinese Gods, the Unseen World of Spirits and Demons, London, Collins and Brown, 1997.
Keith Stevens, “Luohans on Chinese Altars: Enlightened Disciples of the Buddha,” Arts of Asia, January-February, 2001, pg. 74-89.
T. Watters, “The Eighteen Lohans of a Chinese Buddhist Temple,” The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume 17, 10/2003.
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