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Image of Sakyamuni Buddha
Item No. 16271

18th Century, Buddhist, China
Wood with Pigmentation
31" x 20" x 13"
( 78.74 x 50.8 x 33.02 cm)
(H x W x D)

This magnificent image of the Sakyamuni Buddha is represented in the most commonly represented type of seated Buddhas, the meditating Buddha. The pose is called in Chinese Ch'ien Pai Yi Hua-shen (the Hundred Billion Human Manifestations) and was based upon Indian models carried to China through central Asia.

The Buddha is seated in padmasana, the meditation position. The legs are crossed with the soles of the both feet turned upward and resting on the opposite thighs with the bare feet exposed. The hands are in dhyana-mudra with both hands in the lap, palms turned upward and resting on each other and the thumbs of the two hands touching at the tips forming a triangle. The placement of the hands and fingers in triangular form symbolizes the triratna or the Three Jewels of Buddhism, which are the Buddha, the Dharma (the Buddhas teachings) and the Sangha (the religious community of monks). Dhyana-mudra also represents perfect physical and spiritual balance. It is one of the most frequently used mudras in representations of Sakyamuni, and it is thought to be derived from the position the Buddha assumed when meditating under the Bodhi tree before his Enlightenment.

Sakyamuni wears a three-part monk's robe cascading in folds and revealing a dhoti (the lower garment of a monk's three part robe) gathered at the waist. The shawl over his shoulders extends to the back of the image. His face radiates serenity with its benign expression, which is emphasized by downcast eyes of inset glass under arched painted eyebrows, an aquiline nose and a slightly smiling mouth.

This image has some of the characteristic identifying features of a great and exceptional spiritual being, such as the Buddha, that are referred to collectively as lakshanas. He has the characteristic pendulous ears, three creases (symbolizing luck) at the neck, and a raised knob or cranial protuberance on his head referred to as an ushnisha, which denotes the seat of intellectual powers, wisdom and divine energies. In the center of the ushnisha is a hemisphere, called a nikkeishu in Japanese, which symbolizes a jewel radiating the light of wisdom. According to the Laita-Vistara, the religious text which recounts the life of Sakyamuni, Sakyamuni had a very large skull, broad the color of gold; his hair black and curly. (1) His head is snail crowned, that is, it has characteristic spiral curls. These curls are an allusion to the Indian legend which stated that one day when, lost in thought as to how to assuage the world's woes, Buddha was oblivious of the Sun's fierce rays beating on his head, the snails in gratitude to Him who loved and shed His blood for all living things, crept up and formed a helmet of their own cool bodies. (2) On his bare chest is a wan, or Buddhist swastika or svastika, which consists of a cross with the four ends bent at right angles and oriented to the right in order to move clockwise. Taken from the Indian symbol of the sun, which was itself probably generated from the clockwise movement of the sun, the name swastika came from a Sanskrit root, sv-asti which means prosperity, well-being, good fortune or success. In Hindu art the swastika was identified with the solar disc of the god Vishnu, and it often appeared on his chest in representations of the god. Adapted to Buddhism, the symbol is frequently seen on Buddha Sakyamuni, especially in Chinese art. The character wan is also known as the ten thousand character sign that is said to have come from heaven and is described as the accumulation of luck signs possessing ten thousand efficacies. It is the first of 65 auspicious signs on the footprint of the Buddha. It is also regarded as the symbol of the Buddha's heart and is often placed on the heart of Sakyamuni images, as it is believed to contain within it the whole mind of Buddha. As an ancient form symbolizing the esoteric doctrine of the Lord Buddha, it appears at the entrances to the great stupas at Sanchi and on the perimeter wall there. It is also thought to expresses the notion of eternal life.

Sakyamuni is considered to be the principal Buddha and the source of Buddhist teachings. He is the fourth Buddha of the present kalpa (era), and it is believed he will be followed by the fifth Maitreya, known in China as Mi-lo-Fu, in some three thousand years. This sculpture was probably placed on the main altar of the Buddhist Temple, probably in the Second Hall. This hall, referred to as the Precious Hall of the Great Hero, contained figures of Sakyamuni Buddha, sometimes accompanied by Buddha Amitabha and Manjusri (Wen Shu Shih-Li).

It is in fine condition, although there are some cracks and losses of paint that has chipped away over time.


Patricia Eichenbaum Karetzky, "Images of Asia Chinese Buddhist Art," New York, Oxford University Press, 2002.

Meyer 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.

C.A.S. Williams, "Chinese Symbols and Art Motifs," New York, Dover Publications, 1978. (1,2), "A First Step in Understanding Buddhism." StudiesREDatabaseBuddha.w.htm

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