Large Standing Buddha Amitabha
Item No. 16617
17th - 18th Century, Buddhist, China
Lacquer over Wood and Polychrome
47.5" x 16.25" x 16.5"
( 120.65 x 41.275 x 41.91 cm)
(H x W x D)
This rare and exquisite statue from North China represents Buddha Amitabha, (also called Amida, Amitayus, or Omitofu) the Buddha of Infinite Light and Eternal Life. Amitabha is the fourth Dhyani (cosmic) Buddha of the Pure Land School (Ching-t’u) of Buddhism, the most widespread school within Mahayana Buddhism in China. The cult of Amitabha, the Buddha of the Western Paradise, became widespread in China by the seventh century. Buddha Amitabha was not mentioned in early teachings of Buddhism or in Theravada Buddhism, and his incorporation into the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon was a significant departure in Buddhist thinking.
Three texts written in China provided the foundation for the Amitabha Pure Land Tradition: The Larger Pure Land Sutra, the Sutra of the Contemplation of the Buddha of External Life and the Smaller Pure Land Sutra. As described in these sutras, belief in the Amitabha Buddha makes it possible for all of creation to be released from sin, sorrow, punishment and suffering. Anyone who calls Amitabha’s name with complete sincerity can attain immortality and be reborn in his Western Pure Land (Paradise) where they will exist in a blissful state learning the dharma with Amitabha as one’s teacher. In some interpretations, the Pure Land is the starting place for attaining Nirvana, since it is a perfect environment centered on Amitabha, while in other interpretations it is a symbolic expression of Nirvana itself, as those born there never return to the world of suffering. This is in contrast to the Theravada Buddhist view where it is believed that only those who live a life of asceticism and have completed the eight fold path can attain the ultimate goal of Nirvana, which metaphysically is a formless, absolute reality.
The Larger Pure Land Sutra related the story of the Bodhisattva Dharmakara, who renounced his throne as a king and sought enlightenment in order to create an ideal realm, where all suffering, ignorance and evil would be abolished. He made forty-eight vows and averred to become a Buddha only if he could save all living beings and establish a Kingdom of Perfect Blessedness in which all living creatures could enjoy perpetual happiness and wisdom. In his eighteenth vow he declared that if people sincerely believe and ponder the Buddhas for as few as ten thoughts and desire to be born in his land, they will be born there except for those who commit the great sins of defaming the dharma. The 19th Vow states that if devotees practice morality and meditation, Amitabha would meet them at their death and escort them to the Pure Land.
Amitabha is traditionally portrayed as standing with a large head thrust forward slightly from rounded shoulders. In this image, the head and hands, symbolically the most important parts of a Buddha are enlarged, emphasizing his spirituality. Characteristic of Amitabha, his extraordinarily long right arm, hangs down to his knee with his palms held outward in varada mudra, the gesture of charity. His left hand is held out at his chest. He has long lobed ears, noble features, and a protruding ushnisha, the cranial bump on top of his head indicating his high spiritual status. In the center of the ushnisha is a nikkeishu, a red hemisphere symbolizing a jewel that radiates the light of wisdom. His blue colored hair is portrayed with tightly wound snail-like curls.
The facial features of the image portray a compassionate and serene visage with down- cast almond eyes and a slightly smiling mouth. The three part monk’s robe cascades gracefully around his body and hangs gracefully, as the sleeves fall to the top of his bare feet. An undergarment is tied at the waist and a shawl is draped over his shoulders and is open to reveal his chest and the three lines at his neck which are one of the 32 marks of a Buddha.
He stands on a base representing a stylized double lotus. The lotus represents the unfolding potential of all beings for as the lotus bud gradually opens to reveal more and more petals, so does each individual unfold as he develops. It also symbolizes the Buddha’s purity and enlightenment, as the lotus’ stem emerges from the muddy waters and blooms into a flower of great beauty. This also represents the individual’s journey from selfishness and delusion to selflessness and insight.
The statue is in excellent condition, with most of its lacquer and pigmentation intact. There is some degradation to the base caused by weathering of time. This piece probably was on the main altar in a Buddhist temple or monastery.
Rev. Dr. Alfred Bloom, Introduction to Pure Land Tradition, Shin Dharma Net.
Keith Stevens, Chinese Gods: the Unseen World of Spirits and Demons, London, Collins and Brown, 1997.
www.ibps-sweden.com, A First Step in Understanding Buddhism.
C.A.S. Williams, Outlines of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives, New York, Dover Publications, Inc. 1976.