Buddha as a Baby
Item No. 16438
18th - 19th Century, Buddhist, China
Wood with Pigmentation
17.5" x 5" x 5"
( 44.45 x 12.7 x 12.7 cm)
(H x W x D)
This carving represents the Buddha at the moment immediately after his miraculous birth. The image contains the face and torso of the infant Buddha missing arms which were originally articulated and legs which would have been slightly spread apart and firmly planted on the ground. Although the image represents the infant Buddha, the facial features are primarily that of the adult Buddha with almond eyes and pendulous ears. The idea that the image represents an infant is symbolically presented by the inclusion of a wisp of hair atop the Buddha’s head, generally associated with youthful monks or deities, and by the general puffiness of the features.
In most East Asian depictions of the miraculous birth, as in this image, the Buddha is portrayed as a standing infant with one hand pointing upward to heavens and the other down to earth to symbolize his supremacy over all aspects of the universe. The auspicious day of his birth took place with a full moon and is now celebrated as Vesak, the festival of the triple event of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. On Vesak images such as this are washed by Buddhist priests during a special ceremony.
Buddha Sakyamuni was born Prince Siddhartha in the southern foothills of the Himalayas in present day Nepal, the son of the great king Shuddhodana Gautama and Queen Maya. According to Buddhist scriptures, both his conception and birth were miraculous. On a full-moon night, Queen Maya dreamed that a white elephant descended and entered into her womb through the right side of her chest, and she became pregnant. About ten lunar months later, after having received the sign that she would bring into being a great leader, Queen Maya was ready to give birth. Since it was customary for a wife to have her baby in her parent's house, she headed for the capital of her father's kingdom protected by a long procession of solders and attendants. On the way, Queen Maya asked to rest at a beautiful garden called Lumbini Park, as she was attracted by its sala trees, scented flowers, lovely birds and humming bees.
As she rested underneath a sala trees, she gave birth in a standing position while grasping a tree. According to the scriptures,
And going to the foot of the monarch sala-tree of the grove, she wished to take hold of one of its branches. And the sala-tree branch, like the tip of a well-steamed reed, bent itself down within reach of the queen’s hand. Then she reached out her hand, and seized hold of the branch, and immediately her pains came upon her. Thereupon the people hung a curtain about her, and retired. So her delivery took place while she was standing up, and keeping fast hold of the sala-tree branch.”(1)
The child emerged from Maya's right side fully formed. As the scriptures state:
“He issued from his mother’s womb like a preacher descending from his preaching-seat, or a man coming down a stair, stretching out both hands and both feet, unsmeared by any impurity from his mother’s womb, and flashing pure and spotless, like a jewel thrown upon a vesture of Benares cloth. Not with- standing this, for the sake of honoring the Future Buddha and his mother, there came two streams of water from the sky, and refreshed the Future Buddha and his mother. (2)
Four Brahmin angels immediately placed the Buddha on a golden net and presented him to the Queen, saying “Rejoice, O Queen! A mighty son has been born to you.” (3) The Brahmin angels delivered him to four guardian angels, who stood him on the ground where he faced east and surveyed the thousands of worlds of gods and men making offerings to him and saying “Great Being! There is none your equal, much less your superior.” (4) After he examined all the10 directions and discovering he had no equal, he selected the best direction and began to walk seven steps. At each step, a lotus flower appeared on the ground. At the seventh stride, he stopped and with a noble voice proclaimed:
The chief am I in all the world.
Eldest am I in the world,
Foremost am I in the world.
This is the last birth.
There is now no more coming to be. (5)
Buddha Dharma Education Association, "Buddhist Studies: Life of the Buddha," Electronically distributed by www.BuddhaNet.org. (5)
Meyer McArthur, "Reading Buddhist Art: An Illustrated Guide to Buddhist Signs and Symbols," London, Thames and Hudson, 2002.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Life of the Buddha," www.metmuseum.org, 2000-2004.
Harvard Classics 1909-1914, B"uddhist Writings, the Buddha-The Birth of the Buddha" Translated from the Introduction to the Jataka at www.bartleby.com (1-4)
Keith Stevens, "Chinese Gods: The Unseen World of Spirits and Demons," London, Collins and Brown, 1997.