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Buddha in Unction (Uttrabodhi)
Item No. 17020

17th - 18th Century, Buddhist, China
Wood with Pigmentation
0" x 0" x 0"
( 0 x 0 x 0 cm)
(H x W x D)

This masterful carving represents Sakyamuni Buddha, the Buddha who is generally considered the principal Buddha and the source of Buddhist teachings. He is the fourth Buddha of the present kalpa (era) and will be followed by the fifth Buddha, Maitreya, (Mi-lo-Fu in Chinese), in the next kalpa which is to take place three thousand years in the future. He is seated in padmasana, the posture in which the legs are crossed with the soles of both feet are turned upward and resting on the opposite thigh. His hands are in the mudra of uttarabodhi, the mudra of Supreme Enlightenment. It is formed with the hands held at the chest level, the palms held against each other, the fingers are crossed and folded on the interior with the index fingers and thumbs on both hands raised and touching reach other.

According to Saunders, (p. 111) this mudra is one of the gestures in the Ceremony of Unction, used primarily by the Exoteric Buddhist sects for ritual consecration. This mudra is somewhat rarely portrayed in Mahayana Buddhist statues in China. The Unction Ceremony marks the entrance of a neophyte into the Buddhist religion, and is “the affirmation that the neophyte has accomplished a given step toward bodhi and, hence, is further engaged on the path toward supreme enlightenment.” (Saunders p. 11). Saunders cites Kobo Daishi, the Japanese Monk believed to have introduced this ceremony to Kyoto in the 9th Century who stated that it was the ‘bestowal of the Buddha’s great mercy upon Sentient Beings to enable them to obtain the highest perfect Enlightenment.” (Saunders p. 111).

The Buddha has a serene, benevolent expression, with heavily lidded half-closed almond- shaped downcast eyes below arched eyebrows. His face is framed with tightly coiled painted “snail hair” surrounding his usnisha. These curls are an allusion to the Indian legend which stated, “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.” (Cited in C.A.S. Williams p. 35).

He is garbed in the traditional three part flowing monk’s robe in the Mahayana tradition: the top part being a shawl covering the shoulders and open at the chest to reveal an undergarment tied at the waist. He sits on a ritual cloth which is draped over the front and sides of his unadorned pedestal in deeply carved flowing lyrical patterns.

This carved image has many characteristic identifying features of a Buddha, referred to collectively as lakshanas, including an usnisha, the protuberance on top of the head, particularly of Buddha figures, which denotes the seat of intellectual powers, wisdom and divine energies and is the foremost of the major thirty-two signs of a Buddha; pendulous ears with which to hear all and his designation as a former prince: three rings at his neck symbolizing luck; and an urna -- the indentation on his forehead between the eyebrows which is a sign of superior wisdom.

The carving is in good condition, with much of the original pigmentation in tact. of the shawl and cloth in red and the undergarment in blue and the black hair. However, most of the pigmentation on the face has flaked over time.


E. Dale Saunders, "Mudra: A Study of Symbolic Gestures in Japanese Buddhist Sculpture," Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1985.

C.A.S. Williams, “Chinese Symbols and Art Motifs,” Castle Books, New Jersey, 1974,

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