The statue of the seated Buddha (the first Buddha was known as Shakyamuni) is one of the most famous works of art in the Chinese history. It is a sculpture of Buddha that was carved from marble. This piece of art has been a part of the display of Chinese LACMA since 1940. In 2007, it became a permanent sample of Chinese museum collection. This sculpture is said to have been in existence since the period between 700 and 800 AD. It is believed to have been a gift to Ruth Truber, which she received during the commemoration of Henry Truber. The funds to purchase the sculpture were given out by a foundation.
According to Buddhist religion, Buddha, who is the representative of the religion, is the ‘Enlightened One’. In this sculpture, Buddha is displayed with his legs crossed; such a posture signifies meditation. Further, Buddha is placed on a flower-stand and his robe is plain. His face is serene, and the proportion of his body is very graceful. Despite the serenity, the carving has some movements of an upwards swirl of flames that can be translated to create a halo. The initial sculpture was bright in red and green colors. Unfortunately, they can be only observed in traces today. Color was among the most important factors in Buddhist sculptures. Painting took a larger part of an artistic work compared to carving.
Iconography of the Sculpture
The sculpture of Seated Buddha can be analyzed in many aspects. First, it has an outstretched arm that seems to have been chopped off. This is a controversial indication, given that Buddha has reached the stage of purification, nirvana. This arm can be interpreted in two ways. First, it is a sign that Buddha is superior and able even in incompleteness. Despite having another full arm that remains rested on his left lap, he can still appeal to the people with the incomplete part. This feature clearly shows his unending ability as compared to humankind, because this would be regarded as inability among the people. The arm is exposed and this means that all people, even the disabled, are equal to the Pure Land and the divinity of Buddha. Anyone can reach nirvana, but suffering is a part of human being that should not be seen as a source of regrets.
The lotus flower-stand is a source of perfection and a sign of the Pure Land, where Buddha reigns. Lotus plants are used to signify serenity and calmness in the Buddhist culture, and the same could be manifested through the flower stand. When Buddha sits on the stand, replacing the flower, he shows that he is the real source of serenity and calmness among the human beings. It is also a sign of control over peace and tranquility, which is further manifested by the rest of the sculpture, which shows his calmness. At the same time, the gesture can be used to signify the land where Buddha reigns. The Pure Land is the place where the perfect beings are taken after a process of purification. Buddha has reached this purification stage and can enjoy the luxury of the land using his power to reach out to the people. This land contains all good things that human beings desire and that are signified by the flower stand.
The sculpture shows Buddha with closed eyes, which can be translated as a sign of his ability to see beyond opened eyes. Moreover, he can see beyond the body and physical appearances with the help of the divine and unseen forces. What is more, Buddha has the ability to see and predict the future, which impossible to do for a human being. The closed eyes may be translated as a sign of his prayerfulness and the need for meditation to keep the purity. The first Buddha became enlightened after a spell of meditation that allowed him to see and perceive beyond physical appearances. The sculpture has a similar message that shows that whichever level of purification is reached by a person, meditation is important as it is the aspect that ensures the continuity of this purity. It may be passing a message to the rest of Buddhists that since their most senior god meditates, they need to do it even harder. In such a way, they will have a chance to reach the Pure Land.
The piece of art shows Buddha in a plain robe with no jewelry or decorations. It is a sign of completeness. There is no need to add anything, because the largest achievements have been reached. It shows the bliss that should remain untainted and should be given no chance of contamination or additions. This can be used to show the unimportance of earthly possessions that are regarded as very important by people, who forget the most important spiritual issues that they should embrace. The sculpture shows the importance of being plain. The things that are perceived to be of big importance among the people on earth are useless and insignificant in nirvana. Therefore, seeking purity and karma should precede the earthly luxuries.
Furthermore, the plain robe can be used to signify the need to make people more modest in all their undertakings. Those who believe in earthly attention and earthly glory should consider just having the essential things, such as a robe, and the other additions should not be of high significance to them. Coupled with the outstretched chopped arm, humility cannot be disregarded in this piece of art.
The carving shows Buddha with a soft and smooth skin. This is a further manifestation for the completeness and purity of Buddha in his land of purity. It shows the gains and joy that people get when they reach this stage of purity and that there is no struggle in achieving bodily attractiveness. Everything follows the people who are spiritually pure, including the things that normal people struggle to achieve, such as the bodily attractiveness. Buddha is an example of perfection of both spiritual and other aspirations of humankind, and the sculpture is just a good representation of this perfection.
The sculpture shows Buddha seated in a straight upright position without leaning; there is also no struggle on his face. His legs are crossed, and the whole sculpture shows a very composed personality, full of serenity and ease. This is a sign of continued meditation and how it should transform a person. The sculpture shows Buddha as a person who is used to the posture, meaning that he is used to meditation, and eventually cementing the need for people to meditate in order to gain spiritual purity. The sculpture shows the correct posture for meditating, which Buddha would recommend. Since Buddhists believe in karma, law and morality, it should be mentioned that such important processes as meditation should be done in the most correct and appropriate way.
The Sculpture in Relation with Bernard Faure’s View about Buddhism
According to Fraure, Buddhism is fit to be an atheist religion, which simply refers to the belief that there is no God. Fraure supported this argument from the point that many followers of the religion adore Buddha (Faure 69). The Western understanding does not recognize Buddha as God, but rather as a teacher who had his perceptions and teachings that later won the hearts of many people. Thus, this is a religion. The belief of Buddha’s supremacy among his followers shows that they do not believe in a god, but rather in a person who once lived on the face of the earth. Some great followers of the religion indicated that they did not follow any god or master (Fraure 68).
The importance of Buddha among Buddhists is manifested in the issues that have been raised by the sculpture. First, the outstretched arm is chopped off, which shows incompleteness. In any religion, God is the most complete and the most supreme being who has all the control over the earth. However, Buddhists believe in a being that is not complete, thus discrediting him as a god. Therefore, probably, they believe in the sculpture and not in God, which can be undoubtedly called atheism.
The sculpture is also depicted as the giver of life that enjoys the Pure Land with its serene atmosphere and attractive plants. Buddha seems to live in comfort. However, this assumption contradicts with the belief that god lives in divinity that cannot be well described by words or in people’s imaginations. Therefore, an attempt to give the power and divinity to Buddha, who was a man sitting on a stand that can be found on earth, probably means that there is no god among Buddhists. They only believe in karma and that their fate can only be determined by their acts, and not by the supremacy of their god, Buddha.