Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Shakyamuni Buddha

ཤཱཀྱ་ཐུབ་པ། 释迦牟尼佛
(item no. 157)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Uncertain
Size 77.47x53.34cm (30.50x21in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# P1994.10.11
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Interpretation / Description

Shakyamuni Buddha (Tibetan: sha kya thu pa, sang gye, English: the Enlightened One, Sage of the Shakya Clan): surrounded by vignettes portraying the 12 major deeds of his life.

In a formal posture, traditional in appearance, golden in colour, he looks forward with the eyes slightly closed in a meditative gaze. The dark blue-black hair curled in small tufts is piled on the crown of the head in a large mound (Sanskrit: ushnisha), the crest of that adorned with a single gold ornament. Between the long tapered eyebrows is a single dot (Skt.: urna) and the earlobes are long and pierced; the neck adorned with the beauty marks of three horizontal lines. The right arm is outstretched with the hand placed across the knee and the fingers pointed downward in the Earth touching mudra (gesture). The left hand in the lap with the palm upward in the mudra of meditation holds a black and gold trimmed begging bowl filled with myrobalan fruit. A large orange robe covers the upper body and wraps about the legs. The lower body is attired in a red robe tied with a dark sash. The two legs are folded together in vajra posture, right over left, above a large multi-coloured lotus seat and tiered throne. A blue-orange nimbus and dark green aureola surround the body and head. Seated in front are various celestial figures, gods such as Brahma and Shakra, arhats, the Kings of the Four Directions and nagas with coiled tails, all in kneeling postures holding upraised in the hands various symbolic offerings.

At the upper and middle right side the scenes portray [1] the bodhisattva and future buddha in the form of a white elephant leaving the Tushita heaven and [2] entering the womb of his mother queen Maya Devi. At the right [3] the birth takes place in the Lumbini Grove with Maya Devi standing and grasping the branch of a tree, and after, slightly above, the newborn prince takes seven steps in each of the cardinal directions and a lotus blossom springs forth from each step.

At the lower right [4] as a young prince he learns the worldly arts. [5] Excelling at archery, horsemanship and the like, living in an exquisite palace he enjoys the camaraderie of his queens, consorts and friends. Along the bottom are human images of birth, sickness, old age and death.

At the bottom center and left, [6] at the age of 29 the prince leaves the palace and becomes a self-ordained monk represented by shaving the head. [7] At the edge of the Nairanjana River he spends 6 years performing austerities.

At the middle left, [8] seated beneath the bodhi tree he [9] defeats the 4 maras and their 3 daughters, along with a host of circling daemons and obscurations, and [10] achieves complete buddhahood at dawn. He places the fingertips of the right hand on the ground to call forth the earth to witness the moment of enlightenment. Slightly below, [11] the Buddha Shakyamuni, at Sarnath, turns for the first time the wheel of Dharma, teaching to the original 7 rishi companions. At the top left [12] the Buddha lying with the body on the side in the lion posture passes away and achieves maha-pari-nirvana - the great state of passing beyond suffering. His remains are interred in a series of stupas constantly wreathed by ribbons of rainbow light.

Numbered & Greyscale:
1. The bodhisattva in the form of a white elephant leaving the Tushita heaven.
2. Entering the womb of queen Maya Devi.
3. The birth takes place in the Lumbini Grove.
4. Learning the worldly arts.
5. Observing birth, sickness, old age and death.
6. Leaving the palace and becoming a self-ordained monk.
7. Performing austerities.
8. Seated beneath the bodhi tree.
9. Defeat of the Four Maras.
10. Achieving Buddhahood.
11. Turning the Wheel of Dharma.
12. Passing into maha-pari-nirvana.

Jeff Watt 8-99

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Shakyamuni Buddha: Main Page
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 6
Shakyamuni Buddha: Life Story Main Page
Shakyamuni Buddha: Life-story (Single Composition)
Subject: Narrative Examples (Greyscale)
Subject: Life Story Paintings Main Page