Posted on: 8 April 2013

Buddha torso engraved with the Realms of Existence
550-618; rubbing; 20th century
Northern Qi or Sui dynasty
Ink on paper
H: 105.5 W: 19.4 cm

According to the sacred text of the Lotus Sutra, when the historical Buddha delivered a sermon a vision of the entire cosmos often appeared before him, which is why he was sometimes called the Cosmological Buddha. The decoration on the front and back of this figure's monastic robe features scenes of the life of the historical Buddha and cosmic imagery. On the front chest of the robe, Mount Sumeru, a sacred Buddhist mountain believed to connect heaven and earth, is depicted with two snakes, or naga, entwined around it. Scenes below illustrate the historical Buddha as a prince before his enlightenment. The tortures of hell appear above the hem.

Copyright © Smithsonian Institution

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