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Dalton DeStefano 5-14-13 Ancient World Legacy Project Part 1

Divine Power Through the Scope of Buddhism


Throughout the Ancient World, religion has been a big part of every civilizations culture. From the ancient times of the Greek Empire to now in 2013, everyone likes to have something bigger than themselves to believe in. Humans like to believe in a divine because they supposedly possess power that they do not. The logic behind this is that people believe if they live in a positive way, the divine will be able to help them. Throughout different religions, deities are able to destroy, inspire, liberate, and in the case of the Medicine Buddha in Buddhism, heal. The Buddha of Medicine is worshipped because he has the power to heal both physically and spiritually. The theme of divine power is extremely important throughout ancient times because it affects the behavior of people and gives people a deep connection with their divine. The painting Buddha of Medicine exemplifies this theme well. The Buddha of Medicine, or Bhaishajyaguru is shown with symbols showing power and the ability to heal. This painting shows the ideals of the time period: the Yuan Dynasty. The painting, Buddha of Medicine, shows the eternal truth of divine power through the artwork itself, the historical context, and the Sermon at Benares.

The painting, Buddha of Medicine, shows the eternal truth of divine power through the artwork of the piece. The painting, Buddha of Medicine is found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is a focal point of the Buddhism Gallery.1 The Medicine Buddha, or Bhaishajyaguru, is pictured surrounded by bodhisattvas and soldiers. There are 12 soldiers around the Medicine Buddha. According to a scholarly essay found on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website, Another important feature of the Paradise of Bhaishajyaguru is the presence of the Twelve Guardian Generals who symbolize the Buddha's Twelve Great Vows2, which spell out his devotion towards healing people spiritually and physically. According to a recorded conversation between two scholars, the Buddha has relinquished all worldly ties, and thus is presented in the garb of a monk3 By showing the Buddha in these humble clothes, it indicates his immense power. He has rejected material goods, showing us that he has reached an extremely high level of enlightenment. This is also contrasted by the more ornate clothing of the bodhisattvas standing around him. According to an essay posted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Buddha sits on a lotus throne in the center. His right hand is raised at the level of the breast with the palm turned upward and the index and

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Buddha of Medicine, accessed May 12th 2013 http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/60010268 2 Met Museum, Yuan Buddhist Mural of the Paradise of Bhaishajyaguru, accessed May 12th, 2013, www.metmuseum.org/pubs/journals/1/pdf/1512908.pdf.bannered.pdf 3 Youtube-Khan Academy, Buddha of Medicine Bhaishajyaguru, accessed My 13th 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=CHfU9EDwOwU

the thumb close to each other in a variant of dharmacakra mudra, or teaching gesture.4 The symbol of the lotus flower symbolizes the power and enlightenment of the Buddha. The teaching gestures shown by the mudra show that Bhaishajyaguru is trying to teach us the meaning of Buddhism and the way towards enlightenment. The Buddhas high level of power and enlightenment are also shown by the, long earlobes [and the] little rise on the back of the head5 These are aspects of enlightenment that are present on the main Buddha, Siddhartha as well. These aspects of the Buddha show his otherworldly power that causes people to worship him.

The painting, Buddha of Medicine shows the eternal truth of divine power through the historical context of the piece. The piece was painted around 1319, during the time of the Yuan Dynasty. During the Yuan Dynasty, the Mongols were ruling China. However, Chinese culture thrived during this period. A source from the Metropolitan Museum of Art says, Yuan painters no longer took truth to nature as their goal but rather used painting as a vehicle for self-expression6 This shows that the painters of this time were not bound by a government or rules in their work; the work they made reflected their beliefs. Another quotation from Britannica says, Unlike the
4

Met Museum, Yuan Buddhist Mural of the Paradise of Bhaishajyaguru, accessed May 12th, 2013, www.metmuseum.org/pubs/journals/1/pdf/1512908.pdf.bannered.pdf 5 ibid 6 Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), accessed May 14th 2013, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/yuan/hd_yuan.htm

previous ages of the Tang (618907) and the Song (9601279), when art was encouraged by the state, artistsespecially those native Chinese who steadfastly refused to serve their conquerorshad to seek inspiration within themselves and their traditions.7 The painter of this believed in the power of the divine, which is why he painted these symbols such as the elongated earlobes and the monks clothing etc. The eternal truth is also better understood through the stories of Bhaishajyaguru at that time. He was renowned not only for physical healing, but for spiritual healing. According to World History in Context, Bhaishajyguru was important for his work in assisting beings to reach a momentous spiritual turning point known as the aspiration to attain enlightenment, at which the drifting life is cast aside in order to seek spiritual fulfillment.8 This shows that the Buddha had not only the power of healing, but also the power to inspire people to pursue enlightenment. In this way he used his divine power to grow the Buddhist religion. Overall, the historical context of this piece shows how this painting was molded to shape a belief in the eternal truth of divine power.

Encyclopedia Britannica, Yuan Dynasty, accessed May 15th, 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/654422/Yuan-dynasty 8 World History in Context-Encyclopedia of Religon, Bhaishajyaguru, accessed May 12th 2013, http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/whic/ReferenceDetailsPage/ReferenceDetailsWindow?failOver Type=&query=&prodId=WHIC&windowstate=normal&contentModules=&mode=view& displayGroupName=Reference&limiter=&currPage=&disableHighlighting=false&displayGr oups=&sortBy=&source=&search_within_results=&action=e&catId=&activityType=&sca nId=&documentId=GALE%7CCX3424500348

The painting Buddha of Medicine shows the theme of divine power as shown through the Sermon at Benares. The Sermon at Benares was the first teaching performed by the first Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, in Deer Park. He spoke to a small group of ascetics. The Buddha spoke of the path to achieving nirvana, or true enlightenment. He speaks about the Middle Path and the Four Noble Truths. According to the Gospel of the Buddha, compiled by Project Gutenberg, the Buddha said, By the practice of lovingkindness I have attained liberation of heart, and thus I am assured that I shall never return in renewed births. I have even now attained Nirvana 9 This quotation shows that the Buddha has a power that normal people do not. The Buddha explains that he has achieved Nirvana, and does not have to return to the earth through different lives. This shows that he is above the others in some way. Because of his power, people are inspired to work towards becoming enlightened as well. We also see this through secondary accounts. The Encyclopedia Britannica said that, He set out on foot, meeting along the way a wandering ascetic with whom he exchanged greetings. When he explained to the man that he was enlightened and so was unsurpassed even by the gods, the man responded with indifference.10 This shows us that the Buddha possesses power beyond that of the divine, because he has discovered the meaning of enlightenment. We see the clear separation between the Buddha and ordinary people because he has a power
9

The Project Gutenburg, The Gospel of the Buddha, accessed May 17th, 2013, http://archive.org/stream/thegospelofbuddh35895gut/35895-0.txt 10 Encyclopedia Britannica, The Buddha, accessed May 17th 2013, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/83105/Buddha/230770/The-first-disciples

that they do not possess. Gloria K. Fiero, the author of The Humanistic Tradition, also speaks of this idea. Gloria says, The Sermon at Benaresurges the abandonment of behavioral extremes and the pursuit of the Eightfold Path of right conduct. In its emphasis on modesty, moderation, and compassion, and on the renunciation of worldly pleasures, it has much in common with Jesus Sermon on the Mount.11 This quotation shows us that the Buddha can be compared to Jesus. This shows that he possesses a power to preach and show people the way to enlightenment. It also shows that he knows what to do to achieve enlightenment because he already has and now possesses a level of omniscience that normal people do not. The Sermon at Benares truly exemplifies the eternal truth of divine power in the Ancient World.

11

Gloria K. Fiero, The Humanistic Tradition: Volume 2 (New York, McGraw Hill, 2011), 11

Works Cited
The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Buddha of Medicine Bhaishajyaguru (Yaoshi fo)." The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2013. <http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/60010268>. "Bhaishajyaguru." World History in Context. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2013. <http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/whic/ReferenceDetailsPage/ReferenceDetailsWindo w?failOverType=&query=&prodId=WHIC&windowstate=normal&contentModules =&mode=view&displayGroupName=Reference&limiter=&currPage=&disableHig hlighting=false&displayGroups=&sortBy=&source>. "Buddha (founder of Buddhism) : The first disciples -- Encyclopedia Britannica." Encyclopedia Britannica. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2013. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/83105/Buddha/230770/The-firstdisciples>. "Buddha of Medicine Bhaishajyaguru." Youtube. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2013. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=CHfU9EDwOw U>. Fiero, Gloria K. The Humanistic Tradition Volume 2: Medieval Europe and the World Beyond. New York City: McGraw Hill, 2011. Print. Period, Time. "Yuan Dynasty (12711368) | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2013. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/yuan/hd_yuan.htm>. "Yuan Buddhist Mural of the Paradise of Bhaishajyaguru." Metropolitan Museum of Art. Anning Jing, n.d. Web. 12 May 2013. <www.metmuseum.org/pubs/journals/1/pdf/1512908.pdf.bannered.pdf>. "Yuan dynasty (Chinese history) -- Encyclopedia Britannica." Encyclopedia Britannica. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2013. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/654422/Yuan-dynasty>. "Full text of "The Gospel of Buddha Compiled from Ancient Records by Paul Carus"." Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2013. <http://archive.org/stream/thegospelofbuddh35895gut/358950.txt>.