Buddha, 19th century
Wood, gilding, lacquer and glass 64 1/2 in. x 14 in. x 12 1/2 in. (163.83 cm x 35.56 cm x 31.75 cm) 2003.53.6
Buddhists believe that by following a moral and upright path and cultivating the ten paramitas (perfections) it is possible to reach the goal of enlightenment and thus end the cycle of suffering and rebirth. Developing the paramita of generosity (dana) is the simplest way a layman can accrue merit to ensure a better life in his next incarnation. Generosity can be expressed in funding a temple or commissioning a manuscript or an image of the Buddha, which explains why the altars and repositories of Buddhist temples teem with Buddha images.
This Buddha, with his hands held down to his sides, is in the unusual mudra (gesture) referred to as “calling for rain” in Laos and “opening of the three worlds” in Thailand. As with the preceding image, his adornment, which is not in keeping with canonical prescriptions of a monk’s robes, may refer to the story of Jambupati, a royal braggart who was humbled by Buddha appearing as the Universal Monarch.
The power of this sculpture lies in its columnar attenuation, which conforms closely to the wood medium. Hardwoods have been abundant in Thailand, and at least one Thai text (Tamnan Phra Kaen Chan) cites the Buddha’s permission to create wooden images. The attached “clothing,” which mimics the formal attire of kings of Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar contemporary with the piece, is enhanced with pieces of glass meant to glitter by temple candlelight.