Wood (poplar) with pigments, single woodblock construction
H. 42 1/8 in. (107 cm)
Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, in honor of Brooke Astor, 2000 (2000.270)
Two bodhisattvas are identified by the fact that they, at times, ride lions: one is Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, who is frequently shown on this mount; the other is Avalokiteshvara, who sits a lion in the Simhanada form, or Avalokiteshvara of the Lion's Roar. In both, the roar symbolizes the intensity of the moment of enlightenment. The lion's recumbent pose and the position of the bodhisattva, who is riding sidewise, suggest that this sculpture can be identified as Avalokiteshvara, although the requisite seated Buddha in the headdress is missing. Moreover, the raised right and pendant lower leg are often found in representations of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who takes the pose in the well-known Water Moon form, in China the most popular manifestation of this bodhisattva after the tenth century.
The earliest textural reference to this rare form of Avalokiteshvara is found in the Garland of Sadhanas, the great iconographic compendium assembled by the Indian monk Abhayakaragupta in the eleventh century. This form of the Bodhisattva of Compassion is thought to have had the ability to heal diseases. A few Indian examples showing this form of the bodhisattva are found from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Moreover, an unusual Chinese iron sculpture showing Avalokiteshvara seated on a lion and dated 1112 is preserved in Japan, suggesting that the form was introduced to China with other later Esoteric practices around the twelfth century. It is interesting to note that in later Chinese traditions, various forms of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara or Guanyin are shown accompanied by or riding a lion or lionlike creature, suggesting that the form of Simhanada Avalokiteshvara had melded with popular Chinese manifestations such as the bodhisattva as the "bestower of sons."