Death of the Historical Buddha (Nehan-zu)


On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 226

The Buddha’s death, his passing from earthly life to final release from suffering as an enlightened being, is a confirmation of essential tenets of Buddhist faith. Those witnessing the Buddha’s passing reveal their own imperfect level of enlightenment in the extent of their grief. The bodhisattvas, however, enlightened buddhas-to-be who remain tethered to the earthly realm to assist people on their paths to salvation, show a solemn serenity. Except for the Bodhisattva Jizō, who appears as a monk holding a jewel near the center of the bier, these deities are envisioned in princely raiment covering their golden bodies. Shaven-headed disciples weep bitterly, as do the multi-limbed Hindu deities and guardians who have been converted to the Buddha’s teaching. Men and women of every class, joined by more than thirty animals, grieve in their imperfect understanding of the Buddhist ideal. Even the blossoms of the sala trees change hue, as Queen Maya, mother of the Buddha, descends from upper right, weeping.

On view for rotations 1 and 2

Death of the Historical Buddha (Nehan-zu), Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk, Japan

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