Students will learn that specific marks are used to identify the image of Buddha. Students will identify the Buddha marks, which characterize the Amida Buddha from the Crocker Art Museum.
Recognizing the Buddha
State Content Standards
7.5.4 – Trace the development of distinctive forms of Japanese Buddhism.
1.1 – Describe the environment and selected works of art, using the elements of art and the principles of design.
3.1 – Research and describe how art reflects cultural values in various
traditions throughout the world.
4.2 – Analyze the form (how a work of art looks) and content (what a work
of art communicates) of works of art.
For the Teacher:
- Projection system for the work of art, reproductions or overhead transparency
- Initial worksheet of questions – one for each student.
- About Amida Buddha
- Labeling the Amida Buddha worksheet – one for each student as well as a group copy for each small group.
- Collaborative Learning
- Looking closely
- Reading for comprehension
- Application of learning
1. Teacher will divide the class into small collaborative groups of students (about 4 to 5). Teacher projects the image of Amida Buddha on a large screen and distributes to each student a worksheet of questions appropriate for the class. Do not reveal the title of this sculpture. Students are to look silently (between 3 and 5 minutes) at the image and jot down answers to the worksheet questions.
2. Worksheet questions may be composed of some of the following questions:
- Describe carefully what you see.
- Look for the lines in this sculpture. Which predominate – geometric or organic? What is the difference between geometric and organic lines?
- Identify the shapes that make up this sculpture.
- What colors predominate? Can you identify any of the materials used in this sculpture by the apparent color?
- If you were to feel this sculpture, how would it feel?
- Locate the patterned areas. What do you think the patterns mean? Do these patterns communicate any meaning?
- Do you recognize the person in the sculpture?
- What clues did you use to identify the person?
3. At the end of the silent looking, students in the small groups can share their information or the teacher can facilitate a classroom discussion of what students described and speculated while looking silently.
4. Teacher then enlarges the scope of the discussion by asking questions, which reveal how much information students know about Buddhism and sculptures of Buddha. Questions might include some of the following:
- Do all sculptures of Buddha look the same as this one?
- What ideas are prominent in Buddhist teaching?
- Who was Buddha? Was he a real person?
- Where did Buddhism originate?
- When and how did Buddhism arrive in Japan ?
- Is all of Japan Buddhist?
- What does “Amida” mean?
- Are there any further questions about Buddhism, Buddhism in Japan or about this Amida Buddha sculpture?
- If you have questions, where might you go for further information?
5. After the classroom discussion, teacher distributes to each student the Student Commentary for the Amida Buddha . Depending on student abilities within the class, the teacher might do any of the following:
- Assign each student to read the commentary silently. Students may take notes or underline important facts and key ideas.
- Within each group, students divide up the commentary and read it aloud within the group.
- Teacher may assign students to read paragraphs or sections aloud for the benefit of the entire class.
6. Once the Commentary has been read, the teacher sends students back within their small groups for a discussion of what they have learned and what they now think about the sculpture. Students should concentrate on locating the marks, which identify this sculpture as that of Buddha. The small group completes a worksheet that shows a copy of the Amida Buddha . In addition to the group worksheet, each student should have his/her own copy of this worksheet. To the group copy they are to indicate the identifying marks and any other objects they now can identify.
7. After 5 to 7 minutes, teacher asks one group to report back to the class on the worksheet the group completed. If not all objects or identifying marks are found by this first group, the teacher can continue to ask other groups until all the identifying marks have been found and all the objects (i.e. mandorla, lotus, etc.) have been identified. Students should complete their own worksheet for future reference. Students should also recognize that the Amida Buddha is an expression of the Jodo sect of Buddhism .
Computer Lab Learning—Extension activity for students
Objective for Activity:
Students will compare / contrast two Buddhist sculptures: one Jodo and one Zen.
Students will understand that the Jodo and Zen Buddhist sects create similar, yet different art, due to their differing doctrines.
Students will access the online collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and locate a Zen Buddhist sculpture. They will read about it and then compare this sculpture to the Amida Buddha in order to address some concluding ideas.
History/Social Science Skills
Use of primary sources
Art analysis and meaning
Sequence for students:
- Go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site: www.metmuseum.org
- Enter the museum and from the menu on the left side, select “Timeline of Art History”
- Scroll down and from the “Special Topics Categories,” select “Asian Art.” Scroll down the screen to “ Japan ” and select “Buddhism, Zen.”
- On the “Zen Buddhism” page, select the second small image in the row, the only sculpture.
- Click on “ Description ” and read the commentary.
- Click on “ Enlarge ” to get a bigger image.
- Compare and contrast this Portrait of a Zen Priest with the Amida Buddha you have already studied. Use the Venn Diagram. How are these two sculptures alike and how are they different?
Computer and connection to internet
Paper for essay
How do you know when students have demonstrated their knowledge of the skills listed above?
- Describe what kind of product students will submit to show their work.
- Write a two paragraph essay to the following two questions: How are these differences related to the basic ideas of Jodo and Zen Buddhism?
(Jodo Buddhism is based on a belief in the Amida Buddha, while Zen Buddhism is based on self -enlightenment through the assistance of an important teacher.)
Additional Tips : Group management, technical advice, reminders, etc.
- Ask students to work in pairs, three at the most.
- To ensure that every student learns and understands the important ideas, teacher needs to review the two questions in a classroom discussion as closure to the entire lesson – once all students have completed the computer activity and written the two paragraphs.
About the Amida Buddha, 18th century
Among the pantheon of Buddhist deities in the Mahayana tradition, Amida is one of the most popular. He presides over the Western Paradise of the Pure Land ( Jodo in Japanese), where he is regarded as a savior who welcomes the dying with a promise of eternal life. This sculpture of Amida Buddha is made of Japanese cypress wood. A coating of lacquer (a varnish made from the sap of an eastern Asian tree. It is used to give a protective surface, especially to wood) appears under the tarnished gold surface. The eyes are crystal.
Some 600 to 700 years after Buddha's death, his followers wanted a painting or statue of him when they worshiped. However, by that time no one knew what Buddha had looked like. They did remember that at his birth a wise man predicted that this child would become a great man. The wise man had seen on the young infant 32 identifying marks, called lakshanas , which caused him to make the prediction. Based on these identifying marks, artists made and still make today sculptures of the Buddha. These identifying marks characterize both the Buddha himself and his teachings. Not all 32 identifying marks are visible on all images of Buddha, but the presence of three or four of these marks mean that the sculpture is that of the Buddha.
The Amida Buddha bears five of these identifying marks. In the center of his forehead is a raised bump, called the urna . His earlobes are long. The curls, which make up his hair, are tightly coiled like a snail, and his hair seems to be covering a lump on the top of his head. The lump is called the wisdom bump or ushnisha . The mole, the long earlobes, the tightly coiled curls and the wisdom bump are four of the identifying marks. The last is the position of the hands, the mudras. There are five well-recognized hand positions of the Buddha:
- “Don't' be afraid” - the raised open hand (palm of the hand outward).
- “Gift giving” - the lowered open hand.
- “Making a point” - the raised open hand with the thumb and first finger, making a circle.
- “Touching the earth” - the lowered hand (backside of the hand) pointing to the earth. This position indicates the time of Buddha's enlightenment.
- “Meditation” - the hands together with thumbs and fingers touching, as in the Amida Buddha sculpture. The hands are held in the lap and indicate quiet, deep thinking.
The Amida Buddha sits on a lotus throne in the characteristic yoga position. Behind him rises a flaming mandorla (the pointed arch shape surrounding him). The mandorla is a symbol of the radiant light that emanates from his body. He was originally covered in gold leaf.
Buddhism arose in an area bordering present-day India and Nepal . The historic founder of the faith was Shakyamuni, an Indian prince of the Shakya clan. He was called Siddhartha and lived about 556 – about 486 BCE . As a prince he was raised in luxury and trained to follow his father as ruler. However, as Siddhartha grew up, he became distressed by the suffering and poverty that he saw all around his kingdom. At the age of twenty-nine he renounced his inheritance and began to wonder in search of the meaning of life. He wandered throughout his kingdom for six years, listening to wise men and begging for food. Then he sat down beneath a shady bodhi tree and began to meditate. After sitting for forty days and nights through sun, rain, and storms, Siddhartha reached a state of deep understanding called enlightenment. Siddhartha was recognized for his revelations, and he became known and worshipped as the Buddha, which means “enlightened” or “awakened” one. Siddhartha spent the next 45 years as a teacher in the villages of North India and Nepal .
The three major doctrines of Buddhist thought are Hinayana, Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana. Mahayana centers on the cult of the bodhisattva , a being who devotes himself to helping others reach a state of peaceful awareness called enlightenment. Mahayana beliefs emphasize salvation through the mercy of the gods. Shakyamuni, according to Mahayana belief, is just one of the many manifestations of Adi-Buddha, the primal Buddha. As Mahayana belief spread into other areas, it incorporated local gods into its pantheon of deities. Its pantheon included Amitabha (Amida) - the Buddha of the Western Paradise , Avalokiteshvara – bodhisattva of compassion, Maitreya – bodhisattva of the future and Manjusri – bodhisattva of wisdom. The pantheon included female deities as well as male.
About Buddhism in Japan
In the sixth century Mahayana Buddhism was imported to Japan via China and Korea . There were a few initial conflicts with Shinto, Japan's native religion, but soon the two religions began to co-exist harmoniously and even complemented each other. In the Nara period (645- 794) Buddhist monasteries became very powerful politically, and this situation caused the government to move its capital elsewhere, to Kyoto in 794. In the 12th century two new Buddhist sects were introduced from China : the Tendai and the Shingon. The Tendai sect later branched off in turn into others. Among the most important of these Tendai off-shoots are the Jodo sect and the Zen sect.
The Zen sect became popular among the members of the military class, the samurai . According to Zen beliefs, one can achieve self-enlightenment through meditation and discipline. The Jodo sect, however, found followers among all different social classes, since its theories were simple and based on the principle that everybody can achieve salvation by strongly believing in the Buddha Amida. Its devotional imagery emphasized the compassionate and approachable aspects of Buddhist deities.