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Bodhisattva, probably Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin), Northern Qi dynasty, c. 550-60, Shanxi Province, China, sandstone with pigments, 13-3/4 feet / 419.1 cm high (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • leaf grey style avatar for user Shlomo Fingerer
    "A Bodhisattva is defined @ as an "enlightened being" who has chosen not to achieve "nirvana". & instead to pursue somehow enlightenment which is the release of "sensara/the cycle of rebirth, for all sentient beings." Do you have the context/background to understand the foreign concepts & words? Please share your knowledge! 1) What does "nirvana mean/symbolize? 2)What does "enlightenment" mean/symbolize? 3)Why is the cycle of rebirth/Sensara something undesirable? 4)Through what mechanism is a Bodhisattva able to achieve for the rest of sentient beings release from "sensara"? 5)Why wouldn't someone who achieved "nirvana" be able to help release others from "sensara"? 6)Is someone that achieved "nirvana" necessarily a "Buddha"?
    (12 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Adrian
      1) Nirvana is going back to the source, the energy, the creator, god, the supreme consciousness, however you want to call it, hence escaping the cycle of re-birth.

      2) Enlightment means finding the answers to all the big questions of humanity and existance through meditation / spiritualiy: Understanding the existance, understanding your purpose on this earth, what is god, how you relate to him, how to become the most perfect version of yourself on a spiritual plane, leaving all that is material behind since when you die all material stays here, etc...

      3) The cycle of re-birth is undesirable because on this plane, because of its meterial, physical nature, we are meant to suffer, to experience pain, hunger, limits. But we must learn from this in order to become enlightened and free ourselves from all this.

      4) I have no idea. But I guess a Bodhisattva can help other people by sharing knowledge with them and helping them become more and more wise until reaching enlightment.

      5) Someone who reached nirvana is obviously dead in the physical realm so he/she cannot comunicate or pass his knowledge to someone on this universe of ours unless that someone is already enlightened because if you're enlightened you already know how the universe works and have no limits.

      6) As the other person who answered said, Buddha is a name. So if you or me achieve nirvana people would still call us by our names in this world although we wouldn't exist anymore in it. And of course on the other side we wouldn't have a body since a body is material so it belongs only to this world. I'm sure though there must be a word to describe all those who reach nirvana.

      All the answers I've given are of course rudimentary knowledge since I'm not a buddhist although I know some things about it thanks to my father who studied a bit this religion. There must be of course much more to this philosohpy. If an expert would answer I'm sure he'd say it's too complicated to answer on a post. But it gives you an idea of what you're dealing with here :) I hope it helps.
      (25 votes)
  • piceratops tree style avatar for user Amat Karum
    I am just now realizing how ignorant I'm about Buddhism. If they don't have a god, does it means that all Buddhists are atheists? Or can someone be at the same time a Buddhist and a Christian, or Muslim?
    (6 votes)
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    • aqualine seedling style avatar for user Rachel Coburn
      Some branches of Buddhist thought hold that the Buddha was not God, and that there is no requirement to believe in God to become a Buddhist. Instead, Buddha simply preached the renunciation of desire and suffering that come from an egocentric existence, and those who merely practice the exercises of the Buddha are Buddhist In other words, Buddhism is something you do, not necessarily something you believe.
      Now, this is not the only school of thought - remember, Buddhism is around 2500 years old, and has roots in a religion a thousand years older than that (Hinduism). But I have know many practitioners of Buddhism who were atheist, or whose faith was Christian, Jewish or Islamic.
      (8 votes)
  • purple pi purple style avatar for user Jonathan Williams
    (at ) Is avoiding Nirvana, like Bodhisattva, something that can be comparable to martyrs of Christianity?
    (4 votes)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Gaugoli
    How much is known about the history of this particular statue? How did it pass from being in a temple to a museum? How did it get damaged? Was it 'lost' and 'rediscovered'? Or was it in continual use in the temple until it was sold to an art collector or museum?
    (3 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user FinallyGoodAtMath
      You are asking about this statue's provenance--the term in art historians use for the history of the ownership of an object. Art historians always ask about the provenance of a piece because it helps authenticate an object. Tracing and documenting ownership also helps to make sure the object wasn't stolen.

      All I can find about this statue's provenance is from the Metropolitan Museum's website. The object's accession number indicates it was acquired by the museum in 1965.
      (5 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user John
    If this statue is dated to c. 550-60, why is it in the section labeled "- 400 C.E. Ancient Cultures?" Is it more stylistically related to ancient works than medieval works?
    (5 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user JJ Kim
      Actually, 400 CE means 400 Common Era, and is a replacement for AD. Before Common Era would be BCE.

      I think it's only here and people generally see nonwestern art as primitive and not advanced, a view that's been influential within the past two hundred years. However, those opinions are breaking down.
      (1 vote)
  • blobby green style avatar for user ciannibenson17
    When was this sculpture made? I'm doing a report on this and I can't find out when it was made.
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf blue style avatar for user Sarah
    The name of this figure is Guanyin. Isn't that a name of the female side of Buddha? Is this figure female?
    (1 vote)
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  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Curtis Toone
    What if the path of a Bodhisattva is a better path? Why is nirvana the goal? Why have this earthly experience and then shun our corporeal element? This doesn't make sense to me. A better path to me seems to include both our corporeal and spiritual elements combined.
    (3 votes)
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    • female robot grace style avatar for user Grace Broadwell
      Curtis, you make a great point. The ancient Greek philosophers also believed in a duality of mind/body, spiritual/earthly. The early Christian church fought against this tendancy, which was known as the heresy of Gnosticism. The Judeo-Christian tradition contains NO concept of shunning our corporeal element. The incarnation of Jesus Christ, who was both fully God and fully man, is seen by Christians as the ultimate affirmation of the body.
      (2 votes)
  • starky ultimate style avatar for user Sojourn Soulman
    How would they go about building this?
    (2 votes)
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  • starky seed style avatar for user Jared Stevens
    What happened to the periods before this? Northern Wei? And before that?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

SPEAKER 1: We are here at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, looking at a monumental sculpture of a Bodhisattva. So, Buddha is the main figure we often see. And there are many Buddhas in Chinese Buddhist art. There's the historical Buddha, but lots of other figures. And then there are also Bodhisattvas, and that's what we're looking at. And one of the main ways you can distinguish them is that the Bodhisattva's often heavily adorned, like this figure is. SPEAKER 2: A Bodhisattva is an enlightened being that has chosen not to pursue nirvana, but to remain with ties to the earthly realm and secure enlightenment, or release from Samsara, which is the cycle of rebirth for all sentient beings. So Bodhisattvas are seen as beings of compassion. SPEAKER 1: So they've decided to forgo nirvana and be here for us, for a regular people, to help us to achieve or own nirvana. SPEAKER 2: And they're shown to have these worldly ties through their princely garb. The iconography of a Buddha is shown in monk's garb, having relinquished all ties to the earth, all ties to material things. So you see the Buddha with the elongated earlobes and the jewels removed. Here we see a Bodhisattva in princely robes and heavily adorned with valuable jewels, showing their connection still to the earth. SPEAKER 1: What's funny is that this is the Bodhisattva of compassion. And yet, I don't feel a lot of identification with it. It's very frontal, it's very symmetrical and severe and kind of abstracted. And it feels very distant, in that way. SPEAKER 2: There is a solemness and a serenity, but there's also a haughtiness to the facial expression of this image. SPEAKER 1: Exactly. He must be about 15 or 20 feet high. And I imagine it stood in a temple complex. SPEAKER 2: Yes, it's huge and frontal, so perhaps it was the main image for worship in its original location. SPEAKER 1: And often, these kinds of figures would be shown in groups within a temple. And this one is so large that it 's likely that it was the main figure. SPEAKER 2: Often, Bodhisattvas are shown flanking Buddhas. And they'll have the weight on one foot, turning towards the Buddha that they're flanking. And this image is presented frontally, and often this Bodhisattva is attributed to being Avalokiteshvara, Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of compassion. The most popular Bodhisattva for worship in China under Mahayana type of Buddhism. SPEAKER 1: One of the ways we would normally identify a Bodhisattva figure, since there are many Bodhisattvas representing different ideas, is by what they're holding. But unfortunately, this sculpture, being from the sixth century, has suffered a lot of damage and its hands are no longer with it. And so we don't know what it held in its hands. SPEAKER 2: Right, we don't know what the attributes may have been. And Avalokiteshvara, Guanyin in China, often has the Buddha Amitabha in the crown. And that's an attribute that distinguishes it and makes it clear that the iconography is Avalokiteshvara. But here, the Buddha image is not there. It's more of a floral crown. So there is some uncertainty over which Bodhisattva this actually is. SPEAKER 1: It's interesting how much we can tell about it, but how much of it is still really in dispute by scholars. And the styles of art that we see in art history are so often connected to the historical circumstances, often politics, the government. And we know that the period just before this was called the Northern Way, which had a really different style. SPEAKER 2: Yes, what happened is in the Northern Way, the style that was predominant was weightless and very linear. Important examples can be found at the cave temple complex of Yungang, where in cave six you would see a Buddha or Bodhisattva image that shows no attention to the body form, but a lot of attention to the folds and line of the drapery. And the shapes are weightless. SPEAKER 1: So that period known as the Northern Way is about 50 years before this, and is a relatively stable time in parts of China-- SPEAKER 2: Particularly in the North, absolutely. SPEAKER 1: --and then a period of political upheaval follows. SPEAKER 2: And the two strong dynasties that emerge in the north are the northern Chi in the east and the northern Chou in the west. And this is a very interesting Bodhisattva example, when you're thinking about that time period. There are some characteristics here that really indicate the northern Chi, but others that indicate the northern Chou. And granted, there's a lot of overlap between the styles of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that come out of these two dynasties. One thing is this incredible opulence in terms of the drapery and the jewelry details that are often associated with the northern Chou. The other aspect that is northern Chou is the really square shape to the face, the block-like features. Both the northern Chou and the northern Chi broke in from this Northern Way aesthetic of weightlessness, and show the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas with a lot of three-dimensional and geometric form. SPEAKER 1: This figure is anything but weightless. SPEAKER 2: Absolutely, and you can see it's monumental and columnar. But it has this weight and volume. We're looking at it the way that it would have been viewed in the temple. We would be looking up at it. And that's why the head is so oversized. SPEAKER 1: So the artist would have wanted to make sure we could really see the head. SPEAKER 2: Yes. SPEAKER 1: And from far below, one way to do that is to enlarge the head. SPEAKER 2: And looking at the facial features in particular, there is a head at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that is from Xiangtangshan, a northern Chi site in China. And if you compare this head, you can see that this is much more block-like. But when you look at the lips and the eyes and other aspects of the facial features, there is a similarity. SPEAKER 1: So we're really talking about dynasties, different historical periods, and different regional styles emerging in different places. And art historians really needing to study each of those places and the art that emerges. And then comparing and contrasting to date and to locate a lot of these early figures. SPEAKER 2: Buddhism had only come to China a few years earlier from India, and in that a few years, the styles the developed for Buddhist art are really dependent on those different regions and the different dynasties. And therefore, there's so much change going on. And this is an interesting example of that because we see here, this very abrupt break with the weightless, linear aesthetic of the Northern Way to this much more volumetric, massive form that is associated with the northern Chi and the northern Chou. The source for this change is often identified as Gupta in India. Sensuous Gupta style. SPEAKER 1: It's really a puzzle-- SPEAKER 2: It is. SPEAKER 1: --in so many ways. So many questions. One thing we know for sure, because we can see the residue here, is that the sculpture was painted. And probably painted many times to keep the color vibrant over the years. SPEAKER 2: What we're looking at is probably remnants of Ming dynasty painting, maybe 16th century, but it would have been originally painted as well. SPEAKER 1: So it's important to imagine it in its original context, within a temple, sensuously painted. And in that kind of religious spiritual context. SPEAKER 2: Yes, in a much darker environment, as well. And surrounded by other sculptures and paintings.