Life Story of Buddha Shakyamuni
- 19th century
- Pigments on cloth
- Catalog Number
- C2006.66.164 (HAR 157)
- Rubin Museum of Art
- Gift of Shelley and Donald Rubin
This painting communicates the story of the Buddha’s life. The Buddha, the main subject, appears many times in difference scenes throughout the painting in a visual convention known as continuous narration. The composition is mapped around the central figure of the Buddha situated in a landscape that serves as a setting for the scenes. The events proceed from the top center in a clockwise direction around the central figure, concluding in the upper-left corner.
The episodes of his life closely correspond to the traditional recounting of the Buddha’s great achievements recorded in The Praises to the Twelve Deeds of the Buddha, the eleventh-century text translated from Sanskrit in the Tibetan Buddhist canon. The events include the breadth of the Buddha’s actions undertaken in the mind as well as in physical body—from the decision to be reborn and miraculous conception to the renunciation of princely life, practice of austerity, awakening, teaching, and passing away.
Ritual informs the structure of religious life in the Himalayas, defining the daily routine of practitioners and shaping a range of community-based activities.
In Himalayan cultures religious merit is the overarching reason for creating, commissioning, dedicating, and using religious works of art.
Religious rituals and the commissioning of art can serve everyday secular needs, the most common being wealth, health, and long life.
Tantric practitioners strive to transform themselves by using meditative and ritual tools with the ultimate goal of enlightenment or awakening.
Instructive paintings can illustrate religious doctrines, medical and astrological charts, or images of ritual implements and meditative postures.