Buddhism’s history began in the fifth century BCE with the birth of Siddhartha Gautama, the Historical Buddha, known as Shakyamuni in Sanskrit and Shaka in Japanese. Shakyamuni was a prince who shunned his luxurious life to pursue enlightenment. After trying extreme measures, he discovered that only a middle path between extremes would lead to his goal.
The Historical Buddha is a key source of worship and inspiration for Buddhists. In Japan, his story has played a central role since the religion’s arrival in the sixth century. Often he is shown flanked by two bodhisattvas, benevolent beings who help others reach enlightenment. Pairing Shakyamuni, symbolizing personal enlightenment, with Samantabhadra and Manjushri, symbolizing religious virtue and wisdom, respectively, reminded viewers that enlightenment was available to all.
Along with this trio, the Buddhist cosmology includes many other bodhisattvas, deities, and manifestations of the Buddha. This exhibition features several figures that hold great meaning in Japanese Buddhism.