Spreading the Word: Buddhist Art in Japan

May 18, 2018 – November 4, 2018

Freer Gallery of Art
Jefferson Drive and 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC

Gallery 7 Floor Plan

For centuries after the Historical Buddha’s death, his followers continued to share his teachings, the dharma. Crossing land and sea, disciples, monks, and pilgrims carried the dharma from its origins in India across Asia. Even before the teachings were in written form, the talks and sermons of these charismatic messengers planted the seeds of Buddhism in distant cultures. Over a thousand years later, in the sixth century, monks from Korea and China brought the dharma to Japan.

This exhibition highlights a few of the devout Buddhists who were revered for their roles as teachers, scholars, and patrons of Buddhism in Japan. Among them is a prince who was later worshiped as an incarnation of a bodhisattva. These religious leaders also include priests who journeyed vast distances to seek great teachers, to introduce Buddhist schools from China, and to express spiritual ideas through scholarship, calligraphy, and painting. Their movement across borders created particular synergy between Chinese and Japanese literature, art, architecture, and tea drinking, a practice that began in Zen monasteries to aid meditation.