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Aryana Aziz

5/15/15
Ancient World
The Buddha of the East
Buddhism is a religion, created in India in the late sixth century that guides its
religious followers through a path of finding peace within oneself. This peace is a state of
happiness and enlightenment called nirvana. Buddha being the founder of the religion
created a way of reaching nirvana called the Four Noble Truths. These truths
communicate the idea of suffering, something that Buddha had never experienced until he
tried to reach nirvana. Buddhas struggle to reach this peaceful state of mind is shown
through various types of religious art. Statues, sculptures, and paintings display different
stages of his life and show him accepting the eternal truths of human behavior and life as
well. These representations including the Buddha of the East are commonly found in
museums around the world, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
The Buddha of the East demonstrates the eternal truth of embracing and overcoming our
suffering in the Ancient World.
The Buddha of the East reveals the eternal truth of embracing and overcoming our
suffering through it visual characteristics. This representation of Buddha was created in
the 11th century in Tibet. It is unknown who produced this source but the statue was
crafted out of gilt copper and it is 22 inches in height.1 In the statue, Buddhas two
hands show two different mudras. In Buddhism, mudras are positions of the body that
have an influence on the energies of the body or your mood. Buddhas two hands have

1 "Buddha Shakyamuni or Akshobhya, the Buddha of the East | Tibet." Buddha Shakyamuni or
Akshobhya, the Buddha of the East. accessed May 14, 2015. http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/thecollection-online/search/38646?rpp=30&pg=1&ft=buddha&pos=3&imgno=0&tabname=label.

two different mudras in the statue: the mudra of reaching enlightenment shown as an
earth touching gesture and a mudra representing teaching. According to the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, The earth-touching gesture alludes to his victory over the evil demon
Mara, who sought to disturb his meditation, and therefore his enlightenment.2 This first
gesture represents Buddha overcoming all of his suffering in order to achieve the central
goal of his life, which was reaching enlightenment. The second mudra represents
Buddhas teachings and according to Reverend Jnana, a teacher of Zen Buddhism, It
symbolizes one of the most important moments in the life of the Buddha, the occasion
when he preached to his former companions the first sermon after his Enlightenment, in
the Deer Park in Sarnath.3 This mudra represents Buddhas teachings about reaching
enlightenment after he overcame his suffering and has chosen to advise others about his
experience.
Not only do Buddhas mudras add to the eternal truth of overcoming and embracing our
suffering, but the characteristics of Buddha himself in the sculpture contribute to the idea
as well. Buddhas body has many symbolic marks such as the three rings on his neck
symbolizing auspiciousness, extended ear lobes representing princely wealth and
rejection of materialism, skull protuberance showing wisdom, forehead gem displaying
enlightenment, and his robes symbolizing his ascetic life.4 All of these different marks on
2 "Buddha Shakyamuni or Akshobhya, the Buddha of the East | Tibet." Buddha Shakyamuni or
Akshobhya, the Buddha of the East. accessed May 14, 2015. http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/thecollection-online/search/38646?rpp=30&pg=1&ft=buddha&pos=3&imgno=0&tabname=label.
3 "Mudras in Buddhism." Mudras in Buddhism. accessed May 14, 2015.
http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma7/mudras.html.

4 "Buddha Shakyamuni or Akshobhya, the Buddha of the East | Tibet." Buddha Shakyamuni or
Akshobhya, the Buddha of the East. accessed May 14, 2015. http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/thecollection-online/search/38646?rpp=30&pg=1&ft=buddha&pos=3&imgno=0&tabname=label.

Buddha represent the things that helped him overcome his suffering to achieve his goal.
His ascetic life gave him the focus he needed, his wisdom helped him overcome
temptation, his rejection of materialism drove him to achieve enlightenment, and his
auspiciousness gave him luck. These all added to the importance of the achievement of
his main goal of reaching enlightenment.
The Buddha of the East expresses the eternal truth of overcoming and embracing
our suffering through the time and place surrounding the production of the sculpture. At
this time in China and Tibet, Buddhism had gained popularity in China but this popularity
was almost immediately worn down due to economical problems with the dynasty of the
time period, the Tang Dynasty. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Buddhist
missionaries had begun the difficult journey from northern India to China, but it was not
until the Tang dynasty that Buddhism reached its height of popularity in China.5
Buddhist missionaries struggled on their journey to spread the religion but they overcame
their suffering through their determination and commitment to spread Buddhism to China
where it became very popular for some time. Though this action helped to spread the
religion, it was only at its height of popularity for some time. According to the
Independence Hall Association of Philadelphia, During the late Tang period the
economy was suffering and leaders attempted to eliminate Buddhism by closing
thousands of temples.6 The religion was suffering greatly as many people tried to
destroy it and Buddhism lost many followers as well, but the people overcame this period
of suffering and it is still a religion present in the world today.
5 "Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History." China, 5001000 A.D. accessed May 14, 2015.
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=06&region=ssh.

6 "Tang Dynasty The Golden Age." Ushistory.org. accessed May 14, 2015.
http://www.ushistory.org/civ/9d.asp.

While the time period of the creation of the sculpture contributes to the eternal
truth of overcoming and embracing our suffering, so do certain aspects of Buddhas life
and story. When Buddha began his journey to reaching enlightenment his saw four
encounters that showed him what it was like to suffer. He then realized that he wanted to
begin a new ascetic life. As he is leaving his kingdom, he is approached by the demon
Mara. According to the PBS documentary called Buddha, As he rode towards the citys
northern wall, he leapt high in the air. Mara, the temper God of desire was waiting.
Your are destined, Mara told him, to rule a great empire, go back and worldly power
will be yours. Siddhartha refused. There is no knowledge of one without sacrifice.7
Buddha is tempted greatly by Mara, the god of desire, but he was able to overcome his
suffering from temptation and continue with his mission to change his life and become an
ascetic. In addition, according to the psychiatrist Mark Epstein of the PBS film entitled
Buddha, "He has become like the top of the Great Himalayan Mountains; the weather is
passing over him, storms are raging around him, and he sits like the top of the mountain
impassive, totally aware of everything.8 Buddha remains still and calm through all of
the commotion that Mara is creating in order to disturb his meditation. He overcomes his
suffering from temptation and embraces it to motivate him to continue meditating until
enlightenment is reached. While Buddha was meditating under the Bodhi tree, he says,
Let my skin and sinews and bones dry up, together with all the flesh and blood of my
body! I welcome it! But I will not move from this spot until I have attained the supreme
and final wisdom."9 Buddha has endured many types of suffering on his path to reaching
7 "Story & Teachings." PBS. accessed May 14, 2015. http://www.pbs.org/thebuddha/enlightenment.
8 Ibid.
9 "Story & Teachings." PBS. accessed May 14, 2015. http://www.pbs.org/thebuddha/enlightenment.

enlightenment including starving himself, but he says that he welcomes all of these
misfortunes that he encounters because he will not move until he achieves the goal of his
life. He is willing to overcome all of his suffering in determination to fulfill
enlightenment. Overall, the elements of history from Buddhas story and life and from
the time and place surrounding the production of the source contribute to the eternal truth
of overcoming suffering.
Sacred texts from Buddhism such as the Four Noble Truths communicate the
eternal truth of overcoming and embracing our suffering. The Four Noble Truths state
four main ideas about the roots of suffering. These are: 1) Suffering is universal, 2) The
cause of suffering is desire, 3) The way to end suffering is to end desire, and 4) The way
to end desire is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path.10 According to historians R.H.
Robinson and W.H., The Third Truth affirms that there is a happy state free from
suffering. When craving ceases, suffering ceases.11 Once there is no desire there is no
suffering and once one overcomes the suffering from desire and temptation, there with be
no more suffering in life. In Buddhas Sermon at Benares, he says, He who recognizes
the existence of suffering, its cause, its remedy, and its cessation has fathomed the four
noble truths. He will walk in the right path.12 Buddha says that if one understands
suffering, they will lead a good life because knowledge of suffering shows how to
overcome suffering as well.

10 Gloria K. Fiero Medieval Europe and the World beyond. 2nd ed. Madison, Wisconsin: WCB Brown &
Benchmark Publishers, 1995.
11 "The Four Noble Truths." The Four Noble Truths. accessed May 14, 2015.
http://webserv.jcu.edu/bible/101/Readings/Buddhism/4NobleTruths.htm.

12 "Story & Teachings." PBS. accessed May 14, 2015. http://www.pbs.org/thebuddha/enlightenment.

Not only did Buddha learn how to overcome suffering in his life as an ascetic, but
he also learned how to embrace is to use for his own benefits. According to the
Britannica Encyclopedia, In these texts, the mental state of ignorance refers to an active
misconception of the nature of things: seeing pleasure where there is pain, beauty where
there is ugliness, permanence where there is impermanence, and self where there is no
self.13 The author here is referring to the Four Noble Truths as the texts. The texts show
that there is a new angle to anything that seems bad. Finding something where it is not
commonly found shows how to embrace any suffering or to look on the bright side of
things. The Noble Eightfold Path, another sacred text from Buddhism describes how to
end suffering and desire. One component of this is having the right thoughts. According
to BBC, Right Thoughts - to turn away from the evils of this world and to direct our
minds towards righteousness.14 Buddha turned his mind away from suffering and
created a narrow mindset for himself that would help him reach enlightenment and
eventually nirvana. He embraced the idea of suffering forcing him to create this mindset
that helped him achieve his goal.
Though the eternal truth of overcoming and embracing our suffering was
discovered by Buddha is the past, it is still alive in the world today. This idea about
suffering and pain brings up a common idea called resilience. Resilience is the ability to
recover quickly from any difficultness and in short it is being tough. Music, an important
aspect of any culture today, clearly communicates this message. One example of this is a
song called The Climb by Miley Cyrus. In the song, Miley says, Theres always
13 "Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia.
accessed May 14, 2015. http://academic.eb.com/EBchecked/topic/83105/Buddha.
14 "Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada." Four Noble Truths & Eightfold Path -. accessed May 14,
2015. http://www.bcc.ca/buddhism/fournobletruthsandeightfoldpath.html.

gonna be another mountain, Im always gonna wanna make it move. Always gonna be an
uphill battle, sometimes Im gonna have to lose.15 These lyrics says that things may get
hard at times and there will be obstacles in the way, but you have to get through it even if
sometimes it is difficult. The main message of this song is that life is a climb, but the
view is great. Though there may be many struggles in your life, overcoming them leads
you to something much better.
Movies, another important part of culture in the 21st century, are greatly influence
by this idea of overcoming suffering and struggle as well. The movie Slumdog
Millionaire is a perfect example of this. The film is about a young teenager from
Mumbai, India, who becomes a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A
Millionaire? He is suspected of cheating in the game show and is arrested because he
knew all of the answers on the game show. While he is being interrogated, he talks about
the different events of his life that explain how he knew all of the answers. In India, the
term slumdog is used referring to someone who grew up in the slums of the country
where there is extreme poverty and harsh living conditions.16 This movie tells the story
of how a young man becomes so successful despite his incredible odds. This relates to
the eternal truth of overcoming suffering because while this teenager was struggling with
life in the slums of India, he gained knowledge that helped him win the game show and
prove that anything can happen. In general, both movies, music, and many other
elements of the 21st century contribute to the eternal truth of overcoming and embracing

15 ""The Climb" Lyrics." MILEY CYRUS LYRICS. accessed May 14, 2015.
http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/mileycyrus/theclimb.html.
16 "The Real Message of "Slumdog Millionaire"" Duke Today. accessed May 14, 2015.
https://today.duke.edu/2009/03/krishna_oped.html.

our suffering. This is important because it shows the cultural legacy of Buddhism as
Buddha himself.
In conclusion, Buddhism shows the eternal truth of overcoming and embracing
our suffering through art sculptures, history, sacred texts, and through cultural elements
of the 21st century. The statue of the Buddha of the East contributes to this idea through
Buddhas mudras and certain visual characteristics on the statue itself. The history of this
sculpture adds to this idea as well through the context of the time the source was
produced. The history of Buddhas life and story builds up the idea by means of his
many encounters with the demon Mara. The Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold
Path, two important sacred texts in Buddhism, describe how to end and overcome
suffering too. This central eternal truth of Buddhism has left a large legacy on the culture
of the world today, as many examples of it can be viewed through music, movies, and
more. The past, present, and hopefully future of the world have been marked by the
legacy of Buddha and Buddhism through the eternal truth of overcoming suffering, which
is an important message in life everywhere.

Works Cited
1. ""The Climb" Lyrics." MILEY CYRUS LYRICS. Accessed May 14, 2015.
http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/mileycyrus/theclimb.html.
2. "Buddha Shakyamuni or Akshobhya, the Buddha of the East | Tibet." Buddha Shakyamuni or

Akshobhya, the Buddha of the East. Accessed May 14, 2015.


http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/38646?
rpp=30&pg=1&ft=buddha&pos=3&imgno=0&tabname=label.
3. "Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia - Britannica Online
Encyclopedia. Accessed May 14, 2015.
http://academic.eb.com/EBchecked/topic/83105/Buddha.
4. Fiero, Gloria K. Medieval Europe and the World beyond. 2nd ed. Madison, Wisconsin: WCB
Brown & Benchmark Publishers, 1995.
5. "Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada." Four Noble Truths & Eightfold Path -.
Accessed May 14, 2015. http://www.bcc.ca/buddhism/fournobletruthsandeightfoldpath.html.
6. "Mudras in Buddhism." Mudras in Buddhism. Accessed May 14, 2015.
http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma7/mudras.html.
7. "Story & Teachings." PBS. Accessed May 14, 2015.
http://www.pbs.org/thebuddha/enlightenment.
8. "Tang Dynasty The Golden Age." Ushistory.org. Accessed May 14, 2015.
http://www.ushistory.org/civ/9d.asp.
9. "The Four Noble Truths." The Four Noble Truths. Accessed May 14, 2015.
http://webserv.jcu.edu/bible/101/Readings/Buddhism/4NobleTruths.htm.
10. "The Real Message of "Slumdog Millionaire"" Duke Today. Accessed May 14, 2015.
https://today.duke.edu/2009/03/krishna_oped.html.

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Aryana Aziz

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