Untitled item 66245cd30452c2b1fc0e08fb

Untitled item 66245cd30452c2b1fc0e08fb

An item at Art Institute of Chicago

Buddhism and Buddhist Art

An exhibit at Art Institute of Chicago

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One of the world's major religions, Buddhism has inspired an immense amount of art. Much of it directs our attention toward meditation and toward the life and teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni ("sage of the Shakya clan"). In the 5th century BC, his exposure to profound human suffering prompted his transformation from the sheltered Prince Siddhartha into an enlightened being and teacher. He preached a code of moral conduct to escape the cycle of pain and rebirth. Upon the Buddha's passage into nirvana, his followers placed his remains in large hemispherical mounds (stupas) that were adorned with stories of his life. Examples of such narrative sculptures can be seen in this gallery, including The Birth and First Seven Steps of the Buddha on the adjacent wall. Buddhism spread from its early centers in eastern India through the northwestern Gandharan region (present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan), into Central Asia and China, Korea, and Japan. It grew in complexity and scope, influencing the art and iconography of these regions. From the 3rd century BC, the religion expanded southward to Sri Lanka and, eventually, across the seas to the rest of Southeast Asia. When Buddhist monasteries and universities were destroyed in eastern India around the 12th century, monks migrated northward into Kashmir and Tibet, carrying with them sacred scriptures and images. The life story and representations of the Buddha have continued to evolve as they now inspire veneration across the globe.