March 17, 2016 by: Ben Heimsath

Deep in the Museum of Fine Arts, in a room devoted to Korea, there’s a row of cases with arts from the formative Goguryeo period. Many of these common objects, bowls, vessels, and figures are directly connected to worship. Three small images of Buddha are on display dating from the 14th Century or late Goguryeo period. The three figures, according to the accompanying text, depict the Sakyanumi Buddha, the Amitabha Buddha, and the Bhaisajyaguru Buddha.

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Introductions to Buddhism stress that Buddhists do not worship figures or images. Gazing on the image of the Buddha is a way of contemplating the qualities represented by subtle but powerful symbols such as hand gestures or facial expressions.

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With so many traditions and branches of Buddhism, it would take an expert to fully explain the spiritual importance of these three figures. However, the text offers some guidance, suggesting the trio represents the Past, Present, and Future. The middle figure, the Amitabha Buddha, is commonly called the Buddha of Boundless Light. He presides over the celestial realm where enlightened beings reside. The Bhaisajyaguru Buddha is the medicine Buddha represented by the bowl in his hand offering spiritual as well as physical healing. Sakyanumi Buddha is the historical Buddha, who by tradition was a young prince who rejected a life of luxury to attain enlightenment and then shared his knowledge with the whole world.

Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet St, Houston, Texas

Liturgical Arts