Sculpture Image


– Buddhist Ritual of Sazen for Sacred Figures

Soon after Gautama Buddha left this world, sprang up the practice of sculpting Buddha’s image for the congregation to worship. This practice originated in India and was transmitted northeastward, toward China, Korea and Japan. Similar image-sculpting and worship rituals also spread to the southern Asian regions. Sazen means moral and just conduct that a believer performs for Buddha, but it also includes sacred rituals. Rituals consist of incense burning and the offering of flowers and chants. In the countries where Buddhism was adopted, sacred images were created with great artistic diversification, using widely varied materials -- mud, stone, copper and wood -- while drawings and painted images were also popular. Rows and rows of stone-carved Buddha statues that were consecrated in cave temples, such as those found in Lung Mei, Datong and other areas in China, and the wooden images created during the Tang Dynasty are the finest examples of Buddhist sculpture. Japanese Buddha images made of wood reflect the aristocratic aestheticism of ancient Japan.

Before Buddhism was introduced into Japan (early sixth century), the nation had its indigenous religion, which was later organized into Shinto (‘Shintoism’), or the Way of the Gods. Sculpted figurines of male and female deities were idolized and became the objects of worship at Shinto shrines. Most of the surviving deity figures date back to the Heian Period (ninth to 12th centuries) and later historical eras. Over the centuries, the deities that had been guarded in the deepest quarters of Shinto shrines found their way out. The austere and majestic air of the Shinto gods is yet another testimony to the depth of Japanese art, quite different from the skills exhibited in Buddhist statue sculpting.