Seated Buddha Expounding the Dharma, Late Anuradhapura period (750–850), late 8th century
Copper alloy; H. 10 1/2 in. (26.7 cm)
Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, The Vincent Astor Foundation Gift, Acquisitions and 2008 Benefit Funds, and John Stewart Kennedy Fund, by exchange, 2009 (2009.60)
This is among the finest of the early bronze Buddha images surviving from first-millennium Sri Lanka. The style is closely associated with the Buddhist kingdom of Anuradhapura, where great monastic complexes (mahaviharas) prospered, and communities of monks, both Hinayana and Mahayana, expounded the Buddha's teachings. This Buddha is seated in a meditative yogic position, gesturing the imparting of Buddha-dharma with his raised hand (vitarkamudra). The torso is erect and the chest full of breath (prana), signifying the presence of inner life, and the naturalism of the form, aided by the use of inlay (probably rock crystal) in the eyes, adds to the realism. The distended earlobes and the hair, raised in a series of tight curls as textually prescribed, evoke the memory of the Buddha's renunciation, when he cut off his hair and gave away his princely adornments. The flame-shaped head protuberance (ushnisha) is one of the principal auspicious marks of Buddhahood (lakshanas), here denoting his enlightened state. The Buddha wears a single robe, the uttarasanga, the untailored length of cloth worn by monks, drawn tautly around the body to create a highly animated surface rippling with energy beneath the rhythmically articulated folds. The robe is worn off the right shoulder, in the "southern manner" of Sri Lankan Buddhism.