Stele with Buddha Dipankara (Randeng), Northern Wei dynasty (386–495), dated 489–495
Shanxi Province, China
Sandstone with pigment; H. 12 ft. (365 cm)
The Sackler Collections, Purchase, The Sackler Fund, 1965 (65.29.3)
The inscription on the back identifies the Buddha at the front as Dipankara, one of the Buddhas believed to have lived before the Historical Buddha Shakyamuni. He is attended, at the left, by a group of small figures wearing the clothing of the Xianbei, the non–Han Chinese peoples who ruled as the Northern Wei dynasty, and, at the right, by another standing figure. The latter may be a representation of a youth named Sumedha (or Sumati or Megha), the Buddha Shakyamuni in a past life, who visited the Buddha Dipankara and was so moved by the latter's enlightened state that he offered flowers to him and spread his hair on the ground to prevent Dipankara from walking in the mud. The imagery of this large sculpture illustrates the promise of enlightenment, or the possibility of enlightenment in the future. In Buddhism, the development of this advanced spiritual state is the goal of all practitioners.
The inscription also provides a date in the nineteenth year of the Taihe period, which is equivalent to 495. There is an additional inscription on the left side that gives a date of 489. The combined dates provide rare documentation for the construction of this work over a period of six years.