Daibutsu ("Great Buddha") of Kamakura, Japan

There are hundreds of variations of Buddhism throughout the world, with the Jodo, or Pure Land sect being most popular throughout East Asia, especially Japan. The Great Buddha of Kamakura is a representation of the Pure Land sect’s Amida Buddha – the Buddha of Boundless Light. The huge statue is located in Kotoku-in, a Buddhist temple in Kamakura, Japan, far to the west – supposedly reflecting the belief that the Lord of Pure Land Buddhism lies in the far west.

Back view

The Daibutsu (literally “great Buddha”) was fashioned over the span of twelve years by the sculptors Ono Goroemaon and Tanji Hisamoto in about 1252. The sculptors were commissioned by the temple priest Joukou to replace a wooden statue of the Buddha. Originally, the Great Buddha was housed in a wooden building, but it was washed away in a tsunami in September of 1498. Ever since, the Buddha has stood exposed in the elements, perhaps the sole reason for its green color. The statue was made to last, being fashioned from 30 large pieces of bronze – the green color is the result of oxidation.

Today, we are unsure of exactly how the statue was fashioned, though we do know it is an amazingly sophisticated technique. Originally it was covered in gilt which wore off with time and exposure- if one looks closely, the gilt is still visible in the Buddha‘s ears. The Buddha is about 13.35 meters high, weighing about 93 tons and is hollow. Guests of the temple are allowed to climb inside – at one point the Kotoku-in temple was abandoned and a beggar actually lived inside!

Close-up of face- note the ears, third eye and the bump on his head

The hair of the Buddha is represented in exactly 656 small spiral curls (Buddha must always have this many), an allusion to a legend of Prince Siddhartha (the founder Buddhism), who pulled his hair into a top knot and cut it away.After the cut, his hair spiraled into fine curls and he never needed to cut his hair again. The small bump on his head symbolizes the Buddha’s all-knowing mind and fully developed chakra, or energy. The third eye on his forehead represents Buddha’s all-seeing eye, which is made of pure silver; the elongated ears represent the Buddha as all-hearing. His hands are in a meditation position, one which is specific to the Amida Buddha.

Takeji Asano - 1948

I chose this statue because of it’s important cultural and spiritual significance – it is considered one of Japan’s National Treasures, with tourists and pilgrims flocking to it constantly. It has been around for centuries and people have been inspired by it for just as long. Rudyard Kipling composed and poem about it, and numerous artists ancient and current have depicted it throughout the ages (see prints).

Hisashi Tenmyouya - 2001

Personally, I think it’s a very beautiful image – even being imperfect with its stains and green skin. It inspires peace in my mind, when I view it I want to take a moment to stop and just….. breathe.