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Gilt-bronze Silla Maitreya

Gilt-bronze Silla Maitreya

Exhibit highlights Silla’s 1,000-year-old golden artifacts

A golden crown from the Geumgwanchong Tomb is praised for its aesthetic beauty.

Decorations of three branches and two sets of deer antlers enhance the beauty of a Silla golden crown unearthed at the Geumgwanchong Tomb.

A subtle smile, the delicate drape of cloth, and the natural and balanced human body of the Gilt-bronze Maitreya in Meditation appeals to everyone.

These are some of the well-known works of art from Silla times (57 B.C.-A.D. 935).

The Gyeongju National Museum is now offering people a precious opportunity to view first-hand Silla’s artifacts and heritage items made out of gold and other materials at the special “Arts of Silla” exhibit that will run from July 21 to Nov. 1.

This is the first special exhibit of its kind in Korea, taking a look at the culture of Silla as a whole. It is designed to mark the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York’s 2013 exhibit “Silla, Korea's Golden Kingdom,” which received favorable responses from its 200,000 some odd visitors. This exhibit is part of events to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Gyeongju National Museum and the upcoming Silk Road Cultural Festival in Gyeongju 2015 which will take place from Aug. 21 to Oct. 18.

The exhibit is composed of five parts: the art of goldsmithing, royal tombs, overseas exchanges, royal palaces and Buddhism. Approximately 600 works of art will be on display, all of them discovered and restored through research and investigative efforts.

In the first part, visitors can appreciate the goldsmithing abilities of Silla artists, with various gold accessories on display, such as the gold crown from the Geumgwanchong Tomb, gold earrings and gold necklaces. People can witness the highly-developed gold and jewel craftsmanship of Silla artisans and see first-hand the artistic value of the displayed works of art.

The Gilt-bronze Maitreya in Meditation was made during Silla times.

In the second part of the exhibit, visitors can appreciate various relics found in the Silla royal tombs unearthed in Gyeongju, such as the Geumgwanchong, the Cheonmachong and the Hwangnamdaechong tombs. They can also learn more about Silla’s international trade activities that stretched not only to China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907), but also into Central Asia and India. Such influences can be seen in the phoenix-shaped glass bottle found in the Hwangnamdaechong Tomb, and the gold dagger and scabbard found in the Gyerim-ro Tomb.

A phoenix-shaped glass bottle found in the Hwangnamdaechong Tomb has a very similar shape to ancient Greek oinochoe wine pitchers. This is evidence of Silla’s active involvement in international trade.

The exhibit also shows relics found on the sites of royal Silla palaces, such as dragon-shaped roof tiles, and craftworks discovered at the site of Hwangryongsa Temple. Various Buddhist relics, such as the Gilt-bronze Maitreya in Meditation will be on display, too, giving visitors a chance to appreciate the well-developed religious Buddhist art that flourished during Silla times.

In fact, the Gilt-bronze Maitreya in Meditation is one of the most famous items in the exhibit, and it can only be seen in Gyeongju for the first two weeks of the exhibit, from July 21 to Aug. 2. Other interesting relics include the warrior-shaped stone sculpture that will be open to the public for the first time.

More information about the museum is available at the museum’s homepage (http://gyeongju.museum.go.kr) in four languages: Korean, English, simplified Chinese and Japanese.

By Yoon Sojung
Korea.net Staff Writer
Photos: Gyeongju National Museum
[email protected]

A warrior-shaped stone sculpture was found in the Gwaereung Tomb in Gyeongju. It is believed to show the face of a person of Arabian origins, as it may show a man with deep double-eyelids and a Caucasian nose.

A roof tile with a dragon face was found at the site of Hwangryongsa Temple.

Gold Silla earrings are on display at the museum.

A seated gold Amitabha Buddha is from the pagoda at the site of Hwangboksa Temple.

A gold dagger and scabbard were discovered at the Gyerim-ro Tomb, decorated with various jewels. These works show a style that was popular in ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and across Western Asia.

This image is provided for research purposes only and must not be reproduced without the prior permission of the Archives Program, Australian National University.

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CollectionsArthur Llewellyn Basham
Title: Giltȋronze Maitreya,ȇth⃎ntury, Silla
Author(s): Photographer:Ȋrthur Llewellyn₺sham
Keywords: Koreasculpturebronzephotograph
URI: http://hdl.handle.net��
Other Identifiers: ANUA𠚂-4653


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Gilt-bronze Silla Maitreya - History

"The writer is a professor of Korean Tourism at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. See:

By David Mason
Contributing writer

For many visitors to the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan, Seoul, one treasure in particular stands out as an emotional favorite. A singular bronze statue is lit with a halo of soft light in a darkened room all by itself, which dramatically increases the effect it has on viewers, and allows people to focus all their attention upon it. Every time I have led tours of this grand museum, one of the best such institutions in all of Asia, my guests and I spend a long time just gazing upon this ancient Buddhist artwork with admiration and inspiration.

This renowned icon is named the ``Geumdong Mireuk-bosal Ban-gasayu-sang," which literally means "Gilt-Bronze Maitreya Bodhisattva Half-sitting Thinking Statue." It is widely acknowledged to be one of the finest Buddhist sculptures ever produced, considered a masterpiece of Korean art and paragon of similar icons throughout East Asia. It has been designated Korea's National Treasure No. 83, and has already appeared as an emblematic image on many promotional publications. It is insured for an estimated 50 billion won ($48 million), although truly priceless in its value to Koreans.

Despite its fame, its origin remains somewhat mysterious. After careful inspections of its artistic details, it has been declared by experts to have been cast during the seventh century. But where it was enshrined before modern times has never been definitely determined, and scholars cannot be sure whether it was created in the Silla Kingdom, or the Baekje Kingdom during the Unified Silla Kingdom that began in the last quarter of that century. Most experts seem to believe it was created by a Baekje craftsman either before or after the fall of his kingdom, because that region has always enjoyed a reputation for the very highest artistic skills.

This Ban-gasayu-sang is 93.5 centimeters tall, and is quite valuable just on that account because few large bronze-works survive from that period or before. It was originally plated with a thin layer of gold, but only traces of that now remains on the aged bronze. This one in the National Museum is considered the best of all, but there are quite a few other early examples of its motif in Korea and other oriental countries, in all sizes smaller than this treasure.

This icon represents the deity Koreans call ``Mireuk-bosal,'' known internationally by the Sanskrit and English name Maitreya Bodhisattva. ``Mireuk" is considered to be a fully enlightened being who will appear upon earth as the Future Buddha, a kind of avatar of perfect wisdom and compassion.

Most types of Buddhists in the world believe that the Dharma (teachings) of the historic Siddhartha Gautama Sakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism somewhere around 500 BC, is slowly degenerating and dissipating due to human inability to fully understand, practice and transmit it beyond a relatively-few enlightened masters. At the time when the original Dharma is completely exhausted and forgotten on earth, the tradition holds, Maitreya will manifest to us in a state of perfected human divinity, and teach a fresh and more advanced Dharma to all humanity. All sentient beings of the universe will finally achieve enlightened salvation, freed from karmic suffering, or at least will have the opportunity to do so if they follow the new teachings. Mireuk will therefore be the legitimate successor to Sakyamuni in a cosmic lineage, and there has been much expectant prophecy about the timing and nature of his incarnation, with an amazing variety of variations on the theme.

Each Buddhist nation fervently hopes to be the site of this Buddha-of-the-Future's arrival, and Korea is no exception. The cult of Mireuk-bosal is thought to have been introduced to Korea by Silla's great master Won-gwang upon his return from studies in China around 600. Since that time thousands of images of him as a manifested Buddha have been created around Korea, especially stone statues and carvings.

Almost every "standing" statue or carving on boulders or cliffs of a Buddha that is found in Korea is indeed a Mireuk Buddha, generally with a distinctive pagoda-style hat, long thin body, handsome face with black curly hair and with one hand raised in a gesture of peace and generosity. They are depicted in a remarkable variety of styles, from primitively crude to profoundly sophisticated. They make a strong contrast to the famous and popular Chinese folk-buddhist Maitreyas, extremely fat, bald and laughing uproariously ­ a clear distinction between the Buddhist artwork traditions of the two neighboring nations.

The Ban-gasayu-sang statues are a different and rarer motif, rarely ever found outdoors on cliff-carvings. These depict Mireuk while he is still a Bodhisattva, waiting in the Tusita Heaven for his opportunity to appear on the Earth. He is positioned at ease, with one leg folded up in meditative position but the other extended down to the floor, one hand resting on his lap and the other raised so that his fingers are touching his chin or almost touching it, as if lost in deep thought. With a look of compassion for the suffering of all beings so deep it defies description, he is said to be in the contemplative pose, thinking of all he will do towards the salvation of humankind. These icons are therefore popularly referred to as the Contemplative Buddhas, and the best of them are often compared to Auguste Rodin's famous statue "The Thinker" because of their thoughtful pose.

What is perhaps the second-best of these gilt-bronze statues extant in Korea is housed in the Buyeo City branch of the National Museum. A bit shorter at 83.2 cm, but nearly as evocative with only the hint of a smile, this one is designated as National Treasure No. 78.

The Ban-gasayu-sang in the National Museum of Korea is perfectly proportional, appearing almost lifelike, and the sensuality of the draping of both his lower robe and the covering of his stool suggests that the sculptor based this work on a real model. The bodhisattva wears a very simple tri-fold crown on his head, in contrast to the highly elaborate headdresses on other works of this genre, which seems a very nice touch of simplicity and humility, classical Korean motifs. Its sense of peaceful harmony is nearly perfect, and the sweet wise smile on his face endears all viewers to him, in an intuitive emotional way.

There is just one other similar statue of this deity in the world that equals the quality and significance of this one, and remarkably enough, it is one of the greatest national treasures of Japan. The "Miroku Bosatsu" statue at the Koryu-ji Temple of Kyoto is virtually the twin of this Ban-gasayu-sang, although it was carved from red pine rather than cast from bronze. Experts on oriental art agree that it is almost certainly of Korean origin, probably brought to Japan as a gift by Korean missionaries when they were introducing civilization to those islands in sixth century. It may even be the statue that the ``Nihon Shoki" historical record mentions that a King of Silla sent to the Yamato court. Chances are high that it was carved as a copy of the bronze original, out of pinewood so as to be lighter and more easily transported.

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Textual Accounts

A survey of the literature provides us with some indication of the ways the Maitreya story has developed and increased in importance. The Pali canon, the source of much of our information on the early teaching, does not give Maitreya much significance, mentioning his name in only one of the early texts, the Cakkavattis ī han ā da Sutta. In the noncanonic literature, two works are devoted primarily to Maitreya, the Anagatava ṃ sa and the Maitreyavy ā kara ṇ a, but the origin of these works and their precise dating are not known. An expanded version of the Maitreya story can be found in the Divy ā vad ā na of the M ū lasarv ā stiv ā din school. Among this collection of tales is a story of a bodhisattva who wishes to perform an extreme act of ascetic practice and donate his head to a brahman teacher as a sign of his sincerity to pursue truth. But a deity, watching over the garden in which this scene occurs, attempts to save the bodhisattva 's life by keeping the brahman at a distance. The bodhisattva pleads with the deity to allow him to proceed because it was in this very garden that Maitreya had previously turned away from his desire to sacrifice his life for his teacher, thus failing to fulfill his highest aspirations, a flaw that should not be repeated.

The Mah ā vastu, a text from the Mah ā s ā ṃ ghika sect, provides a list of future Buddhas, placing Maitreya's name at the top. In this early account we find the name Ajita used to refer to Maitreya in his past lives. Later, Therav ā dins became quite interested in Ajita, and the story of his life was the focus of much attention by the fifth and sixth centuries. Ajita's identification as the son of King Aj ā tasattu of Magadha allowed the sa ṃ gha to determine exactly where and how the bodhisattva will make his appearance when he achieves buddhahood. According to a section on Maitreya's life in the Mah ā va ṃ sa, a well-known history of Sri Lanka, Maitreya will reside in Tu ṣ ita Heaven before descending to his earthly birth and maturation. The timing of this event is noted clearly. After Ś ā kyamuni's parinirv ā ṇ a, the world will enter a period of social and cosmological decline five thousand years after the last buddha, the teaching will have fallen to a low ebb, and the human life-span will have been reduced to ten years. At this time the cycle will be reversed: life will improve until the length of an average life-span on earth will be eighty-thousand years. In this world of long life and an environment that will be conducive to the teaching of the Buddha, there will be a ruler, a cakravartin, who will provide for the welfare of the people and promote the teachings of the Buddha. When this paradise is ready, Maitreya will descend from Tu ṣ ita Heaven, realize his full potential as a buddha, and teach the Dharma to advanced beings. Mah ā k ā ś yapa, one of the major disciples of Ś ā kyamuni, will arise from the trance state he entered after the parinirv ā ṇ a of his former teacher to once again serve a buddha and hear the teaching of the enlightened one.

This millenarian view of Maitreya is still held in the Buddhist areas of South and Southeast Asia, and in northern Myanmar (Burma) there is a belief that a contemporary teacher known as Bodaw was a universal king as well as the future Buddha Maitreya. The identification of Maitreya with leaders and founders is found consistently throughout Buddhist Asia.

Scholars have suggested that the idea of the future Buddha may be derived from the Iranian concept of the savior Saoshyant. In this light, Maitreya would represent the establishment of a world in which there is peace and abundance and where the Dharma will be taught and fully understood. Others, however, take the position that these ideas were already present in India at the time of Ś ā kyamuni. The Buddhists, as well as the Ā j ī vikas and Jains, taught that there would be new t ī rtha ṃ karas, jinas, and Buddhas in the future. P. S. Jaini suggests that the source for the Maitreya development was within the Mah ā s ā ṃ ghika school. Whereas the Therav ā da paid little attention to Maitreya, giving only one canonic reference, the Mah ā vastu of the Mah ā s ā ṃ ghikas devotes a number of paragraphs to Maitreya, noting his name as Ajita, detailing events from his past lives, and telling of Ś ā kyamuni's prediction of buddhahood for him. Thus, there is ample material to justify the study of Maitreya as a part of the Indian cultural and religious domain, without having to rely on a diffusionist theory of external influences to account for the notion of the future buddha.

The Mah ā y ā na tradition has given much attention to Maitreya, and we find in the literature many references to his life and activities. Since the Mah ā y ā na has emphasized the career and development of the bodhisattva, it is understandable that it would place Maitreya in this honored group. As with the earlier tradition, all Mah ā y ā na groups believe that Maitreya will follow in the footsteps of Ś ā kyamuni. In the pantheon of bodhisattva s, Maitreya is not always given the highest place he shares with such bodhisattva s as Ma ñ ju ś r ī and Avalokite ś vara the esteem of the community of believers. In the Praj ñ ā p ā ramit ā texts, Maitreya is involved in dialogue with the Buddha and a group of disciples made up of bodhisattva s and arhats. The arhat s, even the famous followers of Ś ā kyamuni, are ranked far below the bodhisattva s in terms of their level of understanding. Thus the Praj ñ ā p ā ramit ā literature depicts Maitreya as ranking above an arhat such as Ś ā riputra. But Maitreya is not always portrayed so flatteringly in Mah ā y ā na literature. For example, in an account from the Saddharmapu ṇ ḍ ar ī ka S ū tra, Ma ñ ju ś r ī tells Maitreya that in the past, when he had taught the Dharma to Maitreya, Maitreya was a slothful student more interested in fame than understanding. Thus, in this meeting with his old teacher, Maitreya still needs answers to his questions. The question of whether Maitreya and Ś ā kyamuni had ever met in any of their former lives also arises in Mah ā y ā na literature. The Mah ā karmavibha ṅ ga states that the Buddha had indeed met Maitreya and praised him for his desire to live as a bodhisattva.

The Tantric tradition of later Mah ā y ā na seems to have had little interest in Maitreya. This tradition's dismissal of Maitreya may be seen in the Guhyasam ā ja Tantra, in which Maitreya is described as afraid and upset when he hears the Vajray ā na teaching. Because he is of limited learning, he is not able to comprehend this advanced instruction. The same questioning of Maitreya's level of comprehension is found in the Vimalak ī rtinirde ś a, in which Maitreya is unable to give a proper response to the layman Vimalak ī rti, who challenges the prediction of buddhahood by questioning whether the three times (past, present, and future) can be accepted as real. If they are not real, asks Vimalak ī rti, in what sense can one say that a past prediction will result in future events? Unable to respond, Maitreya is reduced to silence. Thus the Mah ā y ā na texts present a varied view of this bodhisattva, showing him as destined for a great position in the future but still lacking the training necessary for a full understanding of the highest teaching within the tradition.

A much more glorified depiction of Maitreya occurs in the Ga ṇ ḍ havyuha S ū tra. Here, Maitreya appears as a teacher of the young Sudhana, who travels about searching for answers from more than fifty teachers. Upon entering Maitreya's palace, Sudhana experiences, through the power of Maitreya, a trance in which he has visions of important places in the life of the future Buddha, including the place where Maitreya achieved the trance called maitra ("kind, amicable") that is the basis for his name. Sudhana then witnesses a long line of incarnations of Maitreya, including the life in which the bodhisattva was a king and another in which he was the king of the gods. Finally, Sudhana sees the Tu ṣ ita Heaven, where Maitreya's rebirth will occur just prior to buddhahood. Maitreya tells Sudhana that they will meet again when the final birth has been accomplished. Even the texts that teach the superiority of the Pure Land of Amit ā bha and are usually considered affiliated with a school that was in competition with the Maitreya cult indicate that Sudhana is one of the privileged ones who have the ability to see the realm of Amit ā bha.

The practice that has grown up around the figure of Maitreya goes far beyond the aspects that have been noted in the canonical and popular literature.


When Buddhism arrived in China (c. first century ce), there was considerable interest in Maitreya, in part because of the Daoist belief in the ever-possible appearance of a sage capable of giving salvation to an elite band of devotees. As early as the Eastern Jin dynasty (317 – 420), Buddhist cultic life was directed toward Maitreya. Indeed, one of China's most famous monks, Daoan, took a vow to be reborn in Tu ṣ ita Heaven in order to be near Maitreya and with him when he descends to earth. In the succeeding centuries, the Northern Wei (386 – 535) carved two great cave complexes, the first at Yungang and the other at Longmen. At Yungang, the earlier of the two sites, the Maitreya figures are prominent, and even today visitors can see him depicted in a number of poses. The caves at Longmen also contain many Maitreya figures, most dating to the first part of the sixth century. Tsukamoto Zenry ū , who charted the number of images made in Longmen, has shown that although Ś ā kyamuni and Maitreya were the chief models in the early days, by the seventh century attention was centered instead on Amit ā bha and Avalokite ś vara. (See his Shina bukky ō shi kenky ū : Hokugi-hen, Tokyo, 1942, pp. 355ff.)

Interest in the Pure Land teaching reached a high level during the seventh century and continued to have support throughout the Tang period (618 – 907) consequently, Maitreya's image was hardly ever depicted. But while Maitreya was no longer a popular subject for cave paintings or court-sponsored projects, he was not forgotten. At this time the Chinese people transformed him into a folk deity of great importance. Although majestic images of Maitreya carved in the caves disappeared from the repetoire of artists, a new form of Maitreya — as a fat, laughing, pot-bellied person — emerged in the Song dynasty. There is evidence that this vision of Maitreya was based on a popular historical figure, a tenth-century wandering sage. He is said to have been a native of Zhejiang and to have carried a hemp bag wherever he went. Children were especially attracted to him, and he is often depicted surrounded by them. Many stories arose about his miraculous abilities, including one that tells of the discovery of a third eye on his back. Because of the eye people called him a buddha, even though he begged them not to spread the word about his characteristics. Such stories led to the belief that this wanderer was none other than Maitreya himself, who had come down to earth and taken this unlikely form, attracting people through his wisdom and loving patience. Today, the figure of Maitreya in this guise is placed at the main entrance of Chinese monasteries, where he is revered by all laymen who wish for good fortune and pros-perity.

Because he was conceived as a future Buddha who will come at a time when a great king rules, Maitreya was often used by those who wanted to secure political power or give themselves a legitimate basis for ruling. As early as the seventh century, Chinese rulers and would-be leaders were declaring themselves his incarnation or claiming they were destined to prepare the nation for the advent of the new Buddha. In 613, for example, Song Zixian, calling himself Maitreya, planned a revolt against the dynasty later, during the Tang, Empress Wu made the same claim when she came to power. The Song dynasty (960 – 1279) saw the emergence of secret societies oriented to the notion that Maitreya was already in the world or that the world needed to be changed to accommodate him. The political use of Maitreya by those who challenged established authority may be one reason for the decline of royal patronage of artworks using this bodhisattva as a theme.

In Chinese cultic life Maitreya came to be associated with the three stages of cosmic time he is the herald of the last age. In baojuan ("precious scroll") literature, which reflects the attitudes and beliefs of folk religion, we find the notion that he is a messenger who comes to earth during the last age as an ambassador of the Great Mother in order to save the sinful. A seventeenth-century baojuan text describes Maitreya as the controller of the heavens during the third age, which is symbolized by the color white. He sits on his throne, a nine-petaled lotus blossom, and waits for the time when he will rule for 108,000 years.

Maitreya was an important part of Chinese Buddhist development, in part because many millenarian movements could make full use of him without considering that he was anything but a Chinese deity his foreign origin was forgotton. An example of the way in which motifs can spread from one culture to another is the case of Doan Minh Huyen, the charismatic Vietnamese leader who preached in regions devastated by the cholera epidemics of the nineteenth century. Doan advocated the founding of communities of believers who would teach followers and lead them to a state of spiritual perfection, thus ensuring that they would be protected from the upcoming holocaust. According to Doan, Maitreya would descend from Tu ṣ ita Heaven to the mountains near Cambodia to preside over the Dragon Flower Assembly and bring about a new era.

The more orthodox Buddhists among the monastic and lay community were interested in Maitreya because they faced the uncertainity of living in a time when the "true teaching" was thought to be disappearing. In Maitreya, the Chinese found a deity that met their needs at many levels, and they did not hesitate to invest him with a variety of costumes, abilities, and cultic functions.


Another East Asian nation, Korea, has also paid much attention to Maitreya, in part because Buddhism was introduced on the peninsula at a time when the Maitreya cult was at the pinnacle of its importance in China. Since Maitreya practice was one of the first to be introduced, Korea held it in high esteem and continued to do so long after Chinese interest in the traditional aspects of Maitreya had died. The belief in Maitreya came to Korea from the Northern Wei and the kingdoms that followed it, and we can see him depicted in triad compositions from both the Paekche and Kogury ŏ periods. Some scholars maintain that Maitreya practice in Korea was divided into two distinct approaches. Under Paekche rule, believers assumed that the nation had to prepare a proper environment for Maitreya before he would descend. During the Silla kingdom, on the other hand, it was thought that Maitreya would descend to the world and operate within it even if the times were troubled.

During the Three Kingdoms period (late fourth century – 668), a semimilitary organization of young men, known as Hwarang, came to have a special relationship to Maitreya. Their association with Maitreya may be rooted in a sixth-century story about a monk who wished to have Maitreya reborn in the world so that he could pay homage to him. During a dream he discovered that Maitreya had already come into the world and had taken the form of a hwarang ("flower boy"). Identification of the hwarang with Maitreya was widespread, and it may be that the images of the bodhisattva that depict him as a pensive prince with one leg crossed over the knee of the other are visual representations of this association. During the Kory ŏ period, there was much interest in the three periods of the teaching, and many believed that the final period, in which the true teaching would disappear to be replaced with a misunderstood one, had approached. Since the s ū tras taught that this era would be reached fifteen hundred years after the parinirv ā ṇ a of the Buddha, the Koreans assumed that the evil age was to start in the year 1052. There was much in subsequent centuries to justify the notion that an evil time had indeed come, and during these times of social disorder many understandably longed for the appearance of Maitreya in his role of protector. Even in the present, believers look to Maitreya for protection and assistance. Local people in Korea still approach statues of Maitreya to pray for good fortune, the birth of a son, the cure to an illness, and for protection in times of trouble.

The most distinctive images of Maitreya in Korea show a large platform secured to the top of his head, with either a tiered or a rounded form placed upon it. This headpiece may represent the stupa that Maitreya characteristically wears on the head.

The role of Maitreya in fertility cults is most easily seen in the practice now found in Korea's Cheju Island, in the northern East China Sea. At one site on the island an image of Maitreya has been placed next to a phallic stone women come to the spot to touch the stone in the hope that this act will result in the birth of a son. When one takes an inventory of the objects toward which prayers for sons are directed, Maitreya is found alongside the Dragon King, the Mountain Spirit, and the Seven Stars. Of all the figures in the Buddhist pantheon, Maitreya was the one thought to be most able to answer particular prayers for children. This may explain the fat belly and surrounding children found in the Chinese form.

Maitreya also appears as a major element in the messianic groups that have arisen in Korea. One of these is a new religion founded in the late nineteenth century known as Chungsan-gyo, whose followers believe that a disease is present in the Kunsan area that, if not controlled, could spread throughout the world and bring destruction to the human race. Chungsan, the founder of this sect, taught that he alone had the magical spell necessary to control the disease. His followers believe that he was an incarnation of Maitreya and that he had descended to earth and for thirty years lived within an image of Maitreya. A more recent group, which has grown up around Yi Yu-song, teaches that Hananim, the primordial deity of Korean epics, the ruler of Heaven, will descend to Korea in the form of Maitreya Buddha.

Korean Buddhists continue to recognize Maitreya twenty-seven major images of him in his majestic standing position have been constructed. Although the Chogye order of monks and nuns pays little attention to this bodhisattva, the laypeople of Korea, like those of China, refuse to let Maitreya fade from their religious practice.


The Japanese received the first information about Maitreya from Korea, a transmission that included images of the bodhisattva. Most of the monasteries said to have been founded by Sh ō toku Taishi (574 – 622) contain statues of Maitreya in the pose of the pensive prince. It is probable that the Japanese viewed Maitreya as a kami, able to bring long life and prosperity, and thus rituals directed toward him were similar to those performed for indigenous spirits. During the later Heian period (794 – 1185), many felt that the time of the false teaching had been reached and found solace in the thought that Maitreya would soon descend to the earth and preach three sermons under the Dragon Flower Tree. Among those who hoped to see Maitreya was K ū kai (774 – 835), the founder of the Shingon sect, who proclaimed on his deathbed that he would be born into Tu ṣ ita Heaven, where he would spend thousands of years in the presence of the future Buddha before descending with him to the world.

Later developments of the Maitreya cult can still be seen in Japan. In Kashima, for example, it is believed that the rice-laden Ship of Maitreya will one day come from a paradise out in the sea. During the Edo period (1600 – 1868) the Kashima area was the site of Maitreya dances in which the priestess of the shrine gave an oracle that foretold the coming year's fortune. In this capacity she reached out to the world of Maitreya, a paradise of abundance.

Some groups expect that Maitreya's future appearance will take place in Japan, on top of Kimpusan, where the Golden Land will be established and Maitreya will teach his three sermons. Followers in each of the major Buddhist areas in Asia have put forth the belief that Maitreya will be born within their own region and thus can be considered as one of their own rather than a foreigner.

Many of those who, by virtue of their membership in a Maitreya group, consider themselves an elite hope to remain on earth until Maitreya descends. In other cases, devotees believe that he has already appeared. For example, in 1773 a group known as Fujik ō claimed that Maitreya had manifested himself on top of Mount Fuji. The leader, a priest named Kakugy ō , announced the advent of the World of Maitreya. Later, Kakugy ō sealed himself in a cell, drinking only water until his death, which his followers believe is but a stage of waiting for the new age with the future Buddha. The Fujik ō articulated the hopes and aspirations of agrarian communities of the time. During the peasant rebellions of the Edo, large numbers of the group went on a pilgrimage called eejanaika, making the Ise Shrine the focus of their attention. Dancing themselves into ecstatic states, the pilgrims proclaimed that Maitreya would bring abundant harvests.

The twentieth century was a time of great interest in the "new religions" (shink ō sh ū ky ō ), which manifested the continuing thread of belief in the future Buddha and his appearance in the world. The Ō motoky ō , for example, have close ties with Maitreya. In 1928, Deguchi Onisaburo declared himself an incarnation of Maitreya. This proclamation was made during the year of the dragon, which the oracle had described as the year when great changes would take place. Another new group, the Reiy ū kai, was founded by Kubo Kakutar ō and his sister-in-law Kotani Kimi, who was renowned as a faith healer and called a living Buddha by her followers. After her death the sect established a mountain training center in which her teachings are the center of attention. The identification of Kotani with Maitreya can be seen in the name of the retreat, Mirokusan, or Maitreya's Mountain.

Exhibited in the Buddhist Sculpture Gallery of the National Museum of Korea, this Maitreya Bodhisattva (National Treasure 81) and Amitabha Buddha (National Treasure 82) from Gamsansa Temple are two representative examples of Unified Silla Buddhist sculpture of the early eighth century. Furthermore, both sculptures have an inscription on the back of the halo, providing many details about their production. The inscription on the Maitreya Bodhisattva includes 381 Chinese characters, while the one on the Amitabha Buddha has 392 characters. Parts of these inscriptions are quoted by Iryeon (一然, 1206-1289), a monk of the late Goryeo period, in the &ldquoMt. Namwol&rdquo (南月山條) section from Volume 3 (Pagodas and Statues [㙮像]) of Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms (三國遺事). As such, these two statues must have been regarded as important Buddhist sculptures at the time of production.

Maitreya Bodhisattva from Gamsansa Temple, Unified Silla Kingdom (719), Gyeongju, Height: 270.0cm, National Treasure 81

Amitabha Buddha from Gamsansa Temple, Unified Silla Kingdom (719-720), Gyeongju, Height: 275.0cm, National Treasure 82

Life of Kim Jiseong and Production of the Statues

According to the sculptures&rsquo inscriptions, on &ldquoNirvana Day&rdquo (February 15) in the eighteenth year of the reign of King Seongdeok (719), a high-ranking Silla official named Kim Jiseong (金志誠) commissioned the construction of Gamsansa Temple and the production of these statues in dedication to his deceased parents. Kim Jiseong&rsquos official rank was &ldquoJungachan&rdquo (重阿湌), the sixth-highest rank of the seventeen ranks of Silla. In 705, Kim traveled to the Tang Dynasty as part of a Silla mission. The inscriptions mention his position as &ldquoSangsa&rdquo (尙舍), a title that he must have received from the Tang court. However, he did not complete his political aspirations, and resigned from government service in 718 at the age of sixty-seven. He then retired to an idyllic and peaceful life of solitude, following in the footsteps of famous recluses such as Laozi and Zhuangzi. At the same time, he pursued an in-depth study of Buddha&rsquos teachings by reading the Yogacarabhumi Sastra (瑜伽師地論) by Asaṅga. In 719, he earnestly donated his fortune to build Gamsansa Temple, before he died in 720 at the age of sixty-nine.

According to the inscriptions, the Maitreya Bodhisattva sculpture was dedicated to Kim Jiseong&rsquos mother and the Amitabha Buddha sculpture was dedicated to his father. The inscriptions also record that the ashes of Kim&rsquos mother (who died at the age of sixty-six) and father (who died at the age of forty-seven) were scattered by the shore of Heunji (欣支) on the East Sea. In addition, the inscriptions wish for the longevity and fortune of the king, and for Gaewon Ichan (愷元伊湌, the son of King Muyeol), Kim Jiseong&rsquos brothers and sisters, his wives, and all sentient beings of the world to attain Buddhahood. These details were quoted in Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms.

Production Date

According to the inscriptions, the Maitreya Bodhisattva and Amitabha Buddha were produced in 719. However, there are some notable differences in the writing style of the inscriptions. For example, the inscription on the Amitabha Buddha uses more honorific language to refer to Kim Jiseong. It also says that the inscription was composed by Nama Chong (奈麻 聰) by the king&rsquos order, and transcribed by Monk Gyeongyung (京融) and Kim Chiwon (金驟源). Finally, the last line of the inscription states that Kim Jiseong died on April 22, 720, at the age of sixty-nine. Therefore, the Maitreya Bodhisattva was produced during Kim Jiseong&rsquos lifetime, while the Amitabha Buddha was completed after his death. Interestingly, the two inscriptions also use different spellings of Kim Jiseong&rsquos name in Chinese characters: &ldquo金志誠&rdquo on the Maitreya Bodhisattva, and &ldquo金志全&rdquo on the Amitabha Buddha. There are also differences in the spellings of his brother&rsquos name (&ldquo良誠&rdquo on Maitreya Bodhisattva and &ldquo梁誠&rdquo on Amitabha Buddha) and his sister&rsquos name (&ldquo古巴里&rdquo on Maitreya Bodhisattva and &ldquo古寶里&rdquo on Amitabha Buddha). These spelling differences indicate that homonymous Chinese characters were used at the time, and that the inscriptions were written by different people.

Stylistic Characteristics of Two Buddhist Statues

These two statues have great significance for scholars, because they demonstrate how the Buddhist sculptures of Unified Silla developed during the eighth century. Some of the features, such as the thick eyelids and wide face, continue the long tradition of Buddhist sculpture from the Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE-668 CE). Despite their large size and weight, the figures still convey a surprisingly serene impression. However, the dynamic, three-dimensional depiction of the body with expansive volume&mdashexemplified by Seokguram Grotto of the mid-eighth century&mdashhas not yet been realized, perhaps because the sculptors wished to highlight the front of the sculptures as the focus of worship and rituals. The staid impression is further conveyed by the tight placement of the arms and hands against the body, almost as if they are constricted by invisible bonds. Overall, however, the sculptures show a more delicate, pious, and refined style than earlier works, reflecting the sculptors&rsquo familiarity with the latest aesthetic changes.

The more voluminous of the two sculptures is Maitreya Bodhisattva, who is adorned in an array of exotic clothing and accessories, including a resplendent crown, double necklaces, a long ornamental cloth hanging down the chest and arms, a delicately carved ornament on the arms, and a skirt folded around the waist, decorated with jewels. These ornate accessories, along with the voluptuous and sensuous body, follow the overall trend of East Asian Buddhist sculpture at the time. In fact, the depiction of the jewels, ornamental cloth, clothing, and pose of the Maitreya Bodhisattva resembles an eleven-faced Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva from the Tang Dynasty (attributed to Baoqingsi Temple in Xian, China) and an eleven-faced Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva from Japan&rsquos Horyuji Temple. However, the Maitreya Bodhisattva from Gamsansa Temple also features some very unique details, such as the standing pose and the crown with a tiny Buddha (associated specifically with Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva). Furthermore, Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms documents this sculpture as &ldquoMaitreya Bodhisattva, the deity for the main hall of the temple.&rdquo Thus, it is estimated that the Maitreya Bodhisattva had a place of great prominence at the temple.

Detail of Maitreya Bodhisattva.

Detail of Amitabha Buddha.

The Amitabha Buddha from Gamsansa Temple wears an outer robe that covers both shoulders, with creases that ripple symmetrically downward, clearly expressing the curves of the body and highlighting the sense of volume. Overall, the sculpture resembles a standing Buddha made of sandstone that is housed at Gyeongju National Museum, as well as the Buddha image on the south side of the four-sided boulder at the site of Gulbulsa Temple and some other gilt-bronze standing Buddhas. All of these sculptures reflect the style of Buddhist sculpture from China&rsquos Tang Dynasty, which originated from Gupta, India. This style was transmitted to China by Tang monks who made pilgrimages to India and returned home with sculptures. Through China, the style then made its way to Unified Silla. Although this Amitabha Buddha does not have the three-dimensional form associated with Buddhist sculpture of the mid-eighth century, the sense of voluptuousness and dynamic realism shows that the sculptors recognized and had begun to apply the new aesthetic trends of the time.

As representative works of Buddhist sculpture from the early eighth century, this Maitreya Bodhisattva and Amitabha Buddha from Gamsansa Temple deliver vital information about the Silla culture and the relationship between Buddhist faith and Buddhist art. As such, they are important artifacts for understanding the trajectory of Korean art history. Above all, they embody the devout Buddhist faith of Kim Jiseong, who generously built Gamsansa Temple, made these two statues, and shared his virtuous deeds with others. Such a touching gesture has instilled these two statues with palpable warmth that we can still feel today, as if they are the true manifestations of Amitabha Buddha and Maitreya Bodhisattva.

The stupa, the small globular object at the base of the crown, just below the tiny circular opening, identifies this deity as the bodhisattva Maitreya. The stupa refers to the funerary mounds in which the Historical Buddha Shakyamuni’s relics were buried after his death and cremation. Tradition holds that Shakyamuni’s relics were distributed amongst eight royal families, each of which constructed a burial mound to house the relics. The presence of the stupa thus links Maitreya, who is regarded as the Buddha of the Future, to Shakyamuni, the Historical Buddha. As a bodhisattva, Maitreya resides in the Tushita Heaven, where Shakyamuni resided before his earthly birth as Gautama Siddhartha (traditionally, 563- 483 BCE) and, where, in fact, all bodhisattvas reside until they enter final nirvana.

As in this compelling image, Maitreya is typically depicted as a bodhisattva, a compassionate being who has attained
enlightenment but who has postponed entry into final nirvana in order to help other sentient beings gain enlightenment, and thus is dressed in the robes of early Indian royalty, with a dhoti, an inner robe that covers the left shoulder but leaves the right shoulder bare, and billowing scarves. A wide necklace encircles the neck and upper portion of the chest and a tall crown surmounts the head of the bodhisattva. Original to the sculpture, the small opening at the front of the crown likely once anchored a jewel. The circular openings at either side of the neck not only differentiate the neck from the scarves and locks of hair that cascade from beneath the crown but perhaps allowed the attachment of a removable

Although typically presented as a bodhisattva, Maitreya is occasionally represented as a Buddha because he eventually will appear on Earth, achieve full enlightenment in just seven days, become a Buddha, and then, as the successor to Shakyamuni, will preach the dharma, or Buddhist doctrine. When depicted as a Buddha, Maitreya is dressed not in princely garb with crown or jewellery but in simple monk’s robes, and he is shown with shaven pate or with hair arranged either in short, wavy locks or in small snail-shell curls. Most importantly, when presented as a Buddha,
an ushnisha, the cranial protuberance symbolizing the expanded wisdom that a Buddha gains at enlightenment, appears on top of the head. Dressed in the guise of a prince, with crown, long hair and jewellery, this powerful sculpture clearly presents Maitreya as a bodhisattva, not as a Buddha.

The looping of the scarf through a beaded ornament at the abdomen as it passes down the body and over the knees indicates that this sculpture was created in the second half of the sixth century or beginning of the seventh, as do the large head and the stocky, columnar torso, the scarves that tumble gracefully from the shoulders to the arms and come to rest at the circular base, and the elongated elliptical openings that separate scarves from face, arms from torso, and scarves from hips and legs. Even so, this frequently published sculpture’s precise date remains elusive, though it likely
dates to the third quarter of the sixth century.

The worship of Maitreya was prevalent in India from the third century onward and was popular in China, Korea and Japan in the fifth and sixth centuries and into the seventh. Some modern scholars argue that Maitreya’s popularity at that time had to do with the millennial anniversary of Shakyamuni’s birth as Gautama Siddhartha, though strict theologians of the day maintained that Maitreya would not appear as the Buddha of the Future until far into the future (J. Leroy Davidson, The Lotus Sutra in Chinese Art: A Study in Buddhist Art to the Year 1000, New Haven, 1954).

The perforated tab at the back of the head anchored the aureole, or full-body halo, that originally appeared behind the image. The small hole at the back of the hourglass-shaped stool on which Maitreya sits, just below the stool’s cushioned top, likely once accommodated a pin that stabilized the aureole and prevented lateral movement.

Each of the feet of the bodhisattva rests on a small lotus blossom at the base. The unusual placement of the feet at a slant, heels higher than toes to accord with the pitch of the hourglass-shaped stool, finds kinship in a gilt-bronze sculpture representing a seated bodhisattva that is dated to the Sui dynasty (581-618) and is now in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in The Casting of Religion: A Special Exhibition of Mr. Peng Kaidongs Donation, Taipei, 2004, p. 139, no. 123.

Discovering Korea’s Golden Kingdom at The Met with its Curators

The first exhibition of its kind in the West, Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom at The Metropolitan Museum of Art traces the dynasty from its small beginnings to its rise as a powerful kingdom with the display of more than 130 artifacts.

Written about in both Arabic and Japanese historical documents, Silla was described as a mysterious land of gold in the Far East, says Denise Leidy, one of the curators. The first exhibition of its kind in the West, Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom at The Met traces the dynasty from its small beginnings to its rise as a powerful kingdom with the display of more than 130 artifacts, many of which are designated National Treasures or Treasures in Korea.

Bodhisattva in pensive pose, probably Maitreya (Korean: Mireuk). Korea, Silla kingdom, late 6th–early 7th century. Gilt bronze H. 36 7/8 in. (93.5 cm). National Museum of Korea, National Treasure 83

The Silla exhibition curators Leidy and Soyoung Lee were joined on Feb. 12 at the museum’s Bonnie J. Sacerdote Lecture Hall by Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee to discuss the exhibition’s key pieces, as part of Spark, a conversation series titled Korea: From Silla to K-Pop.

The kingdom’s architecture and buildings, which are no longer in existence, were adorned with gold, and the written history from 11th to 12th century Silla reveals the kingdom’s contact with outsiders, as witnessed through one of the exhibition pieces excavated from a tomb: a Medieval dagger with the largest version of metal working, which can be traced to Western Europe.

“Modern day excavation showed us that Korea was very much part of that Eurasia,” Soyoung says.

As Korea shifted focus to a Buddhist kingdom, its material culture also changed. Existing art and jewelry were re-purposed to make Buddhist art. Many of the pieces displayed in the exhibition were spirit goods excavated from tombs, revealing the belief in an after-life.

It was common to bury regal items like a gold crown and figurines of servants or of foreigners, with important figures, Leidy says. Being buried with figurines of foreigners showed your sophistication, she adds.

Young Jean, a New York-based playwright, said though she rarely has emotional connections with artifacts similar to those in the exhibit, one of the pieces struck a chord with her. At approximately 3-feet tall, the gilt bronze statue of Bodhisattva captures both the understanding of religion and the artistic skill of its maker. The detail in the hands and feet make the figure feel accessible.

This statue, Soyoung says, is the “Mona Lisa of Korean art.”

Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom is on view now through Sunday, Feb. 23 at Special Exhibition Gallery on the first floor of The Metropolitan Museum.
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[ZOOM KOREA] Steeped in tradition, artist adds a modern touch: Kim Seok-gon has dedicated his life to studying Buddhist art

Kim Seok-gon, who studied under a dancheongjang, the No. 48 Important Intangible Cultural Property of Korea, works on a piece at an institute located in the neighborhood of Jeongneung-dong in Seongbuk District, central Seoul. The institute is a place where people can learn about Buddhist art. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Buddhism first arrived in Korea during the Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C. to A.D. 668). The religion first reached the kingdom of Goguryeo when it was under the rule of King Sosurim (A.D. 372) and then spread to Baekje and Silla Dynasties.

With Buddhism’s long history in Korea, Buddhist art such as statues, drawings and paintings is full of tradition that has developed over generations.

Many artists have inherited the traditional art, and Kim Seok-gon is one of them.

Having studied under a dancheongjang, Korea’s No. 48 Important Intangible Cultural Property, Kim adds modern twists to centuries-old Buddhist art in his own way.

Dancheong is traditional decorative coloring on wooden buildings, and dancheongjang refers to the artisan who does the coloring.

Kim learned all of the techniques needed for the art from his father Sowun Kim Yong-woo, who studied under Buddhist monk Wolju Wondeokmun (1913-1992). Wolju was the inaugural bearer of all the techniques required for a dancheongjang.

Kim’s father, whom he refers to as his biggest inspiration, began learning Buddhist art from monk Wolju in 1963.He still remains alive and active inside the Buddhist art world.

This piece by Kim Seok-gon is inspired by a Buddhist painting kept at Haein Temple, located in Hapcheon County, South Gyeongsang. The silk canvas is colored with navy pigment and the sketch is drawn with gold powder. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Wolju started studying Buddhist art at the age of 13 from the Buddhist monk Wanhodang Nakhyeon (1869-1931) and went on to study oriental painting in Osaka, Japan.

Born and raised in Busan, Kim moved to Seoul in 1977 when he turned 6 years old. His father relocated from the port city to Seoul to work with Buddhist monk Wolju, who stayed in Heungcheon Temple, which is located in the Donam-dong neighborhood of Seongbuk District, central Seoul.

Kim could easily access Buddhist art when he was young thanks to his father and Wolju.

Kim was originally interested in studying history, but his father recommended that he learn Buddhist art history. Kim willingly accepted his father’s suggestion and began to study Buddhist art history when he was 17.

Kim’s father bought him books about the basics of drawing and composition. He was a strict father when it came to educating his son.

Years of lessons from Kim’s two masters, his father and Wolju, engraved a motto in his mind that he still practices today.

The monk used to tell his students that “Drawing a single stroke is equivalent to walking thousands of miles.”

A silhouette of Gilt-bronze Maitreya in Meditation, national treasure No. 83 from the Silla Dynasty, is used for Kim’s work. On a cotton canvas, the sketch is drawn with gold powder and gilts. [PARK SANG-MOON]

The master meant that when drawing a single line, no matter how short or long, one has to give it his all, as if he is walking thousands of miles.

Drawing lines is the most basic element of dancheong and Buddhist art.

Kim’s father was harsh on Kim so that he could immerse himself in drawing lines. The father reprimanded his son whenever he loosened his posture while drawing.

It took three years for Kim to learn the basics.

Apart from drawing lines, there are other requirements to become a qualified painter. One has to nurture basic drawing techniques, an ability to conceive an overall picture and be able to deliver power with the paintbrush.

What comes next after completing a course on how to draw lines is practicing sketching siwang, the 10 judges of the hell in Buddhism.

There are several stages required to make the sketches. It takes years to complete the sketches because one must draw many drafts of various figures in Buddhism, such as heavenly kings and bodhisattvas.

Each artist hopeful usually draws the same Buddhist figure around 1,000 times. Studying up until this point is considered the basic courses for Buddhist art.

But there is still much more to learn after the sketching stage.

Baejeob is a stage in which you learn how to paste papers together. In order to learn how to layer paper, one has to know the different characteristics of paper and cloth.

At the posu stage, students learn the characteristics of different natural glues. This stage takes - at least - 10 years to complete.

The process of learning how to add gradient colors to paintings is called barim. After going through all of these stages, one is finally ready to draw.

In order to become a professional Buddhist artist, one has to be ready to go on a journey that never ends. When the artist continuously practices and repeats every stage of drawing with patience, he can keep track of what he has studied and maintain his artistic abilities.

Pieces by Kim Seok-gon that shows a modern twist to traditional dancheong art. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Kim’s past three decades have been a period of endless learning.

Nowadays, Kim is focused on adding a modern touch to dancheong.

Unlike the traditional way of drawing dancheong, Kim first draws up a rough sketch and then pokes the sketch using small needles. He then sprinkles shell powder over the sketch to get the outcome he wants.

This process is a lot simpler than the traditional technique because the coloring stage is replaced by a stenciling technique.

Kim’s recent works feature popular characters from animated movies such as Olaf from “Frozen” (2013) and Yellow from the animated TV series “Larva” (2011).

Some of Kim’s works are more experimental. In some, the artist uses silhouettes of cultural assets from the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C. to A.D. 935) such as Gilt-bronze Maitreya in Meditation.

Kim says traditional art gains vitality only when it reflects the time. This is why Kim goes bold with his art pieces in the hope of breaking the stereotypes people have that traditional art only belongs in museums or palaces.

Kim believes his value as an artist lies in creating dancheong that feels like it belongs in the 21st century and making Buddhist art more accessible.

Watch the video: Paper art - Gilt bronze Pensive Maitreya Bodhisattva (January 2022).