Walking into the Hall of the Buddhas, there was a sense of peace and guidance lingering inside me. The seated Bodhisattva, of the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534), CA.480, from the Yungang, Cave xv, Shani Province, made of sandstone, guarded the entrance. At first, I thought it was a time to be disciplined, but the transcending smile from the statue was a delicate fixed gesture that offered a feeling of welcome. It was not a place to confess your wrongdoings; neither was it a place for me to say, "Buddha I have sinned." It was a room to purify the mind, the mind that we take for granted without giving it harmony. There was a large mural decorating the main wall called "The Paradise of Bhaishajyaguru"(916-1125). I sat down wandering if the artist of the portrait knew that his work would one day be shared on this side of the world, in my time. Much like Jesus Christ and his followers, the mural is a painting of healers and saviors. It was a large figure of the Buddha of medicine, (Bhaishajyaquru) surrounded by followers of Bodhisattvas, Avalokiteshvara, and Mahosthamaprapta with twelve guardian generals who have pledged to disseminate the Buddha's teaching (Tradition of Liao 916-1125, Metropolitan Museum wall plaque).
On the other side, I noticed a standing statue called "Quan Yin" that I have often encountered. It was an Avalokiteshvara from the Sui dynasty (581-618) made of limestone (Metropolitan Museum Plaque). Unlike the Quan Yin statue at home or any of the ones I have seen, it was difficult to pinpoint the gender of this Saint. I often hear people ask if "Quan Yin" was really a female, but throughout my learning experience it was mainly worshipped by women and given the status as female. Perhaps, like Red Azalea by Anchee Min, "Quan Yin" was transformed into a female goddess to promote a heroine, a heroine in Asia.
As I left, I felt a sense of piety, a piety that I must visit again and again. The Hall of Buddhas gave me a sense of peace: a thought of quietness to gather myself, a peace that I have long forgotten or not shared.
The next corridor was an exhibit of ceramics of everyday life in the Neolithic period of the Majlayao culture (Machong phase, CA 2300-2000BC Metropolitan Museum plaque). The pottery of this period expresses similarities in the color and shapes to the art found amongst the indigenous cultures elsewhere in the world. On the side was another room with two guardian lions (6th dynasty 220-589). Lion statues were status symbols for great dwellings that were placed outside of main entranceways to promote good and to stop evil from entering in (Feng Shui, Lam 38). In the room at the Museum they guard lacquer images and woodcarvings of Buddhas. Buddha images executed in dry lacquer were highly valued by the Chinese because of the costly time-consuming process required to produce them (Metropolitan Museum wall-plaque). Possibly the lions do serve a purpose here: to prevent any evil beings from entering a room filled with prized lacquer Buddhas.
The Han dynasty (25-220 CE) exhibit outside in the corridor demonstrated remarkable uniformity. Common pottery such as models of houses and farm structures, were created as funerary objects for burials. The Han period has deeply shaped and cast its roots in contemporary burial rituals. Today, instead of objects made of pottery or metal,...