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Buddha Figures

Buddhism spread from India along the Silk Road, arriving in China from AD 67, gaining a definite foothold in China by the end of the 1st century AD. Initially, Chinese Buddhas, were depicted in the same way as their Indian counterparts but during the Sui and Tang dynasties, they began to take on Chinese characteristics.

China actively imported the Buddhist religion as their leaders found it interesting. Their interpretation of Mahayana Buddhism ("The Great Vehicle") was such that anyone could become a Buddha (this was unheard of in India with such a tight caste system), and allow the immortal soul to escape the cycle of reincarnation to instead reach Nirvana. In essence, to become a Buddha, people had to do good to others, never sin and love their neighbours. Many did follow the path and earned their entry into Nirvana. Others however chose not to enter Nirvana, but stayed back to help others reach this stage. These people were known as bodhisattvas, Guan Yin (the goddess of mercy) being the most famous in China.

In Chinese sculptures, Buddhas are normally portrayed standing, sitting in a lotus throne, or guarded by a pair of lions. When standing, Buddha normally has one hand raised with the palm facing away from him, with the other hand resting at his side. There are many more hand gestures when Buddha is sitting: the hands can be joined in meditation, 1 hand may be raised with 1 finger touching the thumb, or the hands may be held in the "Wheel of Law" or the earth-touching positions.

In China, Buddha Mi-Le-Fo (Maitreya) is the Buddha of the past, the Boddhisattva Guan Yin (the Goddess of Mercy) represents the future and the Buddha Ru-Lai-Fo (Tathagata) is the Buddha of the future.

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