The Way of the Elders: The Buddha in Modern Theravada Traditions

Ahmanson Building, Level 4
April 12, 2011–July 29, 2012

Theravada, or "The Way of the Elders," is the school of Buddhism practiced today in Sri Lanka and much of Southeast Asia.

Central to Theravada worship is the historic Buddha, Shakyamuni (circa fifth century BC). Shakyamuni was born after numerous rebirths, which are recounted in jatakas, or birth stories, the last ten of which are of paramount importance. These ten are depicted over and over on manuscript pages, textiles, and monastery walls. The last of these popular stories is the one concerning the Buddha's final life as Shakyamuni, the lifetime in which he reaches enlightenment.

Works in this exhibition illustrate a range of media produced in Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand from the eighteenth century to the present. They represent the Buddha in a variety of forms, as figures in his previous births, as the Buddha with monks and lay worshippers, and as symbols, such as the Buddha's footprints. Contemporary Southeast Asian artists continue to draw inspiration from traditional Buddhist imagery, as in a painting by the Thai artist Kamol Tassananchalee which will be on view as part of this exhibition.






Image: Buddha Shakyamuni, (detail) Burma (Myanmar), Mandalay, 20th century, Wood with lacquer, gold wash, and inlaid glass, Gift of Gerald Stockton and S. Louis Gaines, M.73.54.4.

Highlights of “The Way of the Elders”

Tucked away in the corner gallery of the Ahmanson Building’s fourth floor is a recently opened installation of twelve works from our Southeast Asian collection, The Way of the Elders: The Buddha in Modern Theravada Traditions. Theravada (which translates to “Way of the Elders”) is the school of Buddhism still practiced in Sri Lanka and much of Southeast Asia. Art is often commissioned and donated to Buddhist temples and monasteries to bring merit to the donor and their love ones on special occasions such as annual festivals and ordination ceremonies. Here are just a few highlights from the installation, which features a range of media from Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, all made between the eighteenth century and the present. Many of these objects in this installation are on view for the first time...