"Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art," at the Asia Society Museum in New York City, focuses on the theme of the spiritual journey, a mainstay of Buddhist expression. The show is divided into three sections, starting with "The Buddha & The Sacred Site." This part concentrates on places associated with the Buddha's birth, enlightenment, teachings and death. This relief panel (Pakistan, 2nd century) depicts the Buddha's first sermon at Sarnath, surrounded by monks:
The central theme of the show is depicted in "The Journey" section. Many pilgrims carried portable shrines with them, including this wood carving (China, 10th-12th century) illustrating the Buddha's lecture on Vulture Peak:
Another traditional theme of the journey is the arduous mountain climb, one that parallels spiritual ascension. The climbers up Mount Fuji in this color woodblock print (Japan, 1830-32) were thought to pass from the world of the living to the dead and back, in the process purifying themselves:
The "Memory, Memento and Sacred Bond" section displays the "souvenirs" the pilgrims took back home that resonate with spiritual meaning. This painting (China, 19th century) of the Buddha's footprints from Mount Wutai was bought by a pilgrim who visited that sacred Chinese mountain:
The trek through this exhibit, while not too long, proves enlightening to any viewer. "Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art" remains at the Asia Society Museum, 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), NYC, until June 20. For further information, visit the exhibition web site and the New York Times review and slideshow.