In Zurich, in the footsteps of the Buddha

- through Francois Leclercq

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Who was the Buddha? What did he teach? What characterizes Buddhism? How did it spread? These are the key questions that the exhibition “Next stop: Nirvana – around Buddhism”, on display at the Rietberg Museum in Zurich, tries to answer until 31 March.

Under the compassionate gaze of a monumental Buddha from China, a small group of visitors laboriously fold a square sheet of paper into the shape of a lotus. This is one of the educational workshops offered throughout the course of the exhibition “Next stop: Nirvana – around Buddhism”. This brings together around a hundred works – sculptures, paintings, manuscripts and other objects – from several countries and regions of Asia (India, the Himalayas, Burma, China and Japan).

This workshop also explains in a pedagogical way the birth of Buddhism in India, its spread throughout Asia, then in the West in the second half of the XNUMXth century. “We seek to provide insight into the rituals, teachings and values ​​that this religion advocates, but also the stories and legends that surround it, as well as its spread,” explains Johannes Beltz, deputy director of the museum.

In this part, the most exceptional pieces are undoubtedly these decorative stones, unearthed in northern India in 1898 in the property of amateur archaeologist and British landowner William Claxton Peppé (1852-1936). They were buried inside a stupa (a stone-lined burial mound) in several containers with five reliquaries surrounded by precious stones and polychrome beads. “Clues suggest that inside were the remains of the body of the Buddha,” continues Johannes Beltz. A first. The find caused a sensation.

It is also possible to admire the statues of Gandhara, with a Hellenic character, other key pieces of the exhibition, but also the richly decorated figures of Bodhisattvas made in China, bronzes from Burma, paintings from Japan and delicate thangkas Tibetans.

From the Palace to the Meditation that Leads to Awakening

The exhibition is divided into eight sections. After an introduction dedicated to the art of Gandhara, the second room is an invitation to discover the life of the Buddha.

A Japanese parchment from the XNUMXth century retraces the major stages and adventures in the life of Prince Siddhartha Gautama: his previous lives, his miraculous birth – he is said to have come out of the left side of his mother, Queen Maya –, his flight from the palace with the help of celestial beings, his years of apprenticeship, the temptations he endures and, finally, the deep meditation that leads him to enlightenment.

The most exceptional pieces are undoubtedly these decorative stones, unearthed in northern India in 1898 in the property of amateur archaeologist and British landowner William Claxton Peppé.

The third room focuses on his teachings and how they were transmitted, first orally, then in writing from the 80st century CE. Visitors can view, on multimedia touch screens, interviews with twelve Buddhism specialists who help them understand the specificity of the different Buddhist schools and religious groups (Zen-Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayana, etc.). They can also rely on a primer on Buddhism made available to the public at the entrance to the museum. Armed with this small XNUMX-page book, developed in collaboration with the Center for Religious Studies of the Ruhr University of Bochum, they will know everything – or almost – about its doctrinal concepts, key rituals and other essential religious texts.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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