The Realm of the Buddhas

20 November 2020 – 23 January 2022

The figure of the Buddha fascinates us. We find him in living rooms, gardens, shops, and wellness spas – yet there is not just one of him. This exhibition reveals the diverse nature of Buddhism, and displays objects that are significant in the practice of this widespread religion.

The West has been drawn to Buddhism since the 1950s at the latest. Meditation and mindfulness training are eagerly practised, and have now even taken off online. Figures of the Buddha occur throughout our day-to-day lives.  

Just as there is no one Buddha, so there are many paths that lead to spiritual enlightenment — as the title of the exhibition suggests. Dating back over 2000 years, Buddhism has many strands, here exemplified by some 280 objects from the museum’s own collection which are significant in the practice of Buddhism. Many of them originated in the world-renowned collection of Tibetan art assembled by Gerd-Wolfgang Essen, a specialist in religious studies and gallery owner in Hamburg.

The Three Jewels
The Three Jewels of Buddhism are the focus of the exhibition: the Buddha, his teachings (dharma), and the Buddhist community (sangha). A section is devoted to each of them.  

A monumental Japanese sculpture clearly indicates that the Buddha himself is the focal point of the exhibition’s largest section. Diverse likenesses of him are on show, yet his characteristic features mean he is always recognizable.

Written records of the Buddha’s teachings started to be made in the first century AD, and a number of manuscripts from different parts of Asia are shown in the exhibition. Another of its topics deals with bodhisattvas, compassionate beings who forgo their own extinction in order to help others achieve theirs first. The 14th Dalai Lama is considered a bodhisattva.

The Buddhist community employs a wide range of ritual objects. On display are travelling altars, prayer wheels, monks’ robes, ritual implements, offerings, and much else besides.

Politics and Religion
The next section explores the close ties between religion and politics. The historical figure of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was the son of a king whom he would ordinarily have succeeded had he not gone on to found Buddhism that today is the official religion of Bhutan, Cambodia, and Thailand, among other states.

Works of art by the Tibetan artist Sonam Brauen that address current political and social issues round off this section.