Buddha Sheltered by Muchalinda
Sculpture from Thailand
late twelfth century
The buff sandstone sculpture from Thailand entitled "Buddha Sheltered by Muchalinda," dated from the late twelfth century, has three obvious features that coincide with the traditional Buddhist teachings; the ushnisa atop the Buddha’s head, the naga (also known as the Muchalinda) by which he is being protected, and the meditative posture in which he is sitting.
The ushnisa, or cranial bump, is one of the thirty-two marks of a super man. These marks are present in all buddhas, each being a representation of different practiced virtues. Some other examples of the thirty-two marks are webbed fingers, forty teeth, and the circle of hair between the eyebrows. The ushnisa is one of the most obvious marks visible in all buddhas.
A naga is a sort of serpent usually associated with protecting treasure. It is considered to be a demi-god, one of the six realms of existence. The hood of the naga is placed over the buddha’s head, as shown by the statue, to protect him from the rain. There was a heavy rainy season in Asia that caused monks to originally build temporary housing and stop their ceaseless wandering until the rain had passed. This eventually led to the development of monasteries, where monks live permanently. At the time this statue was created, perhaps monasteries were not yet established, and therefore the Buddha was meditating outside in the rain and was in need of protection. The coils of the naga on top of which he is sitting raise him above the floodwaters. What greater treasure in the world could there be, in the eyes of a Buddhist, than the Buddha himself? A Buddha is said to be extremely rare, and therefore precious, which justifies his protection by the naga.
The Buddha in the statue is clearly meditating. His legs are crossed, hands together in his lap, and his nose is in line with his navel. This is supposed to be the most stable position the body can take and remain in one place for as long as necessary. The Buddha is most likely deep in samadhi, or stabilizing meditation.
It can be assumed that the Buddha represented in this sculpture is our Shakyamuni Buddha. Since it is art from Thailand, where Theravada Buddhism is practiced, there is only believed to be one Buddha at a time. It is possible that this particular statue may represent an earlier Buddha, but from the information given it is left unclear.