The Buddha Entering Nirvana


The Buddha Entering Nirvana

Paintings / Muromachi

Muromachi period, 15th century

Color on silk



This work depicts the death of Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism. We can see his body lying beneath the sal trees. After passing away, Shakyamuni was freed from all worries and attachments. He achieved a state of peaceful enlightenment and entered nirvana.

Shakyamuni's body lies radiantly at the center of the painting. He faces west, with his head to the north and his right hand used as a pillow. Gathered around him are various bodhisattvas and disciples as well as small birds, snakes, dogs, horses, and even an elephant. It seems that all creatures have gathered to lament his passing.

If you look closely, you can see how the four sal trees on the right are white and withered. In the original story, one of each pair of sal trees turned white and died out of sadness over Shakyamuni's death. In this painting, the living and dead trees are divided up into left and right. It is said this expresses the idea that although the body may perish, Shakyamuni's teachings are immortal and will be passed down through the ages.

Take a look at the top right of the painting. You should be able to see a woman riding on a cloud. This is Queen Maya, Shakyamuni's birth mother. After hearing from Shakyamuni's disciples that Shakyamuni was entering nirvana, she hurried down from the Trayastrimsa heaven. In the end, however, she was too late.

Nirvana paintings such as this one are displayed every year on February 15th, the date of Shakyamuni's death, at Buddhist ceremonies held to honor and praise his virtue.

Related Works

Search items related to work chosen