Meditating statues find ultimate zen on display side by side

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Meditating statues find ultimate zen on display side by side

 
A special exhibition in 2015 organized by the National Museum of Korea shows two Maitreyas in meditation - National Treasure No. 78, left, and No. 83, right - sitting side by side. [NATIONAL MUSEUM OF KOREA]

A special exhibition in 2015 organized by the National Museum of Korea shows two Maitreyas in meditation - National Treasure No. 78, left, and No. 83, right - sitting side by side. [NATIONAL MUSEUM OF KOREA]

 
Though they are positioned in the same pose, people love to see Korea’s two Maitreyas in meditation — National Treasure No. 78 and 83 — sitting side by side. Exhibitions in 2004 and 2015 featuring the duo alongside each other became two of the most popular special events ever held at the National Museum of Korea. 
 
Also known as the pensive bodhisattva, people from across the globe find the two artifacts the museum possesses quite amusing. Many also cite the rare experience of witnessing the two Maitreyas in meditation sitting next to each other as the most enjoyable experience they've had at Korea's state-run museum. 
 
Usually, the museum exhibits one bodhisattva at a time. While one is on display, the other is exhibited overseas or remains in storage. But Min Byoung-chan, the newly appointed director-general of the National Museum of Korea, decided to bring together the two treasures in one place permanently. 
 
“'What can you see when you visit the National Museum of Korea?’ I asked this question and of course there are so many great treasures we exhibit, but from the public’s perspective, I couldn’t really come up with an answer,” said Min during a press conference held Wednesday.
 
“Whenever I met up with people from overseas museums, they praised Korea’s pensive bodhisattva figures and often, the first thing they ask is if they can travel for overseas special exhibitions.”
 
Min says he wanted more people to “be amazed and highly value the two national treasures of Korea at all times.”  
 
“I always envied the Louvre in Paris and the fact that international visitors visit Paris to see the museum,” Min added. “I hope one day international visitors will come to the country to see the National Museum of Korea, and the first step to take is to permanently exhibit internationally appealing relics like the two Maitreyas in meditation that are both highly significant historically and artistically.”
 
The permanent exhibit will be ready by October.  
 
First established in India, countless numbers of pensive bodhisattva figures were made in central Asia and in China. However, they reached a pinnacle of artistic completion and became objects of worship when they came to Korea during the Three Kingdoms era (57 B.C. to A.D. 668). 
 
According to Buddhist beliefs, if Buddhas are the ultimate enlightened beings who have transcended mortal concerns, the bodhisattvas are the ones who have chosen to remain in the physical world to help and guide others.
  
Korea has several statues of the pensive bodhisattva including three that are designated as National Treasures No. 78, 83 and 118, and two as Treasures No. 331 and 645. But only two of them — National Treasure No. 78 and No. 83 — are quite large, measuring just under one meter (3.3 feet) in height. Of the lot, many say National Treasure No. 83 is the most important masterpiece. Measuring 93.5 centimeters tall, it was found in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang in the 1920s. It is believed to have been made in the seventh century, in the late part of Korea’s Three Kingdoms era.
 
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE   [yim.seunghye@joongang.co.kr]
 
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