This arresting image, now minus its lotus pedestal, represents Padmasambhava, "The Lotus Burn," an eighth-century lndianTantric master and one of the Eighrty-four "Great Perfected Ones" (mahasiddhas). They are-Tibetan or Indian mystics and teachers venerated for their great knowledge and wonder-working powers.
Padmasambhava was influential in bringing Buddhism to Tibet and in establishing its first monastery. Practitioners of northern Buddhism (Tibet, Bhutan, northern-border Nepal) view him as the source of their doctrine, refer to him as the "Second Buddha," and in some contexts consider him the central transcendent Buddha of which the historical Buddha is but one of his manifestations.
Padmasamtbhava is also known as Precious Master (Guru Rinpoche), and the Guru of Urgyen, reference to his origin in Urgyen/Uddiyana, the Swat Valley of modern Pakistan, once a stronghold of Buddhism.
In this contemplative image Maitreya, "'The Benevolent" is turning the Wheel of the Iaw (dharmachakra mudra) in the Tushita Heaven. There as a Bodhisattva he teaches Buddhist doctrine to celestial beings until he descends to this world as the future mortal Buddha.
Dressed in princely raiment and splendid ornament, (some are missing) his hair is braided into an elaborate, ascetic's chignon. It supports a chaitya, or stupa, the sacred monument of the Buddhist world. The chaitya is Maitreya's most characteristic attribute and refers to the belief that Shakyamuni Buddha's garments are enclosed in a stupa near Bodhgaya from which he will retrieve them when he descends. Other typical attributes of Maitreya are the ascetic's water vessel and a wheel.
As a Bodhisattva Maitreya-often called "Maitri" in Nepal-is believed to be active in this world and although his Buddhahood is yet to come he is sometimes depicted as a Buddha seated with pendant legs.
Nepal, 12th century,Copper alloy, gilt Object 614,48.2cm
This superb example of Nepalesc metalcraft depicts the historical Buddha in his most typical pose, seated in meditation, one hand in his lap, the other pendant in the earth-witness gesture. In keeping with traditional representations, this Buddha has a cranial protuberance (ushinsha) signifying supernatural wisdom and a mark between the eyes (urna) signifying spiritual illumination. His distinctive coiffure represents the curls which grew back after he cut off his long, princely locks with his sword. The curl-covered ushnisha is also surmounted by a knob representing a symbolic jewel (cudamani). As an unusual feature, the sumptuous earrings the Buddha wore as the prince Siddhartha Gautama have been restored to him here, and although he wears a monk's robe its decorative borders are more in keeping with princely raiment.