The Ultimate Jadeite Jade Buddhas
The motivation behind Jade Buddha is to offer a comprehensive overview of the special quality of jadeite jade Buddha statues and pendants. This motivation is based on my extensive travels through Asia where I developed a keen interest in Buddhist art and Asian culture. Additionally, Asia is where the Buddhist religion was founded over 2500 years ago. Over thousands of years, Buddhism has evolved and Buddhist art has responded with amazing creativity.
Jadeite Jade is used in Buddhist sculpture because of the mutual qualities that are evident in the mineral and the religion. As a result, jadeite jade Buddhas are common in temples and jade markets throughout East Asia.
In East Asia, green jade is a common base material that is used to carve real jade Buddha statues. Jadeite jade Buddha statues that depict the ubiquitous Buddhist icons such as Guanyin and Happy Buddha are most popular in China.
The popularity of the jade laughing Buddha statue is due to several reasons. In ancient China, they believed that jade was crystallized moonlight that had fallen down onto the mountaintops. Additionally, jade has calming properties that reduce stress, enhance contemplation and increase confidence levels. These qualities seem to mesh with the objectives of Buddhist meditation – that being inner calm, self reflection and tranquility.
In ancient China, they believed that jade was crystallized moonlight that had fallen down onto the mountaintops.Chinese Mythology
The Source of Jadeite Jade Buddha Statues
The two forms of jade are nephrite jade and jadeite. Jadeite is the denser and more translucent mineral. Additionally, jadeite has mineral qualities that are closer to a diamond and it is therefore more expensive. However, jadeite does not enjoy the long ancient history that nephrite jade has in China.
Since top grades of jadeite jade are much more expensive than nephrite jade, it is prohibitively expensive to make middle or large size jade Buddha statues. Therefore, the imperial jadeite and other grade A natural jadeite Buddhas are usually created as a small jade Buddha figurine or pendant.
Furthermore, the largest source in the world for jadeite is Myanmar and it is not sourced in China. The primary source for jadeite in Myanmar is in the northern state of Kachin. This rich jadeite source sits right on the southern border of China. The combination of the world’s largest source of jadeite with the world’s biggest market for a real jade Buddha is very good for business. As a result, there are many skilled sculptors and the best jadeite jade Buddha statue can be found in this area.
Nephrite jade is also a much sought after mineral source. Indeed, large sources of nephrite jade have been found in China. However, due to its immense popularity over many centuries, most of the original deposits are now mined out. Therefore, it is necessary to import the nephrite jade products from other sources such as Canada and Australia. However, the best sculptors of jade Buddha statues are still found in China and other East Asian countries.
History of Jade Buddha Statues
The use of jade in China goes back over 5000 years and its use predates Buddhism by a large margin. In China, jade symbolizes a connection between the living and the dead. As a result it is used as part of ancient burial rituals.
For example small squares of jade would be tied together with metal wire and draped over the deceased to cover the entire body. Once this burial suit was in place then other pieces of jade would be used to cover up the eyes, mouth and nose. Due to the high cost, this ritual was only used for royal burial ceremonies.
As Buddhism spread into East Asia from Northern India it was only natural that the Chinese sculptors would begin to create real jade Buddha statues. Jade has calming qualities that entice inner reflection. These qualities are also imbued by the Buddhist deities that evolved in China. Therefore, the green jade Buddha statue meaning of Chinese deities such as Kwanyin and Happy Buddha is naturally introspective and complex.
The Origins of Buddhism
The origins of Buddhism date back to the 6th century BCE when Prince Siddhartha Gautama renounced his kingdom and left the trappings of power, wealth and comfort behind. Siddhartha went to live as a recluse in the forest for 6 years.
During this time period he received instruction from samatha meditation masters. However, the next stage was to discover vipassana meditation which he did on his own. Using insight meditation, Siddhartha Gautama would discover the path to enlightenment and firmly establish the foundation of Buddhism in our kalpa. As a result, he would become known as Gautama Buddha or Shakyamuni Buddha.
The geographical region where Buddhism originated was Northern India. Specifically, Buddhist believe that the location of the bodhi tree under which the Buddha reached enlightenment is in a place called Bodh Gaya, India. Bodh Gaya is located in modern day Gaya District in the Indian state of Bihar.
The Expansion of Buddhism
From Bodh Gaya Buddhism was born and spread throughout Asia and worldwide. Although the location of most Buddhist devotees is in Asia, there are currently over 500 million adherents worldwide.
Indeed, the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia did not follow a straight line. From its point of origination, Buddhism simultaneously spread north towards Central Asia and south to the island of Sri Lanka. From Sri Lanka, Buddhism traveled to South East Asian countries such as Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand where it retained its conservative Buddhist roots.
However, from Central Asia and SE Asia Buddhism would move into China. From China it would spread to Tibet and also to countries in the Far East such as Japan and Korea. As a result of geographical divisions Buddhism would become theologically diverse.
The Divisions in Buddhism
The first divisions in Buddhism arose after the death of its founder, Shakyamuni Buddha. During the Buddha’s lifetime his teachings were passed on orally by his disciples. The first council was held and the Buddha was present. From this first council there was no disagreement.
However, after the death of the Buddha divisions in the sangha began to appear at the second meeting of the Buddhist council. The disagreement was over nominal issues and the core teachings of the Buddha were not questioned. However, the seeds of discontent were sown. As a result, in 250 BCE the third Buddhist council was held and this is when Theravada Buddhism originated.
This branch of Buddhism adheres to the original teachings of the Buddha and it the oldest and most orthodox of the 3 primary Buddhist divisions that exist today. Generally speaking, Theravada Buddhists agreed all mental and physical phenomenon that we encounter in the world is 1) impermanent 2) unsatisfactory and 3) has no substance to it (no self).
The focus of Theravada Buddhism is on self improvement of the individual. Therefore, through living a moral life, adhering to the eight fold noble path and practicing meditation one can begin to see the true nature of things and eventually realize the state of Nirvana (enlightenment). This is the ultimate goal of Theravada Buddhism – entering Nirvana.
Countries with large Theravada Buddhist populations include Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Burma. In these countries any disagreements between the different Theravada schools remain nominal and there is nothing significance to dispute.
Mahayana Buddhism is complex, but at the core it is focused around the bodhisattva (see below). Additionally, this segment of Buddhism originated and began to gain traction at about the start of the common era. Therefore, it is about 250 years younger than Theravada. Geographically, most of the Mahayana followers can be found throughout China, Japan and Korea.
The path to Buddhahood is not an easy one and it requires extreme levels of dedication and practice. All Buddhists believe that enlightenment is the ultimate goal. However, it is clear that becoming a Buddha during only a single lifetime or even after many lifetimes is not a realistic goal for most common people. Mahayana can be viewed as a more populist form of Buddhism that is sympathetic to miracles, while Theravada is focused on the individual through self improvement.
Focus on Bodhisattvas
In contrast to the Theravada school, Mahayana Buddhism is very diverse and complex. The primary focus of Mahayana is on the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva is a being that has obtained enlightenment but has chosen to forgo accepting it. Instead, the bodhisattva will stay behind and assist others until all sentient life is able to reach enlightenment.
A primary bodhisattva is known as Avalokiteshvara – “the Bodhisattva of Compassion”. Long ago at the inception of Mahayana Buddhism, Avalokiteshvara made a great vow to forgo enlightenment until all suffering was eliminated. Indeed, it takes great compassion in order to delay one’s own enlightenment in order to assist others.
However, many of the sentient beings that Avalokiteshvara had saved returned to their evil ways. As a result, Avalokiteshvara bodhisattva exploded into thousands of pieces upon realizing the enormity of the commitment that had been undertaken.
Special Powers of Bodhisattvas
Amitabha Buddha put Avalokiteshvara back together again and he gave the bodhisattva one thousand arms in order to work more efficiently to assist sentient life. Additionally, he gave Avalokiteshvara 11 heads in order to better observe the cries and suffering of humanity.
Bodhisattvas also have special power to grant forgiveness and give karmic merit to sentient beings in order to ease their suffering. This is in contrast to the focus of Theravada on self improvement. Additionally, the Buddhist canon states that bodhisattvas can be male or female or take any other form in order to assist sentient beings.
This explains why statues of Avalokiteshvara can be depicted as male and also female. Plus, there are many variations based on the multi arm and multi headed embodiment of this popular bodhisattva.
Guanyin vs Green Tara
There is a particular female bodhisattva named Green Tara who is very popular among devotees of Mahayana Buddhism. The color green is very significant because devotees believe that the green color signifies vigor and rebirth in nature. Green Tara was born from a teardrop that fell form the left eye of Avalokiteshvara.
It is not common to a find jadeite jade Buddha statue depicting Green Tara. However, Guanyin is believed to be a female embodiment of Avalokiteshvara and she is immensely popular in China and geographical regions that have large Chinese populations. As a result, jadeite jade Buddha pendants and statues featuring Guanyin are very popular throughout East Asia.
Jadeite Jade Buddha Statues in Buddhist Art
Furthermore, in contrast to the core principles of Theravada Buddhism such as no-self, bodhisattvas and Buddhas in Mahayana Buddhism have taken on the qualities of deities. As a result, devotees pray to them in hopes of gaining earthly favor such as wealth or fertility. Also, bodhisattvas and Buddhas can grant beings entry into special “pure lands.” The “pure land” of Amitabha Buddha is described as being a land of “sonorous and visual delights”.
As a result of Mahayana, the diversity of Buddhist art was greatly enhanced and this was seen in the creation of Buddhist paintings and real jade Buddha statues. It is pretty clear that Mahayana Buddhism is a source of great artistic inspiration that has had a profound effect on the perception of Buddhism.
Burma (now Myanmar) is the world’s largest source of Jadeite jade. The abundance of this precious mineral and the Buddhist dedication of the country make it one of the world’s best sources of jadeite jade Buddha statues outside China.
However, the focus is more on the Buddha statues and not so much the popular bodhisattvas such as Guanyin and Budai or “Happy Buddha”. As a result of quality materials, skilled workmanship and fair prices the jade markets in Yangon and Mandalay are a very good places to find a traditional jadeite jade Buddha statue.