In this lesson, students will learn that classroom rules and values are set in place to create a calm and peaceful environment. After exploring how the hand gestures in the Eleven-Headed Bodhisattva communicate a message, they will design their own hand gestures that remind students of the classroom rules.
Intended Age GroupEarly childhood (ages 3-5)
Length of LessonOne 30 minute lesson
Standards AreaVisual Arts
Students will be able to:
- recall classroom rules and values;
- use their bodies to demonstrate how a sculpture is posed; and
- create hand signs that communicate rules and values.
- Warm-up: Review the classroom rules or values you have set such as sharing, being kind to others, being quiet when the teacher is talking, listening, helping others, etc. Engage the students in the activity by asking them to recall the classroom values and provide them with lots of applause when they remember. (You may want to write down their responses, as they will be used later on in the lesson.)
- Show students the Eleven-Headed Bodhisattva and ask them what they see. What do they think they are looking at? Who might this person be? Does the sculpture seem friendly or scary? How can they tell? Ask students to look at the sculpture’s hands. Have them stand up and mimic the hand gestures.
- Share with the students information from the About the Art section. These hand positions are called mudra and are a kind of hand-sign language. One hand is held down with palm open and the fingers gently cupped. The other hand is raised with thumb and middle finger together. These two hand gestures together suggest bringing peace and calmness to the world.
- Ask for volunteers to come up to the front of the classroom and create a hand gesture that communicates a classroom rule. For example, a student might create a hand gesture that reminds students to share by moving an arm outward, mimicking the action of giving something to someone else.
- Take photographs of each student’s hand gesture and display them in the room as a fun reminder of the classroom rules!
- About the Art section on the Eleven-Headed Bodhisattva
- One color copy of the sculpture for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Visual Arts
- Invent and Discover to Create
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Reading for All Purposes
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
This sculpture was most likely made by multiple artisans who were called busshi [BOO-shee] (Japanese sculptors of Buddhist images). It was made during Japan’s Heian period (794-1185 CE), an era characterized by a great flowering of literature, art, and religious thinking. During the Heian period, sculptures were made almost exclusively of wood. This sculpture was made in the yosegi [yoh-SEH-gee] fashion, a technique that involved carving several separate pieces of wood and assembling them to form the sculpture. After the pieces were assembled, the detailed carving would be finished. Often, each piece of wood was carved by a different artisan-specialist. This kind of assembly line production turned out more large-scale images than a single artisan could, and in a shorter amount of time. This sculpture was also painted with brilliant colors, but the paint has worn off over time, leaving the wood exposed in certain areas.
What Inspired It?
The word bodhisattva [boh-dee-SAHT-vah] means "one whose essence is enlightenment.” A bodhisattva is an important figure in the Buddhist religion. In Buddhism, all living beings take part in an ongoing cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, known as the Wheel of Life. All deeds, good or bad, are carried from past lives into future lives. This cycle continues until sufficient knowledge and spiritual experience leads to enlightenment, or nirvana [neer-VAH-nah]. A bodhisattva is a being who has achieved nirvana but, instead of passing out of the Wheel of Life, chooses to remain in the world to help others. Bodhisattvas exercise compassion by sharing the wisdom they have gained during their many past lives.
This sculpture is a representation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion (called Kannon [KAH-known] in Japanese), who was one of the most popular bodhisattvas in Heian Japan. The name Kannon means “the one who hears their cries.” Believers appeal to Kannon for help in achieving enlightenment and protection from disaster. This sculpture was an object of devotion, probably placed in a Buddhist temple complex where devotees could make offerings to the bodhisattva.
There are thirty-two different forms of Kannon; this sculpture depicts the form called the Eleven-Headed Kannon. Only five of the eleven small heads remain on the top of the sculpture. The eleven heads are said to originate out of the despair that the bodhisattva felt at seeing countless individuals who had not found salvation. This grief caused his head to split into ten fragments which then formed into additional heads. The additional heads symbolize his awareness of the needs of all conscious beings—humans, animals, and insects.
Jeweled crowns are typical of bodhisattvas and suggest royal stature.
The bodhisattva’s expression is meant to express gentleness or kindness. The eyes are almost closed and may convey a sense of calm.
The proportions of this sculpture mirror the fashions of the upper class during the Heian Period. The padded hips, slightly bulging belly, full arms, rings of flesh on the neck, and long, pierced earlobes are all signs of wealth and nobility. Being thin as a sign of beauty is very much a creation of the modern world. In the past, in most cultures, beauty was associated with having plenty to eat and being a bit on the fleshy side.
The lotus plant symbolizes purity emerging from an imperfect world. Lotus flowers grow from the mud at the bottom of a pond and eventually bloom on top of clear water.
Although the wood grain would not have been visible originally (it would have been hidden under brightly colored paint), its lines follow the forms of the face and body with precision.
These hand positions are called mudra [MOO-drah] and are a kind of hand-sign language. One hand is held down with palm open and the fingers gently cupped. The other hand is raised with thumb and middle finger together. These two hand gestures together might have suggested appeasement, or bringing peace and calmness to the world. However, it is possible the hands were replaced over the years, as hands are fragile and tend to break off of sculptures.