A Beautiful Exhibition On Buddhism Opens At The British Library

Buddhism, The British Library ★★★★☆

A Beautiful Exhibition On Buddhism Opens At The British Library Buddhism, The British Library 4
Part of a 7+ metre long beautifully illustrated manuscript. Copyright British Library Board.

A young prince discovers that suffering is tied to worldly goods, so when his father offers him his entire kingdom he declines. It's a level of zen that most of us can only dream of achieving, and is the story of Prince Siddharta, better known as Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

The story is told through beautiful illustrations in The British Library's exhibition on Buddhism — one of the world's major religions with over 500 million followers, and one that many of us will know little about beyond aspects that have crossed over into Western culture, such as meditation and mindfulness.

An illustrated Guanyin Sutra, associated with compassion. Copyright British Library Board.

There are illustrations of Buddha meeting the Gods in heaven, the heavenly forest and a rather scary-looking protector deity wearing a crown of skulls — it is said that he destroys negative forces that impede Enlightenment.

Most museum exhibitions are filled with beautiful objects but this show really excels, with stunning images everywhere. The Buddha is reincarnated as a golden stag, a giant red Lord of Death grabs hold of the Karmic wheel of life, and an empty palace sits at the top of the heavens to symbolise the emptiness of self as the highest achievement.

Gilded and lacquered palm leaf with delicate inscriptions. Copyright British Library Board.

Buddhist teachings travelled far, and they pop up here in a Germanic language in a 15th century book, and more recently in a Manga version of the life of the Buddha. There are scriptures written on tree bark and a calming soundtrack playing throughout the exhibition to help us all find inner peace.

The show ends appropriately with a bell, struck with a soft mallet, which fills the gallery with a calming ring. It's the perfect exit to an enlightening exhibition and gives me the meditative calmness I need when stepping out into the chaos of the King's Cross area.

Buddhism is on at The British Library until 23 February 2020. Tickets for adults are £12.60.

Last Updated 25 October 2019