Images and sacred texts:Buddhism across Asia

14 October 2010 – 3 April 2011
Room 91
Admission free

This exhibition explores the ‘three jewels’ of Buddhism through sacred texts, painted scrolls and sculptures. It focuses on the institutional and organisational core of Buddhism.

These consist of the Buddha himself, his teachings and the monastic community. The exhibition reveals the remarkable similarities between visual and written material throughout Asia, from Sri Lanka to Japan, over more than a thousand years. The exhibition will draw on the British Museum’s unique collection, with most of the objects going on public display for the first time.

The ‘triple gem’ or ‘three jewels’ are found wherever Buddhism is practiced and have been represented in a remarkable variety of paintings, sculptures, texts and manuscripts that reflect and perpetuate their qualities. The objects that will be displayed include exquisite gold sculptures of the Buddha, beautiful texts on palm leaf and paper, and a selection of images of Buddhist monks. These artefacts originate from the whole Asian continent, including Mongolia, India, Tibet, China, Thailand, Cambodia, Korea and Japan and date from the 2nd century AD to the 20th century.

The exhibition will start by examining the Buddha’s life and illustrates how Buddhism is based on his teachings. He lived and taught in northeast India in the 5th century BC, and Buddhism today is based on the Buddha as a moral and religious example. Visitors will be shown how the Buddha is represented in India, South East Asia and East Asia, and will also be introduced to Bodhisattvas – individual beings who have the potential to become Buddhas. It will also look at the way the Buddhist tradition perpetuated its sacred texts in different media. It will finally examine the monastic community, those responsible for the preservation and transmission of the Buddha’s teaching. The exhibition has an unusual array of objects, from archaeological items excavated from early Buddhist sites to ethnographic objects collected by the British Museum in the 20th century.

budda amia seated on a lotus pedestal

Figure of the Buddha Amida seated on a lotus pedestal, made of lacquered and gilded wood.
From Dairenji Temple, Osaka, Japan, mid 18th century.

Notes to Editors:

  • A related display will be held in Room 3: Agents of the Buddha, 11 November 2010 – 9 January 2011

  • Following the success of the Great Rulers series, the British Museum will hold a new series of exhibitions dedicated to Spiritual Journeys, starting with Journey through the afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead (14 November 2010 – 6 March 2011).


For further information or images please contact Esme Wilson on 020 7323 8394 or

For online exhibition information