Raising the Alms-Bowl

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

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This scroll, “Raising the Alms-Bowl,” by a late Ming or early Qing-dynasty Chinese artist depicts Hariti/Guizimu’s conversion to Buddhism. It is from the 17th or 18th century. Local mothers in Rajgir in northern India, terrorized by Hariti’s child-stealing, complained to the Buddha. In order to teach Guizimu a lesson about the pain of losing a child, the Buddha kidnapped one of her children and hid him beneath his alms bowl. Guizimu went wild with grief. She tried to lift the alms bowl by force, but couldn’t manage it. In this version of the story, she recruited an army of other demons to attempt to lift the bowl as well, illustrated at left. Yet however hard they tried and whatever devices they used (here, a giant lever), they couldn’t lift the bowl. It was only when Guizimu renounced child-stealing and accepted the Buddhist principles and path that she could lift the bowl and be reunited with her child.

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