X-Rays Reveal 180 Artifacts Hidden Inside 700-Year-Old Japanese Buddha

The statue is a smaller figurine of Monju Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva of wisdom in Buddhist teachings, as shown here in the Todai-ji temple, Nara, Japan.  Kononchuk Alla/Shutterstock

The scanning of a 700-year-old Japanese Buddhist statue has revealed 180 hidden artifacts crammed inside the diminutive figure.

The statuette, usually found at the Hokkeji temple in the ancient Japanese capital of Nara, is just 73 centimeters (30 inches) tall, and yet at least 180 items, Including scrolls, have been found inside.

Officials at the Nara National Museum, where the Buddha is currently on display, suspected the statuette contained something, a hidden compartment perhaps, but nothing else was known.

CT scanning revealed that the statue was basically hollow, and the incredible X-rays showed what looks like around 30 scrolls, relics, and other items in the head section, and another 150 or so in the rest of the figurine.

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According to Japanese national news organization NHK, the researchers report that the items have probably sat inside the statue undisturbed since they were placed in there, around 700 years ago, as there is no sign it has ever been opened. This is not usual practice, but some experts have suggested it could be for the items, or the author of the scrolls, to be closer to Buddha. 

“In terms of the artifacts inside, the statue is really special,” Shigeki Iwata, special research chair at the Nara National Museum, told NHK.

“The discovery is historically valuable and has increased its value as a cultural asset."

The statue depicts Monju Bosatsu, one of the four great Bodhisattvas in Buddhism. In the Mahayana tradition followed mainly in Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan, Bodhisattvas – “one who seeks awakening” – are people with great wisdom and power, who are on the path to becoming a Buddha.

In Mahayana teachings, anyone who sets out to seek this awakening can become a Bodhisattva, though their quest for this enlightenment has to be for the sake of all beings. Their knowledge, wisdom, and power are highly sought after, though it is their compassion that is prized above all else.

Monju, the wisest of the Bodhisattvas, is usually depicted in art across Asia with a sutra (religious teaching) in his left hand and a sword for cutting off delusion and ignorance in the other. He is also often shown riding a lion, representing the taming of wisdom.

Whether researchers will crack into the statue to find out what wisdom has been hidden inside has yet to be confirmed, but that it has some kind of knowledge to impart is indubitable. 

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