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Art and Images in Psychiatry |

Lives of the Buddha: Vessantara the Charitable Prince Thai School

James C. Harris, MD1
[+] Author Affiliations
1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Developmental Neuropsychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
JAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70(12):1259-1260. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.2023.
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Knowledge about the past lives of the Buddha is essential to understanding Buddhist practice in Theravada Buddhist countries. Although not well known or emphasized in the West, the stories provide a rich narrative underpinning about how to attain the virtues necessary for a meaningful life. Mural paintings of the past lives of the Buddha have illuminated the walls of Buddhist temples in countries practicing Theravada Buddhism (Doctrine of the Elders) in Southeast Asia for centuries.2,3 Particular attention is paid to the last 10 lives (incarnations) of the Buddha because in them, he perfected the cardinal virtues that were requisite to being reborn as a Buddha. The last of these lives celebrates Prince Vessantara’s mastery of the virtue of generosity. Generosity is a virtue celebrated in the West at the end of each year; perhaps this ancient Buddhist tale will resonate with the upcoming holiday season.

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King Sañjaya and his retinue go to bring Vessantara and Maddi home. Early 19th Century (wall painting), Thai School, Jim Thompson House, Bangkok, Thailand/Photograph © Luca Tettoni/The Bridgeman Art Library.




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