based on material offered by Mr.Du Feibao
The Sleeping Buddha is Sakyamuni on his death bed entering nirvana. It can be seen in temples, grottoes or frescoes all round China, varied from stone engraving, wood cutting, jade carving, clay sculpture, coloured drawing to metal moulding. Its size can be so long as to tens of meters or as small as a grain of rice.
Mr. Zhao Puchu, the president of China Buddhism Association, such described the authentic sight of Sakyamuni's nirvana in the book of "General Knowledge of Buddha":
"Before the Buddha's death, he became severely sick. He walked northwest with his disciples and had the food offered by a blacksmith. His illness was getting worse. In the end, he came to a river and took a bath. Then he made a rope bed among eight sal trees, with each direction has two. He lied on his side, right hand supporting his head, the other resting on his body. All later reclining Buddhas (called Buddha's Nirvana) are in the same posture. The Buddha's disciples kept watch on him after they were told the Buddha was going to nirvana. At night, a scholar of Brahman went to see the Buddha, but was stopped by Ananda, a disciple of the Buddha. Hearing this, the Buddha called the scholar to his bed and worded for him. Thus the scholar became the Buddha's last disciple. The final exhortation of theBuddha to his disciples was that they should not be sorry for losing their tutor. Their should take the Buddhism Doctrine as their guide, eager for progress, no indulgence. After his death, the Buddha's remains were cremated.
Sakyamuni died at the age of eighty years old. People excavated the vestige of the cremation of his remains and the reclining Buddha carved in stone at where he died.
The No.158 Cave of Dunhuang Grottoes in China built in Tang Dynasty has a 15-meter-long glazed figurine of reclining Buddha in clay. Though for art's sake it was exaggerated, it still authentically reflected the scene of Sakyamuni's death. The artists of Tang Dynasty depicted the eighty-year-old Buddha into an asleep woman with plump cheeks, half-opened eyes, deeply sunk corners of mouth and kind and tranquil smile. It is said at that time, he was giving his last expounding on "Nirvana Doctrine" to his disciples around.
The southern wall of this cave drew in color two elder disciples of Sakyamuni. One of them was listening with rapt attention, while the other was running. It is said the latter was practicing Buddhism in a mountain when he heard his tutor was going to nirvana. He
rushed down to listen to Sakyamuni's last words.
On the western and eastern walls there is a colored "Sorrow Showing Picture" about Bodhisattvas, arhats and princes of all kingdoms in Turkestan. Bodhisattvas are the figures with higher awareness in Buddhism. They knew only the Buddha after nirvana could enter the Sukhavati (Western Paradise). Therefore, they showed nonchalance and indifference to Buddha's nirvana. For those arhats, as they had not reached such a high level as Bodhisattvas, their expressions are miserable when they knew the Buddha was leaving them. As to those princes, they cried out aloud, thumping their chests and stamping their feet. Some even cut their noses and ears with knives. Some laid open the bowel and committed suicide, deciding to follow the Buddha. What they had done showed their devoutness to the Buddha and their low awareness as well. These colorful pictures not only helped people historically understand the real sight of the Buddha's death, but get to know the folk customs of the ancient Turkestan people through the portraits on the drawings.
There are many reclining Buddha statues all over China, some of which have high artistic value. They have been listed as important cultural relics to be preserved by the nation.