This painting depicts the death of Sakyamuni, the historic Buddha, in 438 B.C. The Indian prince turned sage is shown lying on his side, having delivered his final teachings. Creatures from far and wide have come to bid him farewell, including the spirit of his mother, Queen Maya, who descends from the heavens (upper left). Not understanding that the sage, through his enlightenment, has escaped the suffering incumbent on repeated deaths and rebirths, holy men and animals alike weep and writhe in grief.
With the restoration of the emperor to power in 1868, and the government's assertion that Shintoism was Japan's official religion, Buddhist temples suffered loss of patronage and even violent attacks. Harada Keigaki, in painting such a diptych, reasserted the abiding importance of Buddhism in Japan. Keigaku's meticulous brushwork and superhuman attention to detail make this a tour-de-force of traditional Buddhist imagery.