Scientists Analyze Great Buddha Statue

February 7, 2016

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. ascertain / æs ərˈteɪn / (v.) – to find out for sure
Example: The investigators ascertained the identity of the victim. 

2. disparity / dɪˈspær ɪ ti / (n.) – difference
Example: There were many disparities between the blueprint of the building and the actual building.

3. illuminate / ɪˈlu məˌneɪt / (v.) – to light up
Example: The Christmas lights illuminated the tree.

4. ancient / ˈeɪn ʃənt / (adj.) – very old
Example: She visited the ancient temple in the city.

5. enlightenment / ɛnˈlaɪt n mənt / (n.) – the act of gaining knowledge
Example: Many religions encourage spiritual enlightenment.


Read the text below.
Scientists from the University of Tokyo's Institute of Industrial Science analyzed the Great Buddha in Nara’s Todaiji Temple to ascertain how many hair curls it has.

The study was made at the request of Todaiji Temple officials following numerous inquiries from visitors and the Mathematics Certification Institute of Japan about how many hair curls, or rahotsu, there are on the 15-meter-high statue. The uncertainty stems from the disparity between several ancient texts' claims that there are 966 units of rahotsu on the statue and visitors' observations that there are less than that number of rahotsu on the statue.

Previous attempts to determine the actual number of rahotsu were impossible because ornaments depicting the sacred lights, illuminating the statue from behind, blocked any person from counting all the rahotsu on the statue. However, using a laser scanning method that produced a three-dimensional analysis of the statue's head, the scientists proved that the statue originally had 492 rahotsu, instead of 966 as written in the texts. Over the years, nine were lost, bringing the present number down to 483.

The Great Buddha of Nara is one of Japan's national treasures. It was constructed on the orders of Emperor Shomu and completed in 752 during the Nara period. The head curls that are the center of the controversy characterize the Buddha after enlightenment and measure 22 centimeters in diameter, 21 centimeters in height, and 1.2 kilograms in weight. Upon the release of the study’s findings, Koei Hashimura, a temple official, expressed hope that the research would attract interest toward the Buddha and the holy texts related to it.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         What is a possible effect of the disparity in the number of rahotsu in ancient texts and in real life?
·         Do you think people will be more interested to visit the Great Buddha of Nara after learning about this disparity? Why or why not?

Discussion B

·         Are you personally interested in learning about history? Why or why not?
·         How can knowledge on history be used to improve the present and the future?

February 7, 2016