When mention is made of "mandala", most people think of esoteric
mandalas, whether in the context of the Japanese Shingon school or the
Tibetan tradition. At about half a century before Kukai (774-835) brought
back to Japan from China the Shingon teaching and, among other things,
the two main mandalas, a Pure Land mandala already existed in Japan, which
is known as Taima Mandala.
Previously in China, a great Pure Land master Shan-tao (613-681)
is said to have awakened aspiration for birth in the Pure Land when he
saw a Pure Land mandala. According to his biographies, he painted three
hundred Pure Land mandalas. About the same time, Empress Wu (624-705) is
said to have had four hundred Pure Land mandalas made. It is believed that
many such mandalas were made during the Sui and T'ang dynasties, of which
as many as 365 wall-paintings of Pure Land mandalas exist in the Mo-kao
Cave in Tun-huang. Of these paintings, more than 70 are those of Amida's
A mandala of Amida and his Pure Land, older than the Taima Mandala but
smaller in size, was painted by Chiko (709-780), a monk of the Sanron
school who lived in Gangoji in Nara, after receiving an inspiration from
Amida. The original Chiko Mandala was a small work, measuring about 30cm.
in width and length, but copies in larger size were made later.
There is another Pure Land mandala, known as the Seikai (or Shokai) Mandala, which a Hosso
monk, Seikai (or Shokai)(died in 1017), is
said to have received from an old man.
Of the three mandalas, the Taima Mandala is the largest and most grandiose,
and left a great influence on the practice and art of Pure Land Buddhism
in Japan. It is a pictorial presentation of the Contemplation Sutra,
one of the three Pure Land sutras, which enjoyed great popularity in China.
Shan-tao wrote a four-fascicle commentary on this sutra, and based his
Pure Land doctrine and practice on it. Honen (1133-1212), the founder
of the Jodo school, inherited Shan-tao's Pure Land thought and exclusively
practiced the nembutsu. One of his leading disciples and the founder of
Seizan school, Shoku (1177-1247), inspected the Taima Mandala and
wrote an extensive commenary, and also had copies of it made and distributed
them throughout Japan.
The tradition of using this mandala as an aid to understanding the context
of the Contemplation Sutra came to be established in Jodo school,
and many commentaries were compiled.
Little or nothing has been known of the mandalas of the other two Pure
Land sutras. Fortunately, we have now those mandalas as well. The late
Mr. Harold Stewart (1916-95), a Buddhist poet from Australia, purchased
hanging scrolls of the mandalas of the Three Sutras in Kyoto during the
1960's to 1980's.
(1) Taima Mandala:
A woodblock print of this type of mandala, painted in gorgeous color, measuring
111cm long and 90cm wide, is about a sixteenth of the original size, but
is particularly important because it bears two hymns by Dokutan (1628-1706),
the fourth abbot of the Obaku school at Manpukuji. One day, he saw a copy
of the Taima Mandala and was deeply impressed by it. He made many copies
of it and distributed them widely. This particular kind of Taima Mandala
is called "Dokutan Mandala".
(2) Muryojukyo Mandala:
A well preserved hanging scroll of the mandala depicting the contents of
the Sutra on the Buddha of Infinite Life (Amitayus)(or polularly
called "Larger Sutra"), probably dating from the middle
of the Edo period. A colored woodblock painting, 139cm long and 68cm wide.
This is perhaps the most excellent version of the mandala of this sutra.
Besides presenting the important aspects of the sutra, it shows at the
bottom the fearful sight of the eight fiery hells, based on Genshin's Ojoyoshu
and other works.
(3) Amida Sutra Henso:
Little has been known of the Amida Sutra Mandala. The one preserved by
Chion-in, Kyoto, is a description of the Pure Land only, and we cannot
find in it any relation with the Amida Sutra. "Henso"
in the title literally means "a transformed picture", and is
used in the sense of "a pictorial presentation of the contents of
a sutra". The Amida Sutra Mandala in the possession of the late Mr.
Stewart is the most recent of the three mandalas, dating from 1867. This
is a hanging scroll painted on silk in gorgeous colors and with an abundant
use of gold. This is unique in many respcts, and is a valuable addition
to Pure Land art.
Taima Mandala - explanation
Larger Sutra Mandala - explanation
Amida Sutra Mandala - explanation
Jodo Mandala Study Group - information
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