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 Pure Land.
 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 <261.7 KB>
           Larger Sutra Mandala - explanation <327.1 KB>
          Amida Sutra Mandala - explanation <213.3 KB>
           Jodo Mandala Study Group - information

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