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Compared with the Taima Mandala, very little has been known about the Larger Sutra Mandala. The original painting, modelled on the Taima Mandala, was presumably made in the middle of the Edo period, i.e., the 18th century. Then its wood-block prints were produced and distributed in limited circulation. Those prints were painted in yellow-gold and brilliant colors, and explanatory notes painted in gold on strips of black paper were pasted on the relevant scenes of the mandala.


 Click Roman letters to jump to the explanation below

[D] Birth of the three grades of aspirants
1. Upper, 2. Middle, 3. Lower
[E] Shakyamuni's encouragement
of virtuous
(ch. 40)
[B] Dharmakara's
vows and

7 Supreme fruition
of his meritorious
acts (ch. 9)

6 Performance of
the bodhisattva
practice (ch. 9)

5 Proclamation of
the vows (ch. 9)

4 Contemplation
for five kalpas
(ch. 6)

3 Many Buddha-lands
shown by the Buddha
Lokeshvararaja (ch. 6)

2 Renunciation of
the world (ch. 5)

1 This sutra will
remain long in the
[C] Glorious manifestations of the Pure Land

20 Sky (ch. 20)

19 Arrivals and departures of bodhisattvas
(ch. 28, 42, 46)

18 Transformation of light (ch. 21)

16-17 Jewelled pavilions (ch. 21)

15 Bodhi-tree (ch. 15)

13-14 Ponds, trees and flowers (ch. 16)

11-12 Pavilions for those born in the Pure Land
(ch. 17)
9-10 Lecture halls (ch. 29)

8 Amida, Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta
(ch. 11, 28)

7 Visiting bodhisattvas and those born in the Pure
Land (ch. 23, 26)

5-6 Jewelled ground (ch. 20, 21)

4 Jewelled pond (ch. 16)

2-3 Jewelled trees (ch. 14)

1 Dance and music (ch. 10, 27)
[A] Teaching of the Larger Sutra
   3            2         1
Transmission  Illumination of the   Beginning
of the sutra   whole world with    of the
to Maitreya   Amida's light       sutra -
                      Vulture Peak
(ch. 47)       (ch. 41)       (ch. 3)
against three
evil acts

(ch. 31)

[G] Give great evils and their painful
(ch. 35-39)

(3) Eight great hot hells
[H] Immeasurable pain in the three evil
(ch. 35-40)


 (2)   (1)

Realm of


The Larger Sutra Mandala in the late Mr. Stewart's collection and now in the possession of the Pure Land Mandala Study Group has eight sections, showing prominent features described or referred to in the sutra.

The above chart shows the eight sections in Roman letters, from [A] to [H], and the chapter references given in brackets will help the reader to refer to the text of the Larger Sutra. This chapter division is the same as that in H. Inagaki's translation of the sutra and also agrees with that in the Honganji edition of the original Chinese text and its Japanese transcription published by Honganji in 1988 with the title, "Jodoshinshu Seiten".

[A] Teaching of the Larger Sutra

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In this panel we read from right to left. The scene on the right [1] shows Buddha Shakyamuni sitting on the lotus-throne. Surrounded by the audience and facing a monk, who is Ananda, the Buddha is about to begin his delivery of the sutra. The place is Vulture Peak near Rajagriha. According to the sutra, the number of the monks is 12,000 and also present are all the bodhisattvas in this cosmic period, called Bhadra Kalpa (Auspicious Aeon), including sixteen lay-bodhisattvas headed by Bhadrapala. If you have a close look at the scene, you can see Bhadrapala in white robe on the left-hand side of the Buddha. The next scene in the center [2] shows the manifestation of the Pure Land. Toward the end of the sutra, Amida emits a great flood of light, which illumines all the worlds including Mt. Sumeru and reveals various Buddha-lands. Mt. Sumeru is located at the center of the world-unit; it is surrounded by eight mountain-ranges, and in the ocean between the 7th and the 8th there are four continents inhabited by humans. On the top of Mt. Sumeru is a palace, which is a heavenly palace of Trayastrimsha (Heaven of Thirty-three Gods) ruled by Shakra (the lord of gods). Above this in the clouds, many towers and storied buildings are seen, which indicate Buddha-lands. In the flood of light the audience envision Amida and his Pure Land. Ananda with his right shoulder bared faces towards Amida and worships him. Behind him sits a long-haired monk, who is Maitreya, the future Buddha. On his left sits Buddha Shakyamuni surrounded by monks, bodhisattvas and deities. A layman and laywoman are seen behind Maitreya worshiping Amida. The next scene on the left [3] is the end of the sutra. The Buddha entrusts Maitreya, who sits in the foreground facing him, with transmission of the sutra in the future. The Buddha is surrounded by the audience; above him in the sky hovers a heavenly lady; also musical instruments and flowers shower from heaven.

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[B] Dharmakara's vows and practice

The panel [B] has seven frames. The bottom one [1] shows the period of extinction of the Dharma which comes after this period of Decadent Dharma (mappo), i.e., about 10,000 years from now. The Larger Sutra states that even when all the other Buddhist teachings perish this sutra will survive for a hundred more years to bring people to emancipation. In the period of no Dharma people have very little stock of merit and are spiritually starving. Ominously, two people depicted here are naked; with emaciated appearance and a swollen belly, they are physically starving, too. Have you not seen a picture like this in a film of the nuclear holocaust? The title of the Larger Sutra is seen on the rocky hill, and the two people are worshipping it as the final refuge. Above this, and from the second to the top frame, are the scenes of Amida in his bodhisattvahood. First [2], the king who later became Amida renounces the world; he throws away his royal costume and shaves his head. A sorrowful minister respectfully receives the costume. Two attendants by a horse are crying. Next [3], the king becomes a monk under Lokeshvararaja Buddha, who sits on the lotus-throne, and is named Dharmakara. At his request, the Buddha shows him 21 billion Buddha-lands, which are partly depicted in the circle. This vision gives Dharmakara an idea of the Pure Land that he is going to establish. Above this [4] is a scene of Dharmakara's retreat in the mountain, where he contemplates for five kalpas. The next frame [5] is Dharmakara's proclamation of the vows before Lokeshvararaja and all beings. (Open 48-vows for reference) Monks are seen in front and devas and demigods are on the side and in the background. In the sky are flying heavenly ladies, flowers and musical instruments, which indicates that the whole world is praising Dharmakara's vows. The sutra says, "...the entire earth shook in six ways, and a rain of wonderful flowers fell from heaven, scattering everywhere. Spontaneous music was heard, and a voice in the sky said, 'You are sure to attain the highest, perfect Enlightenment.'" The next frame [6] shows that cultivation of merits in Dharmakara's practice as a bodhisattva lasts for many aeons, during which he is reborn as a rich man, a ksatriya king, a cakravartin, a Brahma-king, and so on. Five of his reincarnations in those states are shown here. While reborn as such, he performs puja to Buddhas. Above the Buddha's head is a scene of Dharmakara expounding the Dharma to other people and urging them to perform the Six Paramitas. The last frame of this panel [7] shows that Dharmakara has nearly accomplished the bodhisattva practices. He has amassed enormous merits, with which he is able to produce from his hands various treasures, clothes, food and drink, flowers, banners and other ornaments.

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[C] Glorious Manifestations of the Pure Land

The dominant features in the mandala are in the central panel. In the center of this panel, Amida sits on a glorious lotus-throne and his hands are in the mudra of Dharmacakra- pravartana (mudra of turning the Wheel of Dharma) [8]. This is the same mudra as that of Amida in the Taima Mandala. This mudra is also seen in the mural painting of Amida at Horyuji and can be traced back to the 5th-century statue of Shakyamuni preserved at Sarnath Museum. Amida's body radiates a brilliant halo, and a beautiful canopy hangs over his head. A magnificent roof dominates the scene; it houses the Bodhi-tree, which is partly seen behind the four pillars [15]. The space between this hall and the storied buildings on the right and left [13,14] is filled with water where lotus-flowers bloom, and on the banks sandalwoods grow. Amida is attended by two bodhisattvas, Avalokiteshvara (Kannon) on his left and Mahasthamaprapta (Seishi) on his right [8], each of them surrounded by many bodhisattvas. In the hall in front of the three sages sits a newly born devotee who is in the higher grade;bodhisattvas from other worlds are also seated in the hall [7]. On the lotus-seats below in the pond sit two other devotees who are in the middle and lower grades; some of them are venerating Amida, and others are welcoming the newly born. Further down in the pond [4] six newly born are enjoying a bath. The water rises and recedes as one wishes. Above them two rectangular terraces [5,6] stick out in the pond; they are the jeweled ground. When one steps on it, the earth sinks four inches; when one lifts one's foot, the earth rises to the former level. On the left-hand side, colorful cloth is spread on the ground as a carpet. There is a stage in the foreground [1], where music is played and dance is performed. This is taken as a kind of offering to the Buddha and expression of gratitude to him. To the right and left of the dance-stage [2,3], there are jeweled trees. There are majestic buildings on either side of the panel. In the lower building on the right, which is a lecture-hall [9], a Nirmanakaya Buddha (apparitional Buddha) is preaching the Dharma, and in the similar building on the left [10] a bodhisattva is giving a sermon. In the buildings on nearly the same level as the three sages [11,12] people are enjoying pleasures. The buildings on the highest level are also the abode of those born in the Pure Land [16,17]; in those buildings are seen various ornaments and banners hanging from the ceiling. Above the roofs of the buildings spreads the sky full of glorious objects spreads. A phantom formation of light in the center dominates the scene [18], in which transformed bodies of the Buddha and his two attendant bodhisattvas are manifested. The light transforms itself into clusters of brilliant clouds and lotus-flowers. Many Buddhas are seen just outside the fringe of the light formation; they are transformed Buddhas produced from each lotus-flower. Throughout the sky, kalavinkas and other birds fly, heavenly maidens make offerings, musical instruments hover, and mandarava flowers are scattered in profusion. Among them are seen endless comings and goings of bodhisattvas [19], some visiting the Pure Land from other worlds and others going to visit other Buddha-lands. On the uppermost fringe of the sky hangs a jeweled net [20], which serves as rich decoration.

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[D] Birth of the Three Grades of Aspirants

The first three frames from the left-hand corner of the upper panel show the three grades of aspirants. The higher grade of aspirants on the left [1] are monks who devote themselves to the Pure Land practices; when they die, Amida comes to them with holy sages to take them to the Pure Land. The middle frame shows the middle grade of aspirants [2], who do not renounce the world but diligently practice the Pure Land Way; they build stupas, give alms to monks, and make offerings to the Buddha. When they die, they see transformed bodies of Amida and holy sages welcoming them. The next frame is the lower grade of aspirants [3]. Though unable to do many deeds of merit, they awaken aspiration for Bodhi and single-mindedly concentrate on Amida even ten times. When they die, they see Amida in a dream, and thus attain birth in the Pure Land.

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[E] Shakyamuni's Encouragement of Virtuous Acts

The two frames on the right side of the top panel show that a teacher urges people to practice the Way diligently [1] and that under the influence of the Buddha's virtue, people do virtuous deeds and so enjoy peaceful life [2].

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[F] Admonition against Three Kinds of Evil Acts

The long panel on the right side is descriptive of various evil deeds which we do through greed, anger and stupidity. The details of all kinds of evil deeds are presented in the sutra, of which good examples are shown here in realistic pictures. Also depicted here are sufferings caused by fire and floods. Death which comes to everybody is shown at the bottom in the form of cremating fire and digging of the ground for burial. The upper and middle parts are shown in large images.

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[G] The Five Great Evils and their Painful Retributions

The panel above the bottom shows from right to left the five evils which bring about painful retributions. The first frame depicts killings and their karmic retributions [1]. The second is a scene of unlawful and criminal acts [2]. The third depicts immoral acts, theft, and fightings [3]. The fourth describes evil acts done with the mouth [4]. The last frame in the left is a scene of wanton acts and disbelief of the Buddha-Dharma.

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[H] Immeasurable Pain in the Three Evil Paths


The bottom panel shows painful retributions of evil acts. In the right is the realm of animals; one can see animals and birds fighting each other for survival [1]. Next, below it in the corner is the realm of hungry spirits, who suffer from hunger and thirst [2]; as soon as they want to drink water, it turns into flames. The eight scorching hells are depicted in the most realistic touch [3]. First, the hell of "All Reviving" (1), where sinners undergo interminable pain; when they die, the guard revives them and forces them to receive further pain. Second, the hell of "Black Rope" (2), where sinners are forced to walk on the red-hot iron ropes; when they fall off, a great mass of fire burns them. Also, a red-hot iron rope is tied around the sinner and the guard cuts the body along the rope. Third, the hell of "Crushing Mountains" (3), where sinners are hung upside down, crushed with a rock, or are chasing after women only to be cut by the sharp edges of the leaves. Fourth, the hell of "Shrieking" (4), where sinners are driven into flames, or red-hot iron bars are forced into their mouths, or their intestines are pulled out. Fifth, the hell of "Scorching" (5), where sinners are fried in huge flames. Sixth, the hell of "Great Shrieking" (6), where sinners are tied to stakes and the guards pull out their tongues with red-hot iron pincers. Seventh, the hell of "Great Scorching" (7), where sinners are burnt alive in a huge mass of fire. Eighth, the hell of "Uninterrupted Torment" (Avici) (8), where big dogs, pythons and monsters with many heads vomit volumes of flame to burn the sinners. In the Larger Sutra there is no description of hell, but the artist depicted it based on Genshin's Ojoyoshu.

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[Postscript] The Larger Sutra Mandala is a valuable visual aid to the understanding of the Larger Sutra. The Chinese translation of this sutra is a difficult text to read for all nationalities, but its message is easily understood through this mandala. The name of the artist is not known, but the mandala was no doubt composed under the guidance of a scholarly priest belonging to the Jodo or Jodoshinshu school. We can also derive from this mandala many spiritual messages. It shows Amida's Dharma in action and our karma with painful retributions.

[Bibliography] H. Inagaki, The Three Pure Land Sutras: A study and translation, Nagata Bunshodo, 1994; third edition, 2000, pp. 225-313..
H. Inagaki, The Three Pure Land Sutras, BDK English Tripitaka 12-II, III, IV, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1995, pp. 19-89; second edition, 2003, pp. 1-71.

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