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[Origin] Of the three mandalas under discussion, the Taima Mandala is the oldest and best-known. According to tradition, Chujo no Tsubone, the daughter of a nobleman Yokohagino Dainagon, lost her mother, and so aspired to the Pure Land where she should have been born. In 763 she became a nun at the Taima-dera, Nara Prefecture, and received the Dharma name Honyo ("Dharma-suchness"). Wishing to envision Amida, she began a seven-day meditation on him. On the sixth day a nun appeared and instructed Honyo to gather a hundred horseloads of lotus-stems. When this was done in three days with the help of her father, the nun appeared again and span the lotus fibers into thread. When she had dyed the threads in the five Buddhist colors, another nun appeared and wove them into a Pure Land mandala overnight. Honyo was greatly rejoiced to see this, and asked their names. The first nun said that she was an incarnation of Amida and the second nun, Kannon (Avalokiteshvara). Since then, Honyo diligently contemplated this mandala, and successfully attained birth in the Pure Land in 775.

[Transmission] The original Taima Mandala was a large tapestry of about 13 feet in height and width and is now hardly discernible, but later copies made in reduced sizes, show its general composition and details. This mandala became popular after the 13th century. Shoku (1177-1247), a disciple of Honen and the founder of the Seizan school of the Jodo sect, visited Taima-dera in 1229 at the request of its resident priest, Ken'a, and carefully examined the mandala. Deeply impressed by its grandeur and its precise presentation of the Contemplation Sutra in accordance with Shan-tao's (613-681) commentaries, Shoku wrote a detailed commentary, entitled Taima-mandara-chuki, 10 fasc. He had a painter make copies of the mandala and donated them to various temples and Nembutsu centers. He also had wood-blocks of it carved, which he distributed in Japan and China.
 Shoku's commentary was followed by many others, including the extensive one by Shoso Yuyo (1366-1440), the eighth abbot of the Chinzei school of Jodo sect and the founder of the Zojoji temple in Tokyo. Copies of the mandala were widely used as "etoki" (explanation of the teaching by a picture) as well as objects of veneration.

[Dokutan Mandala] Later in the Edo period (1603-1867), with the undiminished popularity of the Taima Mandala, more copies were made in various reduced sizes, such as a half, a quarter, one eighth, one sixteenth, one twenty-fifth, and even one hundredth. The Taima Mandala in the late Mr. Harold Stewart's possession is a hanging scroll of a wood-block print, measuring 111 by 90.5 cm., painted in pale gold and delicate colors. On the bottom it bears the names of the donors and the date, "the 4th year of Genroku" (1691). What is special about this mandala is that in the upper margin it bears two Chinese hymns composed by Dokutan (1628-1706), a Chinese native who came to Japan with Ingen, the founder of the Obaku school of the Zen sect, and became the fourth abbot of the Manpukuji at Uji. Obaku school is a later development of Zen and is noted for its close connection with the Nembutsu teaching. Dokutan was fascinated by the Taima Mandala and made a great effort to popularize it by printing many copies. This type of the Taima Mandala is especially called "the Dokutan Mandala."


Click Roman letters to jump to the explanation below

Prefatory Part

Vulture Peak (ch.1)
Aspiration to the Pure Land (ch.5)
Loathing this world of suffering (ch.4)
Confinement of Queen Vaidehi (ch.3)
Imprisonment of King Bimbisara (ch.2)

11 Pavilions

6 Amida's preaching

3 Meeting with Amida

The Pure Land

13 Sky

12 Transformation of Light

9 Court-yard

8 The Three Holy Ones

7 Platform

4 Pond

1 Dance stage

10 Pavilions

5 Amida's preaching

2 Meeting with Amida

[C] Thirteen Contempla-

1 Setting sun (ch.9)
2 Water (ch.10)
3 Ground (ch.11)
4 Trees (ch.12)
5 Ponds (ch.13)
6 Pavilions (ch.14)
7 Lotus-throne (ch.15)
8 Image of Amida (ch.16)
9 Amida's true body (ch.17)
10 Avaloki-
teshvara (ch.18)
11 Mahasthama-
prapta (ch.19)
12 Aspirants (ch.20)
13 Various images (ch.21)

[D] Nine ranks of aspirants

9 Lowest low (ch.30)
8 Middle low (ch.29)
7 Highest low (ch.28)
6 Lowest middle (ch.27)
5 Middle middle (ch.26)


4 Highest middle (ch.25)
3 Lowest high (ch.24)
2 Middle high (ch.23)
1 Highest high (ch.22)

For the text of the Contemplation Sutra corresponding to the Mandala illustrations,
see Sukhavati-Index


The Taima Mandala formerly in the late Mr. Stewart's collection and now in the possession of the Pure Land Mandala Study Group has four sections, showing prominent features described or referred to in the Contemplation Sutra. The arrangement in four sections follows Shan-tao's four-fascicle commentary on the sutra.
[A] The wide area in the center is the Pure Land with glorious manifestations.
[B] The panel on the left side, containing eleven pictures, describes the scene where the sutra was delivered and the story behind the sutra in accordance with Shan-tao's Prefatory Part. The pictures from the bottom upwards show how Devadatta won the favor of Ajatashatru, how his father King Bimbisara was imprisoned, how Queen Vaidehi was confined in a room, how she was delivered from the suffering by the Buddha's preaching, and so on.
[C] The panel on the right side, containing thirteen scenes, is the section on Meditative Good. We read from the top downwards, beginning with contemplation of the setting sun. As our contemplation advances, we visualize Amida and the two attending bodhisattvas.
[D] The panel at the bottom describes, from right to left, the nine ranks of those born in the Pure Land. Shan-tao calls this section "Non-meditative Good". In the middle of this section the story about the Taima Mandala is inscribed.
The chapter references given in the chart are the same as those in H. Inagaki's translation of the Contemplation Sutra and also agree with those in the Honganji edition of the original Chinese text and its Japanese transcription published by Honganji in 1988 with the title "Jodoshinshu Seiten."

(A) Glorious manifestations of the Pure Land

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[1] At the bottom of this section there is a dance stage where old dwellers of the Pure Land, joined by the newly born who are not yet dressed, dance and play music joyfully to express their gratitude to the Buddha. [2,3] Those born in the Pure Land meet with Amida for the first time and respectfully pay homage to him. [4] In the pond grow lotus-flowers profusely, into which aspirants of different ranks are born, and among them are floating two gorgeous barges steered by the newly born. [5,6] On either side of the pond is a big richly decorated tree, under which Amida preaches the Dharma to the residents. In each tree are manifested various Buddha-lands. [7] On the platform in front of Amida sit two newly born, who are in the highest level of the highest grade; attended by two bodhisattvas, they are received in audience by Amida. [8] The Three Holy Ones are the dominant feature in the whole picture. With a magnificent canopy hanging above head, Amida sits cross-legged; his fingers form the mudra of preaching the Dharma (dharma-cakra-pravartana). Amida is flanked by Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva on his left and Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva on his right, each attended by many bodhisattvas. [9] Behind the Three Holy Ones is the courtyard surrounded by palace buildings. [10,11] On either side of the central part are multi-storied jewelled pavilions,where incarnated bodies of Amida attended by bodhisattvas are either standing or sitting cross-legged. [12] The Pure Land being the land of immeasurable light, it is suffused with illuminating light. Especially fascinating is the transformation of light, which emanates from Amida's head; beautiful rays of light produce apparitional pagodas and holy sages. [13] The sky above is filled with glorious phenomena: hovering musical instruments, flying birds, visiting Buddhas and bodhisattvas from other Buddha-lands, and so forth. The sky is distinct in three colors: yellow in the lowest layer, white in the middle, and dark blue in the uppermost part.

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[B] Prefatory Part

[1] The top frame shows theVulture Peak in the outskirts of Rajagriha, the capital of Magadha, where the Contemplation Sutra was delivered. Buddha Shakyamuni was dwelling there with 1,250 monks and 32,000 bodhisattvas. The four frames at the bottom describe the predicament of King Bimbisara. [2] First, Devadatta manifested supernatural power to win the favor of Prince Ajatashatru and then he told the Prince that the King tried to kill the Prince after his birth. [3] The infuriated Prince captured the King and imprisoned him and placed guards at the gate. [4] Queen Vaidehi spread flour paste over the body, filled her ornaments with grape juice and offered these to the King. [5] At the request of the King, the Buddha daily sent to the King two disciples, Mahamaudgalyayana and Purna, to teach him the Dharma and also give him the eight precepts. [6] Once Ajatashatru visited the prison and found that the King was still alive. [7] The Prince became furious with his mother and tried to kill her, but was stopped by his ministers. [8] As she was imprisoned in an inner chamber of the royal palace, she sorrowfully begged the Buddha for help; so he sent two disciples, Mahamaudgalyanana and Ananda, to the Queen. [9] Soon the Buddha himself appeared in the inner chamber attended by these two disciples and many gods and devas. Seeing the Buddha, the Queen prostrated herself on the ground, and asked him to show a land of no sorrow and no affliction where she could be reborn. [10] So the Buddha manifested many Buddha-lands to let her choose the one she liked best. She said she wished to be born in Amida's Pure Land. She was thus able to see Amida and his two attending bodhisattvas. [11] Then the Buddha transmitted to Ananda the method of visualizing the Pure Land for the sake of people in the future.

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Ajatashatru: The son of King Bimbisara of Magadha; at the instigation of Devadatta, he usurped the throne and imprisoned his parents. Later, he repented of his evil acts before the Buddha and became his patron.
Devadatta: A cousin of Shakyamuni; he first followed his teaching, but later attempted to take over the leadership of the Buddhist order and even to kill the Buddha. He incited Ajatashatru to kill his father and usurp the throne. As the retribution of his grave crimes, he is said to have fallen into hell while still alive.
Eight precepts: The eight abstinences which a lay Buddhist should observe on fixed days of the month: 1. not killing living beings, 2. not stealing, 3. not having sexual intercourse, 4. not telling lies, 5. not drinking intoxicants, 6. not wearing bodily decoration, not using perfumes, not singing and dancing, and not going to see dances or plays, 7. not sleeping in a raised bed, and 8. not eating after noon.

[C] Section on the Meditative Good - Thirteen Contemplations

From the top downwards are depicted the thirteen contemplations. [1] Contemplation of the setting sun: One sits in the proper posture, facing west, gazes at the setting sun, fixes one's thought at it until one sees the image of it clearly whether one's eyes are open or closed. [2] Contemplation of the water: One envisions the western region as entirely flooded by water, then visualizes the water becoming frozen. After that one visualizes the ice turning into beryl. [3] Contemplation of the ground: The ground of the Pure Land is made of beryl. It is supported from below by columns adorned with many gems, which emit thousands of rays of light. On the ground, golden paths intercross like a net of cords. The jewels which mark areas also emit floods of light. [4] Contemplation of the jewelled trees: One visualizes the trees, eight thousand yojanas high and adorned with seven jewelled blossoms and leaves. Each blossom and leaf has the colors of various jewels. The trees are covered with splendid nets of pearls. [5] Contemplation of the ponds: In the Pure Land there are eight ponds, each made of seven jewels. The water, springing from a mani-gem, forms fourteen streams. Their banks are made of gold and its bed strewn with diamond sand of many colors. [6] Contemplation of the jewelled pavilions: In each region of the Pure Land, there are five hundred kotis of jewelled pavilions, in which innumerable devas play heavenly music. [7] Contemplation of the lotus-throne: One forms an image of a lotus-flower on the seven-jewelled ground and imagines that it has eighty-four thousand petals, each adorned with innumerable gems. The dais is made of mani-gems and is decorated with eighty thousand diamonds, etc. On the dais there are four columns, each appearing to be as large as a thousand million kotis of Mount Sumerus. On the columns rests a jewelled canopy, adorned with numerous gems. [8] Contemplation of the images of Amida and the two bodhisattvas: One forms an image of Amida, who is the color of gold from the Jambu River, sitting on the lotus-throne described above. Then one visualizes the images of the two attending bodhisattvas sitting on either side of the Buddha. [9] Contemplation of the true body of Amida: One envisions Amida's physical characteristics and his light. His body is as glorious as numerous nuggets of gold and his height is of cosmic dimensions. His eyes are as broad as the four great oceans, and his aureole is as broad as a hundred kotis of universes. In the aureole reside innumerable transformed Buddhas. [10] Contemplation of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva (Kannon): The height of this bodhisattva is also of cosmic dimensions; in his aureole with a radius of a hundred thousand yojanas reside five hundred transformed Buddhas. In the light emanating from his entire body are seen the sentient beings of the five realms of samsara. In the heavenly crown that he wears stands a transformed body of Amida measuring twenty-five yojanas in height. [11] Contemplation of Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva (Seishi): The dimensions of this bodhisattva are the same as those of Avalokiteshvara. The light emanating from his entire body illuminates the worlds of the ten directions, making them shine like purple-gold. So he is called Boundless Light. Furthermore, he has great power to illumine all beings with the light of wisdom in order to deliver them from the three evil realms; hence, he is also called Possessed of Great Power. [12] Contemplation of the aspirants themselves born in the Pure Land: One visualizes oneself as born in the Pure Land sitting cross-legged upon a lotus-flower. First one visualizes the lotus-flower as closed; as it opens, one is able to see Buddhas and bodhisattvas filling the sky and hear the sounds of the water, etc., and the voices of the Buddhas all expounding the Dharma. Seeing them thus is called the visualization of the Pure Land and also the comprehensive visualization. [13] Contemplation of the images of Amida and the two bodhisattvas: One pictures an image of Amida, sixteen feet tall, on the surface of a pond, attended by the two bodhisattvas. By the power of his Primal Vow, he can manifest himself in various sizes, all of the color of pure gold.

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five realms of samsara: The five states of existence in samsara: hell and the realms of hungry spirits, animals, humans and devas.
kalpa: An aeon; an incredibly long period of time.
koti: A numerical unit said to be equal to 10 million.
three evil realms: The three lowest states of existence: the realm of animals, that of hungry spirits and hell.
yojana: A unit of distance in India, said to be equal to 7 miles or 9 miles.

[D] Non-meditative Good - Nine ranks of aspirants

[1] The highest level of the highest grade: The aspirants who belong to this group are those who abstain from killing, observe the precepts, chant the Mahayana sutras, and practice mindfulness, aspiring to be born in the Pure Land. When they die, they see Amida, the two bodhisattvas and innumerable transformed Buddhas, etc., welcoming them to the Pure Land. Upon birth therein, they see the Buddha and bodhisattvas complete with all the physical characteristics; having heard the Dharma, they realize the insight into the non-arising of all dharmas, and receive from all the Buddhas of the ten directions the prediction of their future attainment of Buddhahood. [2] The middle level of the highest grade: The aspirants who fall in this group are those who do not necessarily uphold and chant the Mahayana sutras but comprehend the Dharma, have deep faith in the law of karma and do not speak slightingly of the Mahayana. When they are about to die, Amida appears before them, surrounded by Avalokiteshvara, Mahasthamaprapta and innumerable sages and attendants, carrying a lotus-seat for each aspirant. Amida and a thousand transformed Buddhas extend their hands, welcoming them to the Pure Land. Having been born in a seven-jewelled pond of that land, the flowers in which they are enclosed open after one night; then they will see the light of the Buddha and bodhisattvas, hear the Dharma, and after seven days, reach the Stage of Non-retrogression. After the lapse of a smaller kalpa, they attain the insight into the non-arising of all dharmas, and receive from each Buddha the prediction of their attainment of Buddhahood in the future. [3] The lowest level of the highest grade: The aspirants who fall in this group are those who accept the law of karma, do not speak slightingly of the Mahayana, awaken aspiration for Bodhi, and aspire to be born in the Pure Land with the merit acquired. When they are about to die, Amida, together with Avalokiteshvara, Mahasthamaprapta and a host of attendants, come to welcome them, bringing a golden lotus-flower for each aspirant and manifesting five hundred transformed Buddhas. Soon the aspirants find themselves seated upon the lotus-flowers and immediately attain birth on a seven-jewelled pond. After a day and night, the flowers open and, within seven days, they behold the Buddha. After three weeks, they are able to see his physical characteristics clearly and hear his exposition of the Dharma. After three smaller kalpas, they acquire clear understanding of the Dharma and dwell in the Stage of Joy. [4] The highest level of the middle grade: The aspirants who fall in this group are those who keep the five precepts, observe the eight precepts, abstain from committing the five gravest offenses and other transgressions, and transfer the merit acquired to the Pure Land, aspiring to be born there. When they are about to die, Amida appears before them, surrounded by a host of monks and radiating a golden light. He then expounds the truth of suffering, etc. Seated on the lotus-flowers prepared for them, they attain birth in the Pure Land. When the flowers open, they hear the voices extolling the Four Noble Truths and immediately attain Arhatship. [5] The middle level of the middle grade: The aspirants who fall in this group are those who observe even for a day the eight precepts or the precepts of a monk or a nun, do not violate any of the rules of conducts, and transfer the merit acquired to the Pure Land, aspiring to be born there. When they are about to die, they see Amida coming towards them with his attendants and carrying seven-jewelled lotus-flowers. Seated upon them, they will be born on a jewelled pond of the Pure Land. After seven days, the lotus-flowers open; then they pay homage to the Buddha and reach the Stage of a Stream-Winner. After half a kalpa, they become Arhats. [6] The lowest level of the middle grade: The aspirants who fall in this group are good men and women who are dutiful to their parents and do benevolent deeds for others. When they are about to die, they may meet a good teacher, who fully explains the bliss of the Pure Land and the Forty-eight Vows. Having heard this, they die and quickly reach the Pure Land. Seven days later, they meet Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta and hear the Dharma from them and so reach the Stage of Stream-Winner. After one small kalpa, they become Arhats. [7] The highest level of the lowest grade: The aspirants who fall in this group are those who commit various evil acts but do not slander the Mahayana sutras. When they are about to die, they may meet a good teacher, who praises the Mahayana sutras. By hearing the titles of these sutras, they are released from the burden of evil karma which they have accumulated during a thousand kalpas. Furthermore, the teacher advises them to join their palms and call, "Namo amida butsu" (Homage to Amida Buddha. Calling the name of the Buddha extinguishes the evil karma that they have committed during fifty kotis of kalpas of samsara. Amida then sends his transformed body and those of Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta to the aspirants to take them to the Pure Land. Seven weeks after birth there, they see the two bodhisattvas and hear from them the profound Dharma. Then they awaken the Bodhi-mind and, after ten smaller kalpas, enter the First Stage of Bodhisattvahood. [8] The middle level of the lowest grade: The aspirants who fall in this group are those who violate the five precepts, the eight precepts or the complete precepts of a monk or a nun, steal from the Sangha or take the personal belongings of monks, or preach the Dharma with impure motives. When they are about to die, the flames of hell close in on them. Then they may meet a good teacher, who explains to them Amida's supernatural powers, his virtues, etc. Hearing this, the evil karma which they have committed during eighty kotis of kalpas of samsara will be extinguished. Thus, the fierce flames of hell turn into cool and refreshing breezes, wafting heavenly flowers. On each flower is a transformed Buddha accompanied by bodhisattvas welcoming them. In an instant, they attain birth within the lotus-buds on a seven-jewelled pond. After six kalpas, the lotus-buds open and the two bodhisattvas comfort them with their noble voices and teach them profound Mahayana sutras. Upon hearing these, they awaken the Bodhi-mind. [9] The lowest level of the lowest grade: The aspirants who fall in this group are those who commit the five gravest offenses, the ten evil acts and all kinds of immorality. Owing to such evil karma, they are bound to fall into evil realms and suffer endless agony for many kalpas. When they are about to die, they may meet a good teacher, who consoles them in various ways, teaching them the wonderful Dharma and urging them to be mindful of the Buddha; but they are too tormented by pain to do so. The teacher then advises them to say "Namo amida butsu." They repeat this ten times sincerely and continuously. With each repetition of the Buddha's Name, the evil karma which they have committed during eighty kotis of kalpas of samsara is extinguished. When they die, they each sees before him a golden lotus-flower like the disk of the sun, and in an instant he is born within a lotus-bud in the Pure Land. After twelve great kalpas the lotus-bud opens, and then Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta teach him the Dharma. Hearing this, he immediately awakens the Bodhi-mind.

Arhatship: The state of an arhat; the highest of the four stages of spiritual attainment in Hinayana.
five gravest offenses: 1. killing one's father, 2. killing one's mother, 3. killing an arhat, 4. causing the Buddha's body to bleed, and 5. causing disunity in the Buddhist order.
five precepts: the five precepts for laymen and laywomen: 1. not killing, 2. not stealing, 3. not committing adultery, 4. not telling lies, and 5. not drinking intoxicants.
Four Noble Truths: 1. the truth of suffering, 2. the truth regarding the cause of suffering, 3. the truth regarding the extinction of suffering, and 4. the truth regarding the path to Nirvana.
Stream-Winner: The first of the four stages of spiritual attainment in Hinayana.
ten evil acts: 1. killing living beings, 2. stealing, 3. committing adultery, 4. telling lies, 5. uttering harsh words, 6. uttering words which cause enmity between two or more persons, 7. engaging in idle talk, 8. greed, 9. anger, and 10. wrong views.

[Bibliography] H. Inagaki, The Three Pure Land Sutras: A study and translation, Nagata Bunshodo, 1994; second edition, 1995; 3rd edition, 2000; pp. 315-350.
H. Inagaki, The Three Pure Land Sutras, BDK English Tripitaka 12-II, III, IV, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 1995, pp. 91-118.

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