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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Japanese
Creator Name-CRT: Japanese
Title: Buddha Vairochana in the Form of Ekaksara-ushnisha-chakra (Dainichi Nyorai in the Form of Ichiji Kinrin Buccho)
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1301
Creation End Date: 1399
Creation Date: Nanbokucho period, 14th century
Creation Place: Japan
Object Type: Paintings
Materials and Techniques: Ink, color, and gold on silk
Parts and Pieces: hanging scroll
Dimensions: 43 1/2 x 32 5/8 in. (110.5 x 82.9 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.207
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Context: The introduction of Buddhism to Japan was one of the most important events in Japanese history and had a lasting effect on the development of its thought, art, and culture. According to Japanese sources, Buddhism was introduced from the Korean kingdom of Paekche in either 538 or 552 as part of a series of diplomatic exchanges that also led to a broader awareness of the beliefs and material culture of China and Korea. Vairochana, whose name means "infinite light," is worshipped as the primary Buddha in the Shingon sect of Esoteric Buddhism. This painting of Vairochana as the Buddha of the Golden Wheel (Ekaksara-ushnisha-chakra) may date to the Nanbokucho period (1336-1392). The Buddha's ovoid face, long narrow eyes, full nose, and pursed lips are typical of 14th-century paintings. The figure's shoulders are narrower and the torso less expansive than are those of buddhas in 13th-century paintings. The distance between his knees is also shorter. Finally, the stiffness found in details such as the scarves hanging from the Buddha's crown or the sash that ties his lower garment as well as the exaggeration of other details, such as the folds of his lower garment or the lotus petals on his pedestal, also point to a date in the Nanbokucho period.
Vairochana is seated in the posture of meditation and holds his hands in a distinctive gesture known as the wisdom-fist (jnanamushtimudra). This gesture, in which the index finger of the left hand is extended into the right fist, symbolizes the unity of sacred wisdom and human ignorance. The source for this representation of Vairochana is his image in the top center square of the mandala of the Diamond Realm, one of the two central mandalas of Shingon Buddhism. The name Buddha of the Golden Wheel refers to the imagery: ekaksara refers to the single Sanskrit syllable bhrum through which the Buddha's spiritual potency is verbalized; the ushnisha is the cranial protuberance at the top of the Buddha's head, a symbol of wisdom; and chakra refers to the golden wheel, a symbol of both the Buddhist law and Vairochana's role as a universal monarch. The stylized flames in Vairochana's halo represent mystical emanations, while the five small buddhas in his headdress indicate his wisdom. Images of Vairochana in this form appear to have been especially popular in Japan during the Heian (794-1185) and Kamakura (1185-1333) periods, and about twenty earlier examples of this theme are extant.
The use of religious icons that depict a single deity that was first represented in earlier multifigured mandala paintings is typical of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, and it has been suggested that this practice may reflect the influence of devotional cults such as Pure Land Buddhism on the development of esotericism in Japan.
Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, , p. 93.
Related Document Description: Huntington, John C. 'Three Essays on Himalayan Metal Images.' Apollo (November 1983), p. 425.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.207
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights:
Copyright, Asia Society
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