About the paintings

1. Kannon in Fudaraku
Kannon (Sanskrit: Avalokiteśvara) is one of the most popular divinities in Buddhism and often described as the bodhisattva of compassion. Kannon was considered a male deity in India, but in China and Japan it is more often represented as a female one. The complexity of Kannon’s representations originates in the Lotus Sutra where it is stated that she will take on 33 different forms in order to bring salvation to as many as possible.
 
This painting represents Kannon in her paradise, the mountainous island of Fudaraku (Sanskrit: Potalaka). Fudaraku was considered a pure land, but at the same time was believed to be in the human world, and therefore more approachable than other pure lands. The style of the painting carries Indian influences, seen in the flashy neck and facial hair marking the figure as male. A handwritten note on the back of the scroll attributes this painting to Tang Dynasty (618-907) painter Wu Daozi. In all probability this is a later copy of the work, but the style was transmitted well.
 


2. Royō Daruma (Daruma on a Reed) by Gudō
Daruma (Sanskrit: Bodhidharma) is believed to be a Buddhist monk from India who transmitted meditation to China in the 6th century. He is considered the patriarch of Zen Buddhism (Chan in Chinese), and mainly venerated in China and Japan where many legends were told of him. Daruma’s representations relay much on his semi-legendary figure. For example, since he came from India he is often depicted as a foreigner with thick curly beard, round eyes and body hair.
 
Royō Daruma is one of the popular themes in Daruma representations, referring to the legend of his crossing of the Yangtze River on a single reed. The composition of this painting utilizes the empty space to give the viewer a sense of the wide river. No waves were painted, only the wind blowing Daruma’s sleeves and his determined glare point to his destination, the painter’s seal weights down his point of origin.
 
 
3. Royō Daruma (Daruma on a Reed) by Feng Dian
This is another depiction of Daruma crossing the river on a reed. However, this painting combines another Daruma theme: Sekiri Daruma, literally “one shoe Daruma”. A legend tells that after his death Daruma returned to India barefooted, carrying one shoe. The missing shoe was later found in his empty grave. Here, the shoe hangs from his walking staff.
 
This work is a print made with stone rubbing technique, the oldest printing technique known in China and Japan. A Chinese monk named Feng Dian (known as Fūten in Japan) designed it in 1689. The image was carved into a stone stele that can still be seen today in the Xi’an Beilin Museum in China. In comparison to the above Royō Daruma, the composition here is very condensed, very little space was left. Together with Daruma’s fierce expression, this leaves a powerful impression.

 
4. Niso Taimen (Meeting of the Two Patriarchs)
This painting illustrates the meeting of two great Pure Land Buddhism patriarchs: the Chinese Zendō (Chinese: Shandao, 613-681) on the left, and Hōnen (1133-1212) on the right. This miraculous meeting occurred in a dream, as great distance and half a century separated the two, but the influence of Zendō on Hōnen was very real. Hōnen was the founder the Pure Land sect in Japan (Jōdo-shū), which he based on the writings of Zendō.
 
The scene of their meeting in a dream is well known among Pure Land devotees, and was described in writings and illustrated in paintings. Hōnen was praying by a river when bright light shone over, and from it, floating on a cloud, came a figure of a monk, his upper half worldly, and his lower half in gold. The monk identified himself as Zendō, and the conversation the two had led to the establishment of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan.
 
 
5. Mandala of the White Path Crossing Two Rivers (Niga Byakudō Mandara)
This painting is another main theme in Japanese Pure Land Buddhism, though in a less common version. The origin of this image is in a metaphor written by Zendō in which he likened human desires to two raging rivers, one of water and the other of fire, that separate our world from the Pure Land of the Buddha Amida. The wish to be reborn in the Pure Land is likened to a white path that crosses the rivers. Zendō’s metaphor became a popular painting theme, however this hand painted print is much more complex than the typical depictions.
 
The top of the image shows a luxurious Pure Land, and the bottom depicts hell scenes, including the court of Enma, lord and judge of hell. The middle and main section of the print is dedicated to the human world, and illustrates numerous scenes from history and legend of Pure Land Buddhism. The main scene of the rivers crossing is located in the upper left of the mid section, where a single white clad figure is seen running on the path toward a beckoning Amida. Pure Land faith is based on Amida’s vow to save all who believe in him, and suitably the text of this vow surrounds the print.

 
6. Diagram for Prayer to Amida Buddha (Kanshū sabuku nembutsu zusetsu)
This diagram was meant to help the devotee reach one thousand recitations of the invocation of Amida (namu amida butsu, or is short form nembutsu). In the center an Amida Triad is painted, Amida (Sanskrit: Amitābha) in the center, flanked by two bodhisattvas: Seishi (Sanskrit: Mahāsthāmaprāpta) on the right and Kannon (Sanskrit: Avalokiteśvara) to the left. The main image is surrounded by the Amida sutra and "Nembutsu-marks" meant to be colored in the five colors (blue, yellow, red, white, black) as one prayers in order to count the recitations. Some of the marks remain blank and so prove the print was used.
 
This type of diagrams became widespread in Japan after their initial introduction by the Chinese Rinzai-Zen monk Dokutan Shōkei (独湛性瑩, 1628-1706) who came to Japan in 1654. However this print has irregularities. In most prints Amida appears alone, not in a triad as depicted here. In addition, the original design included a blank space above the lotus podium seen under the triad. This was meant for the devotee to fill in their wish, here a child was painted. This could represent the devotee’s wish to be reborn in the Pure Land, or might have been added with the coloring to fit the owner’s artistic taste.

 
7. Kasuga Deer Mandala (Kasuga Shika Mandara)
Kasuga Shrine is one of the best known shrines of Nara, the ancient capital of Japan. It is located on the outskirts of Nara, at the foot of Mount Mikasa. The deers of Nara were considered sacred, and even today they roam freely in the older part of the city. According to legend the main deity of Kasuga, Tsukemi-kazuchi-no-mikoto, came to Mount Mikasa riding a white deer. This tale is behind the numerous Kasuga Deer Mandalas now extant. These mandalas depict a deer with a sacred sakaki tree on his back. A round mirror, symbolizing the sun, hangs from the tree, and often the five deities of Kasuga appear in it. However, the five figures here are not the typical ones. Indeed, the lower lone figure is Zendō, a Chinese Buddhist patriarch who had never been to Japan. The other four figures are, from right to left, Amida (Sanskrit: Amitābha), Kannon (Sanskrit: Avalokiteśvara), Jizō (Sanskrit: Ksitigarbha), and Seishi (Sanskrit: Mahāsthāmaprāpta). These deities had been venerated in Kasuga, however their combination is unusual. There is good probability that the painting originally depicted a clear mirror and the figures were added in a later point.
 
 
 8. Mandala of Mount Sumeru (Shumisen mandara)
According to Buddhist cosmology there is a mountain in the center of the universe. In Sanskrit it was called Mount Meru but the prefix ‘su’, meaning ‘wonderful’ or ‘great’, is often added and so it is often known as Mount Sumeru. Sumeru’s size is beyond human perception, it carries the different realms of deities and demi-gods, and is circled by the sun and moon. Our world is but a small island in the vast seas that encircle Sumeru. This painting is a detailed depiction of this complex cosmology, from the circles of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, metal) at the bottom to the different heavens at the top. Mount Sumeru has been depicted in many works and styles, yet mandalas of the mountain are generally more schematic. The style of this mandala is unusual, and might have been influenced by the local style of Japanese mandalas.
 
Naama Eisenstein

The scanning and cataloging of the paintings was supported by the Japan Foundation