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Taizō-kai Mandara

Asian Art

The mandala (or mandara, in Japanese) is a diagrammatic tool used by Buddhists to guide their meditation and prayer. Most mandalas direct the viewer to travel mentally on a prescribed path, stopping to contemplate and address each figure depicted. This early Womb World (Taizō-kai) mandala is part of a pair that would have been displayed on opposite walls of a temple of Vajrayana (esoteric) Buddhism, representing different but equally viable approaches to enlightenment. The mate to this painting is currently on view in the Arts of Buddhism gallery.
MEDIUM Opaque watercolor, ink and gold on silk
  • Place Made: Japan
  • DATES 14th century
    PERIOD Nanbokucho Period
    DIMENSIONS overall: 84 1/2 x 50 1/8 in. (214.6 x 127.3 cm); image: 46 11/16 x 38 7/8 in. (118.6 x 98.7 cm)  (show scale)
    CREDIT LINE Museum Collection Fund
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Description with 21.240.1 Two large, rectangular cosmic diagrams, painted in colors and gold on silk, which together form the Ryokai Mandara. Such pictures that depict Buddhist deities arranged in a geometrical pattern are the principal objects displayed in the temples of the Shingon sect, although these objects are more likely form the Tendai Sect. The teachings of Tendai and Shingon were practiced simultaneously at several Buddhist temples in Japan. These scrolls are typical products of esoteric Buddhism, the meaning of whose complex teaching could be explained more easily in pictures then in words. They are displayed during the ceremony of Kancho (baptism). According to Professors Shunsho Manabe and Ryuichi Abe (Dec 16, 2002) they also were originally displayed in the Adhisekhara ritual initiation and the month of January for the New Years festival. 21.240.1 No. 1 is the Kongokai (Vajradhutu Mandara). It is also called the Nishi or Western Mandara. It consists of six squares framed by borders containing Buddhist deities or symbols. In the upper center square is Dainichi Nyorai (Vairocana) seated on a lotus pedestal within a circle, and with two halos behind him. In the four corners of the square are Buddhist vessels. In the square to his proper left are nine Buddhist deities arranged in rows of three each against a green ground cross hatched with gold. All of the other squares contain smaller figures of deities, or their symbols, arranged five within a circle, and five of these circles within a larger circle, this latter circle set on a green ground lined with gold within a square. Lotus flowers are generally in the corners of the squares. The deities and their symbols arranged in this geometrical fashion are regarded as emanations of Dainichi Nyorai. A narrow border of stylized blue leaves on a pink ground surrounds the picture. According to Shunsho Manabe, there is no similar example. 21.240.2 No. 2 is the Taizokai or Garbhadhatu Mandara, and is also known as the Higashi or Eastern Mandara. In the center is Dainichi Nyorai (Vairocana) seated on a lotus pedestal within a circle, and with two circles behind him. From this circle emanates the eight lobed Mahavairocana lotus. The petals are divided by vajra, each petal containing one of the four Dhyani Buddhas or his Bodhisattva. This group is contained in a square with green ground lined with gold. Above the square is a triangle topped by a leaf-shaped device (both the triangle and leaf contain a swastika) backed by a halo and resting on a lotus base. Two swastikas presented in this way are rare and hint at the connection with the Tendai sect (the Shingon sect typically only illustrates one). It is the symbol of Adi-Dharma or matter. The central square is surrounded by three rows of Buddhist divinities on a dark blue ground, one row on a green ground, and an outer row of smaller figures again on a dark blue ground, all arranged in hieratic fashion. They are regarded as emanations of Dainichi Nyorai. According to Shunsho Manabe, in the outer boarder is represented the Juniten (12 deva guardians who are the gods of the 12 directions) who are transmigrating through the six paths. The bottom of the outer boarder represents the pure land (amitabha) A narrow border of flowers on a red ground surrounds the picture. This mandara represents the world forms and its dynamic activity, while the other mandara represents the static world of ideas. According to Shunsho Manabe, there is a similar piece in the Barnet Burto collection, Cambridge. Also, Hyogo Prefecture has a mandara almost identical, which is dated to the Kamakura period. Both 21.240.1-2 Each picture has two borders, each narrow on the sides but wide above and below. The first is of light yellowish brown compound satin weave silk, patterned with all-over lotus scrolls made by the extra flat guild paper weft threads. The second and far larger paintings, of similarly woven blue silk, is so patterned by the flat guild paper extra weft threads that the allover design of diagonal cloud bands, stylized flower medallions, swastikas and other patterns appear in blue on a gold ground. The colors of the paintings are now subdued. The silk is cracked and torn and much of the paint is chipped. The execution, however, is excellent, and the silk is of a close fine weave. (This also may have changed since because of the conservation work).
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Taizō-kai Mandara, 14th century. Opaque watercolor, ink and gold on silk, overall: 84 1/2 x 50 1/8 in. (214.6 x 127.3 cm);. Brooklyn Museum, Museum Collection Fund, 21.240.2 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 21.240.2_bw_IMLS.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 21.240.2_bw_IMLS.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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