White Path to the Pure Land of Amida (Amitābha) between Two Rivers of Worldly Vice (J., Niga Byakudō Zu)
The motif of the white path to Amida’s (Amitābha’s) Pure Land between the two rivers was derived from the parable in the fourth volume of the Kanmuryōju-kyō-sho (an annotated edition of the Kanmuryōju-kyō sutra) written by Priest Zendō (613-681), a Chinese Jōdo Buddhist of the Tang dynasty. In Japan, Priest Hōnen (1133 - 1212) quoted this parable in his Senchaku Hongan Nenbutsu-shū, and Priest Shinran (1173 - 1262) mentioned the same parable in the Kyōgyō Shinsho. Since then, the white path between two rivers has become a painting motif in several schools of Jōdo Buddhism. One of the two rivers is the river of fire which symbolizes anger and hatred, and the other one is the river of water, which symbolizes persistence and avarice. By believing in Amida and by overcoming the worldly temptations which were symbolized by the rivers, one could walk along the white path leading to Amida’s Pure Land.
In Japan, the motif of the white path between the two rivers was based on the description in the Kanmuryōju-kyō-sho, and usually many other objects were added to the scene. In the painting introduced in this article, Amida’s Pure Land is described at the top left of the scene, where some human figures are depicted in the sacred pond. At the western end of the white path, Amida and his attendants (Amitābha Triad) are waiting. This world is depicted at the bottom of the painting. The detailed description with finely cut gold foil is notable.
Masterpieces of Nara National Museum. Nara National Museum, 1993, p.43, no.28.