The Lotus Sutra Mandala


The Lotus Sutra Mandala

Paintings / Kamakura

Kamakura period, 13th century

Gold on purple silk



Mandalas are collective depictions of Buddhist deities that represent the world of Esoteric Buddhism. This mandala represents the Lotus Sutra, one of Buddhism’s sacred texts, through an assemblage of Buddhist deities who feature in Esoteric Buddhism. The most important part of a mandala is its center. The center of this mandala is occupied by the buddhas Shaka and Tahō seated side-by-side inside a Buddhist stupa. This is a scene from the Lotus Sutra. With his disciples before him, Shaka explains that the Lotus Sutra is the greatest of the many teachings he has preached, and that those who have listened to it can draw closer to the enlightenment of Buddhist deities. A Buddhist stupa then emerges from the ground and hovers in the air. From the stupa, Tahō affirms the truth of the teaching and invites Shaka inside. In the climactic scene, the two Buddhist deities sit side-by-side in the stupa. They are encircled by eight lotus petals, on each of which is a bodhisattva. They are surrounded by four of Shaka’s ten best disciples, who are in turn ringed by more bodhisattvas.

Many mandalas are brightly colored, but this one is painted using only gold and silver on purple silk, a noble color in Buddhism. The artist was likely conscious of the style used when writing sutras. The gold lines were painted with a brush using a gold paint made by mixing gold dust with animal glue. This makes fine lines difficult to draw. In this mandala, however, each bodhisattva is painted in detail with their distinctive swords, beads, and other accoutrements in their small frames. The background is also entirely covered in lotuses and repeating patterns. We hope you enjoy its accomplished technique and detailed depictions.

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