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Japanese Mandalas

Japanese Mandalas: Representations of Sacred Geography

Elizabeth ten Grotenhuis
Copyright Date: 1999
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    Japanese Mandalas
    Book Description:

    The first broad study of Japanese mandalas to appear in a Western language, this volume interprets mandalas as sanctified realms where identification between the human and the sacred occurs. The author investigates eighth- to seventeenth-century paintings from three traditions: Esoteric Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, and the kami-worshipping (Shinto) tradition. It is generally recognized that many of these mandalas are connected with texts and images from India and the Himalayas. A pioneering theme of this study is that, in addition to the South Asian connections, certain paradigmatic Japanese mandalas reflect pre-Buddhist Chinese concepts, including geographical concepts. In convincing and lucid prose, ten Grotenhuis chronicles an intermingling of visual, doctrinal, ritual, and literary elements in these mandalas that has come to be seen as characteristic of the Japanese religious tradition as a whole. This beautifully illustrated work begins in the first millennium B.C.E. in China with an introduction to the Book of Documents and ends in present-day Japan at the sacred site of Kumano. Ten Grotenhuis focuses on the Diamond and Womb World mandalas of Esoteric Buddhist tradition, on the Taima mandala and other related mandalas from the Pure Land Buddhist tradition, and on mandalas associated with the kami-worshipping sites of Kasuga and Kumano. She identifies specific sacred places in Japan with sacred places in India and with Buddhist cosmic diagrams. Through these identifications, the realm of the buddhas is identified with the realms of the kami and of human beings, and Japanese geographical areas are identified with Buddhist sacred geography. Explaining why certain fundamental Japanese mandalas look the way they do and how certain visual forms came to embody the sacred, ten Grotenhuis presents works that show a complex mixture of Indian Buddhist elements, pre-Buddhist Chinese elements, Chinese Buddhist elements, and indigenous Japanese elements.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6311-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    The seeds of the banyan tree often germinate in the branches of other trees where birds have dropped them. The young banyan sends out aerial shoots that take root upon reaching the ground, forming trunks to support broad, horizontal limbs. Branches of those limbs continue to put forth more prop roots until the host tree is obscured, even crowded out. The banyan is admired in India, and elsewhere in Asia, because it is so powerful.

    The spread of the Buddhist mandala from India to Japan can be likened to the spread of the banyan tree. Many Japanese mandalas—interpreted broadly...

  5. Chapter 1 The Taima Mandara
    (pp. 13-32)

    The believers who ate the Taima mandara in Fukushima prefecture regarded this painting as a sacred icon that was capable of curing physical as well as spiritual ills. But how did the Taima mandara come to embody such power? How was its sacred form determined? This chapter will present the iconography of the Taima mandara and will trace its roots in India and China. Although the basic teachings of the Pure Land tradition were established in India, subtle but powerful transformations took place as those ideas were appropriated in China. Those changes are particularly apparent in the Taima mandara. The...

  6. Chapter 2 The Diamond World Mandala
    (pp. 33-57)

    When Kūkai (posthumously known as Kōbō Daishi) returned to Japan in 806 after a two-year sojourn as a student monk in China, he brought with him the teachings and icons associated with Chinese Esoteric Buddhism as it was then practiced in the metropolitan centers of China. He wrote a report that he presented to the emperor concerning his activities in China, and he listed the various sutras, commentaries, and ritual and iconic objects that he had brought back to Japan. Among the iconic objects were two Diamond World mandalas and three Womb World mandalas. The often-quoted passage above is Kūkai’s...

  7. Color plates
    (pp. None)
  8. Chapter 3 The Womb World Mandala
    (pp. 58-77)

    As mentioned earlier, the Womb World mandala is believed to be based on chapter 2 of the Dainichikyō, a text probably composed in the middle of the seventh century. During the years 724–725, it was translated into Chinese by the Indian monk Śubhākarasiṃha (637–735) with the assistance of the Chinese monk Yixing (683–727).² There is not, however, a strict correlation between text and iconography, and the visual form of the mandala seems to be indebted to other sources, in addition to the scripture and its commentaries (Plate 8; Figure 17).

    The first impression that the viewer receives...

  9. Chapter 4 The Mandala of the Two Worlds in Japan
    (pp. 78-95)

    Although Esoteric texts and Esoteric images existed in Japan before the ninth century, systematized Esoteric teachings were not formally introduced and assimilated until the early ninth century. Saichō (767–822), posthumously known as Dengyō Daishi, the founder of the Tendai (C. Tiantai) sect in Japan, began to study Esoteric teachings during the last few months of his study-pilgrimage in China during the years 804–805.

    Kūkai had also journeyed to China in 804, as a member of the same official delegation as Saichō. But whereas Saichō’s destination was Mount Tiantai, the center of Tiantai teachings, Kūkai traveled to Chang’an. In...

  10. Chapter 5 Mandalas of Individual Deities
    (pp. 96-121)

    This passage from an Esoteric text, theRules on the Place of Worship and the Chanting of the Liturgies of the Sutra on the Protection of Countries by Benevolent Kings (Ninnōgokokukyōdōjōnenjugiki), describes the major rites for which the following mandalas of individual deities were used. It is important to note that in religious practices worldly benefits were sought in addition to the perfecting of altruistic virtues that could lead to an enlightened state.

    Hundreds of deities fill the compositions of the Diamond World and Womb World mandalas, all emanations of the cosmic buddha Dainichi, emerging from him, returning to him,...

  11. Chapter 6 Pure Land Mandara in Japan
    (pp. 122-141)

    When, in the early thirteenth century, Seizan Shōkū recounted his “discovery” of the Taima tapestry, that weaving had been housed at Taimadera for over four hundred years. Surprisingly, however, the Taima tapestry is not mentioned in any extant documents predating the last decade of the twelfth century. Although some scholars have suggested that theTaima mandara chūkiis a later work not authored by Shōkū, this text nevertheless conveys with emotion and eloquence the excitement of followers of the Pure Land monk Hōnen (1133–1212), who felt that they had found in the Taima tapestry an icon that embodied Hōnen’s...

  12. Chapter 7 The Kami-Worshiping Tradition: Kasuga
    (pp. 142-162)

    TheKojikiorRecord of Ancient Matters(712) and its companion history, theNihon shokiorNihongi, theChronicle of Japan(720), were compiled under the auspices of the imperial court in the early eighth century. After this opening passage, theKojikigoes on to describe how Izanagi and Izanami descended from the heavens to the newly formed islands and began to procreate, eventually giving birth to myriad, numinous deities, called kami. These deities were believed to govern one or more of the natural phenomena associated with the earthly world, and they often manifested themselves in these natural phenomena. They...

  13. Chapter 8 The Kami-Worshiping Tradition: Kumano
    (pp. 163-182)

    These were the impressions of Kumano experienced by Taira no Koremori (1158–1184), as they were recorded inThe Tale of the Heike, the work chronicling his family’s defeat in the civil wars of the twelfth century. Like Kasuga, the Kumano region on the southeastern coast of the Kii Peninsula (present-day Wakayama prefecture) seemed from early times to be a place imbued with the sacred. A place of great natural beauty, Kumano is a forested, mountainous site, intersected by rivers and bordering on scenic coastline. Three separate shrines called the three mountains of Kumano (Kumanosanzan) are found here: Hongū...

  14. Afterword
    (pp. 183-184)

    In September of 1997,when this book was in production, an exhibition entitledMandala: The Architecture of Enlightenmentopened at the Asia Society Galleries in New York City. Large audiences echoed the praise voiced in enthusiastic reviews of this exhibition, the first to present the range of pan-Asian mandalas to the American public.¹ Of the forty-eight two- and three-dimensional objects featured in the exhibition, two-thirds were paintings, the earliest a NepaleseSupreme Bliss Wheel Mandaladated ca. 1100 c.e.²

    Eight of the works exhibited in this show were Japanese, paintings dating from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries borrowed from American...

  15. Appendix Chronologies for East Asia
    (pp. 185-186)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 187-206)
  17. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 207-214)
  18. Index
    (pp. 215-228)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-229)