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Japanese Mandalas

Representations of Sacred Geography

Elizabeth T. ten Grotenhuis

Publication Year: 1999

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

Although I have been studying mandalas for many years, I did not begin writing this book until the academic year 1993-1994, when I was a junior fellow in the Boston University Humanities Foundation Society of Fellows. I first presented some of the basic ideas in December 1993 at a Humanities Foundation meeting. I then presented an enlarged version of that paper in March 1994 at a McMaster University conference, “The Japanese Buddhist Icon in Its Monastic Context.” ...

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pp. 1-11

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. ...

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Chapter 1 The Taima Mandara

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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. ...

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Chapter 2 The Diamond World Mandala

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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. ...

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Chapter 3 The Womb World Mandala

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pp. 58-77

In 1984 the distinguished Shingon abbot-scholar Dr. Matsunaga Yūkei gave a public lecture entitled “The Respect for Life.” In this lecture, delivered to a women’s group in Wakayama prefecture, Dr. Matsunaga explored imagery from the Womb World mandala, relating this imagery to everyday life and to human frailties and human strengths. Dr. Matsunaga’s lecture revealed an intimate response to imagery of the Womb World mandala, a mandala in which all forms of the phenomenal world are seen to emerge from Dainichi and to be identical with Dainichi. ...

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Chapter 4 The Mandala of the Two Worlds in Japan

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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. ...

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Chapter 5 Mandalas of Individual Deities

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pp. 96-121

...This passage from an Esoteric text, the Rules 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. ...

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Chapter 6 Pure Land Mandara in Japan

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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 the Taima mandara chūki is a later work not authored by Shōkū, this text nevertheless conveys with emotion and eloquence...

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Chapter 7 The Kami-Worshiping Tradition: Kasuga

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pp. 142-162

...The Kojiki or Record of Ancient Matters (712) and its companion history, the Nihon shoki or Nihongi, the Chronicle of Japan (720), were compiled under the auspices of the imperial court in the early eighth century. After this opening passage, the Kojiki goes 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. ...

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Chapter 8 The Kami-Worshiping Tradition: Kumano

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pp. 163-182

These were the impressions of Kumano experienced by Taira no Koremori (1158–1184), as they were recorded in The 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. ...

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pp. 183-184

In September of 1997, when this book was in production, an exhibition entitled Mandala: The Architecture of Enlightenment opened 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 Nepalese Supreme Bliss Wheel Mandala dated ca. 1100 C.E.2 ...

Appendix Chronologies for East Asia

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pp. 185


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pp. 187-205

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 207-214


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pp. 215-227

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863111
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824820008

Publication Year: 1999