Twin Mandalas Of Vairocana In Japanese Iconography

Twin Mandalas Of Vairocana In Japanese Iconography

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Book Specification

Item Code: NAD898
Author: Lokesh Chandra & Nirmala Sharma
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9788177421163
Pages: 294 (9 B/W & 57 Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.0 inch X 9.0 inch
Weight 1.28 kg

Book Description

About the Author

Lokesh Chandra is an Internationally renowned scholar of Tibetan. Mongoliam and Sino Japanese Buddhism. A prolific writer, he has to his credit 600 works, including critical editions of classical texts in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Monogolian, Chinese and Old Javanese languages. Among them are classics like the Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary, Materials for a history of Tibetan Literature.Buddhist Iconography of Tibet and the Dictionary of Buddhist iconography in I 5 volumes. Lokesh Chandra was nominated by the President of India to the Parliament in 1974-80 and again in 1980-86. He has been Vice-President of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and Chairman of the Indian Council for Historical Research. Presently he is Director. International Academy of Indian Culture.

Nirmala Sharma is an Art Historian and Professor of Buddhist Studies at the International Academy of Indian Culture, New Delhi. She is working on a project of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts on “Iconography of the mandalas of the Dukhang of Alchi”. She has two master degrees, one in Fine Arts and the other in Ancient Indian History Culture and Archaeology. Her PhD thesis was on the Ragamala paintings. She has been a senior fellow of the American Institute of Indian Studies. With 27 years of teaching experience at the post-graduate level, she has delivered lectures on Indian Art and Culture in India and abroad. She has read papers on the Borobudur in Indonesia, on the Roerichs at Moscow. on Buddhist sculptures at Budapest, at the Dunhuang Academy and in several places in India. She is a member of The Association of British Scholars. Travelled to Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Indonesia, Russia, Hungary. China, Central Asia (Silk Route), Taiwan and Mongolia to attend seminars and conduct field studies. Her books include Kumarajiva: The Transcreator of Buddhist Chinese Diction Buddhist Paintings of Tun—Huang in the National Museum, New Delhi,’ Bamiyan, Hariti amid Kindred lconies and Ragamala paintings.

About the Book

The mandalas or psycho—cosmograms reached Japan through great Indian teachers like Vajrahodhi, Amohavajra and Subhakara.. The Japanese Twin Mandalas represent innate Reason and primal Enlightenment. harmonising in Compassion and Dynamis. Herein the sadhaka identifies himself with the forces that govern the universe, and collects their thaumaturgical powers within himself. The Light that burns within spreads out and is diffused, guiding towards noble paths.

As pointed out above, the iconography pertains to the Twin Mandalas of the Mahakaruna— garbha—mandala and the Vajradhatu-mandala, which were taken to Japan by Köbö Daishi 774-835) from China, where he had gone in search of the Transcendental Path of Mantrayãna. Kobö Daishi inherited the Tantric tradition of Amoghavajra (705—774) “the Master of Eloquence and Wide Wisdom”, whose genius was responsible for the translation of the Vajradhan texts on the contemplative system of Esoteric Yoga, which was visualised in the iconics of the present mandalas.Köbo Daishi was initiated by Hui-kuo (746-805) who was a direct disciple of Amoghavajra. In 806 Köbo Daishi returned to Japan, with profound Gods born unto him, with homa consuming baser passions, his total being illumined by a new vision.

While Kobo Daishi carried the sutras expounding the Vajradhatu, he also took along with his Pictorial representation in the form of two mandalas. Hui-kuo had them drawn, for the sake of Kobo Daishi, in accordance with the Tattva-samgraha, by the famous painter Li-chên assisted by more than ten other artists. These Twin Mandalas found their efflorescence and fruition in Japan. The mandalas brought by Kobo Daishi are now lost, but from them were painted the Takao Mandalas in AD 824 in gold and silver lines on purple damask silk in polychrome. The present woodkut version goes back to the Takao Twin Mandalas through Ken-i’s monochrome copy drawn in AD 1035 on the 200th anniversary of the nirvana of Köbö Daishi.

Ii is monumental work on Tantric Iconography in general, and on its Japanese idiom in particular, wherein the original woodcuts are reproduced. There are 861 illustrations, each identified by its serial number, Sanskrit name, and Japanese designation in romanisation. These manifestations of the Unmanifested free consciousness from the veil of ,mãvã to give way to the luminosity of Consciousness, pure and beyond form.

A fundamental work for the philosophic and artistic understanding of the theory and graphic representation of the mandalas in general and especially in the Shingon tradition of Japan. Details the philosophy, patriarchs and sacred canon of Mantrayana. its ulterior development into two branches in Japan, the nature and different kinds of mandalas, as well as their classification and essential principles. The twin mandalas of Vairocana based on the Mahãvai rocana-sutra and the Sarvatathãgata-tattva-sangraha are detailed in all aspects: their basic ideas, their interrelationship and differences in character, their configuration and symbolism. The iconography of all the deities is given at length from the root text, from the Hizöki of Kobo Daishi, and from the graphic representation which is the prime theme of the work. The work ends with the doctrine of Shingon (Mantrayana), its differences from exoteric or “popular” Buddhism, the three universals, the triple mystery, the four kinds of dharmakãyas, the stüpa of five circles, the five knowledges, the three degrees of Tantric abhiseka (empowerment), bodhicitta and so on. It is a sine qua non for the comprehension of the history, iconography and aesthetics of niandalas with their inexhaustible Olympus of divine beings symbolising the mystic experience in the plenitude of ecstasis.


The Buddhism we know outside the circle of specialists is the moralising aspect, the sermons, and the apologues, that form the major part of Hinayãna. But there exists by its side, with vast developments, Mahãyana, consecrated to mythological and cosmological representations. There also exists Esoteric Buddhism, on the base symbolic, parallel to Hindu Tantrism, that like the latter, has its remote source in certain beliefs of the Veda. This form of Buddhism appeared in India towards the sixth century AD, and spread to East Asia. It got implanted in Tibet, in China under the Tang. but it was in Japan that it bore all its fruits from the ninth century AD, in the Shingon and Tendai sects.

The doctrine of the Shingon sect had already been described by Rev. Tajima in a work he published in Paris in 1936, as a doctoral thesis of our University, and it was immediately welcomed by scholarly critics. He qualified this doctrine as “the highest summit” attained by Mahayana Buddhism; according to the scholars of Shingon the rest was ‘popular Buddhism’, which alone was in a state of being understood by common men. We certainly come across traces of this infatuation that are avoided by some religions. However, it is certain that Shingon attests a powerful effort for spreading Buddhist esoterism from its profound sources, for renovating it by preserving its purity. The other esoteric sect, the Tendai, that recommends the Saddharmapundarika-sutra, appears to have itself recognised a sort of primacy of principle for the Shingon doctrine.

Now, the bible of Shingon is the work that is known under its Sanskrit title Mahãvairocanasütra. which was translated into Chinese under the title Dainichikyo. The thesis of Rev. Tajima is devoted to communicate the contents of this difficult work by giving the annotated translation of its first chapter.

As the other aspects of the Diamond Vehicle or Vajrayana (as it is often called), Shingon has taken as the concrete basis of its thought, the two great mandalas of the Vajradhãtu and the Mahãkaruna-garbha. They expose the doctrine in a graphic representation. We know the important role that these figurative diagrams play in Buddhism. The divinities, to begin with the Buddha, are localised in places corresponding to their functions in the world, while abridged formulae, bijas or germs’, related to each of them and being inscribed within sacred ‘circles’, allow to propitiate or to control these divinities. In short, they are a visual prolongation, an efflorescence of the ancient Vedic formulas’, of the mantra, henceforth reinforced by speculative values, engaged in a cosmical cadre. It is the crowning of Buddhist symbolism, that having gone over to Japan, has teen enriched by new technical details and by an ambitious mythological projection.

In this thesis R. Tajima expressed his intention to study, parallel to the general system of Shingon. the keys permitting us to interpret the mandalas. He added that only exterior circumstances had prevented publication of the two parts of his work simultaneously, that complement one another.

It required a little more that twenty years for his desire to materialise. Here is the second portion of his study on Vairocana, the portion that is undoubtedly the most new, that is also the most important an account of its contents, since it connects the interpretation of the two mandalas with an examination of the whole of Shingon esoterism and on the nature and function of mandalas.

For a fine execution of this work, not only erudition was necessary, not only an aptitude to penetrate into the forms of particularly difficult thought, but also an intimacy with the forms that only an adept of the sect can have. It is our rare good fortune that a Shingon priest who is habituated to live according to what he says and believes, that he is communicating to the non-initiated. Let us add that although the matter under study is esoteric, the author treats it with the same positive and objective spirit with which he dealt with the exoteric doctrine. We do not find in him, loose concessions to the mystic, pseudo-spiritual tendencies that are found in so many discussions relative to the East. Rev. Tajima has felt what was rational, which I would call scientific, in the representations that are in short the configured translation of a religious system.

Shingon is little known in the West, the problem of the mandalas even much less. So it is a good acquisition for our studies to have for the first time a careful description written in French. Although the author has had no contact with our country, that he left in 1936, he has preserved in his heart a very lively souvenir of his years in Paris, the time he was attending the classes of Sylvain Levi at the College de France.

Indeed, like the preceding work of the author, the second book was written directly in French. Unfortunately, Rev. Tajima no more wanted to see it published. At the end of a painful malady he knew the Deliverance, by grace of which, as Vairocana says, “the stem and the stock of karman are extirpated”.

The readers should express their thanks firstly to René Capitant who did not spare any pain to have this work published in the Maison franco-japonaise, that has to its credit many useful titles. Then to Y. Maekawa who assumed the task to verify, in the place of the deceased author, all the citations and references, to clarify the redaction, and to correct the proofs. To him also, the mandalas owe much that have cost him so much of sleepless studiousness.


Western scholars have studied Buddhism since long. Notably France has the honour of having a host of specialist scholars, such as Eugene Burnouf, Stanislas Julien, Ph.E. Foucaux, Leon Feer, Emile Senart, Louis Finot, Sylvain Levi, J. Przyluski, A. Foucher, J. Hackin, to name only those who are dead and the present generation as well possesses a brilliant galaxy. After their researches, their editions of texts, their translations, their accounts of tourists and collectors, it would appear that the subject has been exhausted. However, as regards esoteric Buddhism, its rare texts hitherto published in Europe, are mainly what is called ‘mixed esoterism’ in Japan. But the sacred books, commentaries and treatises of ‘pure esoterism’ remain almost unknown to the Western world. The Dainichikyö is the most representative of all.

In 1934, the whole of Japan celebrated the eleventh centenary of Kobö Daishi, the great saint who founded the Shingon sect and at the same time exercised considerable influence on the progress of culture in Japan. Even in Paris, on March 21, a commemorative ceremony was celebrated in which a large number of orientalists participated at the Musée Guimet under the auspices of the Association française des Amis de l’Orient.

In these circumstances, I undertook: firstly the French translation of the first chapter of the Dainichikyö, the source of Shingon esoterism of Köbo Daishi, with a summary of other chapters; secondly, the study of the two mandalas, that are very much the artistic expression as well as the goal of the cult; finally, a general study of the aforesaid esoterism. The first of these works, the translation with summaries, was presented under the title Etude sur le Mahãvairocana-sutra as the thesis for the doctorate degree of the University of Paris. This study was printed and I was permitted to dedicate it to my teacher Sylvain Levi as a token of my profound gratefulness.

This time I took the occasion to present in a single volume the last two studies. The introduction’ is the same that I wrote twenty years ago for my study of the Dainichikyo. but I have decided to reproduce it in the present book, in the hope that it will help the readers to acquire some indispensable preliminary knowledge.

The present book has been honoured by the precious friendship shown by my lamented friend Jean Buhot, Professor at the École du Louvre, secretary of the Association française des Amis de I’Orient. that it has been placed under the aegis of the Musée Guimet. It is my duty to express gratitude for his concours and for the encouragement given by him in respect of this work. The work would not have seen the light of the day without him.

It would be unpardonable if I do not renew here the feelings of respect that I always had for Demieville and Haguenauer, respectively professors at the College de France and at the Sorbonne.

The author regrets his inability to express in a worthy manner, particularly in a foreign the principles of esoteric Buddhism that has had so many great masters. But in case readers are able to find here some general ideas on this beautiful doctrine, he will feel satisfied.


Dr. Ryüjun Tajima published in 1959 the first detailed iconographical and philosophical interpretation of the twin mandalas of Vairocana, termed Garbhadhãtu and Vajradhätu mandalas in popular Japanese parlance in the Shingon sect of Mantrayãna. To this day it remains a classic of the traditional exegesis of the two mandalas by an abbot (Daisöjo) for whom it was an article of both faith and thought. As an eminent disciple of Prof. Sylvain Levi, he also took into account the historical evolution of the Shingon theory vis-a-vis what he has termed ‘popular’ Buddhism. As the book is in French, it has hardly been consulted by Indian scholars. To remedy this lacuna, we present a free rendering which remains close to the original.

A mandala is both (i) graphic representation (sãkãra) and (ii) meditation (nirãkãra). On the iconic level it can represent the divinities in four ways: (i) in anthropomorphic form, (ii) as a bijakara or hieronym, i.e. as a syncopated letter, (iii) as a symbol (samaya) which is one of the attributes, (iv) or in dharrnakãya where the divinity is shown anthropomorphically but addorsed by a vajra to represent the transcendent.

The central deity of both the mandalas in Shingon is bejewelled Mahävairocana or sambhogakaya in the majesty of full regalia.

The first Garbhadhãtu-mandala has three enclosures:

First enclosure:
1 eight-petalled lotus quarter of Garbhadhãtu-Vairocana
2 quarter of universal knowledge
3 quarter of vidyãdharas
4 quarter of Padmapãni
5 quarter of Vajrapäi
Second enclosure
6 quarter of kyamuni
7 quarter of Manjughoa
8 quarter of Ksitigarbha
9 quarter of Sarva-nivaraiia-vikambhin
10 quarter of Akaagarbha
11 quarter of Susiddhi
Third enclosure
12 quarter of vajras or Hindu divinities

Dr. Ryajun Tajima did not number the central quarter of the eight-petalled lotus, and thus he eleven quarters. We have numbered the central quarter and hence there are twelve quarters. vairocana means ‘The Great (dai) Sun (nichi)’ and the solar number is twelve. This is an ious cosmic number of Twelve Adityas, as well as the twelve-petalled lotus of the anãhata cakra of yoga.

Th nine submandalas of the Vajradhãtu-mandala were put together by Hui-kuo to correspond to the imperial city of Ch’ang-an. Nine has played a crucial role in Chinese perceptions: the Imperial Palace had nine halls, the celestial sphere has nine divisions, both in Buddhism and Taoism, heaven is ‘nine enclosures’ (chiu ch’ung). The Imperial metropolis was sanctified by this novenarian mandala. It represents the six mandalas of the first section of the Sarva-tathagata-tattvasamgraha (STTS, nos.1-6), two mandalas of its second section of ferocious divinities (nos.8, 9), with the naya-mandala (no.7) of the anuttara-yoga tantras in between. The first six mandalas pertain to two kramas: (i) utpanna-krama and (ii) sampanna-krama.

The above has been summarised below for clear comprehension:
Six mandalas of section 1 of the STTS:
Utpanna-krarna (emanation of the divinities)
1. basic mandala
2. dhãrani-mandala of consorts (represented in the Sino-Japanese graphic representation as symbols, because the Chinese emperor could not worship goddesses).
3. karma-mandala, same as no.1, but the divinities are metallic for ritual (karma) unctions.
4. dharma-mandala, divinities addorsed by a vajra. Sampanna-krama (merge into the primordial unity of Vairocana in two steps)
5. caturmudrã-maiilala (merge into the four Buddhas)
6. ekamudrã-maiala (all merge into Vairocana) Anuttara-yoga tantra
7. naya-mandala of concupiscent Vajrasattva accompanied by four nayikas
Two mandalas of section 2 of the STTS
8. Trilokyavij aya-karma-maiiçlala for ritual (karma) of ferocious manifestations of the divinities of no.1. Trilokavijaya Vairocana is the central Tathagata of the mandala, while the ferocious emanation of Akobhya is Trailokyavijaya. The STTS consistently calls this the Trilokavijaya-mahãmaiidala (and not Trai°)
9. Trilokavijaya-samaya-maiidala has the symbols (samaya) of no.8

The pair of the mandala was made by Hui-kuo, the seventh patriarch of Esoteric Buddhism. Köbö Daishi inherited it from him and designated them Genzu mandala or prevalent version, as contradistinguished from the other versions transmitted by the ãcãryas i.e. Subhãkarasithha and Amoghavajra. The colored illustrations are reproduced in this volume from the two hanging silk scrolls of the Muromachi period (1336-1568) preserved at the Kongöbu-ji monastery, Koyasan. Both are 204.4x159.Scm in size, magnificent in the sunyata of their subdued colors of contemplative silence.

Dr. Tajima has used the woodcut version of the Chökoku-ji (Hase-dera) monastery in Nara, the grand monastery of the Busan school, engraved by Hasegawa Töshuku in 1834, at the request of devoted monks and pious donors. The woodcut mandalas measure 1.63 x 1.36cm. They are based on a copy from the crypt of the school of the monastery (kangaku-in); whose period could not be ascertained. The original master who inspired this project was the Vinaya-ãcãrya Bankei of the Jikö-ji monastery, but he regretted that he had neither the resources nor the youth to accomplish it. He left it to his disciples with the hope that nothing will give him greater joy than the accomplishment of the design of the Two Maialas for the conservation of Dharma. Acarya Bankei has the glorious fortune to know that his disciples carried it out, a hundred years thereafter Venerable Ryüjun Tajima wrote on it in French so that the Dharrna is known to the Western world, and now we have translated it into English so that it becomes a global heritage. These mandalas are external signs of the mystery behind Being as well as the path leading to it. They are the traditional symbols to attune the mind to divine worlds by the inner experience of contemplation. Mandala in the Atharvaveda Pratisakhya, Mahãbhärata, Manu and Yajnyavalkya is a province, country, a neighbouring state with whom a king has to maintain political and diplomatic relations. From the political context it became the symbolic space of contemplation with inextricable complexity of philosophic depth, the insatiable embodiment of enlightened meditation to lift the veil of cosmical consciousness in the placid and threatening iconism of the divinities. Here are the sparkling mind waves of the Twin Mandalas of Mahãvairocana ‘The Great Sun’ in the graphic and philosophic formulations of the Sino-Japanese tradition. Just as the Sun! Vairocana fecunds the earth from his remote majesty, likewise “inspite of passions in this world, Bodhi is not far off, the paradise is well nigh”.


Prologue by Lokesh Chandra and Nirmala Sharma 9
Foreword by Louis Renou 14
Preface 16
Different types of Twin Mandalas: Mahakarunagarbha and Vajradhãtu 17
Abbreviations 19
1 Introduction
1 The antecedents of Esoteric Buddhism 20
2 Shingon esoterism 21
3 The Mahãvairocana-sãtra and its place in the esoteric scriptures 23
4 The plan of the Mahãvairocana-sütra 24
5 The essential ideas of the Mahãvairocana-sütra 25
6 The Mahãvairocana-sUtra in Europe 27
7 Shingon and its canon 28
8 The two great mandalas 29
9 The traditions regarding the patriarchs of Shingon 30
10 The subsequent developments of the Shingon sect:its two branches: the Kogi and the Shingi 34
General introduction to the study of mandalas
1 Meaning of the word ‘mandala’ 36
2 Nature and purpose of the mandala 37
3 The different types of mandalas 39
4 Classification of mandalas 41
5 Mandalas done on the floor 42
6 Essential principles that are the basis of the Mahãkarunagarbha and the Vajradhãtu mandalas 44
7 Correspondences between the Mahakarunägarbha and the Vajradhätu mandalas 45
8 Differences of character between the two mandalas 46
1 Significance of the Mahãkarunãgarbha-mandala 47
2 Rules given by the Mahãvairocana-sãtra for the execution of the Mahakarunagarbha-mandala 49
3 The system of the Mahakarunagarbha-mandala 51
4 The central quarter of the eight-petalled lotus and its symbols 54
5 The doctrinal meaning of the five buddhas and of the four bodhisattvas sitting in the central lotus 59
1 The principle of the nine mal3dalas of Vajradhatu 68
2 The term Vajradhãtu 171
3 Bases of drawing the Vajradhãtu-mandala 173
4 The meaning of Vajradhätu-mahãmandala or Jöjin-ne 179
5 Disposition of the Vajradhãtu-mahämandala 180
6 The thirty-seven divinities: their names and placement 184
7 Raison d’être of the thirty-seven divinities 187
8 Brief description of the thirty-seven divinities 189
9 Brief description of the other divinities and their symbols 199
10 Very brief description of the eight accessory mandalas of the Vajradhatu-mandala 0
The doctrine of Shingon
1 Critique of Shingon esoterism 225
A. The ‘horizontal’ critique of popular Buddhism and of esoteric Buddhism 225
B. A survey of the doctrine of the ten steps of the heart: The ‘vertical’ critique of esoteric Buddhism 226
2 Differences between popular Buddhism and esoteric Buddhism by Kakuban 231
3 The three universals 234
4 The six elements 235
5 The four kinds of mandalas 242
6 The triple mystery (triguhya) 243
7 Attaining the state of Buddha in this life 245
8 The four kinds of dharmakãyas 249
9 The five circles and the stüpa of five circles 251
10 The five buddhas and the five knowledges 253
11 The three classes and the five classes The divinities of the three circles 255
12 The heart of bodhi (bodhicittajk 259
13 The three degrees of the Shingon abhiseka 261
1 Translation of the ‘notice on the engraving of the twin mandalas’ 263
2 Bhaiajyaguru in Japan 265
1 Mahãvairocana-sütra 271
Chinese documents, Japanese documents, Tibetan documents
2 Shingon doctrine 277
Chinese works, Japanese works, Works in French, Mandalas
Index 287

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