Asian Art

Medicine Buddha with 51 Images 12’ x 8’, 14th century Tangkha in the Tohgeno collection, 47-1 Sanjo-doori,Takakura nishi-hairu, Kyoto, Japan. Rescued during the destruction of the Samye Monastery in 1967, a pious monk hand-carried this splendid work of art, by night, at the height of the cultural revolution, first by foot to Lhasa, then to Chamdo, Dege’ and finally to Chengdu, where after careful inquiries, a place and owner were found outside of China for safe keeping. It was taken via Hong Kong to the Tohgendo collection in Kyoto, in 1972, for proper care and respect filled preservation.
Since then, from 1972 until 2008, this rare and precious work of art, unique for its size, and style of painting (from Kham, East Tibet), has inspired scholars, and monks’ to attempt an analysis. During the fall of 2008, under the guidance of the Tohgendo Museum’s director, Morimoto Yasuyoshi, a painstaking period of research, on a daily, exhaustive basis, has identified the symbols and images of this rare and ancient treasure.
The central figure is unmistakably that of the Medicine Buddha, Bhaishajya Guru, in one of his eight manifestations. Bhaishajya Guru holds a bowl with the myrobalan (arura) plant in his left hand, with his right hand touching the earth, calling on Prvithi – mother earth goddess — to witness his enlightened power to heal, and bring Dzogchen monks who become “rainbow body” into the Eastern Heavens of Aksobya (wisdom), rather than passing through the 49 day Bardo to the Western Heavens of Amida (compassion).
The Tangkha contains multiple Buddha figures, identifying it as a “Medicine Buddha with 51 images,” painted in unfading mineral colors on goache (cotton) canvas. Scholars have written about this form of Tangkha, related to Dzoghen meditation and monk practitioners who have attained “rainbow body.” Its name comes from the fact that there are 22 Buddhas on either side of the main Medicine Buddha in the center (44 in all), which with the six Buddhas at the top center, and Medicine Buddha himself, make a total of 51 images.
This unique Tangkha, painted in the style of monk-artists from east Tibet or Kham, was commissioned to commemorate the attainment of the “rainbow body” by Longchen Rabjam , (1306-1364-9), the great abbot of Samye monastery, who wrote the definitive treatise on the “Nyingtik” form of Dzogchen meditation practice. His image appears in the top left hand corner of the Tangkha, the traditional place for representing the monk or holy person in whose honor the Tangkha is painted. The masters and transmitters of the Dzogchen tradition appear along the top row of the Tangkha, to either side of five central Buddha figures. The image of Samantha Badra, as the highest Ati Yoga Buddha, is seen here as Dorje Chang (both hands crossed, holding 2 vajra). Directly beneath the central top figure is Avalokitesvara (Chenrezi), with Manjusri and Green Tara to the left (the viewer’s rt), and Vajrasattva (Sambhoga-kaya form of Samanta Bhadra), with Maitreya, to the rt (viewer’s lt), images frequently seen in Dzogchen tangkha paintings.
The 44 Buddhas, 22 on each side of Bhaishajya gurue, are named separately. Directly beneath the Buddha figures are the 16 + 2 arhats, including the Chinese Hvasheng figure, sometimes called Mahakasyapa, to the right, and the Maitreya arhat on the left. The 18 arhat names are: Pindola, Kanakavatsa, Kanakabharajaja, Subinda, Nakula, Bhadra, Kalika, Vajraputra, Jivaka, Mahakassapa, Panthaka, Rahula, Nagasena, Angaja, Vanavasin, Ajita, Cudapanthaka, Maitreya, The Tiger Taming Arhat (17): Mahakasyapa, or “Huasheng”, the Dragon Subduing Arhat (18): (also named Kasyapa) He is best known for the Buddha’s famous “Flower Sermon.” It is said that on that occasion, the Buddha simply held up a flower, and said nothing. Only Kasyapa signified-by a wordless look-that he understood the Buddha’s teaching: enlightenment is without words. Some trace Zen/Ch’an back to this moment, which, with Tibetan Dzogchen, guarantees enlightenment in this existence.
Below the main figure of Medicine Buddha, to his left and right, are Sariputra and Maudgalyayana, who are famous for their intellectual and mystical powers respectively. Sariputra is to the right (wisdom, east), and Maudgalyayana to the Tangkha’s left (west). Slightly above and behind each disciples are Suryaprabha (Sun Buddha) to the left, seen as a male figure with red features and three heads, holding a gankyil or ‘wheel of joy’, similar in form to the ancient Chinese yin-yang symbol; its swirling central hub is composed of three, instead of two sections. The “wheel of joy” depicted with three swirls, represents the “Three Jewels” (The Buddha, his Dharma teachings, and the community of practitioners) and victory over the three poisons (pride, hatred, lust), as well as special Dzogchen meanings, including the base (void of form and judgment), path (dzogchen meditation), and fruit (the Rainbow Body, i.e., going as rainbow body to Medicine Buddha’s eastern Heaven at death). Chandraprabha (female Moon Buddha) is seen to the right, in the lower segment of the Tangkha, holding a white conch, symbol of the special wisdom (female) elements in Dzogchen practice. These two images always appear with the Medicine Buddha, and in this case Lord Buddha as the 4th of Medicine Buddha’s 8 images.
The very bottom of the Tangkha holds some of the most interesting and, unfortunately, badly damaged segments of the painting. The two bottom central figures are (left) the Sacred King and Queen, two of the seven precious gifts offered to Lord Buddha (seen arising in the clouds of incense seen beneath the main figure. Padma Sambhava, who always appears at the bottom of “Medicine Buddha with 51 Buddhas,” offers Puja and thanks to Medicine Buddha for enlightening the monk whom the Tangkha commemorates. In this case, the “Buddha Protector King” is dressed in a fashion similar to Padmakara, with the diamond-scepter of enlightened compassion in his right hand and the yogi’s skull-bowl of clear wisdom in his left. He wears on his head a Nepalese cloth crown, stylistically designed to remind one of the shape of a lotus flower. Thus he is represented as he appears in the “7 Precious Gifts” Dege woodblock collection #. To his right is a female figure, the “Precious Queen”, 2nd of the seven precious gifts, and the “Precious General” slightly behind to the left. . Of interest also is the monk standing above and behind The Queen figure, offering incense, and a book, taken to be Longchempa’s Dzogchen teachings of sudden enlightenment, to Medicine Buddha. This splendid Tangkha painting, one of many in the extensive Tohgendo collection, holds many more symbols and imagery, yet to be more fully plumbed and understood through careful research. Visiting scholars and guests come daily to view more than 60 Tangkha paintings, Buddhist bronze and wood statuary, pre-Shang jade and green bronze pieces, and classical furniture on display. To accommodate them, Tohgendo has announced a new lecture and study program for this purpose, so that its extensive collections of Chinese, Korean, Tibetan, and Japanese art is made available for the general public, as well as interested scholars, for “hands-on,” tangible and contemplative appreciation.

Tantric Buddhist Fire Ritual (video)


This video of the Agni Hottri Buddhist Fire Ritual, was created in 1980 by Michael Saso with a grant from the University of Hawaii. Shown here in 5 parts in order to be able to upload it to Youtube and embed here for viewing. Explanation and minor corrections to follow shortly. Click to start Part One:

Click to start Part Two Click to start Part Three Click to play Part Four Click to play Part Five

Kyoto and Tang Dynasty Luoyang

“Autumn in Kyoto,” — 秋天京都,洛陽景 (Nov. 2010)
(“a view of Luoyang”) by Michael Saso, Tohgendo collection, Sanjo St., Kyoto

Kyoto in autumn is one of Japan’s (if not the entire planet earth’s) most beautiful visions. Once the ancient capital of Japan, (during the Heian period 平安時代 Heian jidai, 794 to 1185), the city is modeled after, and still bears vestiges of Luoyang 洛陽the Tang dynasty (619-905) “eastern” capital of China.

Each year, thousands and thousands of people, high school students, the elderly, and those who just love the splendor of nature’s seasonal changes, come to Kyoto. Cherry blossoms in Spring, and maple leaves in autumn draw the greatest crowds. This past week, due to the splendid display of autumn maple leaves throughout the city and surrounding hills, more visitors came to Kyoto than ever before. Not a room in the entire city was vacant.

Our website provides for its readers a series of pictures taken this past week, in Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, and forest hill side, giving a glimpse of Kyoto and the structure of ancient Tang dynasty Luoyang, that hide within it.

Mt Hiei, northeast of Kyoto, is the home of Tendai Buddhism, brought from Tang dynasty China by the monk Saicho in 803-804. Tendai Buddhism ( 天台 Tiantai in Chinese) is from the sacred Mt Tiantai, a 4 hour ride by bus south from the city of Hangzhou. When Saicho returned, he built the Kompon Chudo temple, and lit a lamp in Lord Buddha’s honor; the lamp is still burning today, a perpetual memory of Chinese Buddhism’s deep influence on Japan and the rest of Asia.

From this mountain top four of Japan’s great Buddhist schools evolved, Zen, Pure Land, Shin Pure Land, and Nichiren’s Lotus Sutra school. Red, yellow, purple, and mottled Maple leaves abound throughout Kyoto, in all of these temples. We selected only a few scenes from these temples, listed one-by-one below. The last picture is taken from a scroll, in the Enryaku-ji” Ryokan (Inn) atop Hieizan. Its words read: “All our faults, like morning dew, are melted away by sun light’s compassion.”

“The act of contemplating maple leaves, cherry blossoms, gravel and stone gardens, cleanse our minds and hearts from all worry and sorrow,” the ancient Buddhist master chants, as pilgrims pass through Kyoto’s ancient temple gardens.

1st photo: Mt Hiei, the pathway from Enryakuji Kaikan to Kompon chudo temple. 2nd photo: Entrance to Kompon Chudo, Mt Hiei. 3. Photo from Daitokuji, Zen temple. 4. Photo from Nanzenji, Zen temple. 5. Photo from Sanzen-in, Tendai temple, Ohara, NE of Kyoto 6. Photo from Bishamondo, Tendai temple, between Kyoto and Lake Biwa. 7. Photo of the scroll, “sunlight of compassion.”

The Yijing (I-ching) and Daoist Keyi ritual 易經和道教科儀


Master Zhuang’s teachings on the YIjing will soon be published innew book entitled “MYSTIC, SHAMAN, ORACLE, PRIEST” (SAIA): 2012 The Dao of Change: the I-ching 易經 (Yijing)

The Yijing is an ancient book written to help early Zhou dynasty kings keep their people in harmony with nature.The word for “King” (Wang) pictures a person who connects the three worlds, ( 三 ), by drawing a line connecting heaven, earth, and underworld ( 王 ). In ancient times, the king was the person who ruled by connecting humans to the three lines, called “trigrams,” in the Yijing, (易经) Book of Changes. The original three-line “trigram” messages, found in the I-ching (Yijing) , date from the early Zhou dynasty, 1050-760 BCE.

Nature’s changes take place in eight steps, called Ba Gua (八卦 8 trigrams), as Dao moves from pure yang to pure yin, and back again. The 8 Trigrams of change rule the inner body, as well as outer nature. Inside the body (三) the top line of the trigram is for head-heaven, the middle line for heart-earth, and the lower line for belly-water. Daoist Meditation harmonizes us with these eight changes, from Pure Yang to Pure Yin and back. (See appendix 1, “Ho-tu and Luo-shu” Ba Gua 八卦 illustrations).

The 8 Trigrams teach harmony with Dao when nature is changing (you-wei有为), and when it is at rest (wu-wei无为). The 8 trigrams are arranged in two sets, to explain this. The first set, the Trigrams of the invisible, Primordial Heavens 先天八卦 are pictured as a circle (the Neolithic 璧 bi jade). The Prior Heaven Trigrams unite us with Wu wei Dao, when the mind and heart are free of judgment and images. The moving Dao,
Yu-wei有为 之道 is square (the Neolithic 琮 cong jade) . It represents change in the visible world. It later was given the name Trigrams of the Later Heavens 后天八卦 and teaches oneness with Dao’s moving cycle of change, in the body, and in nature (See diagram #3, in the appendix, for these two arrangements of trigrams).

To help us find a more precise harmony with the Dao, the Yijing (I-ching) author multiplied the trigrams, 8 x 8, into 64 “hexagrams” (two trigrams written over each other). The 64 hexagrams, as used by Daoists, are spiritual as well as practical guides to Dao’s cyclical changes. The key to using the Yijing (I-ching) is simple. Nature always changes in four steps: spring, summer, autumn, winter; — birth, puberty, maturity, old age/death; – dawn, noon, sunset, midnight, always in a cycle of four.

To teach us how keep in harmony with nature’s four stages, the ancient Yijing (I-ching) scientists used four mantic (i.e., “coded”) seed words, which appear at the beginning of each hexagram. They explain how to respond spiritually to the 64 possible changes inside our hearts, as well as the world around us. The four “mantic” code words, explained below, are contemplative guides to Daoist prayer.

The Four stages of Daoist meditation

The Yijing’s 4 coded meditation words are: yuan 元,for nature’s rebirth in spring, when Dao ploughs and purifies us, implanting new Qi 炁 energy in the inner and outer Cosmos; heng 亨 for summer, when Dao sits like a hen on this Qi energy, to nourish and ripen it; li 利 for autumn (qiu 秋) when Dao cuts or harvests, by emptying our minds of words and our hearts of desires; and zhen 贞 for winter, when Dao writes on our bones and heart (贝), with a fiery brand (卜), as we meditate on Dao’s inner presence (贞). Note that the Yijing uses the 64 simple statements, written at the beginning of each hexagram, as a coded way to respond to external change, and keep our hearts in harmony with nature.

Daoists teach that 49 (7 x 7) of the Yijing hexagrams describe the Moving Dao, (you wei zhi Dao有为之道), while 15 (8 + 7) statements relate to the “Wu wei non-moving Dao, “wu-wei zhi dao 无为之道.” Each of the 49 hexagrams of “change,” yu-wei Dao, begin with one, two, three, or four of the sacred mantic code words. They teach us four ways to respond to change in nature. When ancient kings sought counsel of the Yijing, and one or more of these mantic words occurred, the kings behaved in accord with the meaning of the four sacred words, as follows:

. yuan 元 , purify the fields, and the mind, by plowing and planting (spring); heng 亨 nourish and ripen the heart (summer-kataphasis) by “meditating;” li 利 harvest, or “cut away” all images and judgments, (autumn-apophasis);

zhen 贞 rest – contemplate; be one with Dao presence in the belly (winter).

When consulting the Yijing, and one of the statements without a code word (16, 20, 23, 35, 43, 44, 48, 54) or negating them (12, 29, 33, 38, 52, 61, 63) occur, then the ancients knew that the Wu-wei, Dao of “apophasis” was present. It was time to do nothing, except, as Chuang-tzu (Zhuangzi) recommends, sit in forgetfulness, and perform heart fasting meditation. The Yijing is a manual leading to a four step, contemplative form of prayer and ritual meditation, in accord with the brief readings at the head of each hexagram.5 Images of the Yijing trigrams are found everywhere in Daoist Jiao 醮festival and Zhai 齋 burial liturgy.

How Daoist ritual uses the Yijing (I-ching)

Yijing symbols (not the book itself) are used everywhere in Daoist ritual, as well as in meditation. When performing rites of renewal (Jiao 醮), or burial (Zhai 斋), we ritually “close” the trigram Gen 艮 , (see appendix) the northeast “Gate of Demon” (Guei Men鬼门). We do this to purify all sacred places set aside for meditation and ritual. Then we “open” the Gate of Heaven (Tian Men 开天门 ,乾, 三) , in the northwest, to make Wu-wei 无为之道 Dao present. We do this to heal, bless, and renew, during the entire cycle of life’s change. Daoists must first be “one with Wu Wei Dao,” by inner cultivation. Only then, can we provide Rites of Passage, to renew and heal the communities in which we live. (Daoist Master Zhuang, 3rd edition, Los Angeles, 2012, Ch. 5, explains this process more fully).