Contemplating Amitabha Images in the Late Koryo Dynasty

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Iconographic Surrogates: Contemplating Amitbha Images in the Late Kory Dynasty (Fourteenth Century) Author(s): Junhyoung Michael Shin Source: Archives of Asian Art, Vol. 55 (2005), pp. 1-15 Published by: University of Hawai'i Press for the Asia Society Stable URL: Accessed: 19/11/2009 01:12Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

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Surrogates: Contemplating Iconographie in the Late Kory? dynasty (FourteenthMichael Shin Junhyoung National University Seoul

Amitabha Century)


(918?1392) paintings of Amit?bha Buddha, iVory?-dynasty in the fourteenth made for century, are renowned mostly detail and luxurious decoration, but their iconog exquisite to a number of limited types.1 These raphy is confined show Amit?bha, often accompanied paintings by two or either in three-quarter view or in frontal eight bodhisattvas, motifs that would stance, but without identify or suggest their specific context. The Amit?bha Triad in the MOA Museum of Art in Atami, Japan (Fig. 1), for example, pres ents Amit?bha in the center, the bodhisattava Buddha on his left, and the bodhisattva Mah?sth?mapr?pta on his right. Avalokit?svara Avalokit?svara holds a bottle carries a s?tra. All and awillow branch, Mah?sth?mapr?pta Mun three stand in three-quarter view, which Myong-dae as implying movement toward a believer, who is interprets located outside the picture frame.2 Since imaginatively and ground plane have been left blank, the background to provide context narrative there is nothing for this moment. Such sparing iconography has spawned depicted much discussion of the thematic of Kory? identity Amit?bha paintings. In the Amit?bha Triad in Senjuji, Japan, the same con of divinities, the same attributes, figuration holding look directly out at the appears frontally (Fig. 6). They a strong psychological viewer, thus exerting impact. The iconic relation of these figures with the viewer suggests some particular function of the painting in rituals and in devotional meditation. some of the hypotheses After the about reviewing this essay will turn to discuss compositions, three-quarter the functions of frontal compositions within the devo in the late Kory? tional practices of Pure Land Buddhism than asking what moments these pictures dynasty. Rather I shall seek to discover how the frontal images represent, in their devotional served believers practice. I argue that these compositionally rather simple Amit?bha images, precisely because they do not identify a specific could serve different devotional situation, needs, such as deathbed ritual or visually oriented meditation. Such visual accords with the situation of Kory? flexibility which did not form an independent Buddhism, was embraced by Chan, Tiantai, and Esoteric a powerful devotional methodology. Pure Land school but schools asTriad. Fig. i. Amit?bha of Art, Atami, Japan. 14th c. H. 100.9 cm, w. 54.2 cm. MOA Museum


I. THEMATICJDENTITY OF KORY? AMIT?BHA IMAGESThis section will briefly review various scholarly opinions regarding the thematic identity of these generic Amit?bha iconographie images, in an attempt to point out common their and compositional elements rather than to determine true subject matter. I am concerned with these common elements because they provide the clues to the reception and function

cultivates reborn their death, assembly.5

all in my

to be and the virtues, aspires single-mindedly of the moment land, and if, when they approached a great I did not appear before them, surrounded by

of these pictures. Mun was the first to attempt to distinguish a My?ng-dae the subject group of Amit?bha images as representing His of Kory? Descent. of Welcoming 1981 catalogue this six paintings as depicting Buddhist painting designated andWoo-thak theme.3 Later, Junichi Kikutake Chung pre terms such as "transformed Welcoming ferred less definitive or "Welcoming Descent Descent" type."4 as Amit?bhas known The Welcoming iconography the C: Laiyingtu) Descent represents (K: Nae'y?ng-do; when Amit?bha and his holy assembly dramatic moment to receive a dying believer for rebirth in the descend to the S?tra of the Buddha of Western Paradise. According C: Wuliangshoujing), (K: Muryangsuky?ng; Infinite Life vow Descent was the subject of the nineteenth Welcoming Amit?bha made before he attained Buddhahood:I have I not gain possession of perfect if, once awakening May in the throng of living beings attained Buddhahood, any among to seek awakening, resolves of the universe the ten regions

Descent of theWelcoming Earlier Japanese representations from and his assembly descending the Buddha portray a heaven on trailing clouds, with Avalokite?vara presenting to receive the soul of the dying believer. In lotus pedestal as the classified by Mun the Kory? contrast, paintings aremuch simpler and lack iconographie Descent Welcoming motifs that would suggest the descent of the deities into our these Kory? realm (see Fig. 1). Furthermore, paintings do to the not represent the group of divinities who, according is shown either the triad. Amit?bha scriptures, accompany alone or accompanied by two or by eight bodhisattvas. Mun in three the deities showing only paintings interpreted the descent toward a dying quarter view as representing is the patron s believer. Inscribed on one of these paintings wish for rebirth in theWestern Paradise. I shall discuss this in detail below.6 inscription Kim have and Kyu-won On the contrary,Yun-sik Hong in paintings of Amit?bha argued that most of the Kory? stance represent moment of sugi (K) the three-quarter Descent.7 of rather than theWelcoming Sugi, or Hearing is the moment when the believer, reborn in Revelation, and other Buddhas theWestern Paradise, hears Amit?bha predict the course of his future attainment of buddhahood. on The motif of sugi was based on the Sutra ofMeditation

Sutra Fig. 2. Meditation Detail. 14th c. Bianxiangtu. H. 202.8 cm, w. 129.8 cm. Saifukuji, Japan. Tsuruga City,


the Buddha (K: Kwanmuryangsukyong; of Infinite Life Sutra: C: Guanwuliangshoujing), hereafter The Meditationin the interval of an instant, he serves one by one the bud Then, In the presence of the realms of the ten quarters. dhas throughout a of his future he successively each buddha, receives prediction attainment.8

inclusion Descent, continued

in the triad of Ksitigarbha as found in the Ho-am Kory?

Welcoming (Fig. j), painting


into the Chos?n dynasty. as Inro'wang asserts that the idea of Ksitigarbha Hong in China during and the Tang dynasty (618-907), began was to Korea If so, thereafter. transmitted shortly

A Meditation Sutra Bianxiangtu ("transformation picture," a visualization from the Kory? period, of Amit?bha) i.e., owned by Saifukuji, Fukui Prefecture, Japan, depicts sugi at theWelcoming Whereas the bottom of the scene (Fig. 2). the deities' passage into our realm, sugi Descent represents Paradise. Since most Kory? theWestern takes place within illustrate the deities paintings do not explicitly I take them to represent the from heaven, descending in theWestern Paradise. Revelation even though it One Kory? Amit?bha triad, however, Amit?bha is agreed by most does not suggest the deities' descent, Descent. An Amit?bha scholars to depict theWelcoming triad in the Ho-am Art Museum (Fig. 3) contains multiple drawn from the scriptural source of motifs iconographie the theme, including a small figure of the believer.9 A beam forehead illuminates the figure of of light from Amit?bha's extends his right hand the Buddha the believer, to whom and Avalokit?svara, bending forward, offers a lotus pedestal. These motifsBodhisattva before the

all appearAvalokit?svara

in The Meditation


Thereupon, shines over he offers

and comes holds an adamantine pedestal with Bodhisattva Mah?sth?mapr?pta. practitioner Buddha sends forth great Amida rays of light and the other bodhisattvas, the practitioner's body; and with in welcome.10

his hands

of interest in Figure 3 is the replacement particular who usually accompanies Amit?bha and Mah?sth?mapr?pta, in the triad iconography, by the bodhisattva Avalokit?svara in the form of amonk.The triad with Ksitigarbha Ksitigarbha seems to be unique to Kory? Buddhist painting. Of is characterized Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha by his compas souls in hell and by his zeal in sion for condemned of his qualities inspired the rescuing them. This conception leads deceased belief in "Ksitigarbha, Guide of Souls," who to the Western Paradise of Amit?bha.11 believers Hong observed that during the Ch