Buddhist art: Pure Land Buddhism

Even though esotericism remained a major element in Japanese religious life,by the close of the 10th-century it had begun to give way as a system of popular belief to Pure Land faith and practice.In the Pure Land tradition worship focused on the Buddha Amida and on rebirth in his Western Paradise,or Pure Land, called Gokuraku.Artworks were essential to Pure Land doctrine and its next-world emphasis on rebirth and salvation:as guides in meditational practices directed at visualizing Amida in his paradise, as markers of the “awesome splendor”of the Buddha, and as a means of accumulating religious merit. Indeed, the 11th and 12th centuries saw a dramatic increase in the production of Buddhist art and architecture.

A celebrated example of Pure Land art and aesthetics is the amidado (amida hall), now called the
Phoenix hall, at Byodoin in Uji, which was constructed in 1053 by Fujiwara no yorimichi(992-1074),who, with his father, Fujiwara no michinaga(966-1028), was one of the great patrons of Pure Land Buddhism and art.Like other temples of its day, which were much influenced by descriptions in Pure Land scripture of Amida’s palatial residence, Byodoin was at the same time a detached residence in the Shinden-zukuri mode, where Yorimichi might live as well as pray.

Enshrined at Byodoin’s Phoenix Hall is a gilt-wood sculpture of Amida by the artist Jocho, who in this work and others like it set a technical and stylistic standard that would remain in place through the 13th century.On the walls of the Phoenix Hall is a series of paintings depicting the various degrees of rebirth in Amida’s paradise;these are attributed to the artist Takuma tamenari a member of a family dynasty of Buddhist artists believed to be the forerunners of the takuma school.

One of the principal treatises of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism- one that had a major impact on art production- was a work by the Tendai monk Genshin(942-1017)called Ojoyoshu(985,The essentials of Pure Land Rebirth),in which was set forth an exhaustive account of Amida’s nine sectors of paradise and the nine degrees of rebirth therein.This stimulated development of the Kutai amidado (nine- image hall),in which nine monumental figures of Amida were enshrined. An example of this format is seen at Joruriji,a temple built in the 11th century.

In painting, a key Pure Land genre was the so-called Raigozu, in which Amida and his heavenly entourage are shown arriving to welcome and guide the dying to paradaise.Like the opulent Amidado built at Byodoin and other examples ,as well as the parallel development of the Kutaido architectural format, the Raigozu genre was heavily influenced by Genshin’s work.An important example of an early Raigo painting is the mid-12th century triptych Amida shoju raigozu(Descent of Amida and the Heavenly Multitude),now preserved on Mt.Koya but originally enshrined at Enryakuji on Mt.Hiei.

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