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Artist Unknown
Amida Raigô (Descent of Amida)
15th century
Ink, color, gold pigment and cut gold leaf (kirikane) on silk

The complexities of Esoteric Buddhism and the austerities of Zen stand in marked contrast to Jôdo, or Pure Land Buddhism. Where enlightenment in Esoteric Buddhism and Zen was a matter of personal, and often extremely arduous effort, salvation in Pure Land belief depended entirely on the believer's faith in divine compassion. This painting represents the highest expression of that faith. Known as a raigô image, it depicts Amida, Buddha of the Pure Land paradise, and his two attendants descending from the Pure Land to accept the soul of a dying believer. Rays of golden light emanate from Amida to signal his coming. Pure Land doctrine describes the heavenly music, fragrant scents, and showers of lotus petals that accompany Amida's arrival. Seishi, the bodhisattva on the left, folds his hands in prayer, and yet another manifestation of Kannon Bodhisattva bears a small lotus throne on which the believer will be reborn in the Pure Land paradise. The diagonal motion of the figures down and across the painting stands in stark contrast to the iconic, frontal views used in most paintings of Buddhist deities, such as the Esoteric Buddhist Bodhisattva scroll in this gallery. This attests partly to the function of raigô images. Descent of Amida paintings were often hung next to the beds of dying believers who would hold golden threads attached to the painting as they prayed for rebirth in the Pure Land.

Belief in Pure Land doctrine began in earnest among the nobility during the middle of the Heian period (794-1185). The simplicity of this teaching, with its focus on faith and compassion, quickly gained widespread support among people of all classes. By the fifteenth century, when this painting was made, Pure Land adherents far outnumbered those of any other Buddhist denomination.

Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Gift of the Hofer Collection of the Printed and Graphic Arts of Asia in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Langdon Warner

 

Copyright (c) 2000, Mayumi Ishida, All Rights Reserved Last Updated: April 11, 2000