English Data for Interactive Virtual Tour

Later shrine to the Three Daoist Pure Ones located beneath Radiant Kings and Master Liu tableau.
Early 20th century shrine to the Three Daoist Pure Ones 三清.
This grouping of images, sometimes referred to as the “Asceticism of Master Liu”, sometimes as the “Transformation of Master Liu”, is the last large-scale work on the north side of Great Buddha Bend before one heads down to the river below or across the bridge to the Cave of Complete Enlightenment and the Taming of the Wild Ox tableau on the south side of the site. This tableau, which covers an area of approximately fifteen meters in height by twenty-five meters in width, has a central iconic figure as its focal point like the nearby tableaux depicting scenes from the Buddha Preaches the Scripture on the Repayment of Kindness and Dizang Bodhisattva with the ten kings of hell. Unlike these earlier works, however, the central figure is neither a Buddha nor a bodhisattva, but the figure of a layman, Master Liu, transformed into the Cosmic Buddha, Vairocana. Liu is a historically documented figure, his life spanning the latter part of the Tang Dynasty from 843-907 CE. A native of Sichuan Province, Liu evolved into a local subject of veneration, eventually being ascribed the title of “Superintendent of the Yogacara Sect of the Tang Dynasty”. The self-mutilation acts performed by Liu and depicted within this tableau can be seen as examples of what James Benn terms “apocryphal practice”, indigenous (non-Buddhist) practices that come to be codified in apocryphal texts such as the 梵網经 Book of Brahma's Net and the 首楞嚴經 Book of the Heroic-march Absorption.
This image shows the team accompanying sinologist Yang Jialuo during his assessment of Baodingshan in 1944 standing in front of Tableau 21, the Asceticism of Master Liu.
This diagram defines the various types of individuals described within the Master Liu narrative and their location within the tableau.
“Number One – Refining a Finger by Fire” In 900 CE, the revered master (Liu) accidentally happened across many people sick with an epidemic. The master pitied them, proceeding to swear an oath before the Buddha, and that he would recite a dharani spell to eliminate it. In his daochang, (Liu) then burnt off the first joint of the second finger on his left hand in offering to all Buddhas, swearing an oath to relieve the distress of the myriad creatures. The Virtuous Sage was moved by this, and assisted (Liu) in transmitting the Way, without speaking saying: 'Your oath is sincere and wide-reaching; you therefore must go west, and upon arriving at Mi, you should reside there.' (Liu) went to Han and promptly returned, proceeding to travel and perform rituals at Lingshan, eventually returning to Gui County.
“Number Two – Standing in Snow” In the eleventh moon of 900 CE, the revered master (Liu) along with witnesses traveled to Emeishan to do veneration to the radiant form of Samantabhadra. At this time, (Liu) encountered a blizzard which filled the air, and the one thousand mountains were white-white. For thirteen days, (Liu) forced his body to ascend to the summit; from December 7th to the 21st (Liu) sat upright in meditation on top of the mountain, following the example of Shakyamuni who for six years performed Buddhist acts on a snowy mountain in order to achieve the Way. Moved by this, Samantabhadra Bodhisattva manifested himself as a witness (to Liu%apos;s actions).
“Number Three – Refining an Ankle by Fire” The revered master (Liu) was seated at a feast at Emei which had already lasted quite long when suddenly a monk saw him and called forth: 'Lay Buddhist, why stop on this mountain? Of what benefit is it? It would be better to go to the nine provinces and ten counties to relieve the suffering of the masses and cure the sick.' Because of this, (Liu) left the mountain, and went away. On the 18th day of the first moon of 902 CE, the revered master took one or two sticks of sandalwood incense making one wick of them, and on the ankle of his left leg burnt them in offering to all Buddhas. (Liu) swore an oath that together with all myriad beings, wherever they lifted and set down their feet, it may always be a daochang, and that never would they tread on profane ground. Moved by this, the Four Heavenly Kings offered witness.
“Number Four – Gouging Out an Eye” The venerable sage master (Liu) had already been in the Han region ten days; suddenly recalling the strange words heard previously that, on “encountering me he should stop”. After going to Han, (Liu) promptly returned. Thus he planted his staff in the west of Mimeng. One day in the Han region, the prefect Lord Zhao sent a messenger who came to request an eye, lying by saying that it would be used to make medicine, desirous of trying to see if his need would be denied. The revered master's mind already knew that this person would arrive. (He) took out his precept knife, which he then used to gouge out (his eye). (He) gave his eye to the messenger, showing no sign of pain or distress. Moved by this, Vajragarbha Bodhisattva manifested himself. Upon seeing the eye, Lord Zhou was frightened and exclaimed: '(Liu) is truly good and knowledgeable.' He then converted and confessed. The time was the third day of the seventh moon of 904 CE.
“Number Five – Cutting an Ear” The virtuous sage and revered master (Liu) as a novice was ordered to reside at Mimeng, bowing he went toward the golden hall, (seeking) golden wisdom to convert people and to relieve sickness. Having one by one been to every place, (Liu) admonished his relatives to abstain, and all of the people venerated him, all returning to the true teaching. At noon on the fifteenth day of the second moon in 904 CE, (Liu) cutoff his ear in offering to all Buddhas. Moved by this act, on top of a floating hill the Great Sage manifested himself thereby providing proof of the act.
“Number Six – Refining the Heart by Fire” The virtuous sage and revered master (Liu), on the third day of the seventh moon of 905 CE, with one length of a fragrant candle burnt (the area over) his heart in offering to all Buddhas. Discovering his bodhi mind was as vast as the phenomenal world and that all was actually void and empty, (Liu) ordered all the myriad creatures to forever cease in their worries. Moved by this, Dalun mingwang, (Destroyer of Delusion) manifested himself as proof. All of the myriad creatures began to obtain a realization of the truth.
“Number Seven – Refining the Crown of the Head by Fire” The revered master and virtuous sage (Liu) on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of 905 CE took only one piece of the five fragrances, and, with the tray on his knees as he sat straight up, burnt the crown of his head, following the example of Shakyamuni Buddha who allowed a magpie to nest on top of his head. The Great Light Mingwang gave up his hair and gave alms. Moved by this, Manjusri Bodhisattva above manifested himself, and because of this it was proven.
“Number Eight – Cutting an Arm” The revered master (Liu) in 905 in Chengdu in the daochang within Wang Jian's workshop, cut into his one and only left arm, at 48 cuts ordered (himself) to stop. With each cut (Liu) uttered an oath swearing to aid the masses, thereby echoing Amitabha Buddha's 48 vows. On the summit one hundred thousand days to the east, unlimited drumming, along with his own voice, throughout that part of the world, the clerk Xie Gong memorialized the event by performing music for all to hear. The King of Shu exclaimed that it was extraordinary, and dispatched a messenger to commend and award him.
“Number Nine – Refining the Penis by Fire” The revered master (Liu), in the second ten days of the twelfth moon of 905 CE, (learned that) Qiu Shao of Horsehead Lane had fallen ill. (Qiu Shao) was already dead three days when the revered master performed a ceremony to beg for relief. The whole family uttered a pledge, that if (Qiu Shao) would again be granted life, with scissors they would cut their hair on a level equal to that of their eyebrows, and for the rest of their lives be at (the revered master's) service. The revered master, with his all great and merciful heart, then sprinkled fragrant water, and Qiu Shao stood up, revived. Thus Qiu Shao, husband and wife, and two women, all came to serve and repay (Liu's) kindness and virtue, not leaving left or right. On the fifteenth day of the intercalary twelfth month, the revered master used a candle and some cloth to bind his penis. Throughout one day and night it burnt, thereupon cutting his desire off. Moved by this, the heavens showered down seven precious canopies, and an auspicious cloud of fog then came to carry and support him. Throughout the land arose music, and the King of Shu gasped in admiration.
“Number Ten – Refining the Knees by Fire” To the virtuous sage and revered master (Liu), the King of Shu, who over the course of time had come to venerate him, by imperial edict inquired saying: 'How (does one) cultivate such a way, he who is called 'Revered Master'? Report what effectiveness (it has had) on saving all kinds of families? (Liu) replied saying: 'Master, to be skilled at cultivating daily (acts of) refining oneself with fire, make an oath begging to be without the passions and their filth. (Liu) took special hold of a six wheel five section secret charm in order to relieve to a degree the (suffering) of the multitudes. On the eighteenth day of the first moon of 906 CE, (Liu) began to carve sticks of sandalwood incense, burning into his two knees, and burning them as an offering to all the Buddhas. Proclaiming his oath to all myriad beings, the imperial splendor after these three meetings obtained mutual insight.
Tableau 22 Ten Radiant Kings十明王,messengers of Vairocana, manifestations of his wrath against evil spirits. The statues are said to be incomplete due to the invasion of the Mongols into Dazu County in the late 12th century.
Image of an unfinished Radiant King, with a later inscribed text ‘Good Fortune’ or fu 福 carved below it. The newer inscription at the left is for Baodingshan’s induction into World Heritage status.
Details of the Radiant Kings.
Later niches with indigenous Chinese gods located on far western edge of the Great Buddha Bend cliff face.
Detail of niche carved in the Qing dynasty. On the right is Laozi, seated on his water buffalo, signifying his final journey to the West. On the left is the Mountain God, sometimes also referred to as the Tiger God, another Daoist deity, seen here riding on a tiger.
Niche carved in 1915 with Daoist deities. The Jade Emperor is on the right, wearing the traditional imperial crown and seated on a throne. The Queen Mother of the West holds a peach in her hand, referencing her ability to grant immortality.
Tableau 26 Series of secular inscriptions carved at the western end of the southern cliff face of Great Buddha Bend. To the right are two later niches dating to the Qing dynasty and depicting Daoist deities.
Close up of secular inscriptions carved at the western end of the southern cliff face of Great Buddha Bend.
The then Qing district magistrate of Dazu County, Wang Dejia 王德嘉, who served in in Dazu from 1872-1875, is the author of one of the shortest inscriptions to appear at the site, the large two-character “Baoding宝顶” carved on the western edge of the site that greets visitors at the modern entrance to Great Buddha Bend. The complete text reads: “宝顶 ‘Precious Summit’ The eighth day of the fourth month, summer, 1873. The Prefect of Dazu County, Wang Dejia of Chenggu respectfully wrote this.”
Below the Baoding inscription are the characters for luck [福] and longevity [壽] carved in 1910.
Tableau 27 Bust of Vairocana Buddha with steles. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Transformation tableau of Master Liu’ because of the small image of Master Liu in the headdress of Vairocana Buddha. Two restoration steles dating from 1425 – 1426 CE are immediately to the right of the central image with one stele dated to 1690 CE at the far right. The stele on the left is undated.
Close up of Vairocana bust, one of five images of Vairocana carved at Great Buddha Bend, the others being within the Cave of Complete Enlightenment; central to the Huayan monumental sculpture group; central to the cave dedicated to Vairocana; and in the crown of Master Liu within the Master Liu tableau.
Detail of Vairocana bust with small image of the layperson Master Liu in headdress.
28 – Stone Lion Image of lion guarding entrance to Cave of Complete Enlightenment. To the left is the final image from the Oxherding tableau.
Tableau 29 Interior of the Cave of Complete Enlightenment. Bodhisattva figures line the two walls with Vairocana as the central figure in the Buddha triad on the back wall, flanked by a monk on the right and a scholar on the left. A bodhisattva figure kneels in homage in front of Vairocana Buddha.
Detail of the bodhisattva figure kneeling in homage in front of the Buddha figures.
Detail of bodhisattva figure in pose of ‘royal ease’ carved on right wall. This image shows the amount of natural light coming into the cave.
Detail of bodhisattva figure on left wall.
Detail of the image of Sudhana善财童子 a youth from India on a spiritual quest to achieve enlightenment. On his journey he encounters 53 ‘wise advisors’ who help him towards his ultimate goal. His story is included as the last chapter within the Avatamsaka or ‘Flower Ornament’ Sutra 華严经. Small images of Sudhana meeting various ‘wise advisors’ can be found along the upper portion of the Cave of Complete Enlightenment.
Tableau 30 The Taming the Wild Ox tableau as seen from the stairs leading up to the monastery above Great Buddha Bend. The Taming of the Wild Ox tableau, stretching at only 4.5 meters in height for a distance of 27 meters, is the only one of the narrative tableaux incorporating text and image found on the south cliff face at Great Buddha Bend. This tableau also can be said to be more outwardly “narrative” in its perspective. It is the story of a herdsman trying to bring his wayward ox under control, a metaphor for humankind’s struggle to rein in his own cravings and desires in order to achieve enlightenment. The Taming of the Wild Ox tableau is composed of eleven rather than the standard ten vignettes, and curves around the southwest end of the grotto.
The first vignette depicts the story of the herdsman attempting to rein in his disobedient ox. Standing with legs splayed to the right of the recalcitrant beast, the herdsman tugs mightily on his tether, an act that causes the ox to barely acknowledge his presence. The accompanying text reads: “Broken out of his cowpen, there is nothing you can do! If (the ox) is not tied with a rope, he does as he pleases. (Although) you pull with the utmost of your efforts, you cannot make him turn his head. What else can you do but go along with him?”
The second vignette shows some progress being made by the herdsman as he tries to bring his water ox to heel. Clearly unable to use brute force, he entices the animal with grass, a symbol of the Buddhist’s teachings. The man’s success can be gauged by the animal’s response – head bent backwards across his body, he gratefully munches on the proffered greens from the herdsman, now depicted wearing a broad-brimmed hat which hangs down across his back. The text highlights the on-going struggle of the man to control the beast: “As the fragrant grass is endless, you must have faith in yourself. If you do not drag him (away), he simply will not turn his head. Although the ox is aware of the man’s intentions, if you let him go, he will run here and there, and will not easily be brought under control.”
Taking another tack, the herdsman in the third scene employs the “big stick” approach, having failed to get the ox to obey him with his green grass delights. His arm raised above him, the herdsman wields a whip in his left hand as he continues to tug at the ox with his right. The ox appears to be turning towards him, although the herdsman’s success is difficult to gauge due to the loss of the attached head and upper body portion of the ox figure. The carvings were produced from the living rock with separate cut-rock pieces being attached in an additive process utilizing pegs that fit into holes cut into the portion of the figure carved into the cliff-face. This allowed the carved figures to project out from the rock, giving them a more three-dimensional quality.
Immediately adjacent to the damaged ox image is the fourth vignette. The ox has at long last been brought under control by the herdsman. Once again wearing his broad-brimmed hat, the herdsman now leads the ox towards him as a monkey playfully looks on from above.
The fifth vignette portrays not one herdsman and his ox but two, who share a laugh now that they have successfully tamed their respective animal charges. This is the most often reproduced image from the Taming of the Wild Ox tableau. Lounging back, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, the herdsman look relaxed and happy, content in their achievement. The camaraderie of the two men is perhaps meant to signify the joys of a Buddhist brotherhood in which desire has been vanquished.
Detail of tamed ox kneeling by the herdsman, feet resting upon the inscribed text.
In the sixth vignette the herdsman stands with the tether rope at his side, the ox standing above him as he leans down to drink from the stream also seen in the previous vignette. Like the third ox depicted, this image is also missing the added on portions of his head and upper body. The accompanying inscription notes that the ox can now be counted on to follow his master, without any form of coercion being required: “Having harnessed the ox by the nose, it will obey (even if) the nose has no cord. … He will follow you on his own account. At the stream below the mountain’s shade, there is no need to keep him restrained. Morning or evening he does not escape,…” The herdsman in this vignette stands pointing at the inscribed textual portion of the work, as if to guide the viewer’s attention to the importance of this statement.
Vignette number seven in the Great Buddha Bend’s eleven-part series continues the story of the herdsman and the ox, but the focus has now shifted from their mutual antagonism to their peaceful coexistence. The inscribed text reads: “The myriad shapes are forgotten, with nothing from which they can be born the body of the ox is completely white…appearing and disappearing.” The ox is carved head down as he grazes, his back to the herdsman, his legs used as a framing device for the carved inscription. The herdsman stares out at the worshipper, kneeling as he leans against a rock with a complacent smile on his face.
The eighth scene is also lacking in a legible inscription. Both the eighth and ninth vignettes within the tableau illustrate the bliss that awaits the herdsman who has successfully brought his wild ox under control. In the eighth, the herdsman is shown playing his flute, dressed in a raincoat with his hair once again in a topknot.
Detail of herdsman playing his flute with crane to his left.
The ninth vignette also shows the pleasures of controlling one’s animal – here the herdsman lies in perfect abandonment, his bare stomach and chest revealed as he lounges with his hands behind his head. Even the impish monkey whose attempts to provoke him appear to be unsuccessful in disturbing his bliss. His ox has wandered some distance and like his master lies resting on his bent knees, his head up, eyes staring out as he perhaps reminiscences about his last tasty meal.
Vignettes ten and eleven at the end of the Taming of the Wild Ox tableau and next to the entrance to the Cave of Complete Enlightenment.
The tenth vignette is integral to an understanding of the Taming of the Wild Ox tableau within the greater context of the Great Buddha Bend, the sheer simplicity of its construction belying its importance. Composed of a monk seated in meditation on a short rocky dais, this figure seems out of place within the sequence because it includes no ox or herdsman, the protagonists of the earlier vignettes. Carved above the monk in meditation is the following verse: “The ox has disappeared, and the man is at ease by himself, (with) nothing to dwell upon, and nothing to depend upon. His nature is spontaneously vast, and it is clear that he is an adept. In the cold mountains, he gathers bamboo (for fuel), and spring water.” This image is unique to the Baodingshan version of the Oxherding text, which in general has only ten images. Later versions of the ox-herding theme depict no similar monk image, the depiction most likely inserted into the ten-part sequence by members of the Buddhist community at Baodingshan. It is quite possible that the image itself is a portrait of Zhao Zhifeng, Baodingshan’s creator, based upon the monk’s distinctive curly hair.
Detail of tenth image.
Short inscription found to the left of the seated monk figure in the tenth vignette. It reads, “Even if a red-hot iron wheel rotated on the top of my head, I will not, because of this suffering, give up the mind of enlightenment.” This inscription echoes an inscribed verse seen elsewhere at the site, most notably within the Repayment of Kindness tableau. Several scholars postulate that this is Zhao’s “spiritual signature”, meant to demonstrate his dedication to the Buddhist faith.
The last image of the tableau, vignette number eleven, is composed mainly of a textual inscription rising out of an open lotus form, above which hovers a full moon. The inscription reads: “Everything is accomplished, yet nothing is (really) accomplished! What mind can there be? With an accomplished mind, and the mind accomplished, there is nothing to dwell upon. The perfect lamp has no partiality, it illumines both old and new. The man and the ox are no longer seen, they are gone without a trace. The bright moon shines cold on the ten thousand empty shapes. If you ask me the meaning of this then behold the wild flowers, and the fragrant plants that naturally grow together.”
Images of Women Placed directly beneath the Taming of the Wild Ox tableau is a pair of figures, two women carved into the cliff face visible only from the path down to the water. In this image, they are directly below the visitors standing on the walkway above them.
Two life-size female figures facing the path up from the river and below the main series of carvings. On the left an older woman, sometimes referred to as a woman of Licchavi 栗呫, a powerful clan that existed at the time of the Buddha and from which several women joined the Buddhist order. On the right is a younger woman. The older woman points upward towards Great Buddha Bend with her right hand. Since there is no inscription to identify the women as from Licchavi, they could just as easily be meant to represent local women indicating the path for worshippers to follow to arrive at Great Buddha Bend.
The Buddhas of the Ten Directions Within the hell tableau at Baodingshan, the uppermost register, approximately 52 feet above the pathway, depicts the Buddhas of the Ten Directions.
Each Buddha is seated frontally in the lotus position within a shell-like niche.
The effects of time have eroded away much of their facial features, yet each Buddha appears to be distinctly garbed as well as differentiated by his particular mudra or attribute.
From the images of rebirth in the Pure Land at Baodingshan, one proceeds physically downward to view the hell tableau.
This relief depicting Dizang Bodhisattva and the eighteen realms of hell along with the Ten Kings who preside over them can be divided into four different registers. The uppermost register, approximately 52 feet above the pathway, depicts a line of ten Buddhas, referred to as the Buddhas of the Ten Directions.
There are several additional works on the right side of the tableau referred to as “Admonitions” and one parable on the far left side.
The second register depicts Bodhisattva Dizang asoverseer of hell with the Ten Kings in attendance.
The lower two registers include the Eighteen Hells
At the very base of the hell tableau and at roughly ground level is the life-size sculpted image of a monk standing underneath a pagoda.
In the past, one could access the first level of hell from the Pure Land tableau above, but over time, that walkway has sheared off.
Detail of the Buddhas of Ten Directions, Ten Kings of Hell and Dizang Bodhisattava on the left side of the tableau.
Detail of the Buddhas of Ten Directions, Ten Kings of Hell and Dizang Bodhisattava on the left side of the tableau.
Detail of lower left series of Eighteen Hells and monk preaching in hell.
Detail of some of the hell vignettes showing combination of text and image carved at Great Buddha Bend.
In front of the hell tableau are the remains of a large altar in the shape pf a lotus flower.
The theory behind the Ten Kings revolves around the premise that every deceased individual passes in front of each of the kings at ten predetermined points over a three-year duration.These ten dates correspond to the “seven-sevens” – 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, and 49 – designating the days after one is deceased, plus the 100th day, one year and three year anniversaries of their death. On these days, offerings need to be made to each of the Ten Kings. This numbering system appears to be standard within both the longer and shorter versions of the Scripture on the Ten Kings. The idea of interim stages is a Buddhist concept that was given a Chinese twist by the addition of judges in the guise of the Ten Kings. In India, there were rites connected to passing from one existence to the next; however, the Chinese added a bureaucratic format, perhaps drawing on Daoist precedents. At Baodingshan, each king and magistrate is fronted by a table over which is hung a piece of blue cloth on which are inscribed his titles and a corresponding hymn. Introduced by the Officer of Immediate Retribution 现报司官, the Ten Kings follow the standard order of placement as given in the scripture, beginning with King Guang of Qin 秦广大王 at the far right.
Officer of Immediate Retribution 现报司官 Underneath the Officer of Immediate Retribution is inscribed the following verse: If one desires peace and happiness and to reside amongst men and gods, one must immediately stop taking money belonging to the Three Jewels. Once you fall into the hells within the dark regions of the underworld, there, amongst the clamor, you will receive punishment for untold years.
King Guang of Qin 秦广大王 The verse accompanying King Guang of Qin reads as follows: The various kings (of hell) dispatch messengers to inspect the deceased in order to see what merit these men and women have cultivated. Depending on one’s name, one can be released from the hells of the three paths, and escape passing through the dark regions therein encountering suffering and grief.
King of the First River 初江大王 The hymn accompanying the King of the First River reads as follows: Wrongdoings are like mountains, their peaks as numerous as the sands of the Ganges; blessings are like fine grains of dust, there numbers also few. Yet the good spirits protect you, so you can be reborn into a powerful, rich and devout family.
King of the Five Offices 五官大王 The text of the hymn accompanying the King of Song reads as follows: Actions of sin and suffering within the three paths are completed with ease; they are all conditioned by killing living beings in order to sacrifice to the gods. You should aspire to wield the diamond sword of true wisdom, using it to cut off all of Mara’s clan, and to awaken (to the truth of) the non-arising (of all phenomena).
King of the Five Offices 五官大王 The text of the hymn accompanying the King of the Five Offices reads as follows: Breaking the fast and violating the precepts, you slaughter chickens and pigs. Illumined clearly in the mirror of actions, retribution will come without fail. If one commissions this scripture together with the painting of images, King Yama will issue a judgment that you be released and that your sins be eliminated.
King Yama – ‘Yama, Son of Heaven’ 阎罗天子 The text of the hymn accompanying King Yama reads as follows: Compassionately (seeking to) augment universal conversion (to the good), he displays an awe-inspiring majesty. Revolution through the six paths (of incarnation) goes on unceasingly. Although his instruction is painful, he thinks only of (bringing creatures to) contentment and joy. Hence, he manifests himself in the form of the god Yama, Son of Heaven.
King of Transformations 变成大王 The text of the hymn accompanying the King of Transformations reads as follows: If one truly believes that the Law is inconceivable, and copies the scriptures, aspiring to listen to them, receiving and upholding them, then upon giving up this life, one will instantly release himself from the three evil pa ths, and in this body he will forever avoid falling into Avici Hell.
The King of Mount Tai 太山大王 The text of the hymn accompanying the King of Mount Tai reads as follows: A single life is fragile like a lantern in the wind; two rats creep up, gnawing at a vine in the well. If one does not cultivate a precious raft to ferry one over the bitter sea of life, then what can one depend on to attain deliverance?
The Impartial King 平正大王 The text of the hymn accompanying the Impartial King reads as follows: At that time the Buddha put forth a ray of light that filled the great chilocosm; dragons and preta assembled with humans and gods. Indra, Brahma, the various gods, and the hidden multitude of the underworld all came to prostrate themselves in front of the World-honored One.
The King of the Capital 都市大王 The text of the hymn accompanying the King of the Capital reads as follows: Each birth on the Six Paths contains suffering without limit; the Ten Evils and the Three Paths are not easy to bear. If all efforts are put forth to establish the feasts and complete meritorious deeds, then sins as numerous as the sands of the Ganges will disappear of themselves.
The King who Turns the Wheel 转轮圣王 The text of the hymn accompanying the King who Turns the Wheel reads as follows: For the last three, where they pass is an important crossing. Good and evil depend only on felicitous actions as a cause. The unvirtuous will yet continue to suffer grief for a full one thousand days. They will be reborn into a womb only to die in birth, or to die at a young age.
The Officer of Rapid Recompense 速报司官 The text of the hymn accompanying the Officer of Rapid Recompense reads as follows: Not constructing a boat or bridge is man’s folly; meeting with danger, you will at last begin to understand. If you awaken to the fact that one hundred years will pass like a snap of the fingers, (then) one must surely not delay in observing days of fast and listening to the Law.
The Eighteen Hells at Baodingshan As one’s eye travels down from the top of the hell tableau at Great Buddha Bend, it moves from the meditative calm of the heavens of the Buddhas of the Ten Directions, through the orderliness and symmetry of the Ten Kings and Dizang Bodhisattva, to the first level of hell, where the worshipper encounters the sensation of disorder that will serve as a precursor to the chaos still to come. Still arranged along a horizontal register, the ten hells depicted on this level do not, however, fit neatly below the Ten Kings above, nor do they correlate to the occasional hell mentioned in the inscriptions accompanying these same Ten Kings.
Knife Mountain Hell The inscription accompanying the vignette reads: If once a month one chants the name of the Dipamkara Buddha 1000 times, one will not fall into the Knife Mountain Hell. The hymn says: Hearing tell of Knife Mountain yet unable to climb it, the outlines of its rocky hills, lofty and precipitous, causing the heart to swoon. Assiduously cultivating blessings when the days of fast occur, one avoids becoming victim of the drag of evil karma on the path ahead.
Boiling Cauldron Hell The inscription accompanying the vignette reads: If daily one chants the name of the Buddha of Medicine 1000 times, one will not fall into Boiling Cauldron Hell. (The hymn says:) Exhort the ruler to strive to be mindful of the Lord Master of Medicine, and escape from enduring the suffering of the boiling cauldron. Fallen into the waves, wondering when one will get out, early cultivation of the Pure Land helps to escape perishing.
Freezing Hell The inscription accompanying the vignette reads: If daily one chants the names of the One Thousand Buddhas of the Present Kalpa 1000 times, one will not fall into the Freezing Hell. (The hymn says:) The worst of sufferings to be found therein are its cold and ice (where one), with eyes covered, (is) naked and exposed to the gods. Merely chant to the various Buddhas seeking merit and evil karma will be eliminated, and one will be reborn in a good place.
Sword Tree Hell Although much of this inscription is effaced, a reconstruction of it based on other textual precedents is given here: (If daily one chants the name of Amitabha) 1000 times, one will not fall into Sword Tree Hell. The hymn says: (I have heard tell that the blessings of Amitabha are most) powerful. (Upon touching) the deadly sword trees, death occurs automatically. (Whatever) one invites upon oneself, one brings (in retribution) upon oneself. (This retribution) is not something that depends upon (affliction by another).
Tongue Extraction Hell The inscription accompanying the vignette reads: If daily one chants the name of Tathagatha 1000 times, one will not fall into the Tongue Extraction Hell. The hymn says: The Hell of Tongue-Extraction is caused by sending the ox out with the iron plow; all types of grasping does not still it for even one moment. If one desires to avoid personal interrogation by King Yama, recite the name of Dizang 1000 times.
Hell of Poisonous Snakes The inscription accompanying the vignette reads: If daily one chants the name of the Tathagatha Wisdom of Great Power 1000 times, one will not fall into the Hell of Poisonous Snakes. The hymn says: The compassion of the bodhisattvas is vast and plentiful; they deliver one from suffering and provide constant instruction, drawing one out from the river of desire. The lotus blossoms of the nine grades (of being) each have their share of the dew. What can cause one to be sent through the poisonous snakes?
Hell of Cutting and Grinding The inscription accompanying the vignette reads: If daily one chants the name of the Bodhisattva who Regards the World’s Cries 1000 times, one will not fall into the Hell of Cutting and Grinding. The hymn says: Chopping up bodies, cutting and grinding, no time for repose; all here performed evil deeds, not cultivating and maintaining good. Avalokitesvara grieves for the suffering of all sentient beings; revealing her mercy and compassion, she aids all to escape from hell.
Hell of Being Sawn into Pieces The inscription accompanying the vignette reads: If daily one chants the name of Vairocana Buddha 1000 times, one will not fall into the Hell of Being Sawn into Pieces. (The hymn says:) The Tathagata’s merits are vast and perfect radiance, which follows like a bright moon coming out among the myriad stars. Merely by chanting (his name) one is able to eliminate all manner of sins. Only a sovereign presumes to saw into pieces without cause.
Hell of the Iron Bed The inscription accompanying the vignette reads: If daily one chants the names of the Bodhisattvas Medicine King and Medicine Excellence 1000 times, one will not fall into the Hell of the Iron Bed. (The hymn says:) The Bodhisattvas true names are those of Healing Kings, and they can dissolve the flames of the iron bed. They have mercy on those who created evil karma as heavy as a mountain, and by merely chanting their true names all living creatures can avoid such calamities.
Hell of Darkness The inscription accompanying the vignette reads: If daily one chants the name of Sakyamuni Buddha 1000 times, one will not fall into the Hell of Darkness. The hymn says: Keeping the fast-days, serving the Buddha, and taking delight in reciting the scriptures, one accumulates good (deeds), and the inspectors of the netherworld inscribe one’s name (in the registers of merit). Additionally reciting the name of Amitabha 1000 times, naturally the darkness will manifest brightness.
Hell of Feces and Filth The inscription accompanying the vignette reads: The scripture states that Kasyapa asked the Buddha, “Those who eat meat fall into which hell?” The Buddha informed Kasyapa, “Those who eat meat fall into the Hell of Feces and Filth. Therein one finds feces and filth 10,000 ‘feet’ deep, the meat eater is thrown into this hell, and repeatedly he goes through the cycle of immersion and exit. When he goes through the first cycle, myriads of spikes situated all around him stab and rupture this body, and serrate his limbs. This is the great torment (of this hell). For five million lifetimes, he knows no release.”
Halberd Hell As noted in the inscription that flanks the preaching monk figure in the lowest depths, this hell is for “people who kill living creatures”.
Iron Wheel Hell As described elsewhere in the tableau, this hell is for “people who seize upon others”.
Smaller Iron Wheel Hell The inscription accompanying the vignette reads: The Buddha said, “(If one) eats (food) or if (one) prepares food and serves it to parents, (teachers, elders), friends, wife, children, and family, then in future lives they will fall into Iron Wheel Hell. There in the armpit on the right side (x), (x) copper is poured (x), suffer for eating during the days of fast (x), likewise it is thus.”
Boiling Cauldron Hell The inscription accompanying the vignette reads: The Buddha spoke, “(Although all living creatures) create bad karma, the Buddha is all compassionate. The body which falls into the Three Paths meets with pain and suffering; those who believe in one truth bring together ones’ own knowledge.” The Buddha then informed Kasyapa, “Those who seize upon others fall into Iron Wheel Hell. Those who cook meat of any living creature fall into the Boiling Cauldron. There in the midst of water, with a fire below they are kept stewing until they burst. Also boiled are those who urge others to cook meat; they enter this hell and endure its great torments. People who broil meat fall into the Hell of the Iron Bed. Those who cut and chop meat fall into the Hell of Cutting and Grinding while those who kill living creatures fall into Halberd Hell, wherein an iron-faced (halberd) is used during the daytime, with a copper-iron (halberd) being employed during the evening. The halberd’s body has a blade the length of four feet. Facing (the damned), it is run through (his or her) chest, coming out his back. For those who kill living creatures it is so. Consequently, to expound the dharma is to explain it to all living creatures.”
This image shows damage done to the Great Buddha Bend site over the past decade. Notice that the suffering souls’arm is now missing a section.
From the nearby inscription, we understand what happens to those who cook meat[mainly women, oftentimes mothers] and those who urge them to do so[men, usually husbands and sons]: “Those who seize upon others fall into Iron Wheel Hell. Those who cook meat of any living creature fall into the Boiling Cauldron. There in the midst of water, with a fire below they are kept stewing until they burst. Also boiled are those who urge others to cook meat; they enter this hell and endure its great torments. People who broil meat fall into the Hell of the Iron Bed. Those who cut and chop meat fall into the Hell of Cutting and Grinding.”
Knife Boat Hell The inscription accompanying the vignette reads: Receiving the penalty for one’s own sins, it is not a case of heaven meting out punishment to humans.
Hungry Ghost Hell The inscription accompanying the vignette reads: The scripture states: Kasyapa Bodhisattva then addressed the Buddha saying, “Those who do not honor the days of fast fall into which hell?” The Buddha informed Kasyapa, “Those who do not honor the days of fast fall into Hungry Ghost Hell….”
Avici Hell – Mountain Enclosed by Iron The inscription regarding Avici Hell does not accompany an image per se, but could be argued to position the worshipper firmly in hell as well as to serve as a transition between the earlier hell scenes and the final grouping of admonitions carved on the lower right section of the hell tableau. A portion of the inscribed text reads as follows: The Buddha told Kasyapa, “If a mendicant here puts on my dharma robe, (he or she must) one, abstain from drinking alcohol, two, abstain from eating meat, three, abstain from envying the good at heart, four, abstain from engaging in ignoble or impure deeds. Those who do not do so fall into Avici Hell….”
Dizang’s Lion Mount Remains of head of lion, vehicle for Dizang Bodhisattva. More commonly known as the vehicle of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Manjusri文殊, the lion is also often shown accompanying Dizang Bodhisattva in China.
Monk Figure Found on the lowest level of the hell tableau, this image of a monk preaching, text in hand, serves as a visual reminder of the human frailties that lead to the punishments outlined in the inscribed texts and sculpted stone vignettes of the hell scenes. The inscribed text flanking the carved image of a monk reads, Heaven’s halls are vast and broad, yet hell is also vast; not believing in the Buddha’s word, then how the heart suffers! My Way is to seek pleasure in the midst of suffering, but all sentient beings (being confused) seek pain in the midst of pleasure.
Admonition against Raising Animals Largely effaced, the beginning of the inscription reads as follows: The Buddha told Kasyapa, “All sentient beings who raise chickens, enter into hell….’”
Admonition against Alcohol At the lower right hand side of the hell tableau is a depiction of a monk, now without a head, being offered a bowl of wine by a merchant, behind whom stands a young woman, hair up in braids, holding a vessel of wine. Next to these images are two sculpted works depicting the text of the inscription, which describes how alcohol caused Angulimala to rape his own mother and kill his father. An inscription located next to one part of the sculptural grouping reads as follows: At that time, the World-honored One informed all Buddhist monks, “If you receive the Five Precepts and the 250 Rules of Conduct, then the rules of proper deportment are complete if you comply with not drinking alcohol, and do not violate the 250 Commandments with regard to right conduct. If you transgress, you will accordingly enter hell.” Kasyapa addressed the Buddha saying, “No alcohol throughout life? Tathagatha, for what reason do the precepts equate alcohol with suffering?” The Buddha replied to Kasyapa, “You like to examine what you hear! In the kingdom of Sravasti, there was Angulimala; his action of drinking alcohol caused stupidity and confusion, causing this son to violate his own mother and to kill his own father. The mother accordingly took a lover, and together bearing a knife (they) did harm. This is the reason today the precepts say alcohol causes suffering.”
As noted in the accompanying inscription located next to one part of the sculptural grouping, the Buddha described why peopel should not drink alcohol, “In the kingdom of Sravasti, there was Angulimala; his action of drinking alcohol caused stupidity and confusion, causing this son to violate his own mother and to kill his own father.”
As noted in the accompanying inscription located next to one part of the sculptural grouping, the Buddha described why peopel should not drink alcohol, “In the kingdom of Sravasti, there was Angulimala; his action of drinking alcohol caused stupidity and confusion, causing this son to violate his own mother and to kill his own father.”
Images of the Effects of Drinking Heightening the edifying effect of the Angulimala story are the images carved next to these two depictions that include the two vignettes of a husband not recognizing his wife and a father not recognizing his son. Below these two are an older sister not knowing her younger sister, placed to the left of an older brother failing to recognize his younger brother. The accompanying inscription reads as follows: The Sutra on Brilliant Freshness Preached by the Buddha from the Great Canon: At that time Buddha announced to Kasyapa: …. Those who drink alcohol do not know their own families. Among those who drink alcohol, there are cases where fathers do not recognize their sons, or sons do not recognize their fathers; elder brothers do not recognize younger brothers, or younger brothers do not recognize elder brothers; husbands do not recognize their wives, or wives do not recognize their husbands; elder sisters do not recognize younger sisters, or younger sisters do not recognize elder sisters; or they do not recognize their inner or outer kin. Good sons (of the Buddha) in this current life become utterly confused; how much moreso in future (lives to come). Any sentient being who foregoes drinking wine and eating meat will be able to arouse the resolve to (seek and achieve) the perfected bodhi mind.
Fathers Do not Recognize their Sons As noted in the inscribed text nearby from The Sultra on Brilliant Freshness Preached by the Buddha from the Great Canon: At that time Buddha announced to Kasyapa: …. “Those who drink alcohol do not know their own families. Among those who drink alcohol, there are cases where fathers do not recognize their sons, or sons do not recognize their fathers”
Brothers Do Not Recognize Each Other As noted in the inscribed text nearby from The Sultra on Brilliant Freshness Preached by the Buddha from the Great Canon: At that time Buddha announced to Kasyapa: …. “elder brothers do not recognize younger brothers, or younger brothers do not recognize elder brothers”
Husbands and Wives Do Not Recognize Each Other As noted in the inscribed text nearby from The Sultra on Brilliant Freshness Preached by the Buddha from the Great Canon: At that time Buddha announced to Kasyapa: …. “husbands do not recognize their wives, or wives do not recognize their husbands”
Sisters Do Not Recognize Each Other As noted in the inscribed text nearby from The Sultra on Brilliant Freshness Preached by the Buddha from the Great Canon: At that time Buddha announced to Kasyapa: …. “elder sisters do not recognize younger sisters, or younger sisters do not recognize elder sisters; or they do not recognize their inner or outer kin.”
The Winesellers According to the accompanying inscriptional evidence, those suffering the most in the hells are not those who themselves had overindulged, but rather those who sold alcohol to monks, in essence enabling them to break the precepts.
This image gives a more complete representation of the monl figure beingoffered wine. In front of this grouping are the remains of the jars and jugs that held the wine[“the bar”], which are now gone from the carvings at Great Buddha Bend.
Hell of Being Cut in Two at the Knees According to the accompanying inscriptional evidence, those suffering the most in the hells are not those who themselves had overindulged, but rather those who sold alcohol to monks, in essence enabling them to break the precepts. Two examples can be seen within the Admonition against Alcohol grouping. The first example depicts the horrific fate of a man guilty of selling wine to monks. The inscribed text reads: In addition to people who drink, those who press alcohol on a monk will fall into the Hell of Being Cut in Two at the Knees, within which a strong man (jailer) with his sword will brutally cut the damned’s two knees. Those who press alcohol on a monk will receive such suffering as this.
Hell for those who Buy and Sell Alcohol The second example is seen in the carved image of a seated, naked woman. The accompanying inscription reads: A person such as the girl who buys and sells alcohol, will die and fall into hell. When receipt of her punishment is concluded, she will be (reborn with) a body three feet high, two ears blocked shut, a face without two eyes, likewise without nostrils, underneath the lips, a gaping mouth, hands without ten fingers, legs without two feet. This inscription further notes that it is clearly suffering the pains of these particular hells is a joint effort, none being guiltier than the clergy who does not have the willpower to abstain from drink. The carved text continues, The sutra states: At that time, the World-honored One informed all Buddhist monks, “If someone receives the Five Precepts and the 250 Precepts and the full range of rules of proper deportment, and yet does not abstain from drinking alcohol, then he or she has violated the 250 Precepts with regard to right conduct. If you transgress as such you will accordingly enter hell.”
Mother and Father Feeding their Child Located just below and to the left of the Feces and Filth Hell. The carving consists of a seated father figure with his son standing at his knee. The mother kneels to the right, presenting to the boy two bowls with varying contents, from which the child indicates his choice with his right hand. The text accompanying the image is carved next to that of the Hell of Feces and Filth, and reads as follows: Kasyapa addressed the Buddha saying, “When you preach the dharma to sentient beings, do they accept it or not?” The Buddha then told Kasyapa, (It is analogous to) a person whose years having reached the age of 80, (remains) poor, poverty-stricken, and forlorn. A ruler bears a single son. (Filled) with the utmost pity and compassion (for his son), he holds gold in one hand and food in the other, offering both at the same time (to the child). The child being ignorant does not recognize the gold, but grasps the food. For all sentient beings, even rulers, it is so. I (the Buddha) take pity on sentient beings (and preach the dharma) in the same way as just as kind as that loving father (offered the gold). Yet all the sentient beings cast it aside, do (not) pay reverence to it, do not take it to heart, nor put it into practice.
Integral to understanding the ritual relationship between the Pure Land the hell tableaux is the small work entitled Locking up the Six Vices [fig. 186], sometimes also referred to as the ‘Six Delusions’ or the ‘Six Robbers’.
The size of the Six Vices tableau is significantly smaller than the two adjoining works. Yet within this niche there are fourteen figures, eight animals, and 30 separate inscriptions, carved in a stone area covering approximately 155 square inches, and containing 687 characters. Six Vices is divided into three registers, thus mirroring in format other nearby carved works.
he uppermost portion of the work is “captioned” in characters considerably larger than those seen elsewhere in the carving, and states “Binding Tight the Monkey of the Mind and Locking Up the Vices of the Six Senses”.
The central figure’s forehead emanates a ray upward to encompass a Buddha seated, hands held in a variant of the meditation mudra. Dressed in monk’s attire, the central figure holds a reclining monkey in his lap, a metaphor for the human mind.
On each side of the figure are two symmetrical series of inscriptions. Immediately to the right of the figure’s head is the caption “Heaven’s halls and hell”, which is completed on the left side, “with one stroke are by the mind created”.
Each ray from the central figure leads out to a seed character of sorts, which will form the basis of a series of inscriptions flanking the central figure. These are larger characters set off in circles; on the right one reads “good (shan 善 )” which flows upward to the character “good fortune (fu 福)”, which in turn leads to “happiness (le 乐)”.
Each ray from the central figure leads out to a seed character of sorts, which will form the basis of a series of inscriptions flanking the central figure. To the left the seed character is “evil (e 恶)”, which flows into “misfortune (huo 祸)”, which eventually leads to “suffering (ku 苦)”.
The tableau’s overall message is reiterated in the animal representations of the six vices, linked to the six senses, which extend outward below it. The six animals, which represent the enemies of human enlightenment, are arrayed below the lotus pedestal of the central figure, are very eroded, so identification here is tentative. To the left can be seen a wild cat, a fish, and a horse. On the right, one encounters a dog, a crow, and a snake – representative of the senses.
As the worshipper proceeds around Great Buddha Bend from the works related to the repaying of filial debt seen in the Kindness of Parents and Repayment of Kindness tableaux, he or she encounters a largely iconic work devoted to the Pure Land 净土. The images that confront the worshipper depict the Scripture on the Visualization of the Buddha of Infinite Life (Guan wu liang shou fo jing 观无量寿佛经) and cover an area of approximately 160 square meters.
Located in the middle of the north cliff face, the relief depicting the Pure Land is juxtaposed with the relief depicting hell. This placement of the Pure Land tableau on the north side of the grotto follows along with similar imagery found painted as north wall backdrops in Song Dynasty Pure Land halls.
Three large sculptures, the Buddha Amitayus 无量寿佛flanked by two bodhisattva figures loom over the faithful, all three equally awe-inspiring in scale. Amitayus is a variation on Amitabha, meaning “of immeasurable life span” versus Amitabha’s “of immeasurable radiance”. To Amitayus’ right is Avalokitesvara, her bejeweled crown bearing the identifying small Amitabha figure. Guanyin 观音, as Avalokitesvara is known in China, carries here a flywhisk in her right hand, a bowl cradled in her left palm. To Amitayus’ left is Mahastamaprapta 大势至, who is also depicted resplendently, left hand extended palm up, bearing what appears to be a lotus leaf. Between these three figures are two smaller bodhisattva figures backed by flaming mandorlas, Padmapani, a variation on Avalokitesvara, holding his lotus attribute situated on the right, Vajrasattva, 金剛薩埵 , to the left. Rising above them and scattered throughout the tableau are the palaces of the Pure Land paradise peopled with heavenly beings.
This triad is flanked by two double-storied palaces – the left one inscribed as the zhu lou 珠楼, “Pearl Tower”, with the 大宝楼阁 “Great Jewel Pavilion” to the right. Surrounding the palace are small figures playing musical instruments, denoting the beauty and harmony to be found in the Pure Land.
Below these are several smaller iconic arrangements that represent the various levels of rebirth in a uniform fashion. Aside from the group positioned directly below the central Buddha, all of the peripheral sculptural groupings are triads around a central Buddha figure, either standing or seated, flanked by two bodhisattvas. The central grouping is comprised of four standing bodhisattvas holding lotus pedestals upon which the newborn soul will be escorted into the Pure Land.
All of the imagery is accompanied by large flat spaces filled with lengthy textual descriptions, which are in turn augmented by text inscribed within the confines of the lower balustrade. The inscriptions found carved within the Great Buddha Bend Pure Land tableau come from various versions of the Scripture on the Buddha of Infinite Life. The large scriptural text portions of this tableau have not been translated because they appear to adhere roughly to extant versions of the Scripture on the Visualization of the Buddha of Infinite Life.
Although the central icons are meant to focus the worshipper, what draws the eye are the multiple small figures in various states of rebirth.
Some popping out of lotuses, others holding up their hands in reverence, still others crawling along the balustrade, all young at heart in their new life in the Pure Land.
These newborn souls demonstrate how the layperson can be reborn into paradise, and reinforce the identification of the tableau as being based on the Scripture on the Visualization of the Buddha of Infinite Life.
The dominant narrative component of this work rests within the Sixteen Visualizations of the tableau. These visualizations as depicted at Great Buddha Bend were all originally “captioned”. In addition to captions associated with the visualizations, much of the inscribed text of the Pure Land tableau centers on the qualities of the nine grades of the Pure Land into which one can be reborn.
The original Sixteen Visualizations as found within the scripture centered on Queen Vaidehi, the protagonist in a story relating one of Buddhism’s most notorious examples of an unfilial son. In brief, the story is as follows. After first failing in his attempt to kill his father the king, Prince Ajatasatru turns to the person responsible for keeping his father alive, the virtuous Queen Vaidehi, who has secretly been feeding her husband by anointing her body with pastes for him to eat. After first ordering his servants to kill her, the prince is stopped in this supremely unfilial act by a minister who cautions that even among the most wicked of earlier kings, none had ever killed his mother. The minister then refuses to cooperate in Ajatasatru’s scheme. Scared by his minister’s reluctance, Ajatasatru orders Queen Vaidehi to be placed under housearrest, and it is within that space that the sixteen visualizations occur. The visualizations demonstrate the Buddha’s response to Queen Vaidehi’s request for succor, appearing in the form of visits from various bodhisattvas who help her remain strong in her convictions during her unjust incarceration. At Baodingshan, Queen Vaidehi is replaced by other imagery – here images of meditating monks.
Although originally all Sixteen Visualizations were represented at Great Buddha Bend, the present state of the Pure Land tableau is missing one of the eight original vignettes from the left side of the work, making the total extant images fifteen. This placement of the narrative illustrations of the Sixteen Visualizations at Baodingshan follows earlier patterns of placing the imagery in two series running up and down the sides of the central iconic imagery. The use of cartouches to label the individual visualizations is also in keeping with earlier approaches to representing Queen Vaidehi’s spiritual journey toward visualizing enlightenment. Here the imagery replacing Queen Vaidehi is that of meditating scholar figures.
The Great Buddha Bend tableau uses images of individuals drawn from all quarters of Song Chinese society instead of centering the imagery around the character of Queen Vaidehi. The protagonists in the Great Buddha Bend tableau vary in subject matter from several images of monks in meditation to a general on guard to a young woman as well as an official. Here you see a general on guard in meditation mode.
This image shows the effects of weathering on imagery at Great Buddha Bend. Most of the sculpted works are finished with a covering of plaster than painted.
This image shows the effects of shifting terrain at Baodingshan.
In front of the Pure Land tableau at Great Buddha Bend is another lotus altar, flanked by carvings of one open and one just unfurling lotus.
Here one sees the Pure Land tableau as you look west, towards the first level of Hell, now blocked off by a metal gate. A staircase to the left of the balustrade takes the worshipper down to the hell tableau.
As the worshipper proceeds around Great Buddha Bend from the largely iconic works of the Buddha’s parinirvana and the nearby images of the Peacock King and the small cave of Vairocana, he or she encounters a heavily detailed narrative work. The images that confront the worshipper depict the Buddha Preaches the Mahayana Scripture on the Skillful Means of the Buddha’s Repayment of Kindness 大藏佛说大方便佛报恩经 and cover an area of approximately 110 square meters. Both this and the previous tableau dedicated to the kindness of parents contain large-scale iconic imagery, yet the primary focus of the works are the narrative elements.
A central Buddha icon stands with his left hand palm up in front of his chest balancing a begging bowl, his right hand held up in a gesture of admonishment. Rays of light emanate from his urna as he opens his mouth to preach. Carved at eye-level on the front of the Buddha icon is a lengthy text related to three previous emperors, the sides of which are flanked by the statement “There are only the golden bones of our master that survive, and (although) having been refined by fire 100 times, the colors are still fresh.” ‘Golden bones’ is a reference to sarira, or Buddhist relics.
Unlike the earlier narrative work, in which the ten kindnesses of a mother are clearly numbered, the large textual inscriptions found within the Scripture on the Repayment of Kindness tableau are not. This lack of direction on the part of the conceptual director of Great Buddha Bend may well have been intentional; by leaving the vignettes unnumbered, the artist gives more freedom to the viewer, who in turn does not feel compelled to read and absorb each of the twelve stories relating Shakyamuni’s filial acts in both his present and previous incarnations. With such compartmentalized works, monks could also engage in selective storytelling, allowing for shorter interludes with the work by the worshipper over an extended period of time.
The narratives in the Scripture on the Repayment of Kindness tableau here are discussed in order beginning with the lower right and moving back and forth as the eye moves up the tableau. The first vignette is the most dynamic, and sets the tone for the entire tableau. It begins with an inscription entitled “The Buddha of the Great Repository Preaches the Mahayana Sutra for Repaying Kindness” that is easily viewed by the worshipper since it fills the entire lower left flank of the central Buddha image at eye-level.
Beginning with the incontrovertible phrase, “Thus I have heard”, the inscription tells the story of Ananda’s encounter with a filial man caring for his parents, and their subsequent meeting with six heretics, who deride the Buddha Shakyamuni as being unfilial, having abandoned his parents in the city in order to preach in the mountains. The doubt raised within Ananda causes him to raise the issue of filial piety upon his return to the Buddha, who at the time is preaching to an assembly of his followers. The Buddha then preaches the need to be filial and to care for one’s parents, citing the notion that in the past all the myriad beings were parents, and without them no being could exist. Directly adjacent to the carved inscription at Great Buddha Bend stands Ananda, his head bowed slightly, hands clasped together as he prays on behalf of the filial son and his parents.
The artist highlights the encounter between Ananda and the filial son, who the worshipper sees at ground level carrying his weak, old parents in baskets suspended from a pole straddling his shoulders, leaning forward slightly from the burden. The parents are depicted as small and wizened seated in the baskets, the father’s mouth open as his hand clutches what might be the ‘better’ food given to the father by his son, as is noted in the inscription.
The heretics are shown joyfully prancing by, playing music and pointing and laughing at them, all the while slandering the Buddha.
Set up in an almost perfect call-and-response style, the grouping viewed to the left of the central Buddha figure at ground level seems to answer to the heretics’ allegations, whose images mirror them on the right side of the tableau. A processional of six figures stretches out as it marches away from the central Buddha figure, on whose right flank is inscribed the accompanying inscription. Immediately recognizable to the worshipper is the Buddha Shakyamuni, clad in monk’s robe, hair shorn to close snail-shell curls, rays emanating from his forehead. The figures are carrying the coffin of the Buddha Shakyamuni’s father, King Suddhodhana.
Leading the processional is Sundarananda, the younger brother of Shakyamuni. Head covered and bowed, he looks back over his shoulder to his brother, who leads the group of pallbearers. As is written in the inscription, Sundarananda waves a censer, waiting for Shakyamuni to take it from him when they reach the coffin’s final resting place. Two strong men, perhaps meant to represent the heavenly kings also mentioned in the inscription who honor the Buddha by transforming themselves into human form so as to assist him, stand with their backs to the worshipper. A pole connects these three figures to the coffin perched above.
Placed directly above the two eaves outlining the relic pagoda of Shakyamuni’s father Suddhodhana is a narrative depiction of Shakyamuni attending to his dying father.
To the right of this touching scene is another vignette, for which a caption in the middle of the scene reads “The Great Youth of the Himalayas casts off his whole body for half of a verse: birth and death do not cease. With cessation, there is happiness”, This scene is sometimes also referred to as the “Sacrifice for a Stanza”. The narrative is quite straightforward – the Buddha in a previous incarnation is confronted by a hungry raksa demon while trying to achieve the perfected bodhi mind. The demon is “hungry and vexed”, and responds to the Buddha’s query regarding demon cuisine, saying, “I eat the warm meat and hot blood of people.” The young Buddha is quick to offer up his own body in exchange for a chant known to the raksa demon that will bring him bodhi knowledge. The demon then utters the chant, and having achieved his purpose and owing his body to the demon, the Buddha then proceeds to undertake his own extinguishing by climbing a tall tree and jumping off of it. However, before he hits the ground, the demon is transformed back into its true form, the god Indra, who catches him.
On the second tier of the right side of the central Buddha figure are two vignettes which echo this sentiment of self-sacrifice on behalf of one’s parents – the well-known tale of the Buddha in a previous incarnation sacrificing himself to aid a tigress, and the lesser-known story of the Buddha cutting his own flesh in a previous life to nourish his father and mother.
Although the tigress vignette would appear at first glance to be related to self-sacrifice on behalf of the salvation of all beings, the portion inscribed and depicted at Great Buddha Bend concerns itself with the effect of such a sacrifice on the Buddha’s then-parents, not on the more dramatic earlier self-sacrifice episode. Parallel to the scene of the Buddha Shakyamuni providing solace to his dying father, the tigress narrative provides a perfect symmetrical counterpart. The parents are shown grieving over the body of their deceased son, now nothing more than a skeleton. To the right the father strokes his head; to the left his mother touches his feet.
Next to this scene, and adjacent to the central Buddha image is the narrative entitled “Shakyamuni, while in the Causal Stages (of Bodhisattvahood), Cuts His Own Flesh to Nourish His Father and Mother”. This seemingly fantastic vignette depicting the feeding of the Buddha’s parents with his own flesh in fact has a more concrete filial value when considered in conjunction with its accompanying inscription. The story goes that the Buddha in a previous life was a young prince named “Jati”. Due to betrayal, the king and his wife are forced to flee their homeland with nothing other than their young son. Noticing that his parents are starving, the young Jati encourages his father to make “one hundred cuts” on his princely body in order to feed himself and his wife. Jati then goes on noting that his body “will be healed as good as new” and would be twice as strong.
The artist has chosen to depict the scene in which the father offers a slice of the son’s flesh to his wife, Jati’s mother. The mother stands to the left of the trio, hair piled high behind a royal tiara; to her left stands the king, holding the young prince Jati cradled in his left arm. The king’s right hand holds forth the piece of flesh toward the queen. To clarify the situation for the viewer, the artist has purposely carved a deep gash in the bare upper arm of the youth as well as another gash in his lower forearm. Between the two adults leans a long sword, which the worshipper comes to identify as the blade used to commit the gruesome deed.
The least overtly demonstrative with regard to filial acts is the vignette located directly to the right of the main Buddha figure on the top tier.
Entitled “Shakyamuni, while in the Causal Stages (of Bodhisattvahood), Cultivates Filial Piety and Realizes the 32 Marks (of a Great Being)”, this narrative relates the story of the Buddha explaining to Manjusri how he achieved his special 32 minor marks and 80 auspicious signs through the “virtue of filial piety”. The artist executes this scene in a rather interesting fashion. Kneeling before two figures, one dressed in scholarly attire, the other a monk in meditation, is Manjusri, depicted as a youth also dressed in scholarly clothing. Behind him sits a bodhisattva as is described in the inscription.
The first of the two vignettes to deal with kingly repayments of filial acts is found immediately to the right of the seated Buddha figure depicted in the narrative relating the Buddha’s 32 minor marks. On the left we see the king, hampered by a serious illness according to the inscription, who reaches out to a doctor who kneels before him feeling for his pulse. This is the vignette depicting Shakyamuni, while in the Causal Stages (of Bodhisattvahood), Performed the Filial Act of Gouging Out His Eyes and Marrow for the Sake of a Cure. When asked what manner of medicine will cure him, the king replies, “It is the eyes and marrow of a person who does not anger.”
Immediately to the right of this, we see the necessary sequel, an image of his virtuous and filial son, seated, offering up his eyes and marrow.
The other method of repayment is for the king to extol the virtues of the Buddhist faith to his people, which is seen in the vignette on the far left of the top tier. This is the penance given to the king by the bodhisattva-turned-man Samaka, in the “Shakyamuni, while in the Causal Stages (of Bodhisattvahood), Practices Filial Piety as Prince Samaka” vignette. In this story, Samaka is accidentally slain by the king while Samaka is off dutifully seeking food for his blind parents. The cries of the parents that their son was ‘extremely filial’, and therefore did not deserve to die, are heard by the god Indra, who comes down to earth to revive the dead Samaka. The artist depicts Samaka lain out, his mother cradling his head in her hands, his father clutching the arrow protruding from his chest. It is the moment when Indra has appeared, and he is shown standing behind the prone figure of Samaka.
To the immediate right of the inscription and Indra stands the guilt-ridden king, dressed in hunting attire, a quiver at his left side, his bow clutched to his right side as he holds his hands together in reverence.
The second vignette on the left side of top tier is entitled “Shakyamuni, while in the Causal Stages (of Bodhisattvahood), Cuts His Own Flesh”. In the inscription, the worshipper is told the story of a king who sought to understand the Buddha’s law. Upon at last finding a master who would expound the law to him, the king invites him to sit in his palace and instruct him in the Way. However, the master will only do so with the provision that the king “make 1000 cuts” upon his body, and “burn lanterns in offering”. The king then begins to search among his family and court for someone to aid him in making the 1000 cuts on his body, but there are no takers for this rather unusual offer. At last, a man named Candala steps forward agreeing to the task. Candala is “an outcast, a man of the lowest and most despised of the mixed class.” The king is overjoyed, and once the 1000 cuts have been made, he pours oil into them, inserting coarse fabric wicks and lighting them, thereby making his own body serve as the necessary offering of lanterns. The king is thus able to achieve enlightenment, rejoining his people to “remember to uphold the law”. The king is declared a chakravartin, and is noted to have been the Buddha Shakyamuni in a previous life. The depiction of this narrative is conflated around the central image of the king. To his left and behind him, the worshipper sees Candala, bent over with arm raised to strike one of the 1000 blows. In front of him and to his right is the seated figure of the Buddhist master, right hand raised in instruction, left hand posed on his knee. The king is depicted as nude to the waist, kneeling before his seated teacher, hands folded in prayer. Behind him are the remains of his flaming mandorla, representing his kingly body being used as an offering lamp as well as a signal of his release from this worldly existence.
There are two vignettes involving birds located on the top tier. One is carved between the narrative of the chakravartin and the main central Buddha icon; it is entitled “Shakyamuni and the Goose (upon which) One Writes and Notifies the Prince”. This is the story of the goose who notifies the prince, the Buddha in a previous life, that his parents have so worried in his absence that they have lost their eyesight. Upon receiving this news, the prince returns with the only “treasure” he has gathered on his expedition, a cintamani or wish-fulfilling jewel, emblematic of Buddhist enlightenment. With this gem, the prince restores his parents’ eyesight, a clear demonstration of his desire to rectify his unfilial behavior in which he abandoned his parents.
The artist shows the king and queen seated rather stiffly behind a table on whose front is carved the text of the inscription. Both mother and father are solemn and withdrawn as their son kneels before them making his wish while holding up the cintamani. It is the moment before their visual enlightenment, as they are not yet demonstrating unbounded joy. Faintly visible still above and to the left of the king’s head is the outline of a wing in flight, the remnants of the white goose messenger sent to notify the prince of his parents’ ill health.
Finally, the last vignette of the third tier concerns a filial parrot. The scene depicted is quite minimal and is located at the far right – a man holding a bird in his left hand while apparently scolding it with his right. The accompanying inscription reads “Shakyamuni, while in the Causal Stages (of Bodhisattvahood), as a Parrot Performed Filial Acts”.
The story is highly reminiscent of that of Prince Samaka, which is depicted in a parallel position on the opposite side of the tableau creating a bookend effect. Like Prince Samaka, who was shot to death with an arrow while in search of food for his blind parents, the parrot is in the field gathering grain when the bird is seized by the angry landowner.
The artist has chosen to depict the penultimate moment within the narrative, when the landowner has grabbed the bird. The parrot reminds him of a pledge he once made that “Whatever crop I plant, I will give to the myriad creatures in charitable offering” and queries “Why is it that today upon seeing me you seize me?” The landowner explains his anger at the parrot gathering his hard-earned grain, but is delighted when he hears the rationale for it: “My parents are blind; I desire to offer this food to them.” The landowner then releases the parrot, and the inscription ends with Shakyamuni extolling the filial qualities of the parrot, appointing all to emulate him and “provide for your two parents”.
Tableau 16 – Indigenous Gods of China These four deities embody elemental aspects of the cycle of life on earth – rain, wind, thunder and lightning – and can be found in both Buddhist and Daoist contexts. There is some question as to the source of their imagery, with some scholars arguing for a Middle Eastern or Greco-Roman provenance while others note the iconography as being uniquely Chinese. Regardless of point of origin, the works at Great Buddha Bend are rare in terms of their size and prominent location at the site. Rituals were performed in honor of various earth deities on the second and sixteenth days of each month, although we do not have evidence proving that such rites were ever carried out at Baodingshan.
God of Wind The God of Wind at Great Buddha Bend is a classic later work showing the deity holding a large bag or goatskin in his arms, from which the wind escapes.
This differs from early depictions of the God of Wind that showed him blowing the wind out of his mouth. In the Daoist context, the God of Wind is known as Feng Bo 风伯.
In Esoteric Buddhism the God of Wind is one of the Twelve Devas, charged with protecting Buddhism, as well as one of the Guardians of the Eight Directions. In India, the God of Wind was thought to bring good fortune, prosperity and long life.
God of Thunder The God of Thunder at Great Buddha Bend depicts the god in action – a mallet raised in his right hand as he readies to strike one of the seven drums that encircle him. It appears that his left hand also held a mallet although it is now broken off.
The God of Thunder is here depicted as dog-faced, whereas within the Daoist context he looks more bird-like. He goes by either Lei Gong 雷公 “Lord of Thunder” or Lei Shen 雷神 “God of Thunder” and is often accompanied by the God of Lightning.
God of Rain The God of Rain is depicted at Great Buddha Bend as a man in official attire riding astride a dragon. Most likely it is a representation of the Dragon King, known for his ability to bring rain.
The God of Rain looks out at the worshipper, his dragon facing forward as he heads out into the skies above. Above his head sits the Dragon King’s attendant.
Looking up at the God of Rain, one can see that the cliff face has broken away, with plaster having been added to stabilize the area. Images from the Scripture on the Repayment of Kindness of Parents can be seen to the left of the dragon image.
God of Lightning The God of Lightning at Great Buddha Bend is depicted in female form, and as such, could be viewed within the Daoist framework as Dian Mu 电母 “Mother of Lightning” and wife to Lei Gong, the God of Thunder.
Some scholars link the God of Lightning’s traditional attribute of a thunderbolt back to Vajrapani imagery found early on in India. At Great Buddha Bend, the God of Lightning carries cymbals rather than a thunderbolt, evoking the sound of lightning rather than it’s visual form.
Cliffside erosion is evident here, with whatever textual or visual works once carved beneath this sculpted grouping now gone. The steps take the worshipper up to the Kindness of Parents tableau to the right; to the left, this grouping connects the worshipper to the Repayment of Kindness tableau.
The first narrative tableau carved on the far east side of the north cliff face depicts scenes from the apocryphal Scripture on the Kindness of Parents 父母恩重经 and the Shi en de 十恩德 or Ten Kindnesses and Virtues, an indigenous Chinese text whose central theme highlights the heavy debt that children owe to their parents.
The two dominant horizontal levels reaching to a height of 6.9 meters above the pathway are divided quite plainly between the enlightened versus earthly worlds. The enlightened world features seven looming Buddha figures; the earthly realm a series of images devoted to family.
The inscriptions accompanying the ten vignettes are titled and numbered one through ten. The five vignettes on the right side of the tableau are 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, moving from the center pair of figures outwards.
The five vignettes on the left side of the tableau are 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10.
This image highlights the juxtaposition of large-scale iconic imagery with works that also have very strong narrative elements. The central section of this tier focuses the worshipper’s attention on a man and a woman in the act of making an incense offering. Clad in the attire of a well-to-do twelfth-century couple, they solemnly lean towards each other as the woman places the incense into the censer stretched forward by the man. Beneath them is an extensive inscription entitled “Praying to the Buddha for a Child”.
Translation of inscribed text entitled “Praying to the Buddha for a Child”: Great Master Cijue, who had received the imperial bestowal of the purple robe, (spoke) Zongze’s verse saying: Before the Buddha of old had yet been born, seemingly there (had always been) the perfect totality of a single mark; (but) if Shakyamuni had (not) yet convened (the holy) assembly (to actually teach the Dharma), how could Kasyapa ever receive transmission of the Dharma? The father and mother together offer fragrant incense, praying to give birth to a filial and agreeable child in order to take precaution against their old age, when their rising and sitting will require support. Father and mother both will attain Buddhahood bound (to one another) through the suchness of the Dharmadhatu. At that time their heart’s prayer will be fulfilled, and only then will they realize the final nirvana of no-remainder. If there is (a notion of something to) attain, then it is not (true) attainment. Only when there is no (idea of personal) merit (to be sought) can it begin to be considered (true) merit. Originally this is the style of our old house.
The first of the Ten Kindnesses is entitled “The First Kindness – The Kindness of Caring during Pregnancy”. The inscription reads: “The honorable Buddhist monk spoke thus in praise: The kind mother, from the beginning of her pregnancy, her entire body feels as heavy as if leaden, and her face is sallow as if she is ill. She moves only with great difficulty.”
“The Second Kindness – The Kindness of Suffering the Pains of Childbirth” is found immediately to the left of the central image, balancing the first kindness to the right. The inscription reads: “Master Cijue spoke thus in praise: The tribulations of father and mother bring tears to one’s eyes. (You) will know the weightiness of (your obligations to) their kindness when a child is born from (your own) womb. The loving father hears the birth taking place and, filled with anxiety, he is unable to control himself. (He realizes that his own) birth (on the part of his parents) is impossible to repay. His two eyebrows crease (in worry) from head to ear.”
Standing supported by another female figure who grabs her under the arms, the expectant mother is depicted at the moment of delivering the child, her hand resting on her full, round belly as if to accentuate this fact. Before the mother kneels another woman who rolls up her right sleeve with her left hand; she looks up at the mother-in-labor in anticipation. Behind the kneeling woman stands the father, clutching an ancestral tablet. This vignette represents rare documentary evidence for the practice of standing parturition. Earlier printed Buddhist works also show women in labor, such as the image found in a ninth-century illustrated copy of the Lotus Sutra recovered from Dunhuang of a seated woman in labor being attended to by her maidservant.
Returning once again to the right side of the tableau, the worshipper sees the third kindness, that of “Selfless Care for the Child”. The inscription reads: “Master Cijue spoke thus in praise: When first they see their infant’s face, both parents smile a little. Before there were feelings of worry and anxiety; now there has arrived a moment of rest.
Balancing this scene on the left side of the tableau are two of the ten kindnesses carved in such a way that at first glance they appear to be one vignette rather than two. Immediately adjacent to the father figure present at the birthing is a frontally-seated woman holding a child on her lap. Gazing up at his mother, the child clutches a round item, perhaps a steamed bun or a piece of fruit. This mother-son duo represents the fourth kindness, the “Kindness of Swallowing the Bitter while Spitting Out the Sweet”. The inscription reads: “Master Cijue spoke thus in praise: (The kind mother) gives the sweet to the child to eat, the bitter keeping to herself to eat. If in this life one’s sense of the kindness (of parents) is superficial or meager, at other times, it will be difficult to repay such virtues.”
On the right side of the tableau is the intimate portrait of a mother and child lounging on a raised, carved wooden bed. This is a depiction of the fifth kindness, that of a mother who gives the dry place on the bed to her child. The inscription reads: “Master Cijue spoke thus in praise: The dry place (she) gives to the child to sleep in, her own body sleeping in the damp. Reverently extrapolate from the loving mothers’ unconditional and selfless love the larger idea of the Buddha’s perfect compassion. What self-centered preference could the Buddhas possibly show?”
Lying on her side, her left knee pulled up slightly, the mother in all of her kindness gazes fondly down at her bare-bottomed son, whose exposed genitals signal what has occurred.
Next to the seated woman with child in the fourth kindness sits another woman who is in actuality the same woman being represented at a different time. This illustration of the sixth kindness, that of feeding and rearing the child, depicts the mother with her hair up, blouse open to reveal her full breasts, allowing a son of walking age to suckle.
The mother’s left hand gestures toward the earlier fourth kindness, her head inclined in that direction as well. The son climbs on her, his mouth to her left breast as he squeezes the nipple of her right. The sixth kindness, “The Kindness of Being Fed and Reared” reads, “The verses of Zongze, the Chan master Cijue spoke: (The kind mother) breastfeeds without ceasing; in the cherished thoughts of her breast, how could she ever feel a moment of separation? Never worrying should the fat and flesh (of her body) be used up, fearing instead that her small child should be hungry.”
At the end of the bed is what remains of the seventh kindness, the Kindness of Endless Washing and Cleaning. The now heavily-eroded torso of a woman can still be made out as she reaches her hand down into a bucket of washing. Next to her stands a young child holding a toy aloft, behind her another greatly-eroded figure appears to be that of a woman, most likely a repetition of the same woman as was seen in vignettes four and six, holding a struggling child with one hand while her other hand attempts to wash him. The inscription reads: “The Great Master Cijue praised thus: The small child incessantly soils his swaddling clothes, and the child’s bodily organs are also soiled. (The kind mother) washes and cleans without end.”
Kindness number eight, the “Kindness of Creating the Best Opportunity for the Child”, would seem to speak to a joint parental concern, but the carved rendition at Great Buddha Bend’s once again highlights the mother’s actions over those of the father. The inscription reads: “The verse of an ancient worthy says: Once the child that one is raising finally grows up, it is natural to marry him off. At the wedding banquet, many animals are slaughtered, yet to whom will this evil (karma) redound?”
The son stands central behind a feasting table, the front of which has been inscribed with the text of the eighth kindness. He is flanked by two male figures, most likely his father and future father-in-law, and the table is set with plates and bowls.
To the right of the feasting scene, the worshipper sees the true kindness of a mother towards her son. She stands behind a boiling pot, a pig at the ready, with the butcher, club in hand, aiming to do the deed. Rather than allow her son to be sullied with evil karma, she accepts it unto herself on his behalf.
Kindness number nine, that of “Missing the Child When He is Gone on a Long Journey”, shows the father now leaning on a bamboo staff, clutching his wife’s arm. The mother looks over her shoulder back at him. Below and in front of them stands a young man dressed in traveling attire, feet planted squarely forward, his belongings bundled up and slung over his shoulder. The inscription reads: “(Master Cijue) spoke thus in praise: (The parents) think of the child daily, even after being apart for three years. (Although) as much as 1000 li distant, (they) put forth great mindfulness to tell the son to be careful when he is away.”
On the far left side of the tableau, the last of the ten kindnesses is inscribed and depicted, that of “Having Empathy for Whatever Outcome”. The son, now older, kneels before his aged mother and father. Both are seated, the mother’s hair now covered. She sits smiling slightly as the father instructs the son, finger raised to make his point. He is now rendered with a beard, and both husband and wife show the more chiseled features of old age. As the Chinese saying goes, “As long as his parents are alive a son is always a boy”. The accompanying inscription reads: “Spoken in praise: 100 years old and still they only think of (their) 80-year-old son; unable to let him go, they become ghosts and still they yearn for him. A son should pay attention to his parents’ moods, be they happy or angry, and try not to offend them. It is not easy, and that is why we call all phenomena troublesome.”
Having passed through the ten kindnesses of the worshipper’s earthly existence, one cannot neglect the lowest level, no matter how minimal its treatment since its import to the narrative of the entire tableau is quite considerable. Little remains of the lowest tier, but a backdrop of swirling clouds or smoke is still evident. A ghoulish figure found lounging beneath the mother and butcher figures seen in the eighth kindness is similar in bearing and attire to those denizens of hell so visible in the nearby Hell tableau.
Also on the lowest tier is the image of a man dressed in monk’s robes and placed directly beneath the first vignette showing the burdens of pregnancy. Such a unique position reminds the worshipper that one way to be a filial son is to become a monk.
Between these image of an unfilial child in hell and a monk, and directly beneath the central pairing making their offerings to the Buddha, is the following inscription: “The Buddha spoke regarding (X) children and how it could be that after attaining manhood (they should) overturn (the order of things) becoming unfilial, insulting their father’s brothers, hitting and cursing their own brothers, and bringing shame upon their parents. No longer carrying out the rites, (they) do not honor their teacher’s example. Those who do not follow the Law in the end will certainly fall into Avici Hell.” Based on this inscription, one can surmise that Avici Hell, the lowest and most feared of all the hells, largely reserved for the likes of murderers, had now been opened up to accommodate the unfilial child. There are seven inscriptions found on this lowest level of hell, all reiterating the sentiments of the one translated here.
Tableau 14 Vairocana Cave
One commonly encountered iconic image at Great Buddha Bend is that of Vairocana, 大日如來 or 毘盧遮那佛. Vairocana is the central figure within the cave dedicated to Vairocana located just before the tableau depicting the Scripture on the Kindness of Parents.
Entrance to the cave requires the worshipper to climb up from the main area of Great Buddha Bend. This cave is one of only two found at the site.
Designatory placard 毘盧道场 ,literally “The site of the Way of Vairocana”, or “Ritual Site of Vairocana” written by a Song dynasty literatus and inscribed in stone above the entrance to the cave dedicated to Vairocana.
With remnants of color and gilding still visible, Vairocana sits on a lotus throne, part of an attached pillar that allows for only simple and singular entry into the cave, and no option for ritual circumambulation.
Detail of central Vairocana figure under an elaborately carved canopy lifted up by poles encircled by dragons. The color and gilding hints at the very vivid original nature of the site.
The exterior shows evidence of the repairs done to reinforce the cave. The remaining imagery, Buddha figures floating in moon niches, references Vairocana’s role as the Buddha from which all Buddhas emanate.
Also present are Manjusri and Samantabhadra, attendants to Vairocana, seen in the large standing iconic imagery just inside the entrance to the cave, seated on their respective animal mounts.
Images of guardian figures flanking a wealthy worshipper kneeling at the feet of one of the bodhisattvas on the side walls.
Images of the deities and bodhisattvas are carved in a semi-circular fashion on the surrounding walls, hinting at the pantheon of deities who make up the Seven Places and Nine Assemblies described within texts associated with Vairocana.
Detail of left side of cave, showing bodhisattva figure worshipping. A similar figure is seen in the Cave of Complete Enlightenment, which also features a central Vairocana image.
Singular amongst this vast array is a carved image of a bodhisattva in prayer, back to the viewer, head bowed in supplication. Like the Vairocana triad described above, this image is also repeated within Great Buddha Bend.
Also present are Manjusri文殊and Samantabhadra普贤菩萨, attendants to Vairocana, seen in the large standing iconic imagery just inside the entrance to the cave, seated on their respective animal mounts. Although highly eroded, this appears to be Samantabhadra on his elephant mount.
Images of men and women worshipping at the feet of the bodhisattva figures on the side walls.
Also present are Manjusri文殊and Samantabhadra普贤菩萨, attendants to Vairocana, seen in the large standing iconic imagery just inside the entrance to the cave, seated on their respective animal mounts. Although highly eroded, this appears to be Manjusri on his lion mount.
Inscribed on the right door jamb of the entrance are two texts, one of which is dated to 1413, one of the first at the site after the Mongols invaded the area. Placed within a rectangle topped with a lotus, the text reads: “Hu Jing of Kaifeng, Grand Master of Palace Accord, Prefect of Chongqing Prefecture, passed by here on public business. Inscribed on the twenty-fourth day of the eighth month of eleventh year of the Yongle era [1413].”
Tableau 13 The Brilliant Light Peacock King Turning away from the overwhelming gilded image of Guanyin, the worshipper comes face to face with Mahamayuri, 大孔雀明王 or “The Brilliant Light Peacock King”, one of several vidyaraja or “brilliant light kings” found at Baodingshan. More than six large-scale carved Song Dynasty images of the Peacock King exist within Dazu County, a number exceeded nowhere else within China regardless of time period.
Like the reclining Buddha figure to its left, the statue of the Peacock King appears incomplete. For some Qing authors, this gave the image the impression that it was ready to take flight. Dazu District County Magistrate Wang Dejia, quoting the Qing literati Zhang Shu’s impressions of the image, inscribes, “The Brilliant King sits astride his peacock, as if about to ascend into the skies. 明王騎孔雀,勢欲淩虛.”
Carved on the left-hand side of the central figure of the Peacock King is a grouping with a smaller central Peacock King figure receiving offerings from a figure below, flanked by both men and women of various ranks. It is argued that the military figures in the surrounding area signify the battle between the gods and demi-gods vying to acquire this elixir of immortality.
Around the central image scattered remains point to the former narrative qualities of this niche. The story begins in the upper right corner, where the viewer is drawn to an image of a monk standing over a prone figure. Remains of what was once a larger carved textual program can be seen to the left of the standing monk figure; other now-eroded flat areas indicate where other textual portions may have once been carved.
This image of a monk clasping a sutra text standing over a prone figure while a snake slips up the tree behind them sets the stage for the narrative. The story is that of the young novice Svati (Shadi 莎底) whose life-threatening encounter with a poisonous black snake prompts Sakyamuni to teach Ananda the “Dharani of the Great Peacock”, found within the Mahamayurividyarajni Sutra孔雀王咒经。
Tableau 12 Birth and Bathing of Shakyamuni
To the immediate left of the reclining Buddha’s head is a small, ground-level grouping showing the birth of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni emerging from his mother’s right sleeve as a toddler.
Adjacent to the small grouping showing the Buddha Shakyamuni’s birth is a very well designed work that incorporates the natural springs found throughout the site into an image of the young Buddha being bathed by nine nagas or serpents, generally depicted as cobra, who appear in the heavens above. In Chinese the nagas are often referred to as 龙‘dragon’.
Detail of nine nagas that bathe the young Buddha Shakyamuni.
Detail of young Buddha Shakyamuni flanked by guardian kings being washed by channeled water at Great Buddha Bend.
Tableau 11 Parinirvana of the Buddha Shakyamuni
Carved within the semi-circular bend in the cliff-face located directly beneath the entrance to the monastery above, the parinirvana image at Baodingshan is quite different from other reclining Buddha imagery found either regionally, nationally or even within the greater Buddhist world. What makes this work striking is its incompleteness; at more than 30 meters in length, the sculptors of Baodingshan could easily have accommodated a full-length, head to toe depiction of the Buddha in his final passing moment. Such a depiction would have paralleled images elsewhere, such as the Tang Dynasty work seen within Cave 148 at Dunhuang in neighboring Gansu province or the even closer Tang Dynasty parinirvana scene carved in Anyue County, only 50 miles from Dazu.
The Great Buddha Bend parinirvana image is truncated, the space underneath the overhanging cliff filled by an extraordinarily large head and upper body that dissolves into the cliff face as the rock outcropping turns again southwest.
Present-day tourists at Great Buddha Bend give a sense of scale in relationship to the parinirvana image.
Image taken in front of the parinirvana of the group of researchers working at Baodingshan with the sinologist Yang Jialuo杨家骆in 1945. Yang Jialuo is the figure standing just beneath the reclining Buddha’s nose, holding his hat.
No feet are present – perhaps they have gone elsewhere, as is noted in at least one later inscription at the site! – and the surrounding mourners and bodhisattva witnesses are fewer in number than they could have been, a select group rather than a gaggle, carefully arranged just in front of the sculpted Buddha figure. The first mourner depicted is thought to represent the creator of the Baodingshan site, Zhao Zhifeng 赵智风. It must be noted, however, that extensive restoration has taken place on this first mourner image.
Initial grouping of mourners – a layman [sometimes identified as Master Liu] followed by three bodhisattvas bearing different offerings.
Second section of mourners, with overlap from the first group of mourners, the final bodhisattva carrying the fruit known as ‘Buddha’s hand’ fruit.
Third section of mourners, with overlap from the second group of mourners, the final bodhisattva positioned next to a large offering table.
Central grouping of mourners, backed by large offering table. There is a tripartite division of space, above are the heavenly witnesses, including the Buddha’s mother, while the monumental Buddha makes up the central portion of the work, and the smaller-sized mourners and bodhisattvas appear as a third, lower register.
The Buddha Shakyamuni’s mother, Maya, who tradition has died shortly after the Buddha’s birth, viewing the Buddha’s parinirvana from her position in heaven. She is flanked by four attendants on each side.
The top portion of a khakkhara, or monk’s staff, whose jingling rings kept insects away from the walking monastic so as not to be stepped upon. The lower portion is incomplete, but it was a twelve-ring staff, referencing the Buddha himself. Such a staff is one of the ‘must haves’ of the monk’s wardrobe.
Final bodhisattva mourner, with Tableau 10, the Gathering of Men and Devas behind him.
Image taken of the parinirvana by the sinologist Yang Jialuo杨家骆in 1945.
Tableau 10 Gathering of Men and Devas Situated between the depiction of the parinirvana and the sarira or relic pagoda, the Gathering of Men and Devas tableau is heavily eroded from exposure to the elements. What remains seems to highlight daily activities of men watched over by a bodhisattva audience. These are most likely scenes from the life of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni.
This area of Great Buddha Bend gives one example of the clever channeling of water at the site. The water runs off the cliff face above upon which the monastery is situated and falls into a pool that then channels the water into the stream that runs in front of the nearby parinirvana tableau.
Tableau 9 Precious Relic Pagoda Next to the now eroded imagery related to scenes from the Buddha’s life and under the eaves of the pavilion covering the 1000-Armed Guanyin is a stone pagoda.
It is inscribed with several texts, the largest of which reads 舍利 sarira, or ‘precious relic’ pagoda, a reference to the Buddha in his final cremated form, that of precious relic.
Detail of舍利 sarira, or ‘precious relic’ pagoda inscription.
Tableau 8 One thousand-armed, one thousand-eyed Guanyin Bodhisattva One of the best known works at Baodingshan is the 8 meter high by 13 meter wide gilded One Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara, or Guanyin 观音, now housed behind an architectural edifice for protective purposes.
By the Song Dynasty, the thousand-armed, thousand-eyed Guanyin imagery had become one of the most popular icons for worship. Due to its fragile nature, the image has undergone restoration numerous times.
Photograph of the Guanyin image with workers and actual image behind.
Later Qing dynasty pavilion built to protect Guanyin image from the elements.
Tableau 7 Vairocana placard underneath relic pagoda “Vairocana” as a name alone is found inscribed on the lowest layer of a four-tiered relic pagoda to the right of the one thousand-armed Guanyin image. Above the carved meditating image above it, in much smaller script, and below the multi-storied pagoda far above is the text ‘舍利宝塔’ or ‘relic pagoda’.
Detail of the Vairocana placard written by the most prominent Song dynasty literatus to pen a work at Baodingshan, Wei Liaoweng 魏了翁, whose dates of 1178-1237 CE make his life virtually parallel with the period of the site’s construction. Rubbings of Wei’s inscriptions were collected, appearing in later catalogues of collected writings. The text accompanying these inscriptions is non-canonical and extremely brief, effectively listing Wei’s positions and titles and ending with “…Wei Liaoweng wrote this.” Wei is the only Song Dynasty individual having more than one inscription at the site.
Tableau 5 Huayan Dieties The first iconic imagery to greet the worshipper coming up to Great Buddha Bend from the river below is a set of three monumental Huayan images – the Buddha Vairocana flanked by the bodhisattvas Manjusri 文殊and Samantabhadra 普贤. This imagery reflects the Avatamsaka Sutra [Chinese – Huayan Sutra 華严经] also sometimes referred to as the Flower Ornament Sutra because it is within that work that these two bodhisattvas are found in conjunction with Vairocana Buddha.
Central image of Vairocana Buddha.
Vairocana Buddha from below remains of color and gilding visible on his robe.
The bodhisattva Manjusri 文殊, attired in heavy robes bedecked with jewels and a crown, still shows signs of gilding. He holds a miniature relic pagoda.
The bodhisattva Samantabhadra普贤, attired in heavy robes bedecked with jewels and a crown, holds a miniature seven-story pagoda with images of the Buddha carved within each level.
Overview image of Samantabhadra showing placement of carved stele at his feet and Buddha figures in moon niches behind him.
The multitude of Buddha figures in moon niches carved behind the Huayan triad perhaps references Vairocana’s role as the ‘primordial’ Buddha, the Buddha from which all Buddhas emanate.
Evidence for ritual offerings being made to the Huayan images can be seen in the remains of a lotus altar at the foot of the central Vairocana figure.
Overview image showing placement of secular steles within Huayan grouping.
One of the Song dynasty inscriptions found within Great Buddha Bend. The final segment of the inscription is partially effaced, but what remains legible gives the name Yu Wenqi 宇文屺as the author, and states: “Near to the clouds, the ingenious pleases all eyes, the scriptures appearing to encircle this divine place, and [one] sees the conjured city. Such great filialness is unalterable! Throughout the four seasons the sound of pipes and bells overlap. The Precious Summit’s distinguished Zhao Zhi carved the stone, in it tracing out the worthiness of his filial heart. By completing this stanza of four lines, I establish in every mountain and stream such things as pipes and bells rippling like a Su Dongpo poem, the meaning of which is called ‘divine wondrous merit’.”
Image taken of the Huayan triad by the sinologist Yang Jialuo杨家骆in 1945 while doing archaeological work at Baodingshan.
Tableau 4 Overview image of Baodingshan placard with Wheel of Reincarnation.
The most prominent and most widely reproduced textual image at Great Buddha Bend is the oft-photographed name placard of “Baodingshan” 宝顶山, which sits at the stepped entrance to Great Buddha Bend from the river below.
The placard is topped by images of three monks in meditation. Some scholars argue that these are representations of a ‘curly haired man’ are in fact of Baodingshan’s creator, Zhao Zhifeng 赵智风 at various stages of his own journey to enlightenment.
The large character text “Baodingshan” 宝顶山was written by Du Xiaoyan 杜孝严. Du’s dates are unknown, although he achieved jinshi status in 1199. He was also active within the Ministry of Rites. Du Xiaoyan’s brief inscription, carved to the left of the final character for mountain, “shan” 山, is typical of many inscriptions in that it is a listing of titles and offices held by Du, finishing off with the ubiquitous “Du Xiaoyan wrote this.” The inscription in its entirety reads as follows: “Grand Master for Closing Court, with the authority of minister, Director of the Bureau of Military Appointments, concurrently Associate State Historiographer, concurrently Recorder for the Bureau of Army Activities, the official litterateur Du Xiaoyan wrote this.”
Tableau 3 Wheel of Reincarnation
One of the most striking images carved within Great Buddha Bend is the colossal image of the Wheel of Reincarnation, sometimes also referred to as ‘The Wheel of Rebirth’, ‘The Wheel of Transmigration’, or ‘The Wheel of Transformation’. A rare three-dimensional depiction of what was generally a painted image elsewhere, the Wheel of Reincarnation serves as a convenient bridge between ritual activities of the lay community and those of the monastic establishment at Baodingshan.
The Wheel of Reincarnation towers more than twenty-five feet over the entrance to the site from the steps leading to the river below and adjacent to the carved inscription 宝顶山 ‘Baodingshan’. The rationale for the Wheel of Reincarnation image was to serve as an introduction to Buddhist teachings.
At Great Buddha Bend, the Demon of Impermanence, who clutches the wheel of rebirth in his grasp, is yet another signifier of the differing realms of time: above him the heavenly realms inhabited by the Buddhas of the Three Periods, signified by the three enlightened beings seated on lotuses; the various realms of rebirth that appear within the wheel itself.
The concentric circles remind the worshipper of the constant flow of time, from one existence to another, the only chance to escape the cycle hinted at by the carved images of Buddhas and bodhisattvas in the ribbons emanating outward.
Central to joining this transcendent sphere is an image of the monk Zhao Zhifeng 赵智风, the seated figure central to the entire composition and from whose chest the rays themselves emanate. Zhao Zhifeng is credited with the creation of Baodingshan by later visitors to the site.
One of the six realms of rebirth that appear within the wheel itself – the abode of devas 天 or celestial beings represented by palatial dwellings.
One of the six realms of rebirth that appear within the wheel itself – the asura, 阿修罗, a multi-armed multi-headed deity meant to represent the wrathful or egotistical power-hungry aspect of human nature.
One of the six realms of rebirth that appear within the wheel itself. Rebirth as an animal is one of the four unhappy rebirths – along with hell, hungry ghost and asura.
One of the six realms of rebirth that appear within the wheel itself. Hell is also shown in graphic form directly across from the Wheel of Reincarnation at Great Buddha Bend.
One of the six realms of rebirth that appear within the wheel itself. Hungry ghosts exist alongside the living, and image of them are also seen within the Hell tableau across Great Buddha Bend.
One of the six realms of rebirth that appear within the wheel itself. While not as ideal as being reborn in the abode of devas, human form was preferable because it is easier for humans to do meritorious deeds and avoid bad karma than an animal, asura, or a hungry ghost.
Holding up the Wheel of Reincarnation are four figures perhaps meant to represent the ‘this-worldly’ realm of the here and now that keeps the Wheel of Reincarnation turning. Here are shown animal [in the form of a monkey] and human [in the form of a woman].
Holding up the Wheel of Reincarnation are four figures perhaps meant to represent the ‘this-worldly’ realm of the here and now that keeps the Wheel of Reincarnation turning. Here are shown hell [in the form of a military figure often the form of a jailer in hell] and human [in the form of a scholar].
Next to the Wheel of Reincarnation is one of the more playful representations at Great Buddha Bend, yet it is not without greater moral overtones. A cat sits waiting as a mouse teeters above on a stalk of bamboo. To catch, kill and eat the mouse would be within the cat’s nature, but the Wheel reminds the worshipper that he or she must strive to overcome those very same natural instincts if one wants to get out of the eternal cycle of reincarnation.
Tableau 2 Guardians of the Buddhist Faith
At the foot of the entrance to the monastery is the tableau depicting the Guardians of the Buddhist Teachings, often referred to as the Buddhist ‘law’ 法.
Detail of several Guardians, with image of a lesser figure supporting them from below.
Detail of Guardian King showing signs of erosion. This work also highlights the technique used at Great Buddha Bend, in which statues were carved then covered with a coat of plaster and painted or gilded.
Tableau 1 Image of Tiger
A fierce image of a tiger, teeth bared, greets the worshipper heading up to the Buddhist monastery above.
Entrance to the monastic complex that sits above Great Buddha Bend at Baodingshan. The tiger image is to the left, the oxherding scenes to the right.
Precious Relic Pagoda Four-tiered pagoda with a Buddha image in a moon niche located at each level of the pagoda.
Structured like a real-world pagoda, with tile roofs atop each level, held aloft by stylized vajra imagery rising out of opening lotus blossoms, the Precious Relic Pagoda is designated by an inscription located between the first and second lower levels.