Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Akshobhya Buddha - Buddha

མི་འཁྲུགས་པ། 不动如来
(item no. 2431)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1400 - 1499
Lineages Buddhist
Material Metal, Mercuric Gild, Painted Face/Hair, Precious Stone, Stone Inset: Turquoise
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Buddha

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Akshobhya Buddha, a tentative identification (Tibetan: mi kyu pa, sang gye): a principal buddha within Vajrayana Buddhism residing in the eastern quarter of a mandala and a minor buddha within the sutra tradition of Mahayana Buddhism. The name of the artist is not known but the work belongs to the Sonam Gyaltsen sculpture atelier of Tsang Province, Tibet, circa 1430. The identification of Akshobhya is tentative and open to further research. Akshobhya holding a vajra in the right hand is very rare although there are several paintings of Akshobhya that have this iconographic characteristic.

Buddhas with Vajra Attributes

In art there are two main types of Akshobhya Buddha appearance, the first is where he appears in the guise of a classic Buddha wearing the monk’s attire and having the ushnisha on the crown of the head. The second type is where Akshobhya has the appearance of a peaceful deity and is adorned with a crown, jewelry and heavenly garments. It is unusual for Akshobhya to hold the vajra in the extended right hand. Typically it is upright standing on the palm of the left hand in the lap. The monk’s begging bowl is also an unusual attribute for Akshobhya.

There are at least four Buddhas associated with the vajra scepter. Three of those Buddhas hold the vajra in the hands, either right or left, and are counted among one of the three principal systems for depicting the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas. If an argument can be made that the vajra in the right hand of this sculpture figure is a later addition, and not original to the sculpture, then a different identification can be proposed - such as Shakyamuni Buddha. Shakyamuni is not known to ever be depicted with a vajra scepter in the right hand, extended forward or otherwise.

The identification of the style and sculptural atelier is based on the raised floral patterns of the robes, along with the turquoise stone insets, and the additional incising and scrollwork patterns on the robes. Comparable imagery can be found at Gyantse Palkor Chode in the mural paintings.

Occupying a central role in Vajrayana Buddhism, Akshobhya, by some accounts, is Lord of the 2nd of the Five Buddha Families of tantra and found throughout all four tantra classifications most notably in the anuttarayoga class. Akshobhya is also mentioned in several Mahayana sutras, the Vimalakirti Nirdesa being the most famous. It was in Abhirati, the pureland of Akshobhya, attainable only by 8th level bodhisattvas, where the famous Tibetan yogi Milarepa and the scholar Sakya Pandita are said to have obtained complete buddhahood.

"Arising in the eastern direction is Akshobhya on an elephant, lotus and moon throne; with a body blue in colour the right hand is placed in the mudra of pressing down." (Dragpa Gyaltsen, 1147-1216).

Akshobhya, meaning unshakeable, is one of many Buddhas found in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. He is described in the Mahayana Sutras of Northern Buddhism and in the Tantric literature of Vajrayana. Although a relatively minor figure in the Sutras, Akshobhya is of major importance in the Tantras occupying a central role in Vajrayana Buddhism at all levels. He is easily recognized in paintings by having a buddha-like form, a blue body colour, and the left hand supporting an upright vajra scepter. There are no other Buddhist figures that have this same iconographic appearance. Tantric depictions of Buddhas are also commonly shown with jewel ornaments and a crown, although not with this example.

Jeff Watt 8-2017 [updated 6-2018]

Secondary Images
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Buddhist Deity: Akshobhya Buddha Main Page
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Subject: Buddhas with the Vajra Attribute
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