Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mandala of Akshobhya Buddha

མི་འཁྲུགས་པ། 不动如来
(item no. 296)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1500 - 1599
Lineages Uncertain
Size 68.58x33.02cm (27x13in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# P1996.19.1
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Interpretation / Description

Akshobhya, Vajra (Tibetan: dor je mi drug pa kyi khor): the Nine Deity Vajra Akshobhya Mandala in sambhogakaya form according to the tradition of Lord Atisha (982-1054).

In the center of the mandala is Akshobhya, peaceful in appearance, light blue in colour, the right hand in the mudra of earth touching extends across the knee. The left hand placed in the lap in the mudra of meditation supports a gold upright vajra. Wearing sambhogakaya vestments (the enjoyment body of a buddha) he is adorned with a gold and jewel crown, earrings, necklaces and the like. Attired in yellow and orange silks, he is seated in vajra posture above an elephant supported throne surrounded by a blue nimbus and red areola.

The outer ring is comprised of the Goddesses of the 8 Auspicious Emblems on an 8 petalled lotus. Each with one face and two hands, in various colours, adorned with jewels and silks, they sit in relaxed postures. Starting from the top and circling to the right they hold a parasol, vase, conch shell, fish, endless knot, wheel, lotus and victory banner.

The floor of the palace mandala is red at the top - west, white below - east, yellow at the left - south, and green to the right - north. The edge of the square enclosure marks the extant of the walls and the 'T' shaped structures are the four doors topped with four lintels, etc. Above those can be seen the tips of the large double vajra on which the palace sits. Outside of that is the ring of lotus petals followed by the five-coloured ring of flames of pristine awareness.

Arranged in rows at the top and bottom are the lineage teachers of the Nine Deity Akshobhya Mandala. Starting at the top left are Shakyamuni buddha and the bodhisattva Manjushri followed by 19 Indian and Tibetan panditas and lamas. All of the 19 figures wear monastic robes and the teachers along the top wear orange pandita hats. At the bottom right corner is the bodhisattva of long-life, White Tara, with the right hand in the mudra of generosity and the left holding the stem of a lotus to the heart. This form of Akshobhya belongs to the Kriya tantra classification. The background of the painting is a swirl of dark floral design common to Nepali influenced paintings.

Jeff Watt 9-99

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 Tantra literature. 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, 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 commonly shown with jewel ornaments and a crown.

In the center of the composition is Akshobhya Buddha. In the surrounding lotus circle are the Goddesses of the Eight Auspicious Emblems each seated on a lotus petal. They all have one face and two hands and hold an auspicious emblem in the right hand. Starting at the top and circling to the right they hold a parasol, vase, conch shell, fish, endless knot, wheel, lotus and victory banner. There are no other deities associated with this mandala.

Other figures are arranged around the mandala at the discretion of the artist or donor. At the top and bottom of the composition is a series of figures. These are the lineage of religious teachers specific to this form of Akshobhya. Starting at the viewer's top left are Shakyamuni Buddha followed by Manjushri and nineteen Indian and Tibetan scholars and teachers. The Indian teachers come first followed by the others in the lineage. Indian monks are depicted wearing an orange pandita hat. In the bottom right corner is the female deity of long-life, White Tara. It is customary to try and place a long-life deity, a wealth deity and a protector deity in the bottom register of a painting. This is done for auspiciousness. The background of the painting is a swirl of dark floral design common to Nepalese influenced paintings.

Beneath the bottom register along the lower red border is a four-line verse written in gold Tibetan lettering. Verses such as this appearing at the bottom front or on the back of a painting often contain the name of the donor, give the reason why the work was commissioned, and sometimes even the name of the artist. 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. Tantric writings are generally divided in four classifications: Kriya, Charya, Yoga and Anuttarayoga. In all four classifications Akshobhya plays a leading role. This painting of the Akshobhya Nine-deity Mandala belongs to the Kriya classification.

Name: Vajra Akshobhya Nine-deity Mandala
Tibetan: dor je mi drug pa kyi khor
Textual source: Arya-sarvakarmavarana-vishodhani-nama-dharani [TOH 743]
Indian Teacher: Atisha (982-1054)
Tantra Class: Kriya
Buddha Family: Vajra

Jeff Watt 10-2008

Related Items
Exhibition Appearances
Exhibition: Mandala, The Perfect Circle (RMA)

Thematic Sets
Mandala: Mandala Main Page
Mandala: Inverted-figure Mandala
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 7
Buddhist Deity: Akshobhya Buddha Main Page (阿閦佛)
Painting Style: Western Tibetan
Buddhist Deity: Akshobhya Art History
Painting Style: Tibet (Balri)
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Mandala