Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Akshobhya Buddha

མི་འཁྲུགས་པ། 不动如来
(item no. 30908)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1300 - 1399
Lineages Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Private
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Interpretation / Description

Akshobhya, Buddha (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. This composition belongs to a set of five paintings in the group belonging to the Sarvavid Maha Vairochana Mandala as described in the Sarvadurgati Parishodhana Tantra. (See another painting almost identical in composition HAR #55531).

All five Buddhas as described in the source literature are depicted visually either in a single mandala configuration such as HAR #58165 (below) or depicted in a set of five compositions which each portraying a single Buddha and the principal bodhisattvas attendants and deities associated with that quadrant of the mandala. There were at least three Sanskrit source texts of the Sarvadurgati Parishodhana Tantra translated into the Tibetan language. There were also differences in description between these three texts. In the later commentary traditions of Tibet the descriptions for both the main and minor figures were not consistent and several tradition of explanation and visual depiction developed. (See other Akshobhya Buddha paintings from the same Sarvadurgati Parishodhana subject).

Akshobhya Buddha is blue in colour, peaceful in appearance and wearing jewel ornaments and heavenly garments. He is accompanied by six kneeling and two standing bodhisattva figures, peaceful in appearance, just like Akshobhya. At the front of the throne are three figures. The center figure is Vajra Angkusha - door guardian of the Eastern direction. Two elephants support the throne and double lotus seat.

Surrounding the central figures are 188 Buddhas all in identical appearance. In the bottom register are six shravakas and pratyekabuddhas holding 'khakhara' staves. In the bottom register at the center are four wrathful figures, each in a standing posture, each brandishing a weapon. Beginning at the left side the first is Amritakundalin (bdud rtsi 'khyil ba, right), Krodha Trailokyadarsha (khro bo 'jig rten gsum snang, center), Kala Rakshasi (dus kyi srin mo, left) and Kala Angkusha (dus kyi lcags kyu ma, back). At the bottom right and left corners are two worldly gods associated with the Eastern quadrant of the mandala of Maha Vairochana. Also on the left side is the Guardian King Dhritarashtra holding a stringed instrument.

All of the figures in the composition relate to the mandala of Maha Vairochana from the Sarvadurgati Parishodhana Tantra. In particular, the figures relate to the Eastern quadrant. The iconographic identification is based on the bodhisattva-like figures surrounding the central Akshobhya Buddha, along with the wrathful figures at the bottom center and bottom left and right. Each of the five compositions in this painting set have unique figures surrounding the central Buddha and in the bottom register of the painting.

"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).

Occupying a central role in Vajrayana Buddhism, Akshobhya, 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.

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 peaceful bodhisattva-like form, a blue body colour, and often the left hand supports an upright vajra scepter. There are no other Buddhist figures that have this same iconographic appearance. Tantric depictions of Buddhas are commonly shown with a peaceful appearance, jewel ornaments, heavenly garments and a crown.

Jeff Watt 1-2013

Secondary Images
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