Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Mandala of Amitabha/Amitayus Buddha - Amitayus (Sambhogakaya)

སངས་རྒྱས་འོད་དཔག་མེད། 无量寿佛
(item no. 553)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1800 - 1899
Lineages Sakya and Buddhist
Size 27.94x29.85cm (11x11.75in)
Material Ground Mineral Pigment, Fine Gold Line on Wood
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Catalogue # acc.# F1997.36.2
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Deity

Appearance: Peaceful

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Amitayus Nine Deity Mandala (Tibetan: tse pag me lha gu kyil kor) according to the lineage of mahasiddha Jetari.

Amitayus Tibetan: Tse pag me

At the center is the buddha of long-life Amitayus, red in colour with one face and two hands placed in the mudra of meditation, holding a golden vase of long-life nectar. Adorned with a crown, gold and jewel ornaments and variously coloured silks, he sits in vajra posture on a moon disc and lotus blossom. Eight identical forms surround the central figure. In the east is Vajra Amitayus, south Ratna Amitayus, west Padma Amitayus, north Karma Amitayus. In the northeast is Avaloka Amitayus, southeast Guna Amitayus, southwest Jnana Amitayus and northwest Achala Amitayus.

The floor of the celestial palace is divided into four colours ornately patterned with floral designs: red, green-blue, dark blue and yellow. The red veranda outside of the palace walls, on each side of the four doors ('T' shaped), is decorated with yellow flower designs, curved knives and a yellow railing. The outer light blue and ornate white lines forming a square enclosure represent the stylized decorative facade on the four sides of the upper palace roof, adorned with upright banners and gold vases. The elaborate lintels above each of the four doors are constructed of four tiered steps, red, blue, green and white topped with a gold Dharma wheel and two reclining deer with a silk canopy above.

The palace is placed squarely on a horizontal multi-coloured double vajra (Sanskrit: visvavajra) with only the prongs and makara heads (an Indian mythological sea creature) appearing on the four sides. Surrounding that is a circle of multi-coloured lotus petals representing the enormous lotus upon which the entire palace structure rests. The final ring is composed of the multi-coloured fires of pristine awareness completely surrounding all.

At the top left is Shakyamuni Buddha, golden in colour, appearing in the attire of a monk and holding a black begging bowl. At the right is the future buddha Maitreya performing a mudra (gesture) at the heart. At the bottom left is the buddha Amitabha, red in colour, with the two hands in the posture of meditation holding a begging bowl. At the right is the wealth deity and worldly guardian king Vaishravana, yellow in colour, holding a victory banner in the right hand and a mongoose in the left, riding on the back of a lion.

Lineage of Teachers: Amitayus, Acharya Garbha, Jetari, Acharya Bodhi Bhadra, Acharya Samadhi Bhadra, Vajrasana the greater and younger, Bari Lotsawa Rinchen Drag, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), etc.

Jeff Watt 3-99


There are many different Buddhas represented in Buddhist art and aside from the numerous images of the historical buddha Shakyamuni the next most common to appear in art is likely to be Amitabha (immeasurable light). His popularity is based in the Mahayana Sutra literature of which there are many texts devoted to him. In art depictions Amitabha has two appearances and two names that differentiate those appearances. When referred to as Amitabha he has the appearance of a standard buddha form, although red in colour, wearing the traditional patchwork robes of a monk. In his other appearance he has a different name, Amitayus (immeasureable life), and wears the clothing and jeweled adornments of a peaceful heavenly god according to the classical Indian system of divine aesthetics.

From the various traditions of Amitabha/Amitayus, this mandala originates according to Vajrayana Buddhism from the Tantra literature and the Sanskrit text called the Arya-aparimitayurjnana-nama-mahayana-sutra [TOH 674, 676]. The primary goal of this mandala and associated practice is the accomplishment of complete enlightenment. Long-life, life extension, and deathlessness are the metaphors used in the meditation practice focusing on the visualized form of Amitayus. Deathlessness equals enlightenment. The principal Indian Buddhist scholar associated with the popularization of this tradition of the Amitayus Nine Deity mandala is mahasiddha Jetari who lived between the 9th and 10th centuries.

At the center of the mandala is Amitayus, red in colour with one face and two hands placed in the gesture of meditation, holding a golden vase of long-life nectar. Adorned with various ornaments and silks, he sits in vajra posture. Eight identical forms, slightly smaller, surround the central figure. In the east is Vajra Amitayus (directly below the principal form of Amitayus), south Ratna Amitayus, west Padma Amitayus, north Karma Amitayus. In the northeast is Buddha Amitayus, southeast Guna Amitayus, southwest Jnana Amitayus and northwest Achala Amitayus.

Within the dimensions of the square painting only the large circular form and what is contained inside actually constitute the mandala of Amitayus.

In contrast to the vertically hung paintings this object is meant to lie flat on a table. It is painted on cloth and then glued to a flat square piece of wood. It functions as a ritual object at the center of a shrine and specifically for the initiation ceremony or rituals of the practice of Amitayus. Square mandala plates such as this are used again and again. They are typically found in temples where Amitayus holds a special place and yearly ceremonies to Amitayus are done according to the religious calendar.

The four additional figures outside of the mandala circle are essentially decorative. At the viewer's top left is Shakyamuni Buddha, golden in colour. At the right is the future Buddha, Maitreya. At the bottom left is Amitabha Buddha, red in colour. At the right is Vaishravana a guardian king in Buddhist cosmology, riding on a lion.

Title: Amitayus Nine Deity Mandala (Tibetan: tse pag me lha gu kyil kor) according to the lineage of mahasiddha Jetari.

Jeff Watt 10-2008

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

Thematic Sets
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Mandala
Buddhist Deity: Long-Life Deities
Mandala: Main Page
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 3
Buddhist Deity: Amitayus Buddha (Sambhogakaya)
Painting Style: Tibet (Balri)
Mandalas: Sakya Tradition
Buddhist Deity: Amitayus Nine Deity Mandala
Buddhist Deity: Amitayus Buddha (Mandala)
Mandala: Ritual Mandala Plate (Wood)