Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Shakyamuni Buddha - with the 35 Buddhas of Confession

ཤཱཀྱ་ཐུབ་པ། 释迦牟尼佛
(item no. 73710)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection John and Berthe Ford
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Buddha

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Shakyamuni Buddha (Tibetan: sha kya tu pa, sang gye. English: the Enlightened One, Sage of the Shakya Clan) together with the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas depicted in the iconographic system of Gestures Only.

The Sutra of the Three Heaps, in Sanskrit the Triskhandhadharmasutra, or briefly the Triskandha Sutra (phung po gsum pa'i mdo), is a Mahayana ritual text used primarily by monks and nuns for the purpose of confession of downfalls which means transgressions against the vinaya and bodhisattva vows. The central object of worship is the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas, including Shakyamuni Buddha. The name of the sutra follows from the three principal sections of the text: 1) homage, 2) confession, and 3) and dedication. There are other texts on confession found in the various Mahayana Sutras however none of those appear to have any representations in Himalayan and Tibetan art.

There are two traditions of Mahayana Buddhism that include the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas as a key element in ritual and visualization practice. The two are the Madyamaka and Yogachara philosophical systems of Mahayana Buddhism founded by Arya Nagarjuna and Arya Asanga. Two distinct ritual systems for bestowing the Bodhisattva Vows have developed from the two traditions and both incorporate the visualization of the Thirty-five Confession Buddhas along with the recitation of the Confession Sutra.

In Himalayan and Tibetan art there are at least three different iconographic systems for depicting the individual Thirty-five Confession Buddhas: 1. Gestures Only System, 2. Nagarjuna System, and 3. Tsongkapa System. The principal authors of commentaries and ritual texts were Nagarjuna (not necessarily the famous Nagarjuna), Sakya Pandita and Je Tsongkapa along with a number of others. The TBRC website lists approximately sixty texts associated with the practice of the Confession Buddhas.

Jeff Watt 7-2011

Related Items
Publication: Secret Revelation of Tibetan Thangkas

Thematic Sets
Collection: Christie's, New York (Painting. March, 2016)
Subject: Confession Buddhas without Attributes
Subject: Thirty-five Confession Buddhas Main Page