Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Sukhavati Paintings (Namcho Tradition)

Sukhavati Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Special Characteristics of Namcho Sukhavati (below)
- Padmasambhava Pointing His Finger
- Namcho Migyur Dorje
- Karma Chagme
- Square Format
- Circular Format
- Iconographic Elements
- Namcho Sukhavati Painting Styles
- Masterworks
- Sukhavati Comparison (Mahayana & Vajrayana)
- Confusions
- Others...

- Video: A Question on Sukhavati Paintings

Amitabha depicted in the Sukhavati Heaven is a common image in Himalayan and Tibetan art. It is an iconic symbol and subject representing Mahayana Buddhism. The basic figures, characters and scenes are common for most representations in all of the different traditions despite having several different composition styles. There is however one exception.

The Namcho Tradition of 'Revealed Treasure' discovered by Mingyur Dorje (1645-1667) presents a variation on the theme of Amitabha in Sukhavati with the addition of a number of Tantric elements which differs from all of the other depictions.

The central large figure of Amitabha portrayed against a backdrop of a large tree, or a tree and a palace is the same for all. The differences begin with the two bodhisattva figures standing to the right and left sides. On the Buddha's proper right is Avalokiteshvara in his four armed form of Chaturbhuja. On the left is peaceful Vajrapani. These two figures are standard in the Namcho description. The other six figures from the group of Eight Bodhisattvas are seated at the two sides or slightly below. They represent the realized Sangha of the Mahayana Tradition

Above the two Bodhisattvas are two groups of Tibetan teachers. Some are wearing monastic robes and others lay apparel. They also wear either a Nyingma style pandita hat, lotus hat, black or red hats,depending if they are Nyingma or Karma Kagyu teachers. Again to the viewer's left side above the row of seated Tibetan teachers is a very small figure of Padmasambhava with an old haggard woman standing in front and slightly below.

At the top of the composition are the Five Buddha Families, the Buddhas of the Ten Directions, the Buddhas of the Three Times. Slightly below, Hayagriva is located on the proper right. He is red in colour, wrathful, with one face and two arms. Vajravarahi is located on the far left, also red in colour and in a dancing posture balanced on one leg. Slightly lower and sometimes mid way down the composition are the Six Buddhas of the Six Realms. Seated below Amitabha is a group of Shravaka and Pratyekabuddhas representing the Sangha of the Theravadin (Hinayana) Tradition.

The unique features of the Namcho tradition of Amitabha Buddha in the Sukhavati Heaven are the various Tantric forms of deities such as Avalokiteshvara with four arms, Hayagriva, Vajravarahi, the various groups of Buddhas, Three, Five, Six and Ten. The Buddhas of the Six Realms and those of the Five Buddha Families are particularly Tantric in origin and not normally identified or depicted with the Mahayana subject of Amitabha Buddha in Sukhavati. The final unique characteristic is the inclusion of Tibetan teachers and the small narrative depiction of Padmasambhava and the old woman.

The Namcho depiction is unique among Sukhavati compositions and is readily identifiable by the many Tantric characteristics.

Jeff Watt 11-2012

84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha: The Display of the Pure Land of Sukhāvatī (Sukhāvatī­vyūha, Ārya­sukhāvatī­vyūha­nāma­mahā­yāna­sūtra, ’phags pa bde ba can gyi bkod pa zhes bya ba theg pa chen po’i mdo)