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The cosmic Buddha Amitabha
Place of Origin: Tibet
Date: 1700-1800
Object Name: Thangka
Materials: Colors on cotton
Dimensions: H. 35 in x W. 23 1/4 in, H. 88.9 cm x W. 59.1 cm (image); H. 63 3/8 in x W. 38 1/8 in, H. 161 cm x 96.8 cm (overall)
Credit Line: The Avery Brundage Collection
Department: Himalayan Art
Collection: Painting
Object Number: B63D2
On Display: Yes
Location: Gallery 12

Description

Label: Amitabha, the red “cosmic” Buddha of the West, dominates and organizes the composition of this painting. According to the Mahayana texts (approx. 100 BCE) in which he appears, Amitabha rules the western paradise of Sukhavati (“Land of Bliss”); the circle of rainbow colors around him demarcate its boundaries.

Although only one Buddha appears in any universe during any era, observe the top row of this painting: it depicts the five most important “cosmic” Buddhas, each of whom rules a universe situated in one of the cardinal directions. Starting at the left, they are: blue Akshobhya of the east, yellow Ratnasambhava of the south, and a smaller red Amitabha. At the center, just above the larger Amitabha, is white Vairochana, the Buddha who presides over the central axis of the cosmos. Finally, green Amoghasiddhi of the north ends the series; to the right are two additional Buddhas whose identity remains uncertain.

Clearly, then, while only a single Buddha can preside over a universe in a given era, thangka painting practice transcends the rules of linear space-time in Buddhism, and presents multiple universes in a single space—a multiverse, so to speak.

More Information

Exhibition History: "One Billion Buddhas: The Awakened Cosmos of Himalayan Buddhism", Asian Art Museum, 8/9/2016-4/9/2017
Label: Amitabha, the red “cosmic” Buddha of the West, dominates and organizes the composition of this painting. According to the Mahayana texts (approx. 100 BCE) in which he appears, Amitabha rules the western paradise of Sukhavati (“Land of Bliss”); the circle of rainbow colors around him demarcate its boundaries.

Although only one Buddha appears in any universe during any era, observe the top row of this painting: it depicts the five most important “cosmic” Buddhas, each of whom rules a universe situated in one of the cardinal directions. Starting at the left, they are: blue Akshobhya of the east, yellow Ratnasambhava of the south, and a smaller red Amitabha. At the center, just above the larger Amitabha, is white Vairochana, the Buddha who presides over the central axis of the cosmos. Finally, green Amoghasiddhi of the north ends the series; to the right are two additional Buddhas whose identity remains uncertain.

Clearly, then, while only a single Buddha can preside over a universe in a given era, thangka painting practice transcends the rules of linear space-time in Buddhism, and presents multiple universes in a single space—a multiverse, so to speak.
Exhibition History: "One Billion Buddhas: The Awakened Cosmos of Himalayan Buddhism", Asian Art Museum, 8/9/2016-4/9/2017