2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 298

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Seeing Double? Paired Imagery in Buddhist Art in China

Organizer: Michelle C. Wang, Georgetown University, USA

Chair: Karen S. Hwang, Vassar College, USA

Discussant: Amy McNair, University of Kansas, USA

Our panel analyzes the functions of paired imagery in Buddhist art in China. Although symmetrical or complementary images such as the attendant bodhisattvas in a Buddha triad had their precedent in Gandhara, some of the most enduring paired images in Buddhist art were produced in China, including that of Sakyamuni and Prabhutaratna seated side by side in a pagoda in reference to the Lotus Sutra. Moreover, previously unrelated deities and guardian figures became recurring pairs, while principles of symmetry and complementarity were embedded in conventions of donor representation. While the Chinese penchant for symmetry and binary imagery—as seen in early examples such as oracle bone inscriptions and the Mawangdui banner—may be cited as some of the reasons behind the proliferation of subsequent paired images in Buddhist art, other factors undoubtedly played equally significant roles. Through a series of case studies, our panel poses the following questions: Did paired images in Buddhist art appear due to doctrinal, social, or other reasons? Were the visual pairings developed in textual sources as well? Was pairing or symmetry more likely to occur in representations of certain classes or types of Buddhist figures than in others? What roles did paired imagery play in Buddhist devotion and patronage? In what ways do paired Buddhist images produced in other parts of East Asia illuminate similar pairings in China, and vice versa? Finally, how might the exploration of paired figures in Buddhist art reveal larger issues of duality and complementarity within Chinese visual and religious culture?

Bhaisajyaguru and the Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara: Common Elements in their Iconography and the Significance of their Pairing
Tamami Hamada, Waseda University, Japan

In the Main Hall of Toshodaiji in Japan—famously associated with the monk Ganjin who returned from China in the mid-8th century—statues of Bhaisajyaguru and the Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara flank the main Vairocana statue. The Vairocana image of Toshodaiji was reportedly built for use in the Buddhist ordination of the laity. The question of why the two particular attendant deities were chosen remains a mystery, however. This paper examines related works in China, including several Dunhuang paintings that depict paired Bhaisajyaguru and the Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara. It reveals that even when the deities are depicted in separate scenes they share many common iconographic elements, suggesting that such visual similarities were among the reasons for pairing the deities. Their iconographic affinities most likely stemmed from their shared characteristics as deities, for example, as deities of healing and relief from hell. The most crucial among their shared functions, however, is as objects of confession. They are thought to cleanse the sins of breaching the precepts. Purification was an important step in the Buddhist ordination for the laity, and therefore was probably the reason for the pairing of Bhaisajyaguru and the Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara in Toshodaiji.

Guanyin and Dizang: The Creation of a Chinese Buddhist Pantheon.
Chun-Fang Yu, Columbia University, USA

The frequent pairings of Guanyin with Dizang in sculptures, miracle stories, prayers, donor inscriptions and ritual texts constitute a new development in Chinese Buddhism. Buddhist cave sculptures in Longmen and Sichuan, for example, either depict the two in the same niche, or place their individual niches side by side. Guanyin and Dizang were often linked together in ritual and art. While the earliest examples are dated to the early Tang (618-907) or the 7th century, this phenomenon became more prevalent after the late Tang around the early 10th century. Such pairing does not have any basis in Buddhist scriptures. Why did such a pairing occur? A related larger question is: What can this development tell us about Chinese Buddhism?

Pairing of the Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara and Manjusri: A Regional Symmetry?
Michelle C. Wang, Georgetown University, USA

My paper examines the pairing of the Thousand-armed forms of Avalokitesvara and Manjusri, often painted facing one another on opposite walls of cave shrines at Dunhuang. Although the Thousand-armed Avalokitesvara was known by around the 7th century and is relatively widespread in Buddhist art in China, the form of Manjusri with a thousand arms is less prevalent. In each of the thousand hands of Avalokitesvara, an implement suggestive of the deity’s efficacies and an eye may be found; however, in each of the thousand arms of Manjusri, Sakyamuni arises from a begging bowl. Most of the extant images of Manjusri with a thousand arms and thousand begging bowls are found in mural paintings in the Dunhuang region. The textual basis for the thousand-armed and eyed form of Avalokitesvara also predates the primary textual basis for Manjusri with a thousand arms and thousand begging bowls. My paper poses a few questions regarding the pairing of the thousand-armed forms of Avalokitesvara and Manjusri: Was this merely a visual pairing, or did the two deities reflect similar efficacies in practice? Moreover, does the pairing of the two deities shed light on why this particular form of Manjusri found such currency in Dunhuang rather than in the Central Plains region?

King and Son: Images of Vaisravana and Nezha in a Late 9th-century Dunhuang Cave
Karen S. Hwang, Vassar College, USA

My paper examines paired images of the Heavenly Kings in Dunhuang murals. Images of the Heavenly Kings in military gear abound in Dunhuang paintings of the Late Tang period and thereafter. Particularly ubiquitous among the Four Heavenly Kings is Vaisravana, Heavenly King of the North, who is present in the Subjugation of Raudraksa murals as well as in the Vimalakirti tableaux at Dunhuang. He is also frequently paired with another one of the Heavenly Kings, most often with Virudhaka, King of the South. Even when not identified by an inscription, the military figure opposite Vaisravana is assumed to be Virudhaka or one of the two remaining Heavenly Kings. My paper presents a specific pictorial program at Dunhuang, in which a pair of images featuring common iconographic conventions of the Heavenly Kings can in fact be identified as Vaisravana and his son Nezha. The rise of Nezha as a pictorial trope in late 9th-century Dunhuang is a significant event with multiple implications. The tripartite relationship between Nezha, Vaisravana, and “a Chinese king”—as son, divine father, and adoptive father, respectively—lends itself to a variety of political metaphors. I demonstrate that the specific pictorial biography of Nezha that unfolds in the 9th-century cave of my concern illuminates both the political policy of the Tang dynasty and Dunhuang’s position vis-a-vis the waning imperial government.

Nan zuo, nu you: Paired Male and Female Donor Images of the Northern Dynasties
Kate A. Lingley, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

Buddhist icons of the Northern Dynasties (317-589 CE) are rarely depicted in isolation. Even the most modest Buddha images are often surrounded by bodhisattvas, disciples, apsaras, worshipping figures, narrative scenes, and donor images. This pictorial complexity is typically clarified and made legible by means of strong symmetry and visual hierarchy. For instance, the placement of donor figures with respect to the main Buddha figure and other major icons on a stele or in a cave temple often reflects a hierarchy of prestige among the patrons who commissioned the monument, whereas the positioning of donors in relation to each other sometimes indicates family or other connections. Male and female donor figures are frequently separated into gendered groups, a separation which may well transcend groupings based on kinship, official rank, or organizational hierarchy. These paired groups are usually placed in symmetrical, though not always equal, positions. The proposed paper investigates the patterns of pairing of male and female donor images on stelae and in cave temples of the late fifth and sixth centuries, as a step toward understanding the significance of gender in the context of Buddhist collective art patronage.