Buddha and the sixteen protectors is a hanging scroll created as an aid to meditation accompanying ritual readings of the Perfection of wisdom (Prajnaparamita) sutra in Japanese temples. A significant text in Mahayana Buddhism, the Perfection of wisdom scripture was developed in India in the first two centuries of the current era.
Surrounded by a halo, the historical Shakya Buddha (Shakyamuni) is shown seated in the centre of the painting in a pose of preaching. On either side of the Buddha are richly dressed enlightened saviour beings: the compassionate Monju riding a lion and wise Fugen seated on a white elephant. Surrounding the main figures are the 16 protectors of the sutra and those who treasure it.
The famous seventh-century Chinese monk Xuan Zang (Genjo in Japanese) can be seen towards the base of the painting, to the right of the central incense vessel. The monk’s bag contains the 600 sutras he brought to China following a gruelling and adventure-filled journey to India. Among the texts were three versions of the 600 chapter-long Perfection of wisdom, which Xuan Zang translated unabridged on return. On the other side of the censer is Xuan Zang’s guardian, the red-skinned deity Jinja Taisho, identified by the image of a child’s face on his belly.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014