An origin of the design of Qing dynasty embroideries of Caturbhuja Avalokitesvara


An origin of the design of Qing dynasty embroideries of Caturbhuja Avalokitesvara

Shunzo ONODA

(Bukkyo University, Kyoto JAPAN)

 In 1994 The Spencer Museum of Art published a catalogue of the exhibition "Latter Days of the Law, Images of Chinese Buddhism 850-1850" edited by Dr. Marsha Weidner.1 The exhibition included an embroidery work of Caturbhuja (Four armed) Avalokiteァvara wich is now preserved at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. And on the other hand, we know that there is an excellent example of embroidery of Four armed Avalokiteァvara at the National Palace Museum of Taiwan which was made with the same design that is almost identical in every detail to the version of the Asan Art Museum. Later I came to learn that there are other textile works of the same design in the Old Palace Museum in Beijing and in the Potala Palace Museum in Lhasa as well. In total four versions are known. All of these works are thought to have been produced in Qing dynasty, in Qianlong's time, and probably in the same studio. In this paper I would like to consider on an origin of the design and how these works had been created.

 Other than these four examples of embroidery and tapestry depicting the Four armed Avalokiteァvara, there remained one old damask kha-btags of Ming dynasty in the Obakusan Manpukuji 黄檗山萬福寺 temple in Kyoto, which was made with the same design that is almost identical in every detail to the versions of those four thangkas.

 This is quite rare case that such kha-btags survived until today. Since kha-btags are part of the daily necessities usually such things never survive.

 Now, let us try to survey contents of Mampukuji damask of Avalokiteァvara. The main figure of this work is the bodhisattva ンaカakキarエlokeァvara, i.e. Avalokiteァvara of the Six Syllables. It depicts the bodhisattva in one of his most abstract forms. ンaカakキarエ is the personification of his own mantra: Oオ mai padme hオ. The mantra itself appears in bold letters above the bodhisattva, written in the Utchin Script. The bodhisattva has four arms, so, it is sometimes called as Caturbhuja (Four armed) Avalokiteァvara. The two front hands are joined in a gesture of loose joining palms (虚心合掌) at his heart. In Nepal or Tibet these hands usually hold a wish-fulfilling jewel symbolic of Avalokiteァvara's compassionate bodhicitta motivation, but not in this case. The two back hands, the right holds a rosary, the left a lotus. The bodhisattva wears jewels and sits in the lotus position on top of a lotus. The lotus which grows from the ground is supporting the base of the lotus seat of the bodhisattva. Below of the lotus throne is the prayer-poem, "nyi mo bde' legs mtshan bde' legs//nyi ma yi gung la bde' leg zhing//nyin mtshan rtag tu bde' leg nas//skyabs dkon mchog gsum gyi bde leg zhogs//(Fortunate days, fortunate nights, Fortunate midst of the day, days and nights forever fortunate! Come fortune to the Three Jewels the Saviour.)". The most impressive item is the petals of the flowers which are scattered around this Bodhisattva.

The scattering petals of flowers might be thought to simply a design that are filling up space at first glance. But when we consider the following ritual some meanings can be seen.

Many rituals of Avalokitesvara are being recorded in Tibetan Kangyur sets. Among them we can find those rituals which were quite popular in China and Japan, 『十一面観世音神呪経』 or 『十一面神呪心経』. It is interesting that they were retranslated into Tibetan from its Chinese translations. The translator 法成 was a monk scholar who was active in 敦煌 during the times under 吐蕃 Tubo's control

These ritual books introduce some of interesting practices which were done in front of the statues of Avalokitesvara. Within those, I would like to give attention to a ritual which was practiced on 15th of white month (May). I quote here the original Chinese translation and the Tibetan translation from it.


gzhan yang rnal 'byor pas zla ba dkar po yar gyi ngo tshes bcwa lnga la byang chub sems dpa' spyan ras gzigs dbang phyug gi gzugs gdong bcu gcig pa de sangs rgyas kyi ring bsrel dang bcas pa'i mchod rten gyi nang du bzhag ste/ gos sar pa gtsang ma bgos la gso sbyong dang sdom pa yang dag par blangs te gdugs mtshan gcig la rab tu smyung bar bgyis nas/ su ma na'i me tog stong rtsa brgyad blangs te/ me tog re re blangs nas sngags lan re btab ste/ thams cad bas pa'i bar du bgyis na de'i tshe gzugs bgyis pa de'i mdun du gdong gcig gi kha nas 'brug sgra lta bu'i sg;ra byung bar gyur la/ de'i dbang gis sa chen po yang rab tu g.yo bar gyur pas rnal 'byor pas de'i tshe rang gi sems bde bar bzhag nas skrag cing 'jigs pa mi bskyed par rig sngags dang/ smon cing sgrub pa gang lags pa 'ba' zhig rjes su dran par bgyis te/ de skad du byang chub sems dpa' sems dpa' chen po 'phags pa spyan ras gzigs dbang phyug thugs rje chen po dang ldan pa la gus par phyag 'tshal lo//

Outline of the ritual is like this: On 15th May, The one who wish to practice this ritual should put the statue of Avalokitesvara in the stupa which includes real Buddha's bone. During the practice he must never have a meal, and he should wear pure cloth and keep religious precepts. Preparing 1008 flowers of Soma tree the practice should be started. Taking every piece of flower reciting mantra each once, he scatters whole pieces onto the statue continueing whole day and night. When he finished using all flowers the real Avalokitesvara comes and transfers into the statue. From the mouth of Avalokitesvara big roaring sounds and the ground shakes greatly. At the time, the practitioner must never get flustered. He should make a prayer with chanting the mantra quietly without being afraid.

In this particular ritual Avalokitesvaraikadasamukha is specified for the statue of this practice. But it is easy to imagine that the similar practice may have been held as to another type of statue, for example, the Caturbhuja Avalokitesvara which consistently collect Tibetan people's faith most.

 We have to know more about the base materials of the embroideries, but I would like to point out the possibility that the woven cloth is used as the ground for the embroidery work.

Also, there is a possibility that those with tapestries as ground were produced using a similar paper pattern which was transmitted down from the Ming dynasty. If we don't think this way, the expression of half-breaking petals on the circumference in those four works is too strange. We can see non-breaking petals in the same position in Mampukuji kha-btags. It is natural to think that they were trimmed from a bigger cloth. I guess such a process of triming is the reason that the five works including the Mampukuji kha-btags differ from each other in size.