Photo Source: To-ji Temple

Sculpture Mandala

Heian Period, 9c.
To-ji Temple
Kyoto, Japan


The sculpture mandala in the Kodo of To-ji consists of 21 major sculptures from the 9th century, of which 15 are original and 6 (the five central Buddhas and the central Bodhisattva) are replacements. The originals are traditionally said, without corroberating evidence, to have been carved by Kukai himself. He did, at least, commission them and design the overall scheme.

The sculptures have been rearranged over the centuries, and their original placement is not known for certain. Records dating from the 10th, 12th, and 14th centuries do not agree with each other. The Kodo burned down in the 15th century, and the present arrangement follows the later, rather than the earlier, records.

The sculpture group as a whole exhibits the iconography and doctrine of Shingon esoteric Buddhism. The following influences may be noted: (1) Painted Two-Worlds mandalas which Kukai had brought over from China. The originals have disintegrated, but copies (1688-1703) were made and are exhibited in the Treasure Hall; (2) Esoteric texts and sutras, especially the Diamond Sutra (Kongocho-kyo) and Benevolent Kings Sutra (Ninnyo-kyo); and (3) an Indian sculptural style which is seen especially in the multi-headed, multi-armed statues. (Indian iconography was so foreign to the Japanese aesthetic, however, that it did not persist much past the early Heian period.)

The deities portrayed are: (1) Center group, Dainichi (seven feet high) surrounded by the four Diamond World Buddhas (Ashuku, Hosho, Fuku, Amida). (2) Right group, five Bodhisattvas. (3) Left group, five Heavenly Kings (839) centered on Fudo Myo-o. (4) Brahma and Indra at the far right and left respectively. (5) At the extreme four corners, the four Directional Guardians.

The photograph shown here was taken from the right end of the mandala. To the front and slightly right of center is Brahma, seated on four geese. Behind Brahma (right side of photo) is Bishamonten. The complete layout of the Mandala is shown on the following page.