Lotus Sutra (Saddharma-pundarika Sutra), Volume 8

  • Japan
  • Late Heian period
  • 12c
  • Handscroll, ink on paper
  • H-25.6 W-806.5
Catalogue Entry

Volume 8
Late Heian period, 12th century
Handscroll, ink on paper
Height, 25.6cm; overall length, 806.5cm

The 8th scroll of the Lotus Sutra is one of the sutras translated by Kumaraju (Kumarajiva) and is one of the best known Daijo sutras (Mahayana Sutras). No other sutra has been copied in so many forms or been produced in more decorated sutra texts. During the mid to late Heian period, Japan witnessed the conjunction of mappo beliefs, or the Buddhist belief in the collapse of the Buddhist law at the end of the millenium, with the aestheticism of the aristocracy, and this combination led to the production of a great number of distinctly Japanese decorated Lotus Sutra texts.

The areas above and below the text area on this one scroll have been decorated with bird, flower and plant, and butterfly motifs drawn in silver paint and malachite and ultramarine pigments, while silver paint has been used to draw the boundary lines between sections and to brush the sutra text. This sutra is not a particularly gorgeously decorated example of the type; rather it is characterized by a more subdued, a subtler beauty. Some decorated sutra texts from the late Heian period use a variety of dyed papers and have been splendidly decorated with motifs in cut gold and silver foil, but at the same time, there was also the taste for this type of decorated sutra which focuses its decorations in the areas above and below the text, with sweet designs of birds, flowers, and butterflies. The sutra texts which used these bird-flower-butterfly motifs were often relatively small in scale, and it is thought that these texts were commissioned by women who did not like the overly gorgeous forms of decorated sutras. The present sutra is also relatively small in scale and is characterized by a certain charm and quiet beauty. The brushstrokes used in the sutra text are not particularly those of a professional hand, but the correct copying of the sutra conveys the devotion of its scribe.

Originally, this kind of decorated sutra would have been decorated in gold and silver, and there would have been a painting on the inside frontispiece of the scroll depicting a scene from the contents of the sutra, but unfortunately the original mount for this work has been lost. The jiku scroll bar, however, is thought to be the original, and the ends of the scroll bar have been inlaid with mother-of-pearl chrysanthemum and scattered lotus petal motifs, allowing us a glimpse of the scroll's original splendor.

This single scroll can be considered to have been created as 1 scroll from a set of the 8 scrolls of the Lotus Sutra. EA