Illustrated Sutra of Cause and Effect

  • Nara period, 8th century
  • Hanging scroll, color and ink on paper
  • Height 26.5 cm, width 46.0 cm
  • Formerly in the collection of Masuda Donnō

The support paper of the E-ingakyō, or Illustrated Sutra of Cause and Effect, is divided horizontally into upper and lower registers with the text of the sutra written out in lines of eight characters in the lower register, while the upper register is filled with paintings of scenes from the sutra text.

This Ingakyō sutra is a four-volume form of biography of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, translated in Chinese in the fifth century, and begins with the tale of how in a former life Shakyamuni was a religious practitioner known as Zen-ne and was taught by Fukō Nyorai (Dpamkara). From the karma of that lifetime, Shakyamuni was then reborn in this world as a Buddha. The sutra goes on to explain the historical Buddha’s life up until the conversion of Daikashō (Mahakasyapa). It is said to be in the sixth or seventh century that the sutra became an eight-volume biography with paintings on the upper register and was popular in the Tang dynasty. Originals from that period have not survived. At present, there are several extant Nara period versions of this Illustrated Sutra of Cause and Effect, made on the basis of such originals, including the Jōbon Rendaiji version, the Daigoji version (Hōon-in version), the Idemitsu Museum of Art version, the former Masuda Family collection version, and the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music version. This 25-line fragment is a segment from the former Masuda Family collection version (the first section of scroll 4). The fragment shows the scene where Shakyamuni converts the three Daikashō brothers who were fire-worshipping brahmans. In one scene, the three brothers are shown surprised by the supernatural powers of Shakyamuni, and then they are shown trying to light a fire the next morning for their fire worship, only to find that the fire will not light. They believe that the fire will not light because of Shakyamuni’s actions or powers. The brushwork in the sutra text is dignified and powerful in the style of Nara period sutra transcriptions, and the cinnabar red, malachite, shell-white, and ultramarine are extremely vivid.

The Illustrated Sutra of Cause and Effect is an extremely important historical object as it conveys the paintings of the Nara period to the present-day world and stands as a critical precursor to later handscroll painting.