The Dictionary of Buddhist Iconography is an endeavour of half a century to identify, classify, describe and delineate the bewildering variation in Buddhist icons. It spans the last twenty centuries, and it is a comparative study of unprecedented geographic variations, besides the ever-evolving visualizations of great masters who introduced extraordinary plurality of divine forms in the dharanis and sadhanas.
The multiple forms of a theonym arise in varying contexts. For example, Hevajra of the Hevajra-tantra holds crania in his hands, while the Hevajra of the Samputa-tantra has weapons. Both are subdivided into four each on the planes of kaya, vak, citta and hrdaya, with two, four, eight and sixteen arms. The dictionary classifies such several types of a deity and places each in its theogonic structure, specifies the earliest date of its occurrence (e.g. Amoghapasa appears in Chinese in AD 587), the earliest image, the direction in which it is placed in the specific quarter of the mandala, its classification, colour, crown or hairdo, ferocious or serene appearance, number of eyes and heads, hair standing up and/or flaming, number of arms and attributes held in them, consort, lord of the family (kulesa), and so on. The esoteric name, symbolic form (samaya), bija (hierogram), mantra, mudra and mandala are given in this Dictionary for the first time and on an extensive scale. The Sanskrit, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Manchu and other names are given under the main entry, as well as cross-referenced in their own alphabetic order.
The Dictionary details the characteristic attributes, chronology and symbolism of over twelve thousand main and minor deities. It reflects the extraordinary cultural, literary, aesthetic and spiritual achievements of several nations of Asia over two millennia.
It will help to identify the masterpieces along with the profusion of masters and divine beings around them. The last few decades have seen an exuberant flourishing of the study and popularization of the patrimony of Buddhist art for its aesthetic magnificence. This Dictionary will add a dimension of precision and depth of perception to the visual tradition of paintings and sculptures.
Prof. Lokesh Chandra is a renowned scholar of Tibetan, Mongolian and Sino-Japanese Buddhism. He has to his credit over 360 works and text editions. Among them are classics like his Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary, Materials for a History of Tibetan Literature, Buddhist Iconography of Tibet, and the present Dictionary of Buddhist Art in about 20 Volume. Prof. Lokesh Chandra was nominated by the President of the Republic of India to the Parliament in 1974-80 and again in 1980-86. He has been a Vice-President of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research. Presently he is Director, International Academy of Indian Culture.
The third volume of the Dictionary of Buddhist Iconography covers entries beginning with the letter C and the first half of the letter D up to Dhupa. Important deities, like Cakrasamvara and Cakravartin, in their multiple denotations show the complex evolution of Buddhist theogony and the social, ritual and philosophical factors that conditioned their interiorization.
Several theonyms have been standardized, for example: the Twelve Yaksa Generals of Bhaisajyaguru could be definitively named on the basis of the Gilgit manuscripts of the Bhaisajyaguru-sutra. One of these Yaksa-mahasenapati is Shotora in Japanese pronunciation, reconstructed as Saudra or Catura by Tajima (1959:323). Tow Gilgit manuscripts (nos. 31, 34) have the form Caundhura and manuscript no. 10 has Codhura, both linked to the NIA word Chaudhuri in the sense of a 'headman'
Categories of deities have been related to their textual sources. For instance, the Thirty-five Buddhas of Confession cab be taken back to the Sutra on the Meditation of Akasagarbha Bodhisattva, which was translated into Chinese in AD 424-441 by Dharmamitra who hailed from Kabul.
The identity, antiquity, nomenclature, and etymology of some highly popular deities could be defined by the extensive materials ranging over several centuries and from regions wide apart. Cunda or Cundi is a case in point. The etymology of her name Cunda reminds of the Gayatri mantra (dhiyo yo nah pracodayat). Her epithet Sapta-koti-buddha-matrka was an enigma to masters Divakara, Amoghavajra, Vajrabodhi and Subhakara-simha as early as the seventh and eighth centuries. They did not translate the word koti but transliterated it into Chinese characters. This word usually means 'ten million', but here it connotes 'supreme': sapta-koti-buddha refers to the Seven Supreme Historical Buddhas. Likewise, the Chinese translation of Buddha-matrka as Fo-mu 'the Mother of Buddha' has been ambiguous if not misleading. Buddha-matrka means a 'Buddhist goddess'.
Mandalas and raksa-cakras from Tibet are an aspect of the role of Buddhist deities in the daily life of the lay disciples.
The Sixteen Arhats, accompanied by two lay disciples (upasaka), have been erroneously clubbed together as eighteen Arhats. An arhat is one who has attained the highest plane of Theravada and is the ideal of early Buddhism. The two lay upasakas cannot be termed arhats. The lay persons are far from the final goal, though they care for the material welfare of the monks and nuns to accumulate merit. Dharmatrata with his backsack of books and a tiger by the side is a generic image of one who carried the books for the Master and had the prowess of a tiger to protect him. The Tibetan tradition says that Dharmatala was an upasaka in charge of a temple of Arhats in the reign of the T'ang Emperor Jui-tsung (710-713). The Chinese were getting Sanskrit sutras from Khotan. Empress Wu Tso-thien (ruled 684-705) had got the Sanskrit original of the Avatamsaka from Khotan. Took part in its translation by Siksananda, and in 704 she invited Fa-tsang to lecture on it at her palace. He used the figure of a lion in the palace architecture to illustrate his points, as the Avaramsaka philosophy was too abstruse from the Empress. The Khotanese and other Iranians were known as Hu 'beard-people' in Chinese, and the Chinese word for tiger is also pronounced hu. The Chinese ideograms are different in the two meanings. The upasaka Dharmatala could have been from Khotan, bringing Buddhist sutras, and the tiger by his side refers to his Hu nationality of Khotan. This was a period of turmoil and instability and the Arhats had been invited from Central Asia were miraculously frequented by Arhats from India. During the time in Hsuan-tsang three Arhats are believed to have inhabited rock caverns, and their minds had become extinguished in deep ecstasy (M. Aurel Stein, Ancient Khotan. 1907:91). Hsuan-tsang mentions that an Arhat from a distant land had taken up his abode in the middle of a wood near the So-mo-je monastery to the west of the royal city of Khotan (ib.223). The Annals of Khotan refer to several Arhats from India for whom the kings of Khotan built monasteries (ib. 582f.). The terms Arhat and female Arhat in the Annals of Khotan designate persons who have freed their minds of all impurities and burdens and are absolved from the ten fetters of the cycle of existence (the ten samyojana of samsara). Arhat is the highest of the four stages:
(i) srota-apanna is free from the first three fetters of belief in individuality (drsti), skepticism (vicikitsa), and clinging to rules and rites,
(ii) sakrd-agamin has overcome the first three and the fourth an fifth fetters of craving or desire (trsna, kama) and hatred in great measure,
(iii) anagamin has overcome the five fetters fully,
(iv) arhat is free from all the ten fetters: plus craving for refined corporeality, craving for corporeality, conceit, excitability ignorance (avidya).
Dharmatala the householder with his tiger could have come from Khotan to accompany the Chinese Hva. San who came to invite the Sixteen Arhats during the reign of the Chinese Emperor Than dzuhi dzun (=Jui-tsung) as related by Dkah.chen Ye.sen.rgyal.mtshan in his Avadanas of the Sixteen Arhats (Dagyab 1977:1.113, text no. 87 on page 123). Jui-tsung was enthroned on 27.2.684, deposed on 16.10.690 (Moule 1957:56, 57). He had a chequered reign and he must have invited the Arhats to sanctify and stabilize his regime by their spiritual powers. These Sixteen Arhats represented the incarnations of the historic Arhats of yore.
Dhrtarastra, the Lokapala of the East, has a varied iconography in different traditions. This Dictionary enables us to correlate variations in iconographic attributes to texts or pantheons and to provide a new framework to comprehend the philosophical, ritual, social, political, and other patterns inherent in Buddhist theogony.
The next or fourth volume of the Dictionary is already on the computer and it will appear within the next four months. We hope to accelerate the speed of the publications of future volumes.
Language & Literature (443)
Sacred Sites (102)
Tantric Buddhism (87)
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