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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 1.2 (2018): 143–182;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhist Arts)

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The Ritual of the Buddhoṣṇīṣa Vijaya Dhāraṇī Maṇḍala

Yale University

Abstract: In this paper I examine the practice of visualizing maṇḍalas, focusing on one specific example, the maṇḍala called Buddhoṣṇīṣa vijaya (Zunsheng foding 尊勝佛頂). The introduction of visualization practice profoundly transformed Esoteric Buddhist ritual practice. It made physical images redundant, but ironically it also turned maṇḍalas, originally ritual spaces marked on the ground, into images of deities and objects of visualization in and of themselves.

I trace this development by looking at the rituals for the cult of the deity Buddhoṣnīṣa Vijaya. In the Dhāraṇī Sūtra for Buddhoṣṇīṣa Vijaya (T no. 967–971; 974A) a maṇḍala is constructed on the ground, at which the practitioner recites the dhāraṇī. One version mentions the vision of the Buddhas arriving and praising the practitioner, but no instruction for deliberate visualization is given in the sūtras. The Recitation Manual for Buddhoṣṇīṣa Vijaya Dhāraṇī (T no. 972) attributed to Amoghavajra’s translation contains instructions for constructing a maṇḍala on the ground as well as instructions for visualizing the maṇḍala. The Manual for Buddhoṣṇīṣa Vijaya Yoga Practice (T no. 973) attributed to Śubhākarasiṃha first offers a brief instruction for visualizing the maṇḍala and then a separate instruction for painting the central deity’s image. Together these two manuals illustrate how the maṇḍala constructed on the ground gradually became an immaterial visualized representation.

Keywords: Ritual, space, Buddhism, maṇḍala, visualization, Esoteric, Buddhoṣnīṣa, Amoghavajra, Śubhākarasiṃha


About the Author: Koichi Shinohara taught at McMaster University and Yale University. His recent publications include Spells, Images, and Maṇḍalas: Tracing the Evolution of Esoteric Buddhist Rituals (Columbia University Press), and the first of his three-volume translation, A Forest of Pearls from the Dharma Garden, covering the first twenty fascicles of the original collection. He is the coauthor of Speaking of Monks: Religious Biography in India and China, and the co-editor of Pilgrims, Patrons and Place: Localizing Sanctity in Asian Religions, Images in Asian Religions: Texts and Context and Sins and Sinners: Perspectives from Asian Religions.


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