Zhufopusa miaoxiang minghao jingzhou 诸佛菩萨妙相名号经咒(The Marvellous Images, Names, Sutras and Dharanis of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas)

The Zhufopusa miaoxiang minghao jingzhou is a two-volume collection of popular Buddhist texts and illustrations of 60 divinities of the Mahayana pantheon. It was printed in Beijing in 1431, during the Xuande reign period, by a donor who, by his name, appears to have been a Chinese Buddhist monk: Xiujishanzhu, or “he who dwells in cultivating Buddhism and storing up merit.”

The texts are of Chinese format and the preface, colophons, and selected texts are printed in four scripts: Chinese, Lantsa, Tibetan, and Mongolian. Most of the sutras, dharanis, and other texts are given in Chinese only; Chinese comprises the dominant language of the work as a whole. There are several interesting details regarding the two volumes. One is that, unlike the Juyong Gate, the content of the transcriptions in four scripts are parallel, though not identical. Another is the use of Chinese phonetic transcriptions of Tibetan names, along with the Chinese version of each name. Yet another is the use of the distinctly Tibetan Buddhist “refuge in the teacher” (in addition to the usual three: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha) at the beginning of the Sutra of the names of the thirty-five Buddhas (San shi wu fo ming jing).

The stylistic features found in the images of 60 divinities, while not exemplary in technique, are linked to the Yongle bronzes and the images found in the Yongle Kanjur, and hint at the beginnings of the later lamaist style produced in Qing China in the 17th and 18th centuries. The designs found in the Shakyamuni-Manjushri-Avalokiteshvara triad at the beginning of the 60 divinities are similar to those found in the Kharakhoto paintings, the Xixia Tripitaka, the Jisha Tripitaka, the Yongle bronzes, and the sculptures and frescoes of central and western Tibet. Such linkages reflect not only the influence of the lamaist style as established by Anige under the Yuan, but also the influence of the contemporary style in central and western Tibet, which was facilitated by the environment of exchange during that period.

According to the Chinese colophon, this collection of Buddhist texts and divinities were transmitted from De bzhin gshegs pa, the 5th Karmapa (1348-1415), to the donor. In fact, De bzhin gshegs pa is included as the only human among the sixty divinities depicted; he appears after the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and before the female divinities. Also notable is that in a list of Tathagatas and bodhisattvas in the second volume, he is again mentioned by many different titles, but among these titles is that of the Da bao fa wang, or the Great Precious Dharma King. This is a title the Yongle emperor bestowed on him in an attempt to re-establish an alliance with the Tibetans reminiscent of the Yuan-era (but an alliance that the 5th Karmapa rejected). Furthermore, the title of Da sheng fa wang, or the Great Vehicle King of Religion, given to Kun dga’ bkra shis rgyal mtshan, also appears in this list. Kun dga’ bkra shis rgyal mtshan (1349-1425) was the abbot of Sa skya and one of the three Tibetans who was presented the title of fa wang, or Dharma King, emphasizing the special religious relationship with the Ming emperor. Kun dga’ bkra shis rgyal mtshan visited the Yongle emperor in Nanjing in 1413-14.

As part of the Yongle emperor’s attempts to renew politico-religious relations with the Tibetans, his uniquely splendid treatment given to the 5th Karmapa is thought to have precipitated increased Tibetan missions to and from China during the Yongle (1402-24) and Xuande (1426-35) periods. During the time of the printing of the Zhufopusa, there was a significant increase in the frequency and number of participants in the missions from Tibet to China, as well as permissions granted for Tibetans to reside in Beijing.

The fact that such a work was produced over two decades following De bzhin gshegs pa’s visit to Nanjing (1407-08) demonstrates the continued importance in early Ming China of the 5th Karmapa in particular and perhaps the religious alliance with Tibetans in general. The content of this work, as a transmission from the 5th Karmapa, with its nominal use of four scripts and use of Chinese phoneticization of Tibetan names and mantras, perhaps points to a marked Chinese interest in propagating the teachings of the 5th Karmapa and reflect a lasting effect of the Yongle emperor’s attempts to re-invigorate a host of political, economic and religious relationships between the Chinese and Tibetans.

  • Heather Karmay, Early Sino-Tibetan Art. Aris and Phillips. 1975: 55-99.
  • Elliot Sperling. 1980. The 5th Karma-pa and some aspects of the relationship between Tibet and the early Ming. In Tibetan Studies in honour of High Richardson: Proceedings of the International Seminar of Tibetan Studies, Oxford 1979. Warminster: Aris & Philips Ltd. 280-290.
  • Jonathan A. Silk. 1996. Notes on the History of the Yongle Kanjur. In Suhrllekhah: Festgabe für Helmut Eimer. Swisttal-Odendorf: Indica et Tiebtica Verlag.

Entry by Eveline S. Yang, 2/20/07