Amidst Architecture in Japan

22.01.2014. Conference Amidst Architecture in Japan by Christine Shimizu, Curator General, Director of the Cernuschi Museum.

Amidist architecture is linked to the Buddhist doctrine advocating the cult of Buddha Amida (Skt.Amithâba). This was developed by the Chinese monk Shandao (618-681) who had studied and commented on the Sutra of Infinite Longevity (ch. Wuliang shouching, jp Muryojukyô). Perhaps compiled during the Kushan period (48st-XNUMXnd century), this text had been translated into Chinese under the title of the Grand Sutra of Buddha Amithāba. He described the Pure Land of the West, home of this Buddha, as well as the XNUMX wishes he made to save souls.
The first known pictorial representation in Japan of this Buddhist paradise is the Taima mandara, kept at the Taima-dera temple. It gave rise to a legend relating to the circumstances of its realization, a legend which was illustrated on illuminated scrolls in the 16th century (kept at the Kômyô-ji). This tapestry is a visual interpretation of Shandao's comments depicting Amida surrounded by the two bosatsu (skt.bodhisattva) Seishi and Kannon. On the borders are the story of Prince Ajase (Skt.Ajâtashatru), as well as the 9 kinds of contemplation preached by Buddha Amida to reach paradise and the XNUMX levels of reincarnation. According to specialists, the work of Taima-dera would have been introduced from China in the XNUMXth century: at present, only a few fragments remain. But it gave rise to many versions, especially in the XNUMXth century.

Development of Amidism in Japan

In the XNUMXth century, new Buddhist sects were introduced from China to Japan: the Shingon and the Tendai. The Tendai sect (ch. Tiantai) emphasized the fact that all men could potentially attain enlightenment and in doing so gave a special place to Amida. It was in this sect that we saw for the first time appearing buildings exclusively dedicated to Buddha Amida where they practiced nembutsu or invocation in the name of Amida. In 851, a room reserved for circumambulation was built near Kyôto, in the monastery of Enryaku-ji, on Mount Hiei, in the center of Tendai. A large tapestry representing his paradise was hung once a year on the pagoda of the same monastery.
However, an Amidist doctrine was imposed at the end of the tenth century under the leadership of the monk Genshin who, outraged by the depravity reigning in the monastery of Mount Hiei, wrote a collection of essential principles for the rebirth in which he described the torments of the underworld. and the delicacies of paradise. This text was to encourage the monks and the faithful to devote themselves to the devotion of Buddha Amida.
Following him, the monk Kûya propagated this doctrine among the popular classes, in the villages where he invoked the name of Amida in front of the common people. This practice was later taken up and developed by the itinerant monk Ippen (1239-1289) called the “itinerant Sage” who advocated this exclusive worship accompanied by songs and dances. He founded the Jishû sect which attracted more than two and a half million followers. The Illuminated Scrolls of the monk Ippen, dated 1299, kept in Kankikô-ji (Kyôto) and at the national museum of Tôkyô illustrate this proselytism.
Faith in Amida Buddha was heightened due to the belief of the imminent arrival of Mappo, the last law of the Buddhist cycle corresponding to an era of vices and degeneration. It corresponded to the third and last Buddhist law before the arrival of the Future Buddha (Miroku). It was supposed to occur in 1052, considering that each law lasted for a millennium from the date of the historic Buddha's estimated death (estimated by the Chinese and Japanese to be 949 BCE). The fear of the underworld then provoked a redoubling of faith in Amida who offered a paradise to her believers: many paintings and buildings entirely devoted to this Buddha and sheltering sculptures of him appeared.

 14.01.22.Joruriji.Nara  14.01.22.Byodoin.Phoenix Hall.Uji.2009

Jōruri-ji. Nara

Hall of the Phoenix - Byôdô-in. Kyoto

The buildings amidst

When Fujiwara no Michinaga held the position of kampaku (regent and governor general) abdicated, he took orders and began to carry out his great project: the construction of the Hôjô-ji temple from 1020. The first building of this monastery to be built was that dedicated to Amida. It measured 11 by 9 bays and housed 9 sculptures of Amida, as well as paintings depicting descents (Raigo) of Buddha Amida on earth to seek the soul of the deceased.
A devout Buddhist, Michinaga gave his son Yorimichi the villa he had built in Uji. Yorimichi turned it into a temple in 1052. What had been the main residence became the main devotional hall and was dedicated to Dainichi Nyorai (skt.Vairoçana). The following year, Yorimichi had a building dedicated to Amida added: the "Hall of the Phoenix" (Hôôdô) of Byôdô-in which we can still admire. Much smaller than that of Hôjô-ji, it measures only 3 bays instead of the 11 of the Michinaga building. With its U-shaped plan opening onto a pond originally spanned by three bridges, it reproduced life-size paintings and written descriptions of Amida's paradise. Around the sculpture of Amida by Jôchô are arranged on the walls of the musical deities who accompany the Buddha who came to seek the soul. On the walls, although very damaged, there are raigô paintings in the pictorial style of Yamato (Japanese-style painting compared to painting influenced by the Chinese style of the Tang).
Many other temples were built on this model, in Kyoto or north in Iwate prefecture.

 14.01.22.Hokaiji inside.Kyoto



Buddha Amida. Hôkai-ji. Kyoto

Konjikidô. 1124. Chūson-ji. Hiraizumi

Other plans of the Amidist architecture

In the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, buildings dedicated to Amida were built on a square or rectangular plan.
The Jôruri-ji (Kyôto, 1107) preserves an example of a rectangular plan. The Amida room is located to the west of the temple reminiscent of the location of Amida's paradise (the Pure Land of the West). Built on a plan of 11 front bays, it houses nine sculptures of Amida corresponding to the 9 reception classes. These classes correspond to 3 categories each comprising three subcategories. The higher category (JOBON) is the contemplation of the bosatsu (bodhisattva), the intermediate category (chûbon), that of the contemplation of the listeners (faithful who have not only embraced the cult of Amida, but wished to be reborn in this paradise), the lower category (gebon), that of the contemplation of the laity (despite their faults, they invoked the name of Amida). This is the only example that has come down to us with the nine sculptures of Amida, like those that must have existed in Hôjô-ji.
At the end of the Heian period, Amida rooms were built on a square plan with a roof with four isosceles slopes said to be in the shape of a "jewel" (hôgyô).
The temple of Hôkai-ji (Kyôto), dates from 1226. Inside is a platform dominated by an imposing sculpture of Amida. The central pillars delimiting this sacred space are adorned with paintings depicting the Mandara Buddha from the diamond world.
The temple of Fuki-dera (Kyûshû) dating from the late twelfth century takes this almost square plan (3 berries on 4). A wooden wall, on which is painted a representation of paradise (raigôkabe), is erected behind the sculpture of Amida.
The Sanzen-in (Kyôto) has an original plan of 3 bays in the front by 4 in depth. Dated to 1148, it houses an Amida triad in which the two bosatsu Seishi and Kannon are depicted kneeling in an original formula.
We will end this presentation by showing a temple of great rarity, the Konjikidô at the Chûsonji monastery in northern Japan. This monastery is dedicated to the memory of the dead of two military campaigns waged against autonomist clans in the XNUMXth century. The main room (Kondô) is dedicated to the historical Buddha, Shaka. But what interests us here is another building, the Konjikidô, the mausoleum of the Fujiwara, which housed their mummies (now preserved in the museum). Built on a square plan, it measures three bays on the side and dates from 1124. It contains a triad of Amida and six forms of Jizô bosatsu (Skt. Kshitigarbha) which symbolize the six paths of reincarnation. The exterior of the building is completely covered with gold leaf. Inside, the pillars and the altar are lacquered, decorated with gold lacquer patterns (Maki-e) and inlaid with mother-of-pearl (raden). The octagonal shafts of the pillars are divided into 9 horizontal bands corresponding to the 9 degrees of reincarnation. In the upper part of the 4 central pillars are the 48 bosatsu symbolizing the 48 wishes expressed by Amida in the Sutra of Infinite Longevity. This recently restored building is one of the masterpieces of Japanese architecture.


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