Buddhist Volume of Paintings by Zhang Shengwen
‘Buddhist Volume of Paintings by Zhang Shengwen’ was completed in about the period of Dali State (1180AD) and it took Zhang Shengwen, Master of Buddhist painting of Dali State and dozens of his apprentices 2-3 years to draw. Of all, the most valuable part was drawn by Zhang Shengwen himself. As a whole, it is of great artistic value, which is exalted by Zhang’s contemporary monk. And the contemporary scholar, Professor Li Canlin comments on it without a word of praise except admiration. And it can be ranked with Upper River during Qingming Festival and they are compared to be “two outstanding paintings in South and North China”. But in fact, its artistic achievements is above that Upper River during Qingming Festival, and it is rarely known to people due to its missing in the history of 1000 years.
When it was first exhibited in the United States in modern times, it was considered the masterpiece of world Buddhist paintings and a marvelous treasure in the Buddhist arts.
Preserved in the Taibei Palace Museum nowadays, the original painting is thought to be a treasure. It is exhibited for only 2 hours once a week. And the enlarged copy by the computer is now displayed on the second floor of the Rain Copper Kwan-yin Hall in the cultural scenic area of Three Pagodas.
The original painting scroll is a coloured drawing on paper, with a length of 1635.5com and a height of 30.4cm. It consists of three parts: Emperors Worshiping Budda, portrays of various buddhas and people from the 16 countries. There are more than six hundred portrays of various budda, boodhisattvas and and persons wearing different epressions. They are all so vividly portrayed that it seems they are ready to come out at one’ s call. Qianlong Emperor in Qing dynasty liked this drawing very much , he had ever ordered the imperial master Dingpeng to imitate it for three times, and inscribed personally the following lines: “figures in the picture is so sublime that they will be even more greate if been coloured and coated with gold…
The first part of the picture scroll: Emperors worshiping Budda. In the picture, the nineteenth emperor of Dali, Lizhen Emperor, is worshiping Budda in a temple on the foot of Cangshan mountain, together with his ministers and generals of the court. Holding a censer with light smoke curling upwards, wearing a high crown, the Lizhen emperor is dressed quite gorgeously. The one in front of his is a guiding monk. And the boy is the little prince, who is also worshipping the Buddha sincerely with his palms put together. Apparentely, Buddhism had taken root in the hearts of the people in Dali State. It was recorded that in Dali State “no matter poor or rich, every family has a hall for worshipping Buddha; no matter old or young, everyone has a string of beads in hand”.
Buddhism was believed to be the national religion of Dali State. There were nine emperors becoming monks and practising Buddhism in Chongsheng Temple after abdication. Behind Lizhen are ministers and generals of the court, among whom all ministers are wearing high hats, and all generals are baring their feet. From their costumes, we can see ancient Dali people’s dressing custom. The gracefull Cangshan could also be found in the picture, as well as the jad-belt-like clouds above mountainsides. From those drawings of mountain and clouds, we cannot deny that Zhang Shengwen was not only a master in painting buddhas, but also a expert in landscape painting.
The second part，It contains the following:
1. Two Buddha’s Warrior Attendant Statutes: namely the two fierce-looking gods guarding the Gate.
2. Portrait of East Akshobhya Buddha’s Destroying Monsters
Secret School of the Mahayana is very popular in the region of Dali. People believe in Buddhas of Five Directions, that is, Vairocanah Buddha in the middle、Akshobhya Buddha in the East, Ratnasambhava Buddha in the South、Accomplishment Buddha in the North, Amitabha Buddha in the West. This Portrait depicts the matching of magical powers between Akshobhya Buddha in the East and monsters. Buddha says to them, “As my power is unlimited, give up.” Monsters are in doubt. Then he calls out a half-man devil and six woman devils who represent the “six desires” on the earth. So the monsters were shocked by Buddha’s power and submitted.
3. Eight Dragon Kings:
The first one is the chieftain of dragon kings. A moving legend goes like this. A beautiful civilian girl wept the death of her husband at seaside. She is pregnant by touching a wood which goes with adverse current. Later she gives life to nine sons, eight of which become dragon kings in the heaven. Only the youngest stays on the earth, who becomes the founder of Nanzhong kingdom, Asoka.
4. Portrait of Heavenly King, Lord Shakya and all the Living Creatures
5. Portrait of Lord Brahma, Lord Shakya and all the Living Creatures
6. 16 Arhats
Before Yuan Dynasty, there were altogether 16 arhats. Later there were another 2, totaling 18. There are four levels in Buddhism. The highest one is Buddha, who is of great wisdom and omnipotence. The next lower to it is Bodhisattva, who is infinitely merciful to release all the living creatures from sufferings. The third is Arhat, who emphasizes tolerance, namely can tolerate all the tribulations and sufferings. And the lowest is Hayagriva. All the arhats are of furrow and thinness. It is said that those have been drawn by Zhang Shengwen himself.
7. Portrait of Sakyamuni’s Nirvana
On his nirvana, Sakyamuni passed his cassock to his eldest disciple, Kashyapa, asking him to await the rebirth of Maitreya Buddha. Then there are the characters Kashyapa with the clothes on his hands and Ananda with Buddhist scripture roll on his. Among them, Kashyapa was the most intelligent one. Here is a story about him. Explaining the Buddhist scripture, Sakyamuni made a gesture of holding flowers with his hand, all the other disciples present didn’t know his meaning except Kashyapa. He smiled at Sakyamuni and then was passed the clothes. And Ananda was very good at memorizing. Although he preached the Buddhist truth for all his life, Sakyamuni hadn’t had any Buddhist classics. All the present Buddhist classics were compiled according to what Ananda remembered word-by-word while listening to Buddha’s preaching.
8. Six Zen Masters:
The Secret School in Mahayana was embraced in the region of Dali. Later, due to much exchange with the interior in economy and culture, Zen culture also came to this region. Six Zen Masters are the following: Damo, Huihe, Sengcan, Daoxin, Hongren and Huineng. Here is a touching story about Huineng. It is said that Hongren asked all his disciples to make Buddhist’s chant one by one while selecting his heir. Among his disciples, Shenxiu and Huineng were almost equal in intelligence. So they were called Neng in the south and Xiu in the north. Shenxiu immediately made one chant, saying, “Our body be a Bodhi tree, Our mind a mirror bright, Clean and polish frequently, Let no dust alight.” However, Hongren didn’t figure out his goal in his chant. Then Huineng made another, like this: “There is no Bodhi tree, Nor stand of a mirror bright, Since all is void, Where can the dust alight?” Examining Hui’s chant, Hongren contently thought Hui had understood the true meaning of Buddhism. Therefore he passed his clothes to Huineng.
9. Eight Eminent Monks in Dali Kingdom
Among the eight eminent monks in Dali, Zantuojueduo, the founder of Yunnan Secret School, was worth mentioning. In the mid-8th century, he came to Dali to preach from India. Later he became the son-in-law of King of Nanzhao, Quan Fengyou and settled down. Meanwhile, Buddhism spread here. Besides, there was mokeluojie Haimaka. MOkeluojie means Great King, with moke meaning “great” and luojie “king”. This half-naked Great King was later the 12th King of Nanzhao, Longshun. During his reign, he liked Buddhism very much. And he made great contribution to the spread of Buddhism in Dali. So he was also ranked as one of the eight eminent monks. Moreover, an Indian monk, Kwan-yin was considered as Kwan-yin of founding the kingdom. He, Acuoye Kwan-yin, was one of the Monks.
10. Portrait of the Vimilakirti Sutra
On the right stands Manjushri Bodhisattva and the scholar-like one is Vimilakirti Mahasattva. All the Bodhisattvas have known that Vimilakirti Mahasattva was cultivated very hard and had his mastery of Buddhist truth. One day, as he pretended to be ill, Manjushri Bodhisattva, in charge of wisdom, came to visit him. Then there was an excellent discussion on the sutra between them so that all the present arhats and attendants were happy. This is what the Portrait depicts.
12. Portrait of Buddha’s Gathering
There is Sakyamuni in the middle, and on his left is Manjushri Bodhisattva with a sword in his hand sitting on a lion and on his right Samantabhadra Bodhisattva with willow branches in his hand sitting on a six-tooth sacred elephant. Those six teeth represent the six cultivating methods to reaching the Faramita in Mahayana. Sakyamuni’s two disciples, Kashyapa and Ananda, stand. Beside them, are the statues the Heavenly Kings and behind them, 8 Heavenly Spirits.
13. Portrait of Buddhas’ Gathering around Medicine Master Buddha
In the middle there is Medicine Master Buddha. On his either side, there is Bodhisattva of Sunlight and of Moonlight. Behind them, there are 12 gods who are in charge of Twelve Zodiacs.
14. Portrait of Three Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future
There are three Buddhas of the Middle, East and West and three Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future in Buddhism. Here is about three Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future. In the left-hand-corner of the Portrait, the method of setting up the falsework is worth mentioning. It justifies the way of building Three Temples to a large degree. It’s said that the way of building is by first piling up the earth and then getting rid of it after the completion of the structure. But the holes which were left when setting up the falsework were found on the towers while renovating the Three Pagodass from 1978 to 1980. All these prove that the building way is by setting up the falsework not by piling up the earth.
15. Portrait of Images of Buddha and Sharira-stupas
Buddha is the highest fruit of Buddhist practice. Buddha has many kinds in Mahayana. Only one can reach the level of Buddha, he can become a Buddha. But in there is only one Buddha, so not all true cultivators can become Buddha.
16. Portrait of Image of Avalokitesvara (Kwan-yin)
Avalokitesvara is one of Bodhisattvas in the Lotus Buddha family. Bodhisattva, meaning enlightenment in Sanskrit, is the retinue of Buddha. And different Buddhas have their own retinues. In Dali, the worship of Bodhisattva is much more than that of Buddha. There are 58 images of Avalokitesvara among 78 images of Bodhisattvas unearthed in the renovation of three pagodas. These images of Avalokitesvara are divided into male and female. In the Portrait Scroll of Zhang Shengyun, the images of Bodhisattva have three: female, male and female-male. In Buddhism, Avalokitesvara is a male in his prelife. But after Buddhism came to China, the image of Avalokitesvara gradually evolved into a female because of his lenience which is close to the kindness of woman. Avalokitesvara appeared in Dali during the transition from male to female, so he was a female-male. Among them, Bodhisattva of Dispelling Malice and Giving Virtue and one-thousand-arm-and-eye Bodhisattva are females. However, Bodhisattva of Founding the Kingdom is a male.
17. Portrait of Eleven-face Bodhisattva
It is a legend like this: When the troops of Tang Dynasty attached the kingdom of Nanzhao. Nanzhao, a weak country was in a state of being defeated. King Geluofeng dreamed a dream that Bodhisattva asked him to cast a statute of Eleven-face Bodhisattva and worshiped, then he would win the war. After he did as what Bodhisattva told him, he defeated the Tang troops in the end. In this Portrait, there are the 13 Kings of Nanzhao and the founding King’s (Xi Nuluo) wife, his daughter-in-law, Meng Hui, and King of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva.
18. Portrait of the Images of Vajra Buddha Family
Vajra is the furious images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. When they killed the demons, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas turned into their furious images. The more ferocious in their appearance, the more powerful they are.
19. Portrait of Mahakala Buddha
Mahakala Buddha is the most admirable Buddha after Acuoye Kwan-yin in Dali. And he is worshiped as the Spirits of different families in many villages. Here’s a legend about him. As he believed in the slander and thought that human beings were very evil, he then sent Mahakala Buddha on the earth to poison them with much toxicant. After coming to the world, Mahakala Buddha found that they were very kind and diligent so he didn’t want to poison them. Then he took all the poison he brought and died with nigrescence from head to foot. In memory of him, people worshipped him as the Spirits of their own families.
20. Multi-heart Pillar Written in Sanskrit.
21. Country-protecting Pillar Written in Sanskrit.
The last part: Portrait of the People’s Pilgrimage of Sixteen Countries.
It depicts the pilgrimage of the people of 16 countries to Dali during the reign of Quanfengyou of Nanzhao. Judged from the clothes of the 16 kings, they came from Western regions, Southeast Asian countries and the mainland of China. At that time, with its relatively developed economy and culture, Dali became the economic and cultural exchange center in southwestern region.