Gandavyuha, The Quest for Awakening
Level 4, Inner Wall
5. The Aspiration for the Good Life
a large collection of high-definition creative commons photographs from Borobudur, Java, illustrating the Bhadra-cari-praṇidhāna in the Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra, which tells about Samantabhadra’s aspiration to the good life, together with further information.
|Level 2, Inner Wall,
Meetings with Spiritual Friends
|Level 3, Inner Wall,
Maitreya reveals the Dharmadhātu
|Level 3, Balustrade,
|Level 4, Balustrade,
Maitreya, Mañjuśrī and Samantabhadra
|Level 4, Inner Wall,
The Aspiration to the Good Life
Reliefs on this Level:
Introduction to the Gaṇḍavyūha Reliefs at Borobudur
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East Wall (Center to South)
The Bhadra-cari-praṇidhāna reliefs at Borobudur are some of the most pleasing, both in design and in state of preservation. Unlike some of the earlier reliefs, here we are on more solid footing when it comes to identifying the text being illustrated also.
I give the descriptions here interspersed with the verses of the Bhadra-cari-praṇidhāna, which inspired them. Note that in the verses Buddhas are many times referred to as Victors (Jina), and Bodhisattvas are referred to as Sons of Buddhas (Buddha-suta).
1. Ten Buddhas
The first relief depicts the Buddhas of the ten directions, five on the top level, two standing, and three sitting, along with Bodhisattvas who are making various offerings. Sudhana can be seen offering flowers at the feet of one of the Buddhas. Samantabhadra is on the opposite side.
2. Six Buddhas
Here we see two registers, with the top one lined with six Buddhas. Why six exactly is not clear, but it may just be signifying all the Buddhas. Below we see a gathering of Bodhisattvas, some holding offerings, others offering their worship to the Buddhas throughout the Dharmadhātu.
3. Buddhas amidst Bodhisattvas
This scene is similar to the last with Buddhas on the top, holding different postures, and the Bodhisattvas pictured below.
4. Three Buddhas
Here we see three Buddhas sat on lotuses, which signify purity. Two of the Buddhas are evidently in the forest, while one is seen inside a palace. Samantabhadra is identified by the lotus he holds up.
The next eleven reliefs depict the various offerings that are enumerated in the following three verses.
5. An Offering of Flowers
The first of these offerings is one of flowers. On the left of the relief Samantabhadra is holding up his lotus, as though making a permanent offering to the Buddhas. Sudhana is on the left side. Behind him one of the Bodhisattvas has a garland of flowers rolled on a plate to offer. And above in the skies the devas also come along to make offerings.
6. An Offering of Garlands
This is the offerings of garlands that are being made to the Buddhas, who are represented by the three depicted here. Between the Buddhas sit two Bodhisattvas, and below the central Buddha sits Sudhana. The central Buddha has garlands all round him, and three of the company seated on the floor also hold garlands as offerings.
7. An Offering of Instrumental Music
The Buddha sits in meditation posture inside a decorated palace or pavilion, while under trees on either side people gather and offer instrumental music on their various instruments, of which we see drums, bells, horns and flutes of various kinds. The trees are beautifully decorated with garlands. Sudhana is sat on a lotus flower, and has a nimbus around his head.
8. An Offering of Creams
One Buddha sits in the middle on a raised lotus seat, on either side of him are two Bodhisattvas, identified as Vajrapāṇī and Avalokiteśvara. Behind them on either side people hold small pots of creams (vilepana). A Bodhisattva sits on a lotus on the register below, with Samantabhadra on one side and Sudhana on the other.
9. An Offering of Parasols
This panel illustrates the offering on umbrellas or parasols (chatra), which are positioned between the four Buddhas sat on lotuses. Below, the devotees also hold up parasols, and we once again see Samantabhadra holding his lotus, and Sudhana with the nimbus.
10. An Offering
Fontein identifies this as an offering of standards and pennants, which are mentioned in variant readings from Nepal.
What we do have is a central Buddha, sat, as usual, on a lotus. There are devas in the skies, apparently holding garlands. The bottom row is quite worn and it is hard to make out what they holding or offering. I tend to believe that this is just a general offering scene.
11. An Offering of Vestments
One central Buddha in an elaborate pavilion is surrounded by devas and Bodhisattvas. Hanging down from the clouds are strips of cloth, which cover the top of the trees. This then is the offerings of vestments spoken about in the verses. Above, and to either side of the pavilion fly devas who also make offerings to the Buddha.
12. An Offering of Incense
The Buddha in the middle sits atop the usual lotus, and is surrounded by flames indicating his purity, on either side the Bodhisattvas Vajrapāṇī and Avalokiteśvara stand on lotuses.
Samantabhadra is below the Buddha, and on either side of him there are censors, which is the principal offering represented in this relief. Sudhana is to the right of Avalokiteśvara, and sits under a tree.
13. A Buddha inside a Stūpa
Here a Buddha, holding the Dharma-cakra posture, is sat inside a stūpa accepting offerings that are presented by Samantabhadra holding three lotus flowers to the right of the panel. Sudhana sits with folded hands in respectful salutation on the other side.
Four more Buddhas sit on elevated lotuses on either side on the central figure, and there are devas in the sky on the sides of the stūpa.
14. An Offering of Lamps
Six Buddhas sit in different postures on lotuses rising above the world, and one in the middle is seen standing. On either side of the standing Buddha lamps are seen burning, and Sudhana, at the Buddha’s feet, also holds a lamp. This then is the offering of lamps (dīpa).
15. Various Offering
A single Buddha sits displaying the Dharma-cakra posture in the last of this series of offering reliefs. In the skies devas hold various offerings, and below on the ground are seen Sudhana on the left, with an incense burner on the floor, and Samantabhadra on the right.
16. Samantabhadra and Six Buddhas
This is an interesting relief showing four Buddhas sitting on lotus leaves in the upper section, and two in the lower. At almost the same height as the Buddhas on the top line are situated two Bodhisattvas, also on lotus leaves.
In the centre at the bottom sits Samantabhadra, recognisable from the lotus flower he holds, and it is he who seems to be the centre of attention for the people around him, commanding the same respect as the Buddhas.
17. Three Buddhas
In the centre of the panel we see a meditating Buddha sitting inside a stūpa-like pavilion; and in the skies raised high on lotuses blossoming from their stalks, sit two more Buddhas. The Buddhas at the top have a Bodhisattva on either side of them, and below, devotees gather round the meditating Buddha with offerings.
18. Ten Buddhas
The Buddhas of the ten directions are represented by the ten Buddhas on the top register of the panel. In the lower section we see Sudhana, holding a offering of light, and Samantabhadra paying homage to the Buddhas above, and the seven Bodhisattvas on the right.
19. Samantabhadra gives Gifts
The monk, pictured on the left, represents those who desire cessation (for themselves alone). Behind him is a brahmin. In a glorious pavilion sits Samantabhadra, and his fellow workers pass out gifts to persuade them to remain for the benefit of others.
20. Samantabhadra Meditating
On the top left of the relief two Bodhisattvas sit worshipping a Buddha; in the pavilion in the centre Samantabhadra is meditating, and to his left sits Sudhana and his companions. Interestingly Sudhana is displaying a teaching posture.
We cannot easily match the following verses to the next panels. With three mentions of the Buddha of the ten directions in the next three verses we might have expected the sculptors to have taken the cue, but they didn’t, and we are left unable to identify the panels certainly.
21. Worshiping a Buddha
Sitting on the floor on the right we see Sudhana under a parasol with hands held in respectful salutation; behind him are his companions, and before him sits Samantabhadra.
On the left monastic disciples of the Buddha are making many offerings, while the Buddha himself is in teaching posture (vitarka-mudrā), therefore giving the gift of Dharma. In the skies the devas look on.
22. Worshiping a Buddha
A Buddha is again seen in teaching posture in this relief, he is isolated and highlighted by being placed in a stūpa-like pavilion. On the left of the panel we see Sudhana and a couple of his companions, while on the right Samantabhadra holds his hands in añjali.
23. Worshiping Four Buddhas
This panel shows four Buddhas, the one in the middle at the bottom holding the ‘calling the earth to witness’ posture (bhūmi-sparśa-mudrā), above him another is in Dharma-cakra posture, and on either side two Buddhas sit in meditation posture (dhyāna-mudrā).
On the lower level sit Sudhana and Samantabhadra with their companions, worshipping the Buddhas. It may be the postures the Buddhas hold represent their typical life stories.
24. Samantabhadra Meditating
Samantabhadra sits in meditation inside a pavilion, and is the central figure of this panel. Sudhana can be seen on the right of the pavilion, kneeling before the Bodhisattva, and all around people gather to make offerings. The gods look on from above the trees.
25. Samantabhadra Meditating
Another panel with Samantabhadra at the centre of the scene, this time meditating under a magnificent tree which flourishes above him. From all sides people flock with their offerings, and Sudhana, whose figure is badly damaged, sits on the right under a parasol.
26. A Meditating Buddha
A Buddha sits in meditation posture inside a pavilion. A procession of people and gods come once more with offerings. Notice the seven stūpas on either side of the pavilion, on three different levels, larger below and smaller above. The Buddha is sitting on a lion seat (siṁhāsana).
27. Samantabhadra repluses Negativity
Samantabhadra is seen inside a heavily decorated palace, he is sitting and holding the karaṇa-mudrā, which indicates the repulsion of all negativity. It is a posture often associated with the Bodhisattva Vajrapāṇī. Sudhana is kneeling, and rests with his palms on his knees. This is one of the end reliefs, and is therefore not as wide as some of the other panels in this series.
28. Samantabhadra Meditating
Samantabhadra is seen meditating inside a decorated palace, which has devas flying above it. Sudhana is seen to the right kneeling, and respectfully worshipping the Bodhisattva. Of note is the monk on the left of the palace who is holding a alms bowl in his left hand, and a staff in his right.
29. A Monk Teaching
In this relief it is a monk who takes centre stage, being sat on a lotus in a pavilion. He is gesturing towards three other monks who sit below him under the trees, along with other devotees. Sudhana is seen on the right with his companions, one of whom holds up the parasol. Above the trees, devas sit on the clouds watching the scene below.
We now begin the panels that illustrate verse eighteen of the Bhadra-cari-praṇidhāna, quoted above. A badly damaged Samantabhadra sits inside the pavilion, and on either side are devotees, including Sudhana and his companions. On the clouds we see the gods, whose voices Samantabhadra, as it were, employs to teach Dharma.
31. Nāgas and Nāginis
We couldn’t see the posture Samantabhadra was holding in the last panel because of the damage, but here he is holding teaching posture (vitarka-mudrā), and on the left stand the nāgas and nāginis, identifiable by the snakes in their hair. Samantabhadra is using their voices to teach Dharma. On the right of the panel Sudhana stands under a tree, while his companions sit on the floor.
Again Samantabhadra holds the teaching posture, though this time his legs are in princely posture. On the left of the panel are some yakṣas, generally portrayed as quite fierce, though they are part of the goldy realms. Strangely, Sudhana, who is seen standing on the right of the panel with a parasol over him, also seems to be holding the teaching posture. Above the central building are two tridents.
Similar to the previous panels we see Samantabhadra, who is using the voices of the khumbāṇḍas seen on the left of the panel to teach the Dharma. Sudhana was presumbly on the right, but the panel is so badly damaged we can no longer see him.
34. Lay People, Brahmins and Monastics
The human voices of the verses are made up of lay people, brahmins and monastics who all gather on the left of the panel. Samantabhadra sits on an inverted lotus in the pavilion, while Sudhana and his companions kneel to the right.
35. Nāgas, Yakṣas and Devas
This panel and the following seems to represent what is said in the verse to be all beings, as we see a human, a nāga and a yakṣa on the left side of the panel, with devas of various kinds above them on the clouds, from which hang garlands. Sudhana is seen making an offering of light to the Bodhisattva.
36. Samantabhadra Meditating
Samantabhadra sits on a lotus in meditation posture inside a pavilion looking straight out at the onlooker. He is therefore engaging our devotion as well as that of the other characters in the panel.
Sudhana seems to be striking a pose, but because of the damage it is hard to see what the hands may have been signifying. In the skies we see the devas are engaged by the scene below them.
37. Women and Musicians
Unfortunately this panel is quite badly damaged in places, and Samantabhadra’s features are missing. We can see he sits in princely fashion, with a knee strap.
The sculptors at Borobudur were very expert in portraying ensembles, as we see on the left of the panel here, which has a collection of women at the bottom and musicians in the middle. Above are seen the usual array of devas.
38. Samantabhadra Meditating
Four women sit on the floor on the left of the panel, and as we have seen throughout Sudhana’s meetings with spiritual friends, women are given a special prominence amongst his teachers.
Samantabhadra is in meditation posture and Sudhana is sat on the right of the panel, holding a lotus flower. Notice the leaf which is being used for shade amongst his companions.
39. Samantabhadra Meditating
On the bottom left of the panel we see a figure with ten arms who is variously postulated to be Māra or Cundā Bodhisattvā. If we associate this panel with verse 20, then it might be a reference to Māra, from which the meditating Samantabhadra is free.
Samantabhadra is sitting meditating on a lotus seat inside a pavilion. On the left stand some women; and on the right are various devotees. In the skies fly the devas with various offerings in their hands.
40. A Buddha Meditating
A Buddha sits in meditation posture (dhyāna-mudrā) inside a stūpa-like building, on the pilasters sit a couple of smaller stūpas. Samantabhadra is on the left, under the tree, holding his lotus flower, and a couple of devotees sit behind him. Sudhana is on the right under the parasol, which is held by one of his companions.
41. A Large Cushion
Here we have an unusual and intriguing panel: what we seem to see is an aniconic figure which is represented by the large cushion sitting on the lotus seat.
In the upper left we see Samantabhadra meditating, but turned away from the centre. It may be we are expected to see this as Samantabhadra liberated from his normal physical self and able to come and go as he wills. Sudhana is on the right under the parasol, with a tree above him.
42. A Procession away from a Palace
In the centre we see a palace, but unusually there is no one inside. On the right of the panel are ladies of the court and musicians, all obviously associated with royal life.
Fontein suggests that Samantabhadra is leading a procession to the palace, but it very much looks like it is a procession away from the palace, perhaps signalling the renunication of power and wealth while seeking the welfare of other beings.
43. The Freeing of Animals
Samantabhadra sits inside a palace and from his right hand he is releasing a bird that will join the others who are now flying in the skies.
We also see other living beings, like deer, squirrels and fish being released by the devotees who gather round. The teaching therefore concerns the gift of fearlessness (abhaya-dāna), an important practice even till today.
44. The Virtue of Giving
This is another scene representing the virtue of giving (dāna). In this relief we see the distribution of gifts to brahmins, pictured lop-left; monastics, on the same level, but closer to Samantabhadra; and lay people, on the bottom register.
Sudhana seems to be in conversation with his companions on the right of the panel, perhaps explaining to them the teaching he has learned from Samantabhadra.
45. Samantabhadra Meditating
This is one of the most damaged of the panels on the inner walls at Borobudur, from what we can make out Samantabhadra sits in meditation posture, while Sudhana sits worshipping him on the right of the panel.
46. Building a Bridge
I tend to think that this panel, in which we see Samantabhadra leading the construction of a bridge, as a further illustration of the good works he has urged in verse 22. The scene, although a little worn by now, is still full of life. Samantabhadra holds an adze and behind him Sudhana again appears to be passing on the teaching to his companions.
47. A Buddha and Bodhisattvas
Another good deed, of course, is to worship the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and this panel may be illustrating that virtue. The Buddha is seen as the centre of a tryptich, with Avalokiteśvara and Vajrapāṇī on either side. Below Vajrapāṇī sits Samantabhadra and Sudhana, the first making an offering, the second holding his hands in añjali.
48. A Procession
We now have the first of two procession scenes. In the first Samantabhadra leads the way, with a large number of people following him. He is holding the hand of another Bodhisattva in a sign of their unity and harmony. On the floor in front of him are the devotees who make offerings, and in the skies above the devas look on approvingly.
49. A Procession
In this procession, which is somewhat similar to the previous one, Samantabhadra takes the hands of a devotee, seemingly to lift him up. Many other devotees look on at the gesture.
Behind Samantabhadra is the procession of Bodhisattvas and others, with Sudhana standing under the parasol. Sudhana once again seems to turn towards his companions and explain the scene to them.
50. A Buddha and Two Bodhisattvas
In a scene that is reminiscent of panel 47 we see a central Buddha figure, flanked by the two Bodhisattvas Avalokiteśvara and Vajrapāṇī. Below, Samantabhadra sits worshipping them, and behind him is Sudhana, who has his arms crossed. On the bottom left of the panel we see six monks, who bear lotuses and other offerings.
51. Samantabhadra Meditating
Samantabhadra is seen meditating in the central pavilion, thereby purifying the good life, and upholding the Dharma. Sudhana sits with his hands in respectful salutation, while the gods pour down flowers from the skies.
52. The Giving of Gifts
Samantabhadra sits in princely fashion, with his knee held up by a strap. Sudhana is seen under the parasol on the right. On the left we see various people handing out gifts to brahmins and what appears to be beggars who hold their hands out seeking largesse.
53. Nine Buddhas
On the top of the register we see nine Buddhas lined up, holding different postures: meditating, teaching, calling the earth to witness and blessing. On the upper right a monk is seen worshipping. On the far left and right we see the sun and the moon. On the lower section we see Samantabhadra teaching, with Sudhana worshipping him; flowers fall from above as if in blessing.
54. Ten Buddhas
An unusual composition showing the Buddhas of the ten directions, seven are sitting on lotuses above, two are standing flanking those seven, and one sits on the lower part of the register on the left. Samantabhadra is seen worshipping him, and Sudhana sits behind him holding his hands in Dharma-cakra-mudrā. Again flowers rain down blessings from above.
55. Teaching the Dharma to the Animals
Samantabhadra sits in the pavilion, with Sudhana and his companions on the right. On the left we see a congregation of all sorts of pairs of animals, including elephants, horses, lions, pigs, deer and rhino, who are listening to – and able to understand – the teacher.
56. Three Buddhas and Four Bodhisattvas
Samantabhadra is teaching again and Sudhana is on the right of the panel. On the left we see three Buddhas, separated by trees, perhaps signifying the three times of the verse. Below them are sat four Bodhisattvas.
57. A Buddha Meditating
In this relief it is a Buddha who sits meditating inside the pavilion, while Samantabhadra approaches from the right, with flowers falling all round him. Behind him is Sudhana, under the parasol, and behind him one companions. The sun and the moon on lotus seats are pictured either side of the building.
58. Three Buddhas and Six Bodhisattvas
Again because of the mention of the three times we see three Buddhas separated by trees on the top left of the panel. Below them are six Bodhisattvas. Samantabhadra and Sudhana approach from the right.
59. Three Buddhas
Again the mention of the three times prompts the sculptors to include three Buddhas, who are once again separated by trees. The Buddha in the middle holds the Dharma-cakra-mudrā, those on either side are in dhyāna-mudrā, or meditation posture.
Under the central Buddha is a beautiful tree, and Samantabhadra, together with three disciples, sits on the left of the panel. Sudhana and three companions are on the right.
60. Samantabhadra Levitating
One of the most lovely of the panels, this one is showing Samantabhadra in three different times. On the right he is stood under a tree, with Sudhana and his companions behind him. Between the temples he is standing on a lotus, and on the right he has taken off and is flying through the air, evidently illustrating the strength of spiritual power (ṛddhi-bala) of the verse. The two temples are wonderfully and attractively drawn in the stone.
61. A Buddha Teaching
We see Sudhana kneeling on a raised platform, in the midst of his companions in the holy life. He and Samantabhadra are kneeling before a Buddha, who is holding the Dharma-cakra-mudrā, and is seated in a large and elaborate building, the base of which has five trees carved on it.
62. A Buddha’s Blessing
Samantabhadra and Sudhana approach, both under parasols, in procession from the right. The Buddha is sat on a lotus seat inside a pavilion holding a blessing posture (varada-mudrā).
63. Samantabhadra’s Blessing
Samantabhadra is now centre stage, and is the one giving the blessing on this last panel of the northern wall. Sudhana is sat holding his hands in respectful salutation, while above the pavilion on either side the devas fly on clouds.
East Wall (North to Center)
64. A Giving of Gifts
Samantabhadra is sat in princely fashion inside a pavilion, while Sudhana and his companions are on the right. On the left stand two brahmins with hands outstretched ready to receive gifts.
65. Three Buddhas
The Victors of the three times of the verse are represented by the three Buddhas in the relief. Samantabhadra sits in meditation posture inside a pavilion and Sudhana worships him. On the bottom at the far left sits a monk.
66. Samantabhadra and Bodhisattvas
Samantabhadra sits inside an elaborate pavilion, and Sudhana and his companions sit on the right of the relief. On the left and lower part of the register sit seven Bodhisattvas. Flowers and bells hang from the clouds on the left.
67. Mañjuśrī and Three Buddhas
This is a very interesting panel in which the centre of attention switches to Mañjuśrī who is seen sat at bottom center with his hands held high in reverential salutation. He is flanked by two Buddhas on lotus thrones, and another hovers above his head. The devas in the sky play musical instruments, while below, monks gather round one tree and lay people around another.
68. A Buddha Teaching
A Buddha sits inside a pavilion on a lotus holding Dharma-cakra-mudrā posture. Samantabhadra – holding his hands in salutation – and Sudhana stand nearby. Four women appear kneeling in the palace building on the bottom right; and in the skies the devas fly by above the clouds.
69. Six Buddhas and a Stūpa
On the top part of the register we see six Buddhas and a stūpa, all of which are positioned on similar lotus seats. The Buddhas hold various postures. On the lower section Samantabhadra is sat in meditation, and around him are sat twelve Bodhisattvas who are witnessing the scene.
70. A Buddha Teaching
Again a Buddha sits inside a pavilion on a lotus holding Dharma-cakra-mudrā, while Samantabhadra is seen worshipping on the right of the panel with Sudhana behind him. Notice above the palace are portrayed the sun and the moon on lotus stands signalling the infinity of time and space.
71. Fifteen Buddhas
The mention of the ten directions might have produced a depiction of ten Buddhas, but for unknown reasons fifteen have been sculpted, two standing, six seated on the lower section and seven in the sky. Samantabhadra and Sudhana are seen at the bottom central paying respects.
72. Seventeen Buddhas
The relief of this series and indeed of the Gaṇḍavyūha and the last relief seen before rising to the terrace above shows nine Buddhas on the top register and eight below, with Samantabhadra and Sudhana both now portrayed as seated on lotuses.
The last fourteen verses of the Bhadra-cari-praṇidhāna have not been illustrated at Borobudur, and indeed the verses now change their character altogether and focus on the Pure Lands of Amitābhā – who is otherwise unmentioned in the Gaṇḍavyūha – and to praising the benefits of reciting the previous verses.
These verses were almost certainly not part of the original hymn, as Buddhabadhra in his translation of the text into Chinese in 420 CE didn’t have them. They seem to have been added at an unknown, but later, date. This explains the absence from the walls of Borobudur.
Nevertheless, the verses are of interest and still to this day form a part of the traditional collection and I include them here for the sake of completion.
Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu
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