Through the verbatim copying of Chinese sutras (Chinese translations of the Buddhist scriptures), the Japanese aristocracy adopted Buddhist doctrine as well as the Chinese written language. The copying of sutras was considered an important act of piety in the Buddhist faith. Wealthy Japanese patrons thus sought to acquire spiritual merit by presenting temples with lavish sutra sets.
This scroll comes from a set of about five thousand works commissioned in the twelfth century by the emperor Toba for Jingo-ji, a temple near Kyoto. Such scrolls were not used in worship but were stored in temple repositories and brought out only on special occasions. Although a large number of scrolls was needed to complete the set, the emperor demanded the best materials, which included indigo-dyed paper and gold and silver inks. The frontispiece of this scroll follows the standard formula for the set. The Buddha is shown seated in an abbreviated landscape, preaching to his followers. Above him looms a mountain with a birdlike head symbolizing Vulture Peak, where the Buddha preached sixteen sermons to his followers.