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Heart Sutra of the Chūson-ji Temple, a handscroll painting on indigo-dyed paper

1125/1175

British Museum

British Museum

This handscroll records in opulent gold calligraphy the text of the Hannya haramitta shingyō, the 'Heart Sutra' (Sanskrit: Prajnaparamitahrdayasutra), and two other sūtras. The Heart Sutra propounds the doctrine that wisdom resides in emptiness. The outside of the cover bears the abbreviated title, Hannya shingyō, supported by scrolling flowers in gold. The inside cover illustration (slightly damaged), in gold lines with gold and silver washes, depicts the Buddha Amida (Amitabha) in the jewelled palace of his Western Paradise, attended by bodhisattvas and monks. Some of these dance and make music beside a lake. A couple in aristocratic dress kneel praying on an island. The iconography closely follows woodblock-printed Chinese versions of the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279).

The scroll comes from a set of the entire Buddhist canon of scriptures (issai-kyō), probably numbering more than 5,000 scrolls, originally dedicated by Fujiwara no Hidehira (died 1187) to Chūson-ji Temple at Hirazumi in Mutsu Province (present-day Iwate Prefecture). Chūson-ji was founded in 1105 by Hidehira's grandfather Fujiwara no Kiyohira (1056-1128), a powerful military overlord of northern Japan, and the temple was lavishly patronized by three generations of the Northern Fujiwara warriors until their destruction by the Minamoto in the late twelfth century.

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  • Title: Heart Sutra of the Chūson-ji Temple, a handscroll painting on indigo-dyed paper
  • Date Created: 1125/1175
  • Physical Dimensions: Width: 25.80cm; Height: 26.13cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: painted
  • Subject: buddhism
  • Registration number: 1966,1212,0.1
  • Production place: Made in Japan
  • Period/culture: Heian Period
  • Material: paper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Mayuyama & Co. Funded by Brooke Sewell Bequest

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