Prince Zhuang of Liang - Tantric Instruments

Religious Life of Ming Nobles

By Hubei Provincial Museum

Hubei Provincial Museum

Gold Sanskrit Seed WordsHubei Provincial Museum

Tantric Buddhism in the Ming Dynasty

Tantric Buddhism or Vajrayana is an offshoot of Mahayana Buddhism. From Tibet, Tantric Buddhism entered China proper during the Western Xia dynasty. These practices rose to great prominence during the Yuan dynasty, with various court factions still adhering to this form of worship during the reigns of the Ming emperors Hongwu and Yongle. Tantric Buddhism is characterized by highly-organized incantations and rituals and practitioners believe they can quickly attain Buddhahood through secret techniques. The reduction in moral demands of this form of worship made it very attractive to nobles, and the large number of Tantric implements found in the tomb of Prince Zhuang testifies to its prevalence among upper-class society.

Gold-plated Copper Amitabha FigurineHubei Provincial Museum

This Buddha is a protective amulet for men. It consists of a gold-plated copper niche and two gold hairpins. When the object was unearthed, the two gold hairpins were affixed to each side of the copper niche, allowing the amulet to be worn on the head. The niche contains a statue of a dignified and kindly Amitabha.

Amitabha, a Sanskrit name meaning "infinite light", is the Western Buddha of the five directional Buddhas in Tantric Bahaism. The light of his infinite wisdom pierces the three planes of existence and the ten directions.

Gold Image of the Great PengHubei Provincial Museum

The Great Peng, the Chinese form of the Tantric Garuda, is one of the Astagatyah, or eight classes on inhuman beings. These are the mounts of Amoghasiddhi, the northern directional Buddha. As the king of birds, the Great Peng symbolizes the power of a king.

Gold "Tenfold Powerful One" AmuletHubei Provincial Museum

The Vajra mandala is a symbol of the Kalacakravajra or wheel of time in Tibetan Buddhism. It often appears at the main gateway of temples, on the cover of scriptures, or on Thangka paintings. This gold amulet consists of a sun wheel, three graphic symbols, and seven Sanskrit characters. Together, these 10 components form the "Tenfold Powerful One" symbol, used to prevent disasters and ward off evil sprits. Individually, these symbols correspond to the existences of life, spirit, wealth, industry, understanding, begetting, will, magical power, wisdom, and law.

Gold Sanskrit Seed WordsHubei Provincial Museum

The Tantric practitioner believes that, so long as he practices the Three Vajras (body, speech, and mind), he can attain Buddhahood. Of these, the Vajra of speech deals with Dharani ritual speech. This was the language used by Buddhist disciples to recite the scripture, but it gradually was simplified into a system of seed words, allowing it to condense the scriptures and stories of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas into the simplest elements possible.

These two charms are shaped as a single Sanskrit seed word, commonly used at the end of an incantation and symbolizing the celestial Buddha Vairocana. Reciting this word one time is the equivalent of reciting 10,000 mantras. This practice was very popular among Ming aristocrats.

Gold RingHubei Provincial Museum

The gold content of this reddish ring is about 91.75%. It was produced by casting and has no flaws or traces of welding. The ring was found in a box of religious instruments, but whether it was used independently or was an ornament on Buddhist prayer beads is not clear.

Bone Buddhist Prayer BeadsHubei Provincial Museum

Buddhist prayer beads or malas are used to concentrate the mind by counting the number of times a mantra is recited or a practice performed. Prayer beads differ in nature based on different Buddhist practices.

This string of prayer beads is made from bone, with one golden "Buddha Head" the size of two beads and 27 bone beads. The bone beads are a brown color and porous. A few of the beads retain their original cinnabar surface and small gold wheels separate each bead.

Gold Mandala Inlaid with Wood Prayer BeadsHubei Provincial Museum

The mandala is a representation of the universe and the gathering place of all the merits of the saints. To bring together the universe in a mandala is the most complete and ingenious method of accumulating wisdom. There are four types of mandalas in Tantric Buddhism. Of these, the Dharma Mandala, incorporates profound truths and righteousness into a simple textual symbol. This is used in the practices of poorer Buddhists.

This string of prayer beads consists of 29 gold mandalas inlaid with wooden beads. When unearthed, only two of the wooden beads remined, the others having decayed. Each mandala carries inscriptions on its two top faces. These inscriptions are of the most common mantra in Tantric Buddhism, which means "Om! The jewel is in the lotus!"

Gold VajrasHubei Provincial Museum

In India, the Vajra is a legendary weapon, usually show with five prongs. Later, as an instrument in Tantric Buddhism, it was used to symbolize the steadfastness and sharpness of wisdom, which can ward off troubles and destroy demons. These vajra have four prongs and are of the type commonly used as pendants on costly prayer beads.

White Jade Gourd Jewelry with Gold RingsHubei Provincial Museum

These two white jade gourds were unearthed in the box of religious instruments. They are a type of earring popular in Yuan and Ming times.

Turquois Double Fish Ornament and White Jade Fish OrnamentHubei Provincial Museum

These carved fish were found in a box of religious instruments and may have been prayer bead pendants.

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