Gaṇḍavyūha, The Quest for Awakening
Level 2, Inner Wall
1. Meetings with Spiritual Friends

high-definition creative commons photographs from Borobudur, Java, illustrating the Gaṇḍavyūhasūtra, which tells about the Bodhisattva Sudhana and his search for Awakening by questioning 53 Masters, together with further information.

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Level 2, Inner Wall,
Meetings with Spiritual Friends
Level 3, Inner Wall,
Maitreya reveals the Dharmadhātu
Level 3, Balustrade,
Good Deeds
Level 4, Balustrade,
Maitreya, Mañjuśrī and Samantabhadra
Level 4, Inner Wall,
The Aspiration to the Good Life

Reliefs on this Level:

East Wall    South Wall    West Wall    North Wall    East Wall


Introduction to the Gaṇḍavyūha Reliefs at Borobudur
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Level 2, Inner Wall
Meetings with Spiritual Friends

East Wall (Center to South)

The Scene in Jetavana

1. The Buddha in Jetavana

The Buddha is seen sitting in the pinnacled building in the Jetavana monastery in Śrāvastī sitting on a lion seat (siṁhāsana) with two rampant lions. Below him, on either side, can be seen Bodhisattvas, while on the clouds above are gandharvas with musical instruments, and other devas.

The Buddha, who in our text is Śākyamuni in his Dharma-body as Vairocana (the Illustrious), is shown in teaching posture (vitarka-mudrā), though throughout the sūtra he does not speak, but simply allows those disciples who are capable to have visionary experiences.


2. An Assembly gathers Round

Part of the assembly gathered in Jetavana is shown in this panel: some of those on the lower part of the panel are the Lords of the World (Lokendra), who had served previous Buddhas.

Those with short, or shaved, hair are the śrāvakas, the monastic disciples who had listened to the teachings of the Buddha. Those with crowns are the Bodhisattvas, who will see the revelations of the Buddha.


3. The Buddha reveals the Dharmadhātu

The panel is quite badly damaged. We can see enough of the Buddha to understand that he is now in the Expansive Lion concentration (siṁha-vijṛmbhita-samādhi), during which he reveals the true nature of the Dharmadhātu, or absolute reality, to those whose wholesome roots are developed enough to see it.

In the Dharmadhātu the whole universe is contained within an atom, and an atom reveals the whole universe; all times are equally present. Only the highly developed Bodhisattvas, however, are able to see this.



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It is unclear what the following ten reliefs actually depict, the most convincing explanation I have seen is that they are the Bodhisattvas of the ten directions, and I follow that here, and translate the first of the verses attributed to each of them.

4. The Bodhisattva of the East

The Bodhisattva of the East speaks a verse in front of the Buddha: Paśyadhvaṁ sattva-sārasya Buddha-bodhir-acintiyā jeta-dhvaje nidarśeti Jino Buddha-vikurvitam; See the best of beings in the decorated Jeta (Grove), through his inconceivable Awakening to Buddhahood the Victor manifests the transformations of the Buddhas!

The reliefs show variations on a theme which presents the Buddha looking straight at the viewer, while around him gather various Bodhisattvas, monastics and lay, and above them various ranks of devas sit atop the clouds.


5. The Bodhisattva of the South

The Bodhisattva of the South speaks a verse in front of the Buddha: Puṇya-garbhān mahā-prajñān bodhi-caryāgatiṁ-gatān kṣemaṁkarān sarva-loke paśyadhvaṁ sugatātmajān; See the way of those born of the Fortunate one, who have a store house of merit, great wisdom, arrived at the conduct of Awakening, the maker of security in all the worlds!

The Buddha is in all but one of these ten reliefs shown as holding the teaching posture (vitarka-mudrā). He teaches silently though, or through his proxies, as he is not recorded as having said anything himself. On the bottom left we see nuns (bhikṣunis) and on the bottom right monks (bhikṣus).


6. The Bodhisattva of the West

The Bodhisattva of the West speaks a verse in front of the Buddha: Paśyadhvaṁ sattva-sārasya vipulaṁ jñāna-maṇḍalam kālākālam-abhijñāya Dharmaṁ deśeti prāṇinām; See the Best of Beings, whose circle of knowledge is extensive, knowing the right and wrong times, teach the Dharma to living creatures.

On the right of the relief we see a gathering of monastics, who can be identified by their shorn hair. Bodhisattvas on the other hand generally wear crowns, as can be seen on the left. The Buddha sits in a pavilion which has stūpas on the top of it.


7. The Bodhisattva of the North

The Bodhisattva of the North speaks a verse in front of the Buddha: Yathāpi parvataḥ śaila udviddho vajra-saṁbhavaḥ sarva-loka-paritrātā Buddho loke tathodgataḥ; Like a rocky mountain that has arisen, made of diamonds, the Buddha appeared in the world, protecting all the worlds.

As mentioned, the Buddha is normally shown in teaching posture (vitaka-mudrā), but in this particular relief he is shown holding Dharma-cakra-mudrā. Why this is different to the others is unknown. Two bhikṣunis sit on the left of the Buddha, amongst others who are looking on.


8. The Bodhisattva of the North-East

The Bodhisattva of the Northeast speaks a verse in front of the Buddha: Yathā-pīhendra-nīlena eka-varṇā diśaḥ kṛtāḥ bodhi-varṇaḥ prajām-evaṁ kurute Buddha-darśanam; Just as through the colour of the emerald all directions appear the same colour, so the vision of the Buddha makes this generation have the colour of Awakening.

Devotees gather round, both lay and monastic, one man is on his knees and hands, another has a grand plate of offerings. The five monastics on the left are all bhikṣunis. The guardian devas sit on clouds above on either side of the building.


9. The Bodhisattva of the South-East

The Bodhisattva of the Southeast speaks a verse in front of the Buddha: Ye ’dhvatraye vinīyante śrāvakāḥ paramarṣiṇā na kramot-kṣepa-nikṣepaṁ Saṁbuddhasya vidanti te; The disciples, (although) trained in the three times (past, present and future), do not understand the rising and falling of the steps of the Perfect Buddha.

The decoration of both the peaked roof building the Buddha sits in and of the trees is particularly fine in the relief, which must have been carved by a master. Under the tree on the left sit five monks, two of whom hold lotuses. Notice the parasols above the trees.


10. The Bodhisattva of the South-West

The Bodhisattva of the Southwest speaks a verse in front of the Buddha: Asaṅga-jñāna-kāyat-vāda-śarīrāḥ svayaṁbhuvaḥ acintya-jñāna-viṣayāḥ śakyaṁ cintyayituṁ na te; The body of teachings that is the collection of unobstructed knowledge is self arisen, the realm of inconceivable knowledge is not to be conceived by them.

Bodhisattvas stand on the right of the relief, some holding lotuses, a symbol of purity. Four male monastics sit on the floor on the left, one of them with a floral offering. The gods also have plates of offerings, and one of them plays a flute.


11. The Bodhisattva of the North-West

The Bodhisattva of the Northwest speaks a verse in front of the Buddha: Amūḍha-smṛtayaḥ śuddhā dharmodgata-suniścitāḥ acintya-mati-mantas-te akṣayā Bodhisāgarāḥ; Those having unconfused mindfulness, who are pure, Dharma-born, resolved, with inconceivable intelligence, are imperishable oceans of Awakening.

We see the usual gathering of Bodhisattvas, gods, monastics and lay gathered around the Buddha. Note that two bhikṣus sit in their own pavilion on the right, while three others stand on the left. On the top right we see two nāgas, and a garuḍa, and below them three brahmins.


12. The Bodhisattva of the Nadir

The Bodhisattva of the nadir speaks a verse in front of the Buddha: Sudurlabho Buddha-śabdaḥ kalpa-koṭī-śatair-api kiṁ punar-darśanaṁ sarva-kāṅkṣā-chedanam-uttamam; The sound ‘Buddha’ is very hard to find, even in a hundred million aeons, why, even more so the supreme vision (of Buddha), which cuts off all desires.

There is a very nice harmony about the relief here, with the usual three layers, gods atop the clouds, Bodhisattvas in the middle and four monastics, one offering incense, on the left, and laymen on the right.


13. The Bodhisattva of the Zenith

The Bodhisattva of the zenith speaks a verse in front of the Buddha: Ananta-guṇa-saṁpannaṁ dṛṣṭvā śākya-rṣabhaṁ munim pariṇāmayatāṁ cittaṁ mahāyāne viśudhyati; After seeing the sage, the leader of the Sakyans, who is endowed with endless virtues, the mind of the one developing the Great Vehicle (Mahāyāna) is purified.

In the last of these scenes we see Bodhisattvas holding lotuses sitting on either side of the Buddha, who sits on a lotus throne. Above the clouds the gods look on at the proceedings below. Three monks sit under a tree on the left holding flowers, and one has a censor.


14. Samantabhadra explains the Buddha’s Samādhi

The Bodhisattva Samantabhadra now explains in ten ways to other Bodhisattvas the Expansive Lion concentration which the Buddha has been exhibiting, and praising the Buddha, spoke this verse:

Sarvă-kṣetra-paramāṇusādṛśā eka-romi jină-kṣetra-sāgarāḥ Bodhisattva-parṣat-parīvṛtas-tatra Buddhă sthitu Buddha-āsane; The atoms of all (Buddha) fields appear, the oceans of Victors’ fields on a single hair, surrounded by the assembly of Bodhisattvas, the Buddha abides there on the Buddha seat.


15. The Buddha and Bodhisattvas on Lotuses

The Buddha is seen seated under the Bodhi tree, and in the midst of twelve Bodhisattvas, all of whom are seated on lotus seats, some on raised stalks, others on the ground.

There are also others figures in the relief: two support the Buddha’s lotus seat; two, at floor level, witness the spectacle worshipfully; and two gods, who are seen on either side of the Bodhi tree, worship those present.


South Wall

16. Mañjuśrī instructs Sudhana and the Monks

This panel shows two scenes: In the centre is the Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī (kalyāṇa-mitra, no. 1), and on the left are monks, led by Śāriputra. Mañjuśrī explains the practices of the Great Vehicle (Mahāyāna) to them and they attain to a samādhi whereby they can see the Buddhas and their assemblies in all ten directions.

On the right Sudhana is seen standing under an parasol. He is the hero of the story and is shown here for the first time. His name, Good Wealth, is indicated by the three money bags under his feet. Mañjuśrī picks him out from the crowds who have come, and sends him out on his journey in search of the spiritual friends (kalyāṇa-mitra) who will guide him on his pilgrimage.

016 Manjusri instructs Sudhana and the Monks

016 Mañjuśrī instructs Sudhana and the Monks


Meetings with Three Monks

17. The Monk Meghaśrī

After receiving instructions from Mañjuśrī (1), Sudhana starts out on his quest to understand the Bodhisattva practices, and meets with the monk (bhikṣu) Meghaśrī (2) on a mountain, who explains to him how he can see an incalculable number of Buddhas. He then sends him on to the next spiritual friend, which is how all these meetings end.

In the relief Meghaśrī himself is sat in an elaborate pavilion, but there is no indication of the mountain. Sudhana is standing on the right under a parasol held by one of his attendants. In the air can be seen the gods, two are bearded and therefore male, two are female. On the ground are devotees holding up lotus flowers as offerings.

017 The Monk Meghasri

017 The Monk Meghaśrī


18. The Monk Sāgaramegha

Reflecting on Meghaśrī’s words, and full of faith, Sudhana approaches the next spiritual friend, the monk (bhikṣu) Sāgaramegha (3), who describes the great lotus that appeared to him, made of precious jewels, atop of which was a Buddha, who taught him the Dharma Instruction of the Universal Guide.

Sāgaramegha himself is also seen sitting on a lotus, displaying the fearless posture (abhaya-mudrā), Sudhana sits with arms crossed listening to the teaching. In the sky we see celestial musicians – notice the tree growing from the clouds between them.

018 The Monk Sagaramegha

018 The Monk Sāgaramegha


19. The Monk Supratiṣṭhita

Sudhana approaches his next friend, the monk Supratiṣṭhita (4) on the southern path to Śrī Laṅkā, who was walking in the sky, surrounded by celestial beings. He describes to Sudhana the liberation he has attained, from which he has gained spiritual power (ṛddhi).

Curiously in the relief Supratiṣṭhita is not shown in the sky, but sitting on a bolster under a tree. Sudhana – unusually on an inner wall – is shown on the left, and is kneeling with his hands in greeting. Celestials are shown above the clouds in the sky holding offerings.

019 The Monk Supratisthita

019 The Monk Supratiṣṭhita


A Miscellany of Friends

20. The Physician Megha

Sudhana next meets with the grammarian Megha (5) in the Dravidian lands (southern India). Understanding that Sudhana is a Bodhisattva, he gets down from his lion seat and worships him, before explaining he understands the speech of all beings.

In the relief Megha is seen teaching under an aśvattha, or Śākyamuni’s Bodhi tree, and Sudhana sits on a lower seat on the right. Behind him his companions are holding offerings. In the sky, as is regularly seen, are devas and kinnaras. Flowers and garlands tumble down.

020 The Physician Megha

020 The Physician Megha


21. The Merchant Muktaka

When Sudhana met with the wealthy merchant Muktaka (6) and asked about the Bodhisattva practices, Muktaka entered into a deep concentration, and his body became purified and manifested the many Buddhas in the Buddha fields, giving Sudhana his first glimpse of the Dharmadhātu.

Muktaka sits in an elaborate pavilion, and is marked by a nimbus. Sudhana is standing on the right, with his companions behind him. On the left we see eight women, who may be Muktaka’s wives. In the sky there are pictured devas, variously holding offerings or worshipping.

021 The Merchant Muktaka

021 The Merchant Muktaka


22. The Monk Sāradhvaja

The monk Sāradhvaja (7) is meditating when Sudhana arrives. Contemplating his body Sudhana has many visions of great people, of various divinities, of Bodhisattvas and Buddhas.

Sāradhvaja is sat on a seat under a splendid tree, which is flowering and fruiting. Two of his disciples, including another monk, are behind him. Sudhana sits under a parasol held by an attendant. Sāradhvaja appears to be teaching, while Sudhana listens intently. Elsewhere are the normal crowd of devotees and gods who bring offerings and offer worship.

022 The Monk Saradhvaja

022 The Monk Sāradhvaja


23. Queen Āśā

Sudhana next meets with Queen Āśā (8), the sight of whom is healing in itself. She is surrounded by an large retinue of devotees who have all benefited from her presence.

In the relief Āśā is seen inside a pavilion, and Sudhana is pictured kneeling before her. Other devotees are also represented under a tree. The gods, including kinnaras, are above the clouds in the sky. Three blocks under the Queen have never been carved.

023 Queen Asa

023 Queen Āśā


24. The Seer Bhīṣmottaranirghoṣa

The seer Bhīṣmottaranirghoṣa (9) lays his hand on Sudhana’s head and takes his right hand enabling him to have a vision of all the Buddhas in the Buddha fields, and to understand their attainments.

Bhīṣmottaranirghoṣa is kneeling under trees, and on a mat, his right hand is held forward as he moves to place it on Sudhana. On the left of the panel we see three women standing, and three men sitting. Devas are seen above the clouds.

024 The Seer Bhismottaranirghosa

024 The Seer Bhīṣmottaranirghoṣa


We should note here that the brahmin Jayoṣmāyatana (10), one of the spiritual friends who is mentioned as coming before Maitrāyaṇī in the Gaṇḍavyūha is omitted in both sequences on Level 2 at Borobudur. There is no adequate explanation for this omission.

25. The Princess Maitrāyaṇī

Princess Maitrāyaṇī (11) is sat teaching inside the palace surrounded by tens of thousands who listen to her. She allows Sudhana to have visions of the Buddhas and their teachings from each and every object he looks at in the palace.

In the relief Maitrāyaṇī is pictured twice, once in meditation posture in the pavilion in the centre, and then again standing on the left and teaching. Both have nimbi or halos around their heads. Her devotees on the left are all women. Sudhana stands on the right, and the gods play music above the clouds.

025 The Princess Maitrayani

025 The Princess Maitrāyaṇī


26. The Monk Sudarśana

Sudhana next meets with the monk Sudarśana (12), who, even at a young age, has developed to such a point, that all the Buddhas’ teachings and purifications are apparent to him.

The text says that Sudarśana was walking in the forest, and that Sudhana saw the many deities surrounding him, but although in the relief we see the forest, Sudarśana is sitting on a simple seat, while the devas are less in abundance here than we have seen elsewhere. Behind Sudarśana we see two other bhikṣus. An elephant with a mahout and two horses can be seen behind Sudhana’s companions.

026 The Monk Sudarsana

026 The Monk Sudarśana


27. The Boy Indriyeśvara

The next friend Sudhana meets is the young boy Indriyeśvara (13) who had been taught writing, mathematics and all the practical arts and sciences by Mañjuśrī himself. He uses his extensive knowledge to lead people to the truth.

Indriyeśvara is marked as young by the crescent behind his head, and he also has a nimbus. Some of Indriyeśvara’s young friends are also pictured with him. Sudhana is shown on the left side of the panel, and above him is a very finely carved coconut tree, and behind him are attendants, some with offerings. On the right are Indriyeśvara’s devotees.

027 The Boy Indriyesvara

027 The Boy Indriyeśvara


28. The Lay Woman Prabhūtā

The lay woman Prabhūtā (14), through her roots of goodness, has a vessel with which she is able to feed as many beings as desire to eat, without the vessel ever emptying, and she is also able to satisfy any other material need they have.

It is curious that in the relief the vessel, which would be so easy to include, has been omitted. Prabhūtā is plainly clothed, though the building she is in is very elaborate. In antechambers on either side of her are two female attendants. Sudhana sits on the right, with his companions behind him.

028 The Lay Woman Prabhuta

028 The Lay Woman Prabhūtā


29. Sudhana departs from Prabhūtā

Prabhūtā directs Sudhana to his next spiritual friend. We first see Sudhana sitting next to Prabhūtā, but on the opposite side to the previous panel. We then see him departing on his onward pilgrimage.

This panel was identified by Fontein as being the meeting with Vidvān, but the sex of the friend is hard to make out, and it makes better sense to see it as a departure panel.

029 Sudhana departs from Prabhuta

029 Sudhana departs from Prabhūtā


30. The Householder Vidvān

As with the lay-devotee Prabhūtā, the householder Vidvān (15) is able to satisfy all the needs of those who come to him. He has only to look up, and food and other necessities stream down from the skies.

This is one of the most beautiful of the panels in the series, with very fine detail still well-preserved. The decorated trees and the fine vase stand out. Vidvān is seated on a high pedestal as stated in the text. Note the three elephants and two lions under his seat, and the birds in the trees and sky.

030 The Householder Vidvan

030 The Householder Vidvān


31. Ratnacūḍa shows Sudhana his Residence

On his next visit Sudhana meets with Ratnacūḍa (16), who shows him his ten-story mansion, which, on the first floors display generosity, and whose upper floors are full of Bodhisattvas and Buddhas teaching the Dharma. Ratnacūḍa stands in the centre of the panel and gestures, with Sudhana and his party behind him.

In the relief only five stories are shown. It is often the case that the high numbers indicated in the text have to be represented on the galleries symbolically, rather than literally. Note that under the building are nine pots holding the wealth of the householder indicating his riches, and on the top left of the building sits a peacock.

031 Ratnacuda shows Sudhana his Residence

031 Ratnacūḍa shows Sudhana his Residence


32. The Appearance of a Buddha

Clearly, what we see in this panel is a Buddha, stood on a lotus, with a halo behind him. The correspondence to the text, however, is not so sure. Fontein believes it to be Ratnacūḍa meeting in a previous life with the Buddha Dharmarāja.

If so the character at the Buddha’s feet would be Ratnacūḍa, with his attendants behind him. In the sky are six devas, some holding offerings, and one ringing a bell. It appears the figure to the left of the Buddha was a monk.

032 The Appearance of a Buddha

032 The Appearance of a Buddha


33. The Perfumer Samantanetra

Next Sudhana visits the perfumer Samantanetra (17) who sits in a pavilion. He is a great teacher, well-versed in Dharma, who can counteract all defilements with his teaching. He is also able to produce the finest incenses, acceptable to all Buddhas.

There is a fine balance in the composition of this relief. The building stretches across the whole relief, and a protective kāla is shown over the centre of it. Two devotees are seen on the left in an antechamber. Sudhana sits respectfully below his friend, inside the same pavilion.

033 The Perfumer Samantanetra

033 The Perfumer Samantanetra


34. Sudhana travels on Foot

Every time Sudhana is directed to a new spiritual friend he has to undertake a journey. In the text in this place it says that he went from country to country, village to village, district to district in search of his next friend.

Sudhana is pictured with many companions on the trip, most of them armed. They are protected by gods who look out from on high to care for him. The procession scenes at Borobudur are always pleasing.

034 Sudhana travels on Foot

034 Sudhana travels on Foot


35. King Anala

When Sudhana visits his next friend, King Anala (18), he is initially unsure about the King’s status, as he is surrounded by torturers punishing criminals in the most cruel way. All that he sees is, however, only an apparition to frighten people into acting righteously, and none of it is real.

Sudhana’s doubt is expressed well in the relief as he looks, not at the King, but at the suffering going on around him. The King eventually explains his purpose and remarks that he would rather go to hell himself than hurt even the tiniest being. Above the beings on the right is a fine coconut tree.

035 King Anala

035 King Anala


36. King Mahāprabhā

We now have two reliefs which are hard to reconcile with the text. In the story as we receive it the next friend Sudhana visited was King Mahāprabhā (19). It is possible that either of the reliefs is meant to represent this visit, but it seems the setting, which in the text, is said to have taken place under trees is not shown.

Perhaps as Fontein maintains the bells which are depicted in the relief and mentioned in the text do, in fact, indicate that this is the visit to King Mahāprabhā. If so, Sudhana sits at the King’s feet. The attendants in this scene would then be, unusually, all women.

036 King Mahaprabha

036 King Mahāprabhā


37. Sudhana visits an Unknown Person

Another scene from the story, in which all people, creatures and even trees bow down towards the King when he enters a certain concentration is also missing. It is uncertain then if this or the previous relief represent this visit, or perhaps other visits known to the sculptors, but missing from our text.

Sudhana is pictured in much the same fashion as the last relief, sitting below his friend. Between them is a tray with garlands on it. To left and right sit attendants, some under the trees.

037 Sudhana visits an Unknown Person

037 Sudhana visits an Unknown Person


38. The Lay Woman Acalā

In this relief we seem to be back into synchronicity with the text, which describes a visit to the lay woman Acalā (20). She is seen seated only slightly higher than Sudhana, although his attitude is one of reverence, as usual.

Acalā’s beauty in the text is described as second only to that of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and she allows Sudhana to see many miracles while she visualises them. In the upper right corner notice the kinnara, who is holding a garland of flowers.

038 The Lay Woman Acala

038 The Lay Woman Acalā


39. The Wanderer Sarvagāmī

The wanderer Sarvagāmī (21) is described in the text as being more radiant than even the Brahmā gods who surround him, and because of his radiance he is found by Sudhana on a mountain top shining forth.

We clearly see that rocks and mountains, and many trees are represented. The wanderer sits on the left and Sudhana, holding his hands in reverence, is on the right. Between them is a vase with flowers rolled round.

039 The Wanderer Sarvagami

039 The Wanderer Sarvagāmī


40. The Perfume Merchant Utpalabhūti

Sudhana meets with the perfumer Utpalabhūti (22) who has mastered the art of aromatics, and knows all the fragrances and their benefits, both on earth and in heaven, and applies his knowledge to help living beings.

The relief is unfortunately rather damaged, but we see that they meet in the merchant’s decorated shop. We might have expected to see pots holding incense around, but that is not so. Sudhana sits with his arms folded, with his companions behind him. A section above Utpalabhūti is missing now.

040 The Perfume Merchant Utpalabhuti

040 The Perfume Merchant Utpalabhūti


41. The Slave and Mariner Vaira

The slave Vaira (23) lives in a coastal city and works as a mariner who takes merchants to places where they can find the riches they desire, and along the way he teaches them the alternative and greater riches of the Dharma.

The panel is divided into two scenes, in the first Sudhana sits only slightly lower than Vaira, whose building is also much more humble than the elaborate buildings we have seen before. On the right we see Vaira taking the vessels out from port and sailing the seas.

041 The Slave and Mariner Vaira

041 The Slave and Mariner Vaira


42. Jayottama travels in a Palanquin

It is hard to account for this panel. Fontein identifies it as Sudhana traveling in a palaquin, but then he omits the visit to the next friend, the Merchant Jayottama (24), who in the text is said to go everywhere to teach Dharma for the welfare of living beings.

The relief shows a large ensemble of people undertaking a journey, with someone being carried in a large palaquin. I tend to think it must be Jayottama, but the fact that Sudhana is not shown meeting with him, puts the panel in doubt. Perhaps it is meant to be Jayottama on his missions.

042 Jayottama travels in a Palanquin

042 Jayottama travels in a Palanquin


43. The Nun Siṁhavijṛmbhitā

Sudhana next meets with the nun (bhikṣuṇī) Siṁhavijṛmbhitā (25) in a park, where she is seen in many bodies sitting under different trees, teaching Dharma to various gods, Bodhisattvas and devotees according to their capacities.

Unfortunately this is one of the most damaged of the reliefs retelling Sudhana’s pilgrimage, and we can hardly make out the nun or Sudhana himself. We might have expected the sculptors to have portrayed Siṁhavijṛmbhitā under more than one tree, but this is not so. Two nuns and another female sit on the left of the panel.

043 The Nun Simhavijrmbhita

043 The Nun Siṁhavijṛmbhitā


44. The Devotee Vasumitrā

It would seem that the panel must represent the meeting with the courtesan Vasumitrā (26), though Fontein thinks the friend is male, it is hard to make out. Vasumitrā in the story uses her arts to lead people from passion to dispassion, via her skilful means (upāya).

Again Sudhana sits only slightly lower than his benefactor. Around we see many people, but, unusally, there are no gods in this scene, although in the text she is stated to teach the gods also.

044 The Devotee Vasumitra

044 The Devotee Vasumitrā


45. Sudhana and Veṣṭhila at a Stūpa

The householder Veṣṭhila (27) knows all the Buddhas of the various world systems, and he can see an untold number of Buddhas through the power of his concentration, both in the past, the future and the present.

We see on the right side of the stūpa Sudhana, and on the other side Veṣṭhila, they are both paying homage to the Buddha relics enshrined there. The stūpa appears to be inside another building, and some of the characters stand outside, their exact relationship being uncertain. The multiple-layered umbrella (chatra) on top of the stūpa is impressive.

045 Sudhana and Vesthila at a Stupa

045 Sudhana and Veṣṭhila at a Stūpa


46. Sudhana travels in a Carriage

This is one of the panels where we see Sudhana on his journey or pilgrimage. Here he is pictured as traveling from one friend to another by horse-drawn carraige. He is surrounded by an entourage.

There seems to be no special reason why we should have this scene here. Note that the Borobudur sculptors seem to have been adept at picturing all sorts of vehicles and processions.

046 Sudhana travels in a Carriage

046 Sudhana travels in a Carriage


47. The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara

Sudhana meets next with one of the best known of the Mahāyāna Bodhisattvas, Avalokiteśvara (28). In the text he is sat on a mountain top teaching other Bodhisattvas. He speaks about his attainment of Great Compassion without Delay.

The relief however, does not picture it as in the text. Here Avalokiteśvara, recognisable by the icon of Amitābhā on his crown, is sat on a raised dias inside a pavilion. There are plenty of people around, but none of them seem to be portrayed as a Bodhisattva. Sudhana kneels on one knee is front of the Bodhisattva. On the left are female devotees, and on the right are the companions.

047 The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

047 The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara


West Wall

48. Mahādeva

In the text Sudhana next visits Ananyagāmī (29), but this is omitted in the reliefs. It is curious that we had a ‘filler’ just two panels ago, and then here we have to omit a visit! In the repetition series this Bodhisattva is included, so it isn’t because of a difference in the text available to the sculptors.

This relief then represents the visit to Mahādeva (30) (the god Śiva), as it clear from the picture of his mount, Nandī, shown under his throne. Mahādeva is pictured as having four arms, as it states in the text. He encourages generosity and counters wrong-doing.

048 Mahadeva

048 Mahādeva


49. The Goddess Sthāvarā

We now come to a series of meetings with goddesses mainly at the scene of the Awakening at Bodhgaya. The first of these goddesses is Sthāvarā (31) who leads thousands of goddesses in an uproar when Sudhana appears at the site.

In the relief we see many trees and the goddess sat under one of them, and five people guard the treasure chest under her seat. Between Sthāvarā and Sudhana is a basket with a lotus protruding from it, it perhaps represents the gifts the goddess gives Sudhana so he can do good works.

049 The Goddess Sthavara

049 The Goddess Sthāvarā


Eight Night Goddesses

Because of the similarity of the characters in the story, it is hard to be certain of the night goddess Sudhana is meeting with, and there are a couple of odd panels in the sequence which are hard to explain. In writing the captions I have therefore simply followed the textual sequence and tried to give an idea of their teaching.

50. A Night Goddess

Sudhana next meets with the night goddess Vāsantī (32), she is in the skies over Kapilavastu, however, where the Buddha’s family lived, and not at Bodhgaya. When he sees her, he also sees all the beings she has helped save from the tribulations of saṁsāra emanating from the pores of her skin.

The relief is curious in that it presents the two persons present as sitting almost on the same level. Because of this Fontein doubted it was a visitation scene at all. But the idea that it is a scene from a previous life as a queen finds little support in the text, and I tend to think it is as we expect it to be: Sudhana visiting Vāsantī.

050 A Night Goddess

050 A Night Goddess


51. A Night Goddess

There now begins a sequence of meetings with night goddesses who are situated around the Bodhi tree. In the text the first goddess Sudhana meets is Samanta-gambhīra-śrī-vimala-prabhā (33), who can see all Buddhas in the three times.

The relief is again well-balanced and attractive, we see Sudhana prostrate himself before the goddess who is seen under a Bodhi tree in a park of trees, including a palm tree. There are pots in front of him, though they are not mentioned in the story.

051 A Night Goddess

051 A Night Goddess


52. A Night Goddess

Sudhana’s next encounter is with the night goddess Pramudita-nayana-jagad-virocanā (34), who can project herself in myriad forms from every pore of the skin, and teaches the good Dharma in various ways.

The meeting seems to take place in a decorated palace, and not under the trees, as expected. Sudhana appears to be holding a gift which he presumably will offer to the goddess. Notice the treasure chest under the goddess’ seat.

052 A Night Goddess

052 A Night Goddess


53. A Night Goddess

The fourth night goddess Sudhana meets around the Bodhi tree is Samanta-sattva-trāṇojaḥśrī (35), who emanates a light from the circle of hair between her brows, which pervades Sudhana’s entire body.

Again we see one of the magnificently sculpted trees in the park. Behind Sudhana one of his entourage holds an parasol over his head. The goddess’ attendants sit and stand on the left of the panel.


053 A Night Goddess

053 A Night Goddess


54. A King pays homage to a Buddha

In the story the eight goddesses are situated next to each other surrounding Vairocana, who sits at the foot of the Bodhi tree. It makes no sense then to identify this as Sudhana on his travels between friends, as Fontein does.

Rather I think this must be an illustration of part of a story told by the goddess Samanta-sattva-trāṇojaḥśrī in which she tells of a past life in which a king is ruling when a Buddha reaches Awakening, and who then goes out with his entourage to pay honour to him. The three horses and the elephant are very well drawn in this relief.

054 A King pays homage to a Buddha

054 A King pays homage to a Buddha


55. A King and Queen

This is an unusual panel, in that we do not see Sudhana paying homage to one of his spiritual friends. Here again I tend to think that, as previously, what we have here is an illustration of part of a story told by the same night goddess in which the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra appears and everybody’s glory is diminished by his radiance.

The two people in the pavilion in front of the Bodhisattva would then be the King and his Queen. Their attendants are behind them.

055 A King and Queen

055 A King and Queen


56. A Night Goddess

The night goddess Sudhana is directed to next is Praśānta-ruta-sāgara-vatī (36), who is described as surrounded by millions of other night goddesses. As with the other friends she spends her time teaching Dharma to others, and helping her disciples generate energy for the min set on Awakening (Bodhicitta).

Sudhana is seen on his knees leaning towards his friend, the goddess meanwhile is in teaching attitude. The eagerness with which Sudhana listens to the teaching seems to be put into visual form here. Unusually, holding up the pilasters of the pavilion appear to be human-type figures.

056 A Night Goddess

056 A Night Goddess


57. A Night Goddess

Sudhana now meets with the night goddess Sarva-nagara-rakṣā-saṁbhava-tejaḥ-śrīḥ (37) who is also in the area of the Bodhi tree. She has realised and teaches the true nature of the Dharmadhātu to all beings.

The scene takes place under various trees, including what appears to a small tree behind the pot between Sudhana and his spiritual friend. On the left of the friend is a much larger pot, guarded by a yakṣa. The composition is pleasing and comparatively well-preserved.

057 A Night Goddess

057 A Night Goddess


58. Sudhana travels on Foot

The panel shows Sudhana in transit surrounded by a large entourage on the ground, one of whom holds an umbrella over him. Gods (devas) are shown in the sky.

In the story at this point, however, Sudhana really only goes from one night goddess to another and they are pictured as near to each other, sat around Vairocana under the Bodhi tree. Note that many in the entourage carry weapons.

058 Sudhana travels on Foot

058 Sudhana travels on Foot


59. A Night Goddess

The next night goddess Sudhana meets, Sarva-vṛkṣa-praphullana-sukha-saṁvāsā (38), like the other goddesses, having served the Buddhas herself, and seeing the benefits of their teaching, spends her time teaching others in whatever way they can receive it.

This is another well-preserved relief. Sudhana holds a particularly worshipful attitude in front of this goddess as they kneel inside a pavilion. On the left are the goddess’ attendants, and outside on the right are Sudhana’s attendants.

059 A Night Goddess

059 A Night Goddess


60. A Night Goddess

The last of the night goddesses Sudhana meets with is called Sarva-jagad-rakṣā-praṇidhāna-vīrya-prabhā (39), ‘one having the light and energy to aspire to the safety of all beings’. She projects her body to all beings (translocation), proclaiming the Dharma.

Sudhana and the goddess are seen together in a palace-like structure, the goddess is kneeling and Sudhana sits at a lower level. On the left and right a low decorated ceiling is seen over devotees. In the sky gods fly above the clouds.

060 A Night Goddess

060 A Night Goddess


61. Nocturnal Scene

A lone figure, evidently not Sudhana but perhaps a Bodhisattva, sits cross-legged in a pavilion. Outside there is a finely drawn elephant, and below him four attendants who are sleeping.

In the sky are two devas, one holding a garland, and the other a tray of offerings. I cannot find any passage corresponding to this scene in the text.

061 Nocturnal Scene

061 Nocturnal Scene


A Miscellany of Spiritual Friends

62. The Lumbinī Goddess

Sudhana is next advised to go to the scene of the Buddha’s birth, Lumbinī, and speak to the goddess Sutejo-maṇḍala-rati-śrī (40) who lives there. She explains how Bodhisattvas get reborn in a good family and become Buddhas.

The goddess sits in a palace, with attendants pictured on the left of the panel, while Sudhana is seen outside and paying respects. In the skies are divine musicians playing a variety of musical instruments.

062 The Lumbini Goddess

062 The Lumbinī Goddess


63. The Young Girl Gopā

Sudhana nexts meets with the young girl Gopā (41) in Kapilavastu, this is Siddhartha’s future wife. She explains to Sudhana the ten things necessary for a Bodhisattva to practice.

Gopā is seen inside her palace, and has attendants on either side of her, while other women are seen on the left. Sudhana is sitting outside and one standing attendant holds the parasol over him, while two other sit. In the skies are the devas, one of whom rings a bell.

063 The Young Girl Gopa

063 The Young Girl Gopā


64. An Unknown Person

What is pictured here is not clear. Fontein suggests it is meeting with the Gatekeeper of the Bodhimaṇḍa, but to my mind nothing in the relief really supports that. The picture shows Sudhana in an antechamber, while the person he is worshipping is inside the main room, on an elevated pedestal.

To the left of this person we see another figure who is also in an antechamber and worshipping, while on the right three people are pictured outside the palace. In the skies overlooking the scene are the gods (devas).

064 An Unknown Person

064 An Unknown Person


65. Queen Māyā

We see Sudhana meeting with one of his most important friends, the Buddha Śākyamuni’s mother, Queen Māyā (42), who explains to him that she has been the Mother of the appearance body (nirmāṇakāya) of all Buddhas in the three times.

Queen Māyā sits on a throne that is more elevated than normal, and has lions at the base. They are together inside the palace, and the Queen’s attendants are behind her. Outside, in an antechamber are some of Sudhana’s entourage. The gods rejoice in the sky.

065 Queen Maya

065 Queen Māyā


66. The Divine Female Surendrābhā

The next friend that Sudhana meets with is Devakanyā Surendrābhā (43), she is not on earth, but in the Heaven of the Thirty-(three). She witnessed, and is able to keep in mind, all the deeds of the Buddhas of all times.

The relief is rather worn down and not as clear as we would like, but still we see Surendrābhā apparently kneeling on the throne, with her ladies-in-waiting behind her. Sudhana sits at a fair distance, with his companions standing and sitting.

066 The Divine Female Surendrabha

066 The Divine Female Surendrābhā


67. The Boy Viśvāmitra

The next meeting described in the Gaṇḍavyūha is the shortest of the meetings Sudhana has. It is with the boy Viśvāmitra (44), who simply tells him he has learned to write, and sends him on to the teacher who taught him.

We see Viśvāmitra seated inside a pavilion by himself, with Sudhana unusually positioned on the left. When doing circumambulation of the monument these reliefs are on our right, and normally Sudhana is pictured on the left of the person he is worshipping, so we see Sudhana first and then the friend.

067 The Boy Visvamitra

067 The Boy Viśvāmitra


68. A Night Goddess visits a Royal Couple

This scene appears to be unconnected to Sudhana’s visits, as he doesn’t appear in it. Rather what seems to be happening is a visit at night of a goddess to a royal couple, probably announcing the Awakening of a Buddha.

The composition is very fine here: on the left, outside the gates, sit a couple of guards who are sleeping, indicating the time. The goddess flies effortlessly through the air to the royal palace, and the royal couple inside are attentive.

068 A Night Goddess visits a Royal Couple

068 A Night Goddess visits a Royal Couple


69. The Householder Ajitasena

It appears that several of Sudhana’s friends (46-48), which are, in any case, described in cursory form in the text, are omitted on the walls now. We are not on sure ground again until the next relief.

We can take it that this is the visit to Ajitasena (49). Sudhana sits outside the magnificent building, while his attendant holds an umbrella over him. Inside the interlocutor has females on either side of him. Above the building are devas.

069 The Householder Ajitasena

069 The Householder Ajitasena


70. The Brahmin Śivarāgra

As we can clearly see that the friend in this relief is a brahmin, we can identify him as Śivarāgra (50). Again the meeting is short, but the brahmin asserts a truth saying that no Bodhisattvas have ever fallen from the path.

Again a pleasing composition is seen. The brahmin sits inside his temple, with a fire altar on the right. Sudhana is outside and worshipful. An umbrella is held over him, and there is a beautiful tree above his companions. Above the temple are devas riding the clouds.

070 The Brahmin Sivaragra

070 The Brahmin Śivarāgra


71. The Girl Śrimatī

The friends Sudhana next visits are a boy and a girl. In the text they are presented together and voicing the same teaching at the same time. It may be here on the reliefs they have been separated. If so, the young girl Śrimatī (51) is presented here.

The friend appears to be teaching and sits on a high dias, which is supported by lions. Inside the same building is Sudhana, while in an enclosed antechamber sit his companions. A number of birds are pictured in the trees outside.

071 The Girl Srimati

071 The Girl Śrimatī


72. The Boy Śrīsambhava

It may be that this is the boy Śrīsambhava (51). The scene, though, with him surrounded by two females inside the building, and Sudhana standing outside, is not described like this in the text.

Sudhana stands, rather than sits, and is worshipping. His companions are seated on the floor behind him. Inside the building the male character makes a gesture, evidently explaining something to his visitor.

072 The Boy Srisambhava

072 The Boy Śrīsambhava


The Second Series

The all-important visit to Maitreya is not pictured at this point, but comes up at the end of the second series of representations with the friends, which are begun now. This time round we are not presented with visits to nearly all of the spiritual friends, unlike the first series, but apparently only to a selection. There appears to be a definite emphasis on the feminine in the scenes chosen for representation this time.

73. A Procession of Divinities

We now have what seems to be a second set of visits to more or less the same spiritual friends. Why it was planned like this is unknown, and why it seems to start, not at the beginning, but with a scene that is evidently from the fourth of his friends is also not clear.

We see in the relief a large collection of male and female devas walking in the clouds, which is only mentioned in the visit to the monk Supratiṣṭhita (4) on the way to Śrī Laṅkā. However, the panel doesn’t show the monk or Sudhana, only the devas on the clouds, and so must be doubtful.

073 A Procession of Divinities

073 A Procession of Divinities


74. The Monk Sāgaramegha

While on his visit to the monk Sāgaramegha (3), the latter describes one of his visions in which a great lotus springs up from the ocean floor with an embodiment of the Buddha sat on it.

No mention in the text is made of Bodhisattvas emerging in a similar fashion, but this is almost certainly the scene being presented. We see here the ocean, signalled by waves and fishes, the giant lotus, and the Buddha sat atop, and two Bodhisattvas sat on similar lotuses on either side.

074 The Monk Sagaramegha

074 The Monk Sāgaramegha


Seemingly the next three friends (5-7), the grammarian Megha, the wealthy merchant Muktaka and the monk Sāradhvaja are omitted this time round.

75. The Buddha extends his Right Hand

This appears to be the first of a series of scenes described by Queen Āśā (8), in which she speaks of the good deeds she did in the past. Here, then, would be the scene where she is paying homage to Buddha Dīpaṅkara.

We see in the panel five women who are pictured sitting, and four who are standing. The Buddha stretches forth his hand in blessing. The whole appears to be set above a lotus pond, which has fish and tortoises pictured in it.

075 The Buddha extends his Right Hand

075 The Buddha extends his Right Hand


76. Women pay Homage to a Buddha

Again we have a scene in which principally women are worshipping a Buddha, who, this time, is stood on a lotus. I think this could be Āśā visiting the Buddha Vimala, the Buddha who preceded Buddha Dīpaṅkara.

The women hold many offerings for the Buddha which is one of the principal ways of accumulating merit. In the skies the gods rain down floral offerings over the Buddha, and eight devas fly above the clouds with offerings.

076 Women pay Homage to a Buddha

076 Women pay Homage to a Buddha


77. Queen Āśā

Here we see Sudhana on his visit to Queen Āśā. Why her descriptions occur before the scene of the visit has baffled people, but I would suggest it stands in the middle of a series of reliefs, all devoted to the Queen.

Sudhana stands with his hands held together in reverence, and his companions sitting behind him. On the left we see four ladies, who are also revering the Queen.

077 Queen Asa

077 Queen Āśā


78. Homage to a Buddha

Stylistically this and panel 76 are so similar that they must be related. Again we see a Buddha standing on a lotus; and again the women in the scene hold flowers on plates as tribute. In the skies the gods pour down floral offerings.

We also see one of the women holding what appears to be an offering of lights or fire. It has been suggested by Fontein that the character on the Buddha’s left might be Sudhana, but I don’t think so as it lacks the usual markers, and is analoguous to the characters standing in the same position in 76.

078 Homage to a Buddha

078 Homage to a Buddha


79. Visit to a Queen

Again we see a visit to a Queen, who sits in meditation, and has a halo behind her head. It may be the same Queen Āśā who is being given extraordinary prominence in this series. Sudhana is seen inside the palace, and the Queen is pictured on a lion throne.

Sudhana’s companions are in the antechamber, and either side of the Queen are her attendants holding flywhisks. An unidentified character sits at the same level as Sudhana on the other side of the throne.

079 Visit to a Queen

079 Visit to a Queen


North Wall

80. Visit to a Queen

We have a rather similar scene to the previous one here, and again it could be Queen Āśā. Until someone comes up with a better identification this seems the most satisfactory solution.

The Queen sits on a high throne, with attendants on either side, and more onlookers are sitting on the floor on the Queen’s right. She raises her hand in the fearless gesture (abhaya-mudrā). It is not clear if Sudhana is amongst the attendants on the right, I rather think not.

080 Visit to a Queen

080 Visit to a Queen


81. A Buddha and Four Monks

It is not really possible to satisfactorily identify this scene with any story in the textual account. To the left of Sudhana sits a sage, who Fontein suggests might be the ṛṣī Bhīṣmottaranirghoṣa (9). However, never is Sudhana pictured as being above his friends, so I do not see how this can be the case here.

The relief presents a Buddha seated on a lotus and in a palace. Outside and to his left are four monks under a tree. On the left sits Sudhana, and behind him one of his companions holds a parasol over him.

081 A Buddha and Four Monks

081 A Buddha and Four Monks


Jayoṣmāyatana (10) is again omitted in this sequence, as he was in the first set of panels.

82. The Princess Maitrāyaṇī

This depicts for the second time Sudhana’s visit to Princess Maitrāyaṇī (11). She is described in the text as having very black eyes, very black hair and golden skin, sat on a magnificent throne, and surrounded by five hundred girls who are listening to her teachings.

The princess is seen seated in her palace, with Sudhana and his companions standing outside, behind her are the young ladies listening to her teachings. Some of the pieces from this scene are missing, but we can still see devas looking on from the sky.

082 The Princess Maitrayani

082 The Princess Maitrāyaṇī


The monk Sudārśana (12) and the boy Indriyeśvara (13) appear to have been omitted.

83. The Lay Woman Prabhūtā

The next relief appears to depict Sudhana’s meeting with the lay woman Prabhūtā (14). Once again we seem to have an emphasis on the female friends Sudhana visits.

Prabhūtā, who has a nimbus behind her head, is seen sitting sideways on a simple seat, facing Sudhana, who sits outside with hands folded in respectful salutation. Prabhūtā is spoken of as being surrounded by thousands of women, who all practice the same way as she does, but only a handful are represented in the relief.

083 The Lay Woman Prabhuta

083 The Lay Woman Prabhūtā


84. A Spiritual Friend

Sudhana next visits five male spiritual friends (15-19) in succession, all of which are in similar circumstances, being well-off and having high status. Exactly which one of these five pictured here is not known.

The interlocutor sits cross legged on a raised dias and again is inside the pavilion while Sudhana and his companions are shown as outside under a beautifully sculpted tree. For some reason Sudhana is adorned with two parasols in this relief. An elephant stands behind his companions.

084 A Spiritual Friend

084 A Spiritual Friend


85. The Lay Woman Acalā

We see for a second time the visit to the lay woman Acalā (20). She is described as being so beautiful that she is only surpassed by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Sudhana praised her on the occasion of his visit with this verse:

Śīlaṁ sadā yadamalaṁ parirakṣitaṁ te kṣāntir-yataḥ suvipulā paribhāvitā ca vīryaṁ ca vajram-iva yad-dṛḍhamāsthitaṁ te tenodgatā jagati bhāsyacalendra-kalpā; Always protecting her virtue on all sides, developing all round forbearance, establishing energy firm as a diamond, she shines forth in the world like the lord of the mountains.

085 The Lay Woman Acala

085 The Lay Woman Acalā


86. An Unknown Friend

In the text the next friend Sudhana visits is the wanderer Sarvagāmī (20). The scene is described as being on a mountain top, and Sarvagāmī is surrounded by 10,000 brahmā gods.

Here, however, the friend seems to be inside a cave, and there are no gods around at all. I am therefore doubtful that this can be the wanderer, who seems to be dressed more as a member of the elite, than as an ascetic.

086 An Unknown Friend

086 An Unknown Friend


87. An Unknown Friend

Here also it is not clear who Sudhana is visiting. Fontein believes it is the perfumer Utpalabhūti, but the next relief would seem to fit that meeting better.

In the scene the friend is sat on a mat on a raised seat and inside a beautiful pavilion. He is decorated with jewels on his head, neck and ankles. The depiction of Sudhana is damaged, but we can see that he sits holding his hands in respectful salutation. Above them parrots fly in the sky.

087 An Unknown Friend

087 An Unknown Friend


88. The Perfumer Utpalabhūti

This appears to be the expert perfumer Utpalabhūti (22), who knows fragrances that cure diseases, both of the body and of the mind; and fragrances that give rise to thoughts similar to those the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas have.

The scene shows Sudhana on his knees in front of his friend with his companions behind him. The friend sits on a simple seat, and below him is a large treasure chest. On the left of the friend are many people with offerings, and in the sky are the devas who fly through the sky.

088 The perfumer Utpalabhuti

088 The Perfumer Utpalabhūti


89. The Merchant Jayottama

I tend to think this is the visit to the merchant Jayottama (24). If this identification is correct then the slave Vaira (23) has been omitted from the sequence.

Evidently it is a rich man, sitting in his own decorated house, and with many attendants around, including four pictured as sitting under his seat. Notice the nine pots above the building, and the treasure chest below it. On the right is Sudhana, worshipful as ever, and his companions; and in the skies are the devas.

089 The merchant Jayottama

089 The Merchant Jayottama


90. The Nun Siṁhavijṛmbhitā

Here we are back on firm ground again, as this can only be the nun Siṁhavijṛmbhitā (25). She is shown with shorn hair, and a sitting cloth over her shoulder, and sitting on a simple raised dias, with a treasure chest underneath. An indication of her name is given in the lions (siṁha) under the pilasters.

Sudhana is in an antechamber, and outside sit his companions under a tree. Siṁhavijṛmbhitā appears to be teaching, and on the left of the panel stands another nun, and three lay women sit on the floor alongside her.

090 The Nun Simhavijrmbhita

090 The Nun Siṁhavijṛmbhitā


91. The Devotee Vasumitrā

We begin now a series of reliefs in which the devotee of the Lord (bhāgavatī) Vasumitrā (26) appears, either in the present or in past lives. Vasumitrā is portrayed in the text as exceedingly beautiful, and uses her charms to bring people to dispassion.

Here we see the initial meeting with Sudhana, who sits outside her home, his hands held in respectful salutation (añjali), under a tree and a parasol. Behind him stand his companions holding offerings. On the left of Vasumitrā are her ladies-in-waiting.

091 The Devotee Vasumitra

091 The Devotee Vasumitrā


92. Vasumitrā brings to Dispassion

Fontein sees this as showing a previous life of Vasumitrā’s as Sumatī, along with her merchant husband. I tend to think myself this is simply an encounter that Vasumitrā has with one of the people she leads to dispassion.

In the relief we see a male and female sitting together within a decorated building. At the foot of the supports notice the lions. On either side people gather sitting around expectantly. Birds are seen flying across the skies to the lovely trees. It may be Sudhana who sits under the parasol on the right, but he lacks the usual nimbus.

092 Vasumitra brings to Dispassion

092 Vasumitrā brings to Dispassion


93. Mañjuśrī walks through the Streets

Now we are certainly seeing a scene from Vasumitrā’s past life. Here we can see Mañjuśrī, an earlier incarnation of whom is described as being in the Buddha’s entourage. People gather around him with offerings, and in worshipful posture.

Mañjuśrī is evidently distributing gifts with the help of his attendants. On the ledge above the garlanded pavilion sit a whole string of birds.

093 Manjusri walks through the Streets

093 Mañjuśrī walks through the Streets


94. Sumatī and her Husband

Here we have a picture of Vasumitrā’s earlier incarnation Sumatī and her husband meeting with the Buddha Atyuccagāmī and making offerings to him. The Buddha stands on a lotus and above him two gods hold the pavilion up. To the left are two of his monastic followers.

Flowers rain down from the skies, while Sumatī’s husband kneels on one knee and respectfully greets the Buddha. Behind him people hold offerings, one of the main ways of making merit and becoming worthy to be a Bodhisattva later. The gods in the sky also offer flowers.

094 Sumati and her Husband

094 Sumatī and her Husband


95. Vasumitrā bids Farewell

At the end of the meetings inevitably the current spiritual friend confesses that they know only so much, and for Sudhana to make further progress he must go to the next friend and seek their advice.

Here we seem to see Vasumitrā still in conversation with Sudhana, and she is probably now advising him to meet with his next friend. This is one of the plainer of the panels in the series, and the lower row of stones has not been carved.

095 Vasumitra bids Farewell

095 Vasumitrā bids Farewell


96. The Householder Veṣṭhila

We seem to see the householder Veṣṭhila (27) making offerings at the Shrine of the Buddha Candanapīṭha. As the next relief is a traveling scene, Fontein suggests this maybe depicts the recommendation of that friend made by Vasumitrā.

If that were the case it might explain why we see Sudhana stands on the opposite side and is looking on while Veṣṭhila makes the offerings. The stūpa itself is very elaborately decorated, and is supported by lions.

096 The Householder Vesthila

096 The Householder Veṣṭhila


97. Sudhana travels to see Veṣṭhila

What we see here is Sudhana in a traveling scene, and as it is followed by a relief showing Veṣṭhila, it must be the journey he takes to see that friend.

The relief is nicely arranged, with a very finely drawn elephant, and a mahout atop leading the way. The elephant has bells on his neck and saddle. Sudhana is portrayed as under a parasol, and around are his companions, both male and female. In the skies the gods look on.

097 Sudhana travels to see Vesthila

097 Sudhana travels to see Veṣṭhila


98. Veṣṭhila at a Buddha Stūpa

Here we see someone worshipping. It is probably Veṣṭhila at the Shrine of the Buddha Candanapīṭha. If so it is repeating the scene we saw in 96.

The parasol (chatra) over the stūpa has thirteen sections and is particularly emphasised in this depiction, and the stūpa appears to be housed. Around the base are depicted tortoises. In the skies the gods float on the clouds while watching what is happening on earth.

098 Vesthila at a Buddha Stupa

098 Veṣṭhila at a Buddha Stūpa


99. Veṣṭhila enters Samādhi

This appears to be again Veṣṭhila, this time set apart by the pavilion, after entering a deep level of meditation in which he can see the lineage of the Buddhas of the past, present and future, and their attainments.

Sudhana is again present at the scene and we are to understand that he partakes of the visions he attends simply by his presence as they are presented. The face of Sudhana in this relief is particularly sublime.

099 Vesthila enters Samadhi

099 Veṣṭhila enters Samādhi


100. The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara

This is the first of three reliefs dedicated to Sudhana’s visit to the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (28). In the first two the friend appears with four arms, one holding a lotus, another a rosary, and two with the palm facing out on the knees giving blessings (vara-mudrā).

In all three reliefs he is also shown as sitting on a lion seat, and here deer are pictured on either side of Avalokiteśvara, maybe emphasising his teaching aspect. Sudhana approaches from the right, with his companions behind him.

10 The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

10 The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara


101. The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara

Avalokiteśvara is pictured in the text as being sat cross-legged on a seat made of various jewels in a clearing inside a great forest, and expounding a Dharma exposition known as the Arising of the Entrance to Great Loving-Kindness and Great Compassion.

He is also said to have been surrounded by Bodhisattvas who are listening and learning from his teaching, as it appears to show here, with the Bodhisattvas pictured on many levels and attentive to the teacher.

101 The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

101 The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara


102. The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara

Sudhana then explains his purpose and that he is seeking guidance on the path of the Awakening ones, and Avalokiteśvara gives him a special teaching on Entering Great Compassion without Delay, in which he relates how he appears to all beings in a form they can accept and then leads them further along the path.

Avalokiteśvara is seated on a lion throne again, but this time has six arms. Sudhana looks back at his companions, presumably to see if they have comprehended the teaching being given. On the far left stand a group of Bodhisattvas, and in the sky are devas, all of whom are also benefitting from the teaching.

102 The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

102 The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara


103. The Bodhisattva Ananyagāmī

In this scene Sudhana meets with the Bodhisattva Ananyagāmī (29), who is pictured in teaching posture (vitarka-mudrā) seated under a magnificent spreading tree, with various devas on either side.

Sudhana looks on with hands folded in añjali, and, unusually, looks out at the spectator, rather than at the spiritual friend he is meeting with. The meeting with this Bodhisattva was omitted in the first sequence.

103 The Bodhisattva Ananyagami

103 The Bodhisattva Ananyagāmī


104. Sudhana visits Mahādeva

Sudhana is here meeting with Mahādeva (Śiva) (30), who looks remarkably similar to Avalokiteśvara pictured on the three earlier reliefs. He is four-armed and holds a rosary in one hand, a lotus in another, while this time two of the hands are folded on his lap as he sits in meditation. He has a snake as a sacred string running across his chest.

Notice his vehicle, Nandi the bull, under the throne, and the trident, a well-known attribute, on his right side. In the sky are many gods, and devotees gather round.

104 Sudhana visits Mahadeva

104 Sudhana visits Mahādeva



We now have a series of reliefs in which Sudhana meets with ten goddesses (31-40). Unfortunately it is hard to correlate them with the text, as there are not enough reliefs alloted for them all and there are no good visual hints as to who we are looking at. I therefore describe here only the scenes pictured on the reliefs, having said something about their teaching in the first set of reliefs.

105. A Night Goddess

The scene appears to be a palace, which is being decorated by the gods. In the sky celestials, including musicians (gandharvas) and kinnaras, look on. Two waiting ladies stand and sit on the far left.

The night goddess sits in a pavilion to the side of the palace and faces Sudhana as he sees the vision she is describing, his hands folded in reverence. Sudhana and his companions outside sit under trees.

105 A Night Goddess

105 A Night Goddess


106. A Night Goddess

Some panels, maybe because of their balance and clarity, are very striking, and this is one of them. The night goddess sits with folded legs on a seat inside a pavilion. Behind her are ladies in waiting. She looks out at Sudhana who is seen standing under a tree outside, along with his companions.

There are two devas in the trees on either side of the building. The building itself is decorated with two tridents on top of the pilasters and one on the top.

106 A Night Goddess

106 A Night Goddess


107. A Night Goddess

Mainly the buildings we see are enough to separate the spiritual friend and highlight his or her presence as the centre of the relief. Sometimes Sudhana is seen to be inside the same room, or in an antechamber.

Here, though, we have a very different building, with five descending arches encasing the night goddess at the centre. Behind her are female attendants, and in the skies we see the usual ranks of devas witnessing the proceedings. Also the usual configuration is reversed, with Sudhana on the left, and the friend’s female attendants on the right.

107 A Night Goddess

107 A Night Goddess


108. A Night Goddess

We see the night goddess sitting holding a lotus in a seperate building, while behind her stand attendant ladies under a tree.

Sudhana and his companions are on the right, and stand under a tree. In the clouds above and either side of the pavilion are two devas. There is a naïvity about the scene which is endearing.

108 A Night Goddess

108 A Night Goddess


109. A Night Goddess

This time Sudhana is seen sitting under a tree, with his companions behind him. In the pavilion sits the night goddess, and behind her a group of ladies sit on the floor. On the clouds are the usual array of devas who fly above the scene enacted below.

The panel is quite worn and appears – like many of the panels – unfinished in parts, such as the blocks under the pavilion the main character sits in.

109 A Night Goddess

109 A Night Goddess


110. A Night Goddess

Again the goddess is set apart by being placed in a pavilion, though in the text no buildings are ever mentioned, and they are pictured as sitting next to each other and surrounding Vairocana, who is sitting under the Bodhi tree.

In this scene Sudhana seems to have a ball or something in his hand, and is gesturing to the goddess, who sits with her legs folded behind her.

110 A Night Goddess

110 A Night Goddess

111. An Unknown Friend

This is possibly simply another night goddess, but it may also be the visit to the young girl Gopā (40), who was Siddhartha’s wife. If it is not, then it seems she has been skipped in this repeat sequence, which seems unlikely given the importance of her position.

The scene is similar to ones that have gone before, with the female interlocutor set apart in a pavilion, and Sudhana and his entourage under the trees. And other female devotees also under the trees, and two gods pictured protecting the building.


111 An Unknown Friend

111 An Unknown Friend


East Wall (North to Center)

112. Sudhana visits Queen Māyā

Fontein identifies this as the meeting with Queen Māyā (42), mainly because that meeting has to precede the next scene which we are quite sure about. If so, then Queen Māyā is seen in a simple pavilion, not a palace, as might be expected, and the scene appears to be again in a park of trees.

Sudhana respectfully listens to his friend, while the gods look on from the skies. On the left a sturdy building is seen, but its connection to the scene is unknown.

112 Sudhana visits Queen Maya

112 Sudhana visits Queen Māyā


113. The Buddha Vimaladhvaja

Here we seem to be on safe ground again, as in only one of the stories is it told of a Buddha who was assaulted by a Māra and his host of demons, and that was related by Queen Māyā, who told of a Buddha in past ages called Vimaladhvaja. He was saved by the good King at the time who sent his forces to fight off Māra, as we see in the panel.

The scene on the relief is, of course, very dramatic and striking as we see the fighting between the two sides, with the King’s men near to the Buddha and Māra’s army being defeated. At the bottom right of the relief we see Māyā in her previous birth as Netraśrī. The Buddha sits on a lion throne (siṁhāsana).

113 The Buddha Vimaladhvaja

113 The Buddha Vimaladhvaja


114. Sudhana approaches a Temple

There is no really satisfactory identification for this scene from the text. What we see is Sudhana and his companions on the right under trees, and they are standing near to a closed palace, which is protected by two devas.

On the left of the panel stand more people, also crowned, as is Sudhana. The scene is very similar to other scenes that take place around the Bodhi tree, but here we do not see the expected spiritual friend.

114 Sudhana approaches a Temple

114 Sudhana approaches a Temple


115. An Unknown Friend

Although this can easily be identified as a visit to a spiritual friend, it is hard to correlate it with the text as the figure is male, and the next male in the sequence should really be much later in the series.

The scene is set outside under the trees and skies. Above the clouds the gods fly through the air and look on. The friend is sat on a cloth on a raised dias under a magnificent tree, and Sudhana sits on the floor, as do his companions.

115 An Unknown Friend

115 An Unknown Friend


116. An Unknown Friend

Fontein suggests this may be the departure from Queen Māyā, but if that were so we would expect to be able to identify the two preceding scenes from her narrative, and we are not able to do that.

All we can say for sure is that this is another visit to a female spiritual friend, who is sat in a pavilion, while Sudhana and his companions are outside under the trees. The usual array of gods fill the skies. The panel is unfinished.

116 An Unknown Friend

116 An Unknown Friend


117. Two Women

This relief is even more baffling as Sudhana here visits seemingly not just one, but two female friends, who are sitting in a palace. As no such scene is ever described we do not really know what this is supposed to illustrate.

Sudhana stands with two companions under a tree, while another kneels and holds a parasol in front of him. The palace is protected by two gods, as we often see, and under the tree on the left more people look on.

117 Two Women

117 Two Women


118. The Boy Viśvamitra

It appears we can correlate the reliefs again with the text from here to the end of the gallery. This then would be the visit to the boy Viśvamitra (44) who gives no teaching, but simply passes Sudhana on to his teacher, who is the next friend he meets.

Viśvamitra sits in a decorated palace, while the others in the scene are outdoors under the trees. Sudhana sits with his hands folded in respectful salutation (añjali), and has his companions behind him.

118 The Boy Visvamitra

118 The Boy Viśvamitra


119. The Boy Śilpābhijñā

This is the visit to Śilpābhijñā (45) who was Viśvamitra’s teacher. He has the ability to pronounce syllables and through their association with Bodhisattvas to enter the door into various perfections of wisdom (prajñā-pāramitā).

Śilpābhijñā is sat on a raised seat, and his attendants sit on either side of him. Sudhana is seen standing, along with his companions under a tree outside. Notice the pavilion this time is decorated with small human figures. In the skies sit the gods. A few blocks under the main character are left uncarved.

119 The Boy Silpabhijna

119 The Boy Śilpābhijñā


120. The Lay Woman Bhadrottamā

The next spiritual friend Sudhana meets with is the laywoman Bhadrottamā (46) who explains that she knows and teaches an exposition of the Dharma called the sphere of non-clinging.

Bhadrottamā sits on a raised dias and explains the teaching to Sudhana who is in an antechamber. His companions on the pilgrimage sit outside under a tree. In and around an antechamber on the left side sit many people listening to the exposition. Birds sit atop the building.

120 The Lay Woman Bhadrottama

120 The Lay Woman Bhadrottamā


121. The Goldsmith Muktāsāra

The next of these short visits is to the goldsmith Muktāsāra (47). He knows the Bodhisattva liberation called the Array of Unattached Mindfulness, and he seeks the Dharma at the feet of all Buddhas.

Muktāsāra sits on raised seat, and the back on the chair has two human figures supporting it. The top of the bulding has a stūpa-shaped structure. Sudhana approaches on the right and stands in an antechamber with his companions. Muktāsāra, unusually, looks directly out at the viewer, rather than inwards at the actors in the relief.

121 The Goldsmith Muktasara

121 The Goldsmith Muktāsāra


122. The Householder Sucandra

The meeting with the householder Sucandra (48) is again very brief. He has attained a liberation known as the Splendour of Pure Knowledge. It is not explained in the text what this knowledge consists of though.

Sucandra sits casually inside the building while Sudhana looks on attentively. His companions sit behind him under trees, above which are the usual array of devas, most of whom are holding musical instruments.

The Householder Sucandra

122 The Householder Sucandra


123. The Householder Ajitasena

Sudhana visits the householder Ajitasena (49) who explains the particular Bodhisattva liberation (vimokṣa) he has attained which is called the Characteristic of the Indestructible, and which gives him a treasury of visions of the Buddhas.

The relief shows Ajitasena sitting in his decorated home, with two female attendants in antechambers. Sudhana and his companions are all outside, but listen to him respectfully and attentively. Above the companions on the right sit two kinnaras.

123 The Householder Ajitasena

123 The Householder Ajitasena


124. The Brahmin Śivarāgra

The next visit is to the brahmin Śivarāgra (50) who lives determined solely on the truth. By his asservation of the truth that no Bodhisattvas ever fell away, or ever will fall away, he is able to fulfil all his works.

Śivarāgra sits with his legs drawn up on a stool, and another brahmin sits behind him. Sudhana and his entourage are under the skies and clouds, above which the kinnaras look on heedfully.

124 The Brahmin Sivaragra

124 The Brahmin Śivarāgra


125. The Boy Śrīsaṁbhava and the girl Śrīmati

In the first series of reliefs Sudhana is shown visiting the boy Śrīsaṁbhava and the girl Śrīmati (51) separately, which is odd, as in the text they speak together to Sudhana. In this second set of reliefs we see they are both present at the meeting.

The boy and the girl sit highlighted in pavilions, while Sudhana is looking back at his companions. In the sky the devas hold many gifts. This is the last of the minor meetings with spiritual friends, and next Sudhana will meet with Maitreya, who will reveal the absolute reality of the Dharmadhātu to him.

125 The Boy Srisambhava and the girl Srimati

125 The Boy Śrīsaṁbhava and the girl Śrīmati


126. Maitreya’s Palace

The last three reliefs on this level show the meeting with Maitreya, just before he opens the door to the Tower and lets Sudhana in. This is where he will come to understand the true nature of the cosmos.

In the first scene Sudhana is shown on his knees before Maitreya’s tower, although Maitreya himself is not shown in this relief. Women sit under a tree on the right of the relief, and devas look on from above.

126 Maitreyas Palace

126 Maitreyas Palace


127. Circumabulating the Tower

Sudhana is said to have circumambulated the tower hundreds of thousands of times before he ever was allowed entry, and once again we witness Sudhana’s respect and devotion which carries him eventually to the highest levels.

In the relief Sudhana and his companions are doing circumambulation (pradakṣiṇa) around the tower, just as people today do circumambulation around Borobudur itself. The tower is still closed at this point.

127 Circumabulating the Tower

127 Circumabulating the Tower


128. The Bodhisattva Maitreya

In the last of the reliefs on this level we see Maitreya (52) sitting atop a lion throne inside the tower while beings of all sorts gather round him. The heavenly musicians (gandharva) are in abundance. On the bottom right sit yakṣas and a garuḍa. Nāgas are pictured on the middle left.

Sudhana is perhaps indicated by the small person holding his hands in añjali. Once inside the tower himself Sudhana will understand things very differently from how he understands them up to now, as the great cosmic truths are revealed to him by Maitreya.

128 The Bodhisattva Maitreya

128 The Bodhisattva Maitreya


Text and Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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