Gaṇḍavyūha Reliefs on Level 3 at Borobudur
Maitreya reveals the Dharmadhātu
high-definition creative commons photographs from Borobudur, Java, illustrating the Gandavyuha Sutra, which tells about the Bodhisattva Sudhana and his search for Awakening by questioning 53 Masters, 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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Level 3, Inner Wall
Maitreya reveals the Dharmadhātu
East Wall (Center to South)
1. Sudhana respectfully salutes Maitreya
In the first relief on the inner wall of Level 3 we see Sudhana raising his hands in respectful salutation to Maitreya, who will be his most important spiritual friend. His meeting with Maitreya is depicted on three walls, and 260 reliefs at Borobudur.
It is a simple relief, with Sudhana standing, holding his hands in añjali, and around him are some of his companions. Maitreya sits inside a pavilion, and has his hand raised in blessing, or it may be he is praising Sudhana.
2. Maitreya praises Sudhana
At this point in the text Sudhana speaks fifty-five verses in praise of Maitreya and the Great Tower containing the Chamber of the Adornments of Vairocana, and Maitreya repsonds with a hundred and twenty-two verses in praise of Sudhana and his dedication to Awakening.
Maitreya is sitting with his hands holding the teaching posture, and Sudhana is listening respectfully, with a lotus held between his hands. Behind his companions stands an elephant who will reappear in many of the scenes.
3. Sudhana requests entry to the Tower
Sudhana requests Maitreya to let him enter the Tower, which is where he will finally be able to find his answers to his questions about the right path for a Bodhisattva, and will also discover the nature of reality.
Maitreya sits in the pavilion with his hands held in blessing while Sudhana respectfully makes his request. The elephant is again seen in this relief, though it is not clear what it signifies. On the far left of the relief the Tower is pictured.
4. Maitreya opens the Tower
Maitreya now decides to grant Sudhana his wish, approaches the tower and with a snap of his fingers the doors open.
The expression on Maitreya’s face in this panel is sublime. Behind him Sudhana sits with his legs crossed, and his companions line up behind him. Again we see the elephant amongst the companions.
5. Maitreya invites into the Tower
In this panel we again see Maitreya sitting in a decorated pavilion, from where he is inviting Sudhana, who stands next to him, into the Tower, which is pictured on the far left.
Sudhana appears to be approaching the building, and turning back to look at Maitreya one last time.
6. Sudhana climbs the Tower Stairs
In this rather cramped panel Sudhana accepts Maitreya’s invitation, walks up to the Tower and begins his entrance into the building.
This whole sequence of panels from 1-6 is illustrating just one sentence in the text, with each action illustrated: respect, request, approach, finger-snapping, invitation and entrance.
7. Sudhana pays Respect to the Tower
We now have a series of reliefs (7-19) that are hard to account for and seem to be out of sequence. As they contain characters that only reappear much later in the story they may be a prefiguration of things to come, though why they are placed here is unclear.
In the previous panel we saw Sudhana entering the Tower, but here he is outside again, and paying his respects to the Tower, as he did at the end of the inner wall on level 2.
8. Maitreya instructs Sudhana
Maitreya, recognisable by the stūpa in his crown, is once again sat in a pavilion, and is holding the Dharma-cakra-mudrā, which is a sign of teaching.
Sudhana is seen on his knees and slightly bending in towards the teacher, holding his hands in reverential salutation, with his companions behind him. On the upper left of the panel we also see the gods looking on.
9. Maitreya teaches Sudhana
Again we see Maitreya in a decorated pavilion. The relief is rather worn, but he appears to be teaching. Sudhana is sitting outside and listening, as are his companions.
We see the elephant behind the companions, which may be signifying they are about to go on a journey, although in other reliefs it is hard to give it this meaning.
10. Sudhana travels in a Palanquin
The sculptors at Borobudur were very good at illustrating procession scenes, and there is always a lot of dynamic in them.
Here we see Sudhana being carried on a palanquin, and looking back as he processes forward. Behind is an elephant once more, and in front people go before.
11. Sudhana meets again with Mañjuśrī
In this panel it is Mañjuśrī who is sat in the pavilion, although his normal attributes are not illustrated. Someone leans in towards him as though listening to his teaching.
Behind it seems someone is picking nuts from the coconut tree, and on the far left is a very elaborate building. Because we do not know what text is illustrated we cannot completely understand the scene.
12. Sudhana meets again with Mañjuśrī
Again this is Mañjuśrī in the pavilion, but this time he has the crescent behind his head which helps identify him. The seat is a siṁhāsana, a lion throne. There are devotees sat on either side on him.
Sudhana is seen holding the lotus flower as an offering for his teacher, and in the sky we see the devas who have gathered round to witness the events taking place below.
13. Sudhana pays Homage to a Building
In the centre of this relief is seen a very elaborate building, or palace. I am unsure what the building is, Fontein thinks is a Bodhimaṇḍa, or site of Awakening.
On the right of the relief sits Samantabhadra in a pavilion, with his devotees about. Sudhana is seen worshipping the building respectfully on the left.
14. Sudhana pay Homage to a Buddha
In the centre of the relief is a Buddha sitting inside a pavilion in meditation posture. It is Sudhana on the right, with his hands folded in respectful salutation, and his companions behind him, and it seems we might have Samantabhadra on the left with his companions. We see kinnaras and a peacock above the tree on the right.
15. A Brahmin visits a Royal Couple
A royal couple sit in a palace in the centre of the relief: notice the pots beneath them indicating their wealth. On the right sits a brahmin with a few others. Under the tree on the left are womenfolk holding gifts. We do not know what story this relief is associated with.
16. Sudhana respectfully salutes Samantabhadra
This is the first of three panels dedicated to meetings with Samantabhadra, who here sits in princely fashion with a belt supporting his knee inside the pavilion on the right of the panel. Sudhana, with bowed head, holds his hands in respectful salutation on the left.
One of his companions holds a parasol above him. There is also a giant leaf behind one of the companions, with may also have been used as a parasol.
17. Sudhana comes to Samantabhadra
Samantabhadra is again sitting in princely fashion inside a pavilion, somewhat right of centre in the panel.
Sudhana is left of the parasol and appears to be moving forward. Around are some of his companions.
18. Sudhana meets Samantabhadra
Both Sudhana and Samantabhadra are seen inside pavilions in this relief, with the latter’s being raised higher. Samantabhadra is sitting on an inverted lotus, as we often see with Buddhas and Bodhisattvas at Borobudur.
To left and right are various other folk, many carrying offerings, and above left we see the devas who are watching from above the clouds.
19. A Visit to a Bodhisattva
In all probability this is again Samantabhadra sitting in the pavilion, though he lacks his normal attributes.
Sudhana is also sitting in a pavilion, and has his arms folded. Many devotees are behind him, some of whom are bringing gifts. Devas abound in the sky.
We seem to be back on firm ground again here as the next sequence (20-39) illustrate a group of compounds from the text, describing the inside of the Great Tower containing the Chamber of the Adornments of Vairocana.
In each of the following 20 panels a different tower is shown, this is because they are replicted by the thousands throughout the universe, and each panel is showing one of these towers and one of the decorations.
Gifford has suggested that these panels form an aid to meditation in that they can be used to build up a picture of the Tower in much the same way that a dieity’s maṇḍala can be constructed during meditation.
20. Parasols, Flags and Banners in the Tower
Parts of the relief are unclear, Sudhana appears in all of them looking on at the Tower. In this one he is sitting to the right of the Tower with the parasol above him, and his companions – and the elephant – behind him.
21. Tinkling Bells in the Tower
Here Sudhana is seen standing, while his companions, including a brahmin are sitting behind him. Bells are seen hanging from the Tower. Notice the slats that hang from them causing the bells to tinkle in the wind like wind-chimes.
22. A Soundless Bell in the Tower
In this rather cramped relief we see Sudhana kneeling under what is evidently a Bodhi tree (ficus religiosa). The Tower contains one large bell and a couple of small ones.
23. Divine Garlands
Sudhana is seen centre frame with a brahmin in front of him, and companions around. Above him are elaborate garlands, but oddly no Tower is illustrated in this relief.
24. Flowers Raining Down in the Tower
Sudhana is standing on the right of the relief, before a very large and magnificent Tower. The companions are spread around him and there are devas looking on from the skies. There are garlands and flowers all round.
25. Incense Bowls in the Tower
Sudhana is kneeling on the right under the parasol, with some companions behind him, including one holding a giant leaf. More companions are on the left, which also includes the elephant. The devas carry incense burners in the sky.
26. Arches and Turrets in the Tower
Sudhana is seen standing, while his companions are sitting behind him, and on the left of the panel. In the skies the gods look on.
27. Circular Mirrors in the Tower
Sudhana is sat to the right of the Tower looking back at his companions, circular mirrors are seen hanging in many places, and, as is usual in this sequence, the devas look on from above.
28. A Bejewelled Altar in the Tower
A smaller end panel shows Sudhana standing under a parasol, with his companions at his feet. In the centre is a bejewelled altar.
29. Cloud-like Vestments
Again the sculptors did not include the Tower, but the cloths are falling down from the clouds are in abundance. Sudhana sits on a raised seat and seems to be in conversation with the brahmin at his feet.
30. Bejewelled Trees in the Tower
A large bejewelled tree is seen in the middle of the relief, with strings of pearls and other jewels hanging from it. Sudhana is sat on the right, and a number of his companions hold their hands in añjali.
31. Cloths in the Tower
In the sky and around the Tower we see a large collection of cloths again. Fontein identifies these as banners. Sudhana is to the right of the Tower, while his companions are on all sides.
32. Lion Standards in the Tower
Sudhana sits on the right of the relief and looks back at his companions, one of whom holds the parasol over him.
33. Banana Trees in the Tower
Banana trees seem to be planted around and inside the Tower, and a bunch of bananas hang down on the left of the panel. Sudhana is standing, as are many of his companions.
34. Mind-produced Bodhisattvas in the Tower
The Bodhisattvas sitting inside the Tower here are probably meant to illustrate the mind-made Bodhisattvas of the text. Sudhana, whose head is now missing, sits on a lower seat with the parasol over him.
35. Singing Birds in the Tower
The whole of the top of the relief is filled with flocks of birds, sitting on the clouds, like devas. Sudhana is stood to the right of the building, as are many of his companions.
36. Lotuses in the Tower
Sudhana is sat on the right of the pavilion, and is holding lotuses for offering. All around we see other lotuses offered by other devotees, hanging from the trees, in the skies, etc. In the centre is what appears to be an altar.
37. Pearl Necklaces in the Tower
As in the previous relief we see pearls, both large and small, being offered and hanging from the trees, etc. Sudhana stands on the right, and at his feet a devotee holds a parasol over him.
38. Lotus Ponds in the Tower
A very elaborate building decorated with lotus ponds stands in the middle of the relief. Sudhana sits on the right, with his companions behind him. Gods are seen in the sky.
39. Gems and Jewels in the Tower
A large array of gems and jewels are seen hanging on a building which covers much of the relief. Sudhana is sat on the lower right in an antechamber.
We now have a long series of panels (40-75) in which Sudhana’s visions of Maitreya, his history and works are illustrated. Unfortunately it is not always possible to identify what we are looking at on each panel, but there are sufficiently clear identifications to be sure of the general outline.
Sudhana is first given a vision of hundreds of thousands of other Towers, within the one he has entered. We should remember that after Sudhana entered the Tower the doors closed after him and Maitreya was left outside. It is Sudhana’s visions that are now being illustrated.
40. Maitreya Aspiration in the Tower
This first relief we can probably take as Maitreya making his initial aspiration to become a Buddha. Maitreya is sat on a raised throne, and Sudhana sits listening intently.
41. Maitreya radiates Loving-Kindness
Maitreya sits in meditation within a large pavilion, and is evidently in absorption. Sudhana is seen sitting under the parasol on the right, with his companions behind him.
42. Maitreya Teaching
Despite a lack of the normal attributes seen in this relief I believe it must be Maitreya teaching in the pavilion, and Sudhana looking on with his hands held in reverence on the right.
Note the devotee on the left of the pavilion with a large fan, and the devas on either side of the pavilion.
43. Maitreya Meditating
Again Maitreya is seen sitting in meditation posture (dhyāna-mudrā). Sudhana sits cross legged on the right, holding a lotus, with his companions behind him.
On both left and right are seen very finely drawn stylised trees, with garlands hanging from them, and above them are devas on either side of the pavilion holding plates of offerings. Kinnaras sit in the tree on the left.
44. Maitreya distributing Gifts
In this narrow panel we see Maitreya distributing gifts to people who have lined up with their hands extended in supplication. Behind him are his helpers who carry the gifts he will hand out.
Sudhana is standing on the right, as he watches the scene unfold. As mentioned, this is part of the visions that Sudhana is having inside the Tower.
45. Maitreya pays Homage to a Buddha
In this scene we see Sudhana looking on from the far right as Maitreya pays homage to the Buddha, who is holding his hands in a blessing gesture (vara-mudrā). Maitreya is accompanied by other Bodhisattvas in this act of worship.
46. Maitreya in Meditation
Maitreya is again pictured sitting in meditation (dhyāna), in a classical posture. Sudhana sits on the right of the pavilion, holding a lotus, and with a parasol over him.
Many others, both on the right and on the left, are gathered around witnessing the scene, including the devas in the sky.
47. Maitreya carries out Austerities
Standing on one leg only in the middle of the panel is Maitreya who is carrying out austere practices such as are still seen amongst yogis in India to this day. Below him two fires are depicted, perhaps a further austerity.
Sudhana kneels before him on the right, and other companions and devotees gather round, some holding flowers as offerings.
48. Maitreya in Meditation
This is another relief showing Maitreya meditating, there was presumably some reason for showing the same scene time and again, but we have lost to key to explain it.
Sudhana holds a flower he is offering to the Bodhisattva, and others also have floral offerings, including the gods in the sky.
49. Maitreya Teaching
Maitreya sits in teaching posture (vitarka-mudrā) and is evidently expounding the Dharma, while the others listen.
Interestingly one character behind Sudhana is holding a book, and another charater on the left has leaves of a palm-leaf book in his hand, emphasising the teaching theme of this relief.
50. Maitreya with a Procession
Sudhana is sat on the floor on the right and is looking on as Maitreya walks along with a religious procession.
People are holding banners and playing musical instruments, and the whole procession is being led by an elephant.
51. Maitreya worships a Buddha
Maitreya is depicted as respectfully worshipping a Buddha, who is sat in blessing posture. On the left are seen various monastics. I do not see Sudhana in this scene and I do not know why he is absent.
52. Maitreya in Meditation
Maitreya, who is sat absorbed in meditation in this relief, has a particularly sublime look on his face.
Sudhana is on his knees, with his hands pressing on the floor in front of him, his companions are behind him, sat under a large leaf parasol.
53. Maitreya Teaching
Maitreya sits on an upturned lotus seat inside a beautiful pavilion, and is holding the teaching position.
Sudhana and his companions are on the right, and one holds a plate of lotuses in offering. Others around are also offering lotuses, a symbol of purity.
54. Maitreya Blessing
Fontein identifies this as a preaching scene, but it seems that Maitreya is in fact giving a blessing to Sudhana who is on his knees in front of him. Unfortunately Sudhana’s face has been lost from the relief.
Again devotees on the left of the panel holds plates of flowers in offering to the Bodhisattva.
55. Maitreya respects a Buddha
A Buddha sits in the pavilion and is engaged in teaching the Dharma. Maitreya is kneeling on the right, with his hands held in añjali.
On the left we also see some monastics (bhikṣus), as well as some rich devotees. I do now see Sudhana amongst the figures in this relief.
56. Maitreya Teaching
Maitreya is sat cross legged and is holding a palm leaf book in his two hands, though he is apparently not reading from it, as we see the covers, not the pages.
Sudhana is sat on the right with his companions behind him. On the left a devotee holds flowers for an offering, and in the sky the devas look on at the scene below.
57. Maitreya Teaching
Fontein suggest this is a preaching scene, and it may well be so, though the gesture Maitreya is making is not clearly one of teaching. Notice the pillars of the pavilion are marked with lions, and further up they are supported by human-like figures.
Sudhana is seen standing in this scene, and there is the usual gathering of devotees and gods spread around.
58. Maitreya respects a Buddha
A Buddha is seen sitting is teaching position in the middle and on the left Maitreya is witnessing the scene. Sudhana looks on from the right, and the usual congregation gathers round, one of whom is wafting incense around the Buddha.
We now come to sure ground again as we can match the reliefs to the words in the text for the reliefs more or less till the end of the wall. In the first part of the text Sudhana sees Maitreya take on various forms in order to teach the people Dharma. The list ascends from gods on earth through to gods in the highest heavens.
59. Maitreya as a Universal Monarch
In the first of this series Maitreya appears as a Universal Monarch. An elephant, a horse, and two standards above them, one with a Wheel, and the other with a jewel make this idenitification certain.
60. Maitreya as a Guardian of the World
Maitreya sits holding the blessing gesture in the pavilion, while Sudhana looks on from outside, and his companions appear to discuss the events. Unfortunately Sudhana’s face has again broken off in this relief.
61. Maitreya appears as Śakra
Maitreya has here taken the form of a Śakra god who rules over the Heaven of the Thirty-Three. Sudhana and his companions sit outside on the right.
62. Maitreya appears as Suyāma
Maitreya is seen inside the pavilion in teaching posture, while Sudhana is kneeling under the parasol on the right.
63. Maitreya appears as Saṁtusita
An elaborate scene, with Saṁtusita at the centre, Sudhana and his companions on the right, and other devotees on the left.
64. Maitreya appears as Sunirmita
Here Maitreya takes on the form of Sunirmita, and sits in the pavilion, while Sudhana holds a lotus flower in offering on the right.
65. Maitreya as the King of the Vaśavarti Gods
The King of the Vaśavarti Gods is also called Māra. Here he sits in the pavilion with Sudhana listening careful on his right. It may be the dancing girls on the left of the panel are meant to represent Māra’s daughters, but why only two are portrayed, and not three, would then be unclear.
66. Maitreya as Māra
Māra sits in an ornate pavilion and is evidently teaching. His listeners are confined to two personages on the left. Sudhana and his companions look on from the right of the panel.
67. Maitreya teaches in the Brahmaloka
Maitreya is again evidently teaching, with other gods looking on from above. Sudhana is sat – unusually – on the left. In the relief Maitreya appears not as a god, but as himself.
In the next sequence Maitreya teaches Dharma in his own personage to various classes of beings from the lowest to the highest levels of existence.
68. Maitreya teaches the Asuras
It is interesting that the representation of the Asuras on the left of the panel makes them similar to the way brahmins are portrayed elsewhere! Maitreya, in his own guise, is teaching in the pavilion. Three Bodhisattvas sit in their own pavilion, while Sudhana and his companions look on from the right.
69. Maitreya relieves those in Hell
Maitreya appears on the far left, and is curiously looking straight out and not at the beings requesting help in the middle. In the second pavilion sits Yāma, who rules the lower worlds. Note that the leaves of the tree are in the shape of swords.
70. Maitreya gives Food and Drink to the Departed
Maitreya is seen handing a pot to the hungry pretas who beseech him for help, some of whom appear to be little more than skeletons. A locked pavilion is seen on the left, which has stūpas atop it. Sudhana sits watching the scene from the right.
71. Maitreya teaches the Animal World
This is probably one of the most successful illustrations on the wall. Sudhana stands on the right. Maitreya sits in a pavilion and pairs of animals of all kinds, including elephants, lions, deer, buffalo and others, gather round to hear his teaching.
72. Maitreya teaches the Guardians of the World
Obviously there is little space on this relief and only two of the Four Great Kings are represented, they sit in the upper part of the register on the left. Sudhana look on from the right. Below are devotees and guardians.
73. Maitreya teaches Śakra and other Gods
Maitreya in sat in the pavilion, and before him sit the gods who are meant to represent all the gods from the various levels of existence. Sudhana holds a lotus flower and looks on from the right.
74. Maitreya teaches the Nāgas
The Nāgas are sat under the tree on the left and are recognisable by the snakes in their crowns. Maitreya is sitting in teaching posture, and Sudhana looks on from the right.
75. Maitreya teaches the Earth-Bound Gods
All sorts of earth-bound gods are seen in this relief listening to Maitreya teach the Dharma. Note the kinnara, a female bird with a human head, above the tree on the right. On the left are a row of earth-blound devas, including nāgas.
76. Maitreya teaches Humans and Non-Humans
Maitreya sits in the pavilion holding a teaching posture (dharma-cakra-mudrā). On the left six humans sit under the trees and four non-humans fly above them. Sudhana stands on the right, and one of his companions holds a shield.
77. Maitreya praises the Bodhisattva Path
Maitreya sits in the pavilion on the left, outside under the tree sit some of the Bodhisattvas, and standing on the far right under the parasol is Sudhana, with his companions around him.
East Wall (North to Center)
78. Maitreya praises the Perfections
Maitreya is sat in the pavilion, with Sudhana and his companions on the right. Above Sudhana are the gods. On the left are four standing and four sitting Bodhisattvas.
79. Maitreya praises the Entrance to the Teachings
Maitreya sits in teaching posture (vitarka-mudrā), while Sudhana stands watching from the right of the panel. On the left sit six Bodhisattva, with one standing.
80. Maitreya praises Concentration
Sudhana is stood under the parasol on the far right, with three companions sitting under a tree in front of him. Maitreya sits in teaching posture, five Bodhisattvas and the gods above the trees listen to him.
81. Maitreya praises the Liberations
Maitreya, whose face has broken off, sits in the pavilion on the left of centre, while Bodhisattvas sit in front of him. Sudhana holds his hands in añjali.
82. Maitreya praises Good States
Maitreya is sat in teaching posture, with three Bodhisattvas on the right, one of whom proffers a lotus flower. Sudhana looks on from the far right.
83. Maitreya praises Skilful Means
Maitreya is sat on a lotus throne and is teaching once again. In front of him some Bodhisattvas listen to his instruction, and Sudhana stands behind them looking on.
84. Maitreya praises the Aspirations
Maitreya sits in teaching posture, while Sudhana sits listening. On the left of the panel we see Bodhisattvas ready to accomplish all kinds of good works.
85. Maitreya teaches Bodhisattvas
We can be sure of what the next panel illustrates, so it may be that the text available to the sculptors had an extra sentence which is missing to us, as there is no gap between the last and the following sentence.
Maitreya is once again in teaching posture and seems to be addressing the seven Bodhisattvas on the left of the panel. Sudhana and his companions are on the right. As also is the elephant, which reappears again.
86. Maitreya and other Bodhisattvas Teaching
Maitreya and four Bodhisattvas of the same accomplishments are seen sat at the same level. Sudhana and his companions look on as the Bodhisattvas teach.
87. Maitreya sits in Dharma-cakra Posture
In this elaborate scene Maitreya sits in Dharma-cakra posture on the far left, just slightly lower than him on the right are various Bodhisattvas.
Sudhana sits and unusually faces the viewer. His companions sit behind him. Above them is seen the elephant again together with two mahouts.
88. Sudhana worships Maitreya
The final panel on this wall is striking in its simplicity: Maitreya, having accomplished his teaching is seen walking away, while Sudhana with one knee on the floor is worshipping him. Indeed it is Maitreya who has uncovered for Sudhana the true nature of reality.
The original sequence probably continued on the next level, but later the balustrades, which illustrate more of Maitreya’s deeds were added.
Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu
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