Portable Buddhist Shrine, 20th c.
14 3/8 in. x 6 in. x 4 5/8 in. (36.51 cm x 15.24 cm x 11.75 cm)
Portable Buddhist shrine (Zushi) containing a figure of the Priest Kobo Daishi (Kukai), Japan, 20th century.
The Japanese Buddhist priest Kukai (or Kobo Daishi) (774–835) was a man of many skills. He worked for years as a civil servant, a scholar, a calligrapher, a poet, and an engineer. He traveled to China to study Buddhism and studied esoteric (or tantric Buddhist practices. When he returned to Japan, he brought these esoteric Buddhist practices with him and founded the Shingon school of Japanese esoteric Buddhism. As a scholar of this form of Buddhism, he understood and taught the transformative power of art. He not only read sacred Buddhist texts and conducted rituals using sacred chants (mantras) and hand gestures (mudras), Kukai also taught his followers to practice meditation and visualization using spectacular Buddhist paintings showing deities in their sacred palace realms (mandalas). These paintings, rich in color and pattern and skillfully painted following strict stylistic and iconometric rules, served to draw practitioners deep into the imagined realm of the deity so that they could transcend their emotional and material selves in order to attain enlightenment. He taught that “Art is what reveals to us the state of perfection.”
Here, Kukai is shown seated on the chair of a Buddhist Priest holding vajras, esoteric ritual scepters that are believed to cut through ignorance and reveal truth.
Meher McArthur, Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Curator of Academic Programs and Collections, Scripps College
Carved wood with paint, lacquer, copper metal, clear seed beads, and string.
Buddhist devotional in a closing box. In the center a Buddha or Buddhist monk is seated on a chair, with painted red, blue, green, pink, black, gold, and white stripes, with a wooden frame in black lacquer, decorated with hammered copperwork. The figure is holding a vajra and rosary. The figure is made of unfinished wood with gold lines painted on his robe, and a painted face. He has shoes of unfinished wood, which site beneath his chair. The chair is placed on a gold lacquered pedestal, with carved decoration. The foot of the chair is adorned with hammered brasswork, with a swastika motif. The statue is placed in a box which folds out to form a travelling altar. The interior of the box is finished in gold lacquer with black lacquer and red paint accents. The box exterior is finished in black lacquer, with decorative hinges, a latch and frontal pieces of hammered brasswork.
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