Exhibition Highlight - 6

Selection of the Sūtra of Immeasurable Meaning (Wuliangyi jing)


Selection of the Sūtra of Immeasurable Meaning (Wuliangyi jing)
Xiangtangshan: Northern Group of Caves, South Cave, interior west wall, ca. 572–577 ce.
Two rubbings of an engraved scripture ink on paper, 79 15/16 x 39 3/8 in. (203 x 100 cm).
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (FSC-R-565.2).

A new aspect of cave temple embellishment seen at the Xiangtangshan cave complex was to carve the text of sacred Buddhist scriptures (sutras) directly into the rock walls of the temples. Buddhist texts were normally written on perishable materials such as silk and paper, and the desire to preserve and display the sutras in stone reflects contemporary apprehension regarding the fragility of those media during a period that many Buddhist writings had predicted would see the end of Buddhism. A well-made rubbing shows the forms of the engraved characters in white against a black background. The “rubbing,” made by pounding an inked pad on damp paper placed over the surface of the stone, produces a clear reproduction of the inscription—and often the copy is more legible than the original. The pounding stretches the strong fibrous paper, pushing it slightly into the recessed areas of the stone and capturing the sharply defined and deeply cut character of the carving.