Woodblock printed Universal Gateway of Guanyin Bodhisattva

8th year of the Xuande reign, Ming dynasty
Each folio 30 x 21 cm

Universal Gateway of Guanyin Bodhisattva was originally the title of Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra translated into Chinese by the Kuchean monk Kumārajīva (344-413 CE) in the Later Qin dynasty (384-417 CE). Regarded as the root text of Guanyin belief, this chapter sets out the origination of Guanyin’s universal gateway of salvation, instances of how he delivers sentient beings from woe and disasters, and the 33 different forms he takes to lead sentient beings to spiritual liberation. As the worship of Guanyin gained popularity, this chapter was published and distributed independently. The Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368 CE) saw the emergence of the woodblock printed version of this chapter with illustrations inserted between text. The same format was largely adopted in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

This copy of Universal Gateway of Guanyin Bodhisattva is printed on paper and folded in accordion form. The cover is mounted with brocaded silk with a 卍 sign and floral motifs. The inside pages contain many woodcut images illustrating the content of the scripture. The album begins with the preaching scene of Śākyamuni, followed by 40 woodcut images depicting episodes of Guanyin manifesting to save sentient beings from mortal dangers and appearing in different forms to guide sentient beings to spiritual liberation. The end of the album contains woodcut images of Skanda and other Buddhas.

The postscript reveals that this album was published in the 8th year of the Xuande reign (1433) of the Ming dynasty, funded by someone called Fan Fuqi. The album is finely printed. Each folio page consists of four columns with eleven characters in regular script to each column. The characters are neatly executed, well-spaced and acutely lineated, indicating the calligraphic style of the early Ming dynasty. The Bodhisattvas in the woodcut illustrations vary in form and appearance. Apart from images of exoteric Chinese Buddhism, there are also multi-armed Guanyin images of Tantric tradition and other Guanyin images typical of Tibetan Buddhism, attesting to the rich and diverse cultural phenomenon of Guanyin belief in the Ming dynasty.