A 10th-century printed prayer sheet with an illustration of Amitābha Buddha.
What is it?
Many rectangular prayer sheets like this one were found among the printed items in a sealed-up cave of the Mogao Buddhist cave complex, near Dunhuang. They generally consist of two parts: the image of a Buddhist deity at the top, and the prayer associated with them underneath. They seem to have been particularly popular objects of devotion for Buddhist practitioners. The reproduction and transmission of Buddha images and Buddhist texts was a sacred and meritorious act. This emphasis on replication greatly benefited from the technology of woodblock printing, and may have, in turn, played a role in its success and encouraged its development in China.
Which deity is represented?
Amitābha, a very popular Buddha in China and, later, Japan, is represented meditating on a lotus throne. He is flanked by two cartouches emerging from lotus flowers. The one on the right reads ‘Amitābha Buddha of the 48 vows’, while the one on the left means ‘Universal exhortation to worship and maintenance of the faith.’ According the Larger Sūtra of Immeasurable Light, Amitābha presides over the Pure Land, which is regarded as a stepping-stone towards enlightenment. One of the practices widely associated to him is the chanting of his name, with the belief that one will thus be reborn in his paradise.