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Chapter on Universal Gate of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, "Lotus Sūtra", in Tangut script


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Western Xia period
 

This printed scripture was discovered in March 1959 from a small stūpa on the eastern bank of Daquan river at Mogao Caves. The Tangut text (in Western Xia script) was translated from the Chinese version of this sūtra, rendered from Sanskrit by the Kuchean monk Kumārajīva who was active during the Later Qin regime. This manuscript is of ‘scripture-folding style' (accordion binding). The paper is soft and thin. The inner leaves feature two registers. The illustrations of the chapter on Universal Gate of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara in the upper section occupy about a quarter of the framed space. The lower section, about three-quarters of the framed space, is reserved for the printed text rendered in small regular Tangut script. A fine image of the Water Moon Avalokiteśvara is printed on the head page. The entire document has up to 55 woodcut illustrations containing as many as 166 figures in a rich variety of scenarios. This is the only extant example of illustrated Universal Gate of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara copied in Tangut script in China.

Universal Gate of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara with illustrated text serves to elucidate more effectively the content and meaning of the scripture and facilitate the popularisation and widespread circulation of Buddhist scriptures in the society. This document has not only afforded an example of the Tangut script and the art of woodcut illustrations of the Western Xia period, but also allowed a glimpse into the appearance, hairstyle and costume of its people. It thus provides important historical reference for studying the ethnoculture of the Western Xia period.