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Visions from the Beyond and Damnation Scenes in Dunhuang Wall Paintings

by Costantino MORETTI, Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Professor in Chinese Medieval Buddhism – École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO)

The representations of scenes from the Beyond in the Buddhist caves of Mogao (Dunhuang) can be arranged in three categories, quite different from each other. The first consists of infernal representations integrated into cosmological tables relating to Vairocana. The second includes representations in scenes from different sūtra, including the Avalokiteśvara Sūtra (Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sūtra) and the Sūtra of contemplation of the Life-Infinite Buddha. The third is the murals associated with the bodhisattva Ká¹£itigarbha (Dizang) and the “Ten Kings” called “hell”, representing a bureaucratized image of the Hereafter.

In chronological order, we will present a preliminary study of the three categories in question, offering a cross-examination of available sources to better understand the iconographic elements in the representations mentioned above.